At the Races: After the fist bump

Posted February 18, 2021 at 2:50pm

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The GOP is still grappling with internal divisions following former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial and Trump’s scathing rebuke of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, which sets the stage for divisive primaries to come. Meanwhile, Republicans are working to turn voters’ attention to the “socialist” transformation of Washington that they hope will be their sweet spot over the next two years as they seek to regain majority control of Congress. 

An early indication of the kinds of attacks we expect to see over the coming months came this week in an email blast from the campaign arm of the House Republicans. 

The NRCC has been keeping tabs on Democratic “no” votes on Republican-proposed amendments to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that Democrats are rushing to get to President Joe Biden’s desk by mid-March. The resulting missive read like a cue card for GOP attack ads covering topics from climate change to immigration to coronavirus-related school closures. 

Expect to see more of the same as Democrats work to take advantage of Biden’s first 100 days in office to push through massive packages on infrastructure, immigration and criminal justice.

Democrats are betting that these measures will be popular and that Republicans will face a backlash for ultimately voting against them. House Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of House Majority PAC, a super PAC that supports Democrats, released a “high five-figure” digital ad campaign this week thanking eight House Democrats in swing districts for their work on the COVID-19 package. 

Democrats, meanwhile, are doubling down on attempts to tie every member of the GOP to the most extreme elements of the party.

Case in point: the DCCC circulated a Quinnipiac University poll yesterday that found a slightly higher percentage of Americans see Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as representative of the GOP than Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who has attracted fire from the right as the highest-ranking House Republican to vote for impeachment. 

“We will continue to remind voters that Marjorie Taylor Greene and violent, dangerous views like hers have infected her entire party,” DCCC spokeswoman Christine Bennett said in a statement.

Starting gate

Room to grow? Republicans have maxed out on winning deep-red seats and if they want to take back control in 2022, they should look for candidates who can win swing districts, former New York Rep. John J. Faso says after helping to lead a super PAC that spent $1.5 million backing centrists who beat expectations last year. Meanwhile, another GOP outside group, Defending Main Street, said Thursday it would spend $25 million to support centrist candidates in swing districts.

In the spotlight: Some Democrats are encouraging Pennsylvania Rep. Madeleine Dean, who was in the national spotlight as an impeachment manager, to run for the state’s open Senate seat.

Moving on? Trump’s second impeachment dominated recent headlines, but neither party expects impeachment to be a major factor in the battle for the Senate in 2022. Politics editor Herb Jackson and Bridget joined the Political Theater podcast to discuss whether the latest impeachment votes could affect the midterms.

Voter education: Republicans, with their sights on the 2022 midterms, have seized on the issue of school closures, attacking Democrats in an effort to woo suburban voters who turned against the GOP during the Trump era. One example of that effort came this week from the NRSC, which launched digital ads knocking six Senate Democrats on reopening schools. GOP outside groups are also getting into the action with the Republican State Leadership Committee and N2 America launching a new TV and digital ad campaign in Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia.  

Holding pattern: The Census Bureau now says the local-level data that states need to redraw House districts to fit 2020 populations won’t be delivered until September. With both parties expecting litigation, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone notes that there might not be time for judges to rule on challenges to new maps before the 2022 elections take place. This is also happening as Texas and eight other states no longer have to comply with a Voting Rights Act mandate to clear their maps in advance with the Justice Department.

Messaging: After a handful of House committees held marathon hearings to compile the pieces of a $1.9 trillion pandemic response bill last week, the NRCC prepared to hit vulnerable Democrats on the amendments that were voted down.

ICYMI

Staffing up: The DSCC announced that Christie Roberts will be the committee’s new executive director, the second woman ever to run the committee. She was a senior adviser to the committee in 2020 and is an alum of Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s campaigns. Jessica Knight Henry is the DSCC’s new deputy executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer after serving as its political and engagement director in 2020.

Sorry, Florida TV station owners: Ivanka Trump won’t be primarying Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio next year, The New York Times reported, quoting an aide to Rubio and unnamed people close to the former first daughter. As our elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales pointed out earlier this month, that was never going to be a walk in the park.

