At the Races: UnPACing

Posted January 14, 2021 at 2:30pm

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We’ll analyze the political fallout of the Capitol riot and Wednesday’s resulting impeachment vote in the months — and maybe years — to come. But we’ll pause to acknowledge the gravity of what we’ve experienced over the past week and also to admit: We do not know, nor can we predict, the ramifications, political or otherwise, that may come. 

We know many of our readers witnessed the violence firsthand, while others, lobbyists and consultants who once traipsed those hallowed halls as part of their daily routines, still struggle with what they saw from afar. “I can’t tell you the personal fury that I feel for what’s happened,” says Neil Bradley of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who worked inside the Capitol for 11 years as a House GOP leadership aide.   

The Chamber and some of the nation’s most recognizable corporations are scrutinizing their political donations (we have more on that below) in the aftermath.  

When House lawmakers took their impeachment votes Wednesday, their next electoral trials couldn’t have been far from mind. Will Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, who forcefully came out against President Donald Trump in a scathing rebuke and voted to impeach, face a primary challenge in a state where Trump won 70 percent of the vote? Will she fall, or rise, in her party’s leadership, as some of her colleagues call for her ouster as the No. 3 House GOPer? It’s impossible to know. Sometimes, maybe lawmakers simply attempt to do what they feel is right, even if it stings politically. 

Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who voted against impeachment Wednesday, offered an ominous thought, and we’ll give him the last word: 

“I did not come to this decision lightly,” he said of voting against impeaching Trump. “And I truly fear there may be more facts that come to light in the future that will put me on the wrong side of this debate.”

Starting gate

Party breakers: Ten Republicans from a mix of swing and solidly Republican districts voted to impeach Trump on Wednesday. Check out our rundown for more on who they are.

Corporate backlash: Major corporations, and the lobbyists who advise them, are in crisis mode, and some have turned off their PACs to lawmakers who objected to certain Electoral College votes. Will the PAC pauses last? Some members “will have forfeited the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — period, full stop,” Neil Bradley told reporters this week.

Scott speaks: One of those lawmakers who voted against certifying Pennsylvania’s electors was Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Scott said in a Wednesday interview that he is still confident he can fundraise for the committee. Scott also said he wasn’t concerned about Trump’s threat to support primary challengers against sitting Republicans who opposed the Electoral College objections. 

First impression: The finer analysis of which races lean and tilt will come later, but Nathan L. Gonzales took his first look at Senate ratings for 2022 and found — perhaps unsurprisingly for a 50-50 chamber — that an equal number of Republican and Democratic seats look competitive.

Speaking of Senate races: The open Pennsylvania race is expected to be one of the most competitive yet, and Democrats are already gearing up for a crowded primary

Majority control: After both Republicans in the Georgia Senate runoffs conceded, state election officials are on track to certify the results as early as Jan. 20, clearing the way for a Democratic-controlled Senate.

ICYMI

Harrison’s next act: Jaime Harrison, whose fall Senate fundraising record lasted about two minutes, was tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to head the Democratic National Committee through the 2022 midterms, The New York Times reported this morning. Harrison, currently an associate chair and senior counselor at the DNC, gained national attention last year in his unsuccessful effort to unseat South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.

A party divided: The Arizona GOP will vote to censure former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Cindy McCain, the wife of the late Sen. John McCain. Both Flake and McCain endorsed Biden, and Ducey has pushed back on Trump’s unfounded election fraud claims. Ducey, also a potential Senate candidate and head of the Republican Governors Association, announced Thursday that he will attend Biden’s inauguration.

Still waiting: The fight over New York’s 22nd District is still playing out in court as the seat remains vacant in Congress. Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, former Rep. Anthony Brindisi’s legal counsel, told reporters on a Monday press call that “dozens, if not hundreds” of disputed ballots were still in play. Closing arguments in the court battle between Brindisi and former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney, who is leading by 29 votes, are set for Friday, Jan. 22. Elias said he hoped the legal fight would be resolved in the next few weeks, “perhaps by the end of the month.” 

More elections: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards set the date for March 20 special elections to fill seats in the deep-blue 2nd District, where Rep. Cedric L. Richmond is retiring to become a senior adviser in the Biden administration, and in the safe Republican 5th District, left vacant after Rep.-elect Luke Letlow died after contracting COVID-19. Letlow’s widow, Julia Letlow, announced today that she will run for that seat.

Murky future: Sen. Lisa Murkowski made headlines for telling the Anchorage Daily News that Trump should resign. The Alaska Republican, who is up for reelection in 2022, also left the door open to leaving the GOP, telling the newspaper, “If the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me.” But if she leaves the party, Murkowski won’t be joining the Democrats.

Bad Fealings: John Feal, who has made more than 100 trips to Washington from his native Long Island, New York, to lobby for first-responders and others sickened by work tied to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is considering running against GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin because of his support for Trump, Newsday reports. It’s not the first time Feal has thought about running: In 2011, he told CQ Roll Call he might move to New Jersey to run for Congress in 2014 because he didn’t want to challenge New York Democrats who had become his allies.