They’re (potentially) running: Former Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue filed with the FEC to run against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in 2022, but he clarified he hasn’t made a final decision about running. In Iowa, GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley’s grandson, Pat Grassley, who is also the state House speaker and could run for Senate eventually, told WHO13 in Des Moines that he believes the senator is running for an eighth term. Iowa GOP state Sen. Jim Carlin has launched a Senate bid and says he’ll stay in the race even if Grassley decides to run. Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb also told MSNBC he’s thinking of running for Senate as well.

She’s running: Former Ohio GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken announced this morning that she’s running for the state’s open Senate seat, aligning herself with Trump by pledging to “advance the Trump agenda, without fear or hesitation.” She joins former state Treasurer Josh Mandel in the Republican primary, which is expected to be crowded.  In Alabama, businesswoman Lynda Blanchard, who served as ambassador to Slovenia under Trump, jumped into the GOP Senate primary for retiring Republican Richard C. Shelby’s seat. Blanchard is spending $5 million of her own money on the race, and she has hired GOP consultants Jeff Roe and Ethan Zorfas of Axiom Strategies, who worked for GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s 2020 campaign, according to a press release.

Jump ball: Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry has entered the Democratic primary to take on Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, who has yet to say whether he’s running for a third term. Meanwhile, Johnson grabbed headlines this week for downplaying the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, saying it “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.”

Making the list: Parker Poling, who ran the NRCC as executive director during the 2020 cycle, made the 2021 TIME100 List of emerging leaders. She has since moved on to Harbinger Strategies. Her onetime boss Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, said Poling “empowers those around her to succeed and is not afraid if they outshine her.” His proof? No House GOP incumbents lost last cycle. 

Keeping Democrats in line: The first week of March will be a big one in the House as Democratic leaders bring top party priorities to the floor, including the elections and campaign finance overhaul known as HR 1. Not a single Democrat opposed HR 1 last Congress, but they knew it was just a messaging bill that would never pass the Republican-controlled Senate, writes CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson. Outside groups that support the overhaul have begun investing in ads to keep Democrats on board.  

Hot on the left: The list of high-profile Colorado Democrats seeking to oust firebrand Republican freshman Lauren Boebert keeps growing, with state Rep. Donald Valdez announcing a bid for her 3rd District seat this morning. 

Cool on the right: Meanwhile, the pool of potential primary challengers to anti-Trump Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger has dwindled. Gene Koprowski, a former official at the conservative Heartland Institute think tank, dropped his bid this week.

What we’re reading

Stu says: After impeachment, what’s next? Trump has already promised his return to the political spotlight, but will the focus be on Biden and what he enacts?

Primary problems: The clash between Trump and McConnell foreshadows potentially divisive GOP primaries, and Politico looks at how those primaries could create headaches for Republicans looking to flip the Senate. McConnell told The Wall Street Journal that he’s willing to play in primaries and will support the most electable candidates.

Hey, big spenders: The 2020 elections were the most expensive ever, with the tab totaling $14.4 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which delved into spending from candidates and outside groups, as well as the growth of small-dollar donors.

Unexpected turbulence: South Dakota GOP Gov. Kristi Noem, a potential 2024 presidential contender, used a state airplane to travel to conservative political events around the country, according to a Raw Story investigation by Daniel Newhauser. The revelation based on flight logs has state lawmakers questioning whether she violated a state law forbidding political and personal use of the aircraft, Newhauser writes.

Picking sides: Speaking of 2024 contenders, Politico magazine has a deep look at Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration and a onetime South Carolina governor. In navigating a possible run for the GOP nomination, would Haley stay loyal to the ex-president or campaign as herself? 

The making of a miscreant: While Republicans have spent years villainizing Democratic figures like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,  Democrats have long tried, and failed, to find success with similar caricatures on the right. McClatchy’s Alex Roarty — a CQ Roll Call alum — explores whether the left has finally found its villain in Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Tea leaves: National Journal surveyed political strategists for their views on what historical trends could tell us about the House midterms. Spoiler: It could be a tough cycle for Democrats.

Limbaugh’s legacy: Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio host whose slashing, divisive style of mockery and grievance reshaped American conservatism, while denigrating Democrats, environmentalists, “feminazis” (his term) and other liberals and presaging the rise of Trump, died at age 70 on Wednesday at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., according to his obituary in The New York Times. Charles Sykes writes in The Washington Post that it’s hard to overstate Limbaugh’s role in the transformation of the character and culture of the conservative movement.

The count: 50%

That’s the share of adults in the United States identifying themselves as independents in a new Gallup poll, the highest level ever measured by the organization. The survey also found 63 percent of Republicans, and 62 percent of adults overall, think a third political party is needed. Those two figures are also records.

Nathan’s notes

VAR is back. Nathan’s “Moneyball”-inspired statistic of Vote Above Replacement, introduced in November 2019, measures how well a candidate does versus the average candidate from his or her party. In his latest column, Nathan tallied who were the best and worst Senate candidates on the 2020 ballot. 

Candidate confessions

“Being a mom is a juggling act in normal times,” Oregon Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a mother of two, confided this week in a fundraising solicitation. “But last spring, the pandemic brought many families to a crashing halt. The daily juggle became a never-ending struggle, and moms have borne the brunt of it. Remote learning, layoffs, child care closures, caring for sick kids and parents, financial struggles — moms are handling it all, often without enough support.”

She added that her “heart goes out to the moms holding their families together right now” and said Congress is paying attention, including proposals to infuse billions into child care and to expand the child tax credit. 

Shop talk: Mari Urbina

After serving as progressive group Indivisible’s national political director, Urbina is taking on a new role as its managing director, overseeing culture and strategy. Urbina is a veteran Democratic operative and has worked for Voto Latino and as a senior adviser to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

Starting out: “I’m the daughter of working-class people. … My father worked at a piston manufacturing plant and my mother in an electronic and aerospace manufacturing plant throughout my life. And so seeing their struggle became the grounding for my purpose and passion in politics,” said Urbina, who grew up in Carson City, Nev. The company her father worked for closed after NAFTA was signed. “I look back now, and I think so much about the subtle ways that I was learning about economic injustice or economic instability, and how it really has a through line throughout my life and throughout my professional journey as well,” she said. Urbina organized around immigrant and LGBTQ issues in high school and college. After college, she secured a fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Foundation and worked in Reid’s office with his new senior adviser on Latino and Asian American Affairs. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Urbina met her now-husband, Chris, on Reid’s 2010 Senate campaign, when Chris was working as the senator’s body man, but their relationship was a secret to keep their workplace professional. During the campaign, Reid was in the car with Chris and asked about a recent get-out-the-vote event that Urbina organized, and Chris offered to get her on the phone. “So Chris calls me from his personal cell phone, I answer spiritedly, having no idea he’s with the boss, like, ‘Hey, hon!’ And Chris immediately says, ‘I have the senator for you.’ And so I’m dying,” Urbina recalled. She and Reid discussed the event and, in typical Reid fashion, he hung up without saying goodbye. “The senator hangs up the phone, and he turns to Chris, and asks, ‘So is that your girlfriend?’ And Chris turns beet red,” she said with a laugh. Their secret was out, but Urbina said Reid was supportive and sent them a nice wedding gift. 

Biggest campaign regret: “Democrats losing so badly in 2014 was hard,” Urbina said. She spent the final stretch of the 2014 cycle supporting Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign in Colorado, where she met a young student organizer who was undocumented. “That was just such a big moment for her politically and in her own journey in organizing … and to lose so badly across the map just was a really disappointing time,” Urbina said. 

Unconventional wisdom: “Democratic candidates can’t have a short-term memory because voters don’t,” Urbina said. On the campaign trail in Nevada, she witnessed Latino voters’ disappointment with the lack of action on immigration issues, which she attributed to “Republican inaction.” “You’ve got to be building this trust and in a long-term way, and you got to deliver to [voters] and make really clear what you’re delivering to them,” Urbina said. “In our own Indivisible guide, we outline that expecting good-faith action by Republicans is a mistake and will cause us to miss out on additional opportunities to improve people’s lives. And so that’s one of the longest lessons I’ve held in this work.”

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

Coming up

The House Administration Committee holds a preliminary hearing Friday on Democrat Rita Hart’s challenge to the six-vote victory of GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa’s 2nd District.

Photo finish

It’s Miller Time! Attorneys William J. Brennan, left, and Michael van der Veen exchange fist bumps Saturday on the Senate subway after their client, former President Donald Trump, was acquitted by the Senate at his impeachment trial. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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