Koch buzzkill?: Add the conservative Koch political network to the list of donors taking an internal look after the Jan. 6 infiltration of the Capitol and GOP lawmakers voting against certifying electoral results. The network, which has backed conservative and libertarian candidates and causes for years, will “weigh heavy” the actions of members of Congress related to the siege, Politico reports. 

Poling on K Street: The NRCC’s executive director in 2020, Parker Poling, is joining the Republican lobbying firm Harbinger Strategies as a partner, according to The Hill.    

What we’re reading

On the ground: South Carolina GOP Rep. Nancy Mace has been outspoken in her criticism of Trump after last week’s riot. But some voters in her district are sticking with the twice-impeached president, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Never too early?: The Biden team is already working to head off potentially disastrous midterm elections in 2022, Politico reports.

Freshman disorientation: The 2018 class of lawmakers started their terms in the middle of a government shutdown. But that’s nothing compared to the freshmen elected in 2020, who had to endure an attack at the Capitol just three days after being sworn into office. The Washington Post talked to some first-term lawmakers about the experience. And Axios reports that the GOP freshmen group chat got testy.

A little help from my friends: The Republican Accountability Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans pledged to spend $50 million to support GOP lawmakers who voted for impeachment, according to The New York Times.

The count: $120 million

That’s how much casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave in seven contributions between June and October last year to the Senate Leadership Fund and Congressional Leadership Fund, super PACs that played a big role in helping the GOP counteract what was expected to be a Democratic wave. Adelson died this week at the age of 87 from complications related to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to his family. Statements of tribute and condolences came in not only from NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer, but also from former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who praised Adelson’s support for the casino industry.

Nathan’s notes

With Georgia’s runoffs putting the Senate, and therefore all of Washington, under Democratic control, Nathan took another look at predictions about the 2020 cycle, and now they don’t look so bad.

Candidate confessions

Raphael Warnock knew in November that he was about to get hit with an onslaught of attack ads. But he was ready. 

Warnock’s campaign spent the months leading up to the Jan. 5 runoff preparing for a relentless negative campaign from his opponent, GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, according to a behind-the-scenes account published this week in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. With a crowded all-party primary, Loeffler spent the summer and fall locked in a bitter battle with Rep. Doug Collins, a fellow Republican. Warnock’s campaign used that time to mine hundreds of hours of tapes of his sermons for statements Republicans could use against him, and to defang those attacks with 64 of their own ads, many of which featured Warnock speaking directly to the camera.

“It was purposeful. People formed a relationship with him,” Adam Magnus of Magnus Pearson Media, one of Warnock’s key consultants, told the Journal-Constitution. “We knew that the negative ads were coming, and we needed enough people to feel like they knew him and would stay with him to win. Ultimately that happened. … We were always one step ahead of them.”

Shop talk: Jon Reedy

Reedy, who served as a senior adviser to the NRCC in 2020, recently made partner at the political consulting firm SRCPmedia, where he has worked since January 2017. He handles advertising for multiple GOP campaigns all over the country.

Starting out: “In 1988, I was 7 years old (yes, I’m old!), and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush (one of my heroes) was running for president. He did a bus tour through California (the last time a GOP presidential nominee contested California and won it) which included a stop in my little hometown of Ripon. My whole family went to the event, where he was joined on stage by Chuck Norris and Mike Love of the Beach Boys! And I was hooked! I still have the Bush-Quayle placard I waved at that rally hanging on my wall at home.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “In 2004, I was a field representative for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign in Missouri. John Kerry was doing a bus and train tour of the state, and we were bracketing him at every stop. At one of his stops in my region, I failed to convince a volunteer to wear the ‘waffle costume’ (‘John Kerry flip-flops and waffles!’).  So, bottom line, I had to do it. There was an AP photo (I think) that made the rounds of me in the costume, and my dad has not let me live that down to this day.”

Biggest campaign regret:“ See above. Not being able to convince a volunteer to wear that waffle suit!!!”

Unconventional wisdom: “While the polling industry is being maligned right now given some 2020 polling, I don’t believe the industry is in ‘crisis.’ I think a key fix is that we actually need more polling in races, with larger sample sizes, and likely more mix-mode surveys. Surveys are snapshots in time, not looks into the future. Another would be that while digital advertising is and needs to be a key platform used to deliver a message, broadcast TV is still king. This was even more true in races all over the country in 2020 that were being run during a global pandemic with voters in multiple states living under stay-at-home orders. Ratings for daytime TV programming have never been higher! The notion that ‘nobody watches TV anymore’ was turned on its head in 2020.”

Do you know someone who works in campaigns who we should feature for Shop Talk? Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Wednesday at noon the 46th President of the United States will be inaugurated. And two days after that is the filing deadline for candidates in Louisiana’s March 20 special elections for the 2nd and 5th districts.

Photo finish

New York Rep. John Katko looks up in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday shortly before the House voted to impeach President Donald Trump. Katko was one of 10 Republicans who charged Trump with inciting an insurrection. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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