At the Races: Florida man returns

Posted March 4, 2021 at 2:30pm

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Former President Donald Trump returned to the spotlight Sunday with a speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, and he laid out some of his political plans. Trump said he is not starting his own party (“Fake news, fake news”); he wants to take on the Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol (“Get rid of them all”); and he could make another run for president in 2024 (“Who, who will that be? I wonder”).

Trump told supporters there is “only one way” to contribute to his efforts and that’s by donating to his own Save America PAC. That could be a problem for Republicans in congressional races, who have struggled to harness the grassroots donations that fueled Trump’s campaign. Dan Conston, president of the GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, highlighted in a memo this week that outside groups pay much higher rates for TV ads than candidates. “The single biggest threat to Republicans taking back the Majority is insufficient candidate fundraising,” he said.

Trump could direct his donors to support his preferred candidates, which could also be a problem for the party as he takes on incumbent Republicans in primaries. Last week, Trump endorsed his former campaign aide Max Miller, who is challenging Ohio’s Anthony Gonzalez, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer reiterated during a Politico Playbook event Wednesday that the committee doesn’t take sides in primaries. But he said Trump taking on House Republicans is “not going to be helpful.”

Starting gate

Experimenting: The Democratic group 314 Action is expanding its effort to support candidates with STEM backgrounds in 2022. It’s looking to recruit candidates in a few dozen congressional races, according to a target list shared first with At the Races

On defense: House Democrats began sketching out the turf they will defend as they seek to maintain their majority next year with the release of 32 incumbents the DCCC put in its Frontline program. 

2021 starts now: Early voting starts Saturday in Louisiana for the first two special elections of the year. We broke down the crowded fields in both races: for the 2nd District to replace Democrat Cedric L. Richmond and for the 5th District seat won by the late GOP Rep.-elect Luke J. Letlow. Richmond resigned for a post in the Biden administration, and Letlow died in December of complications related to COVID-19. 

Party like a partisan: CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales looked at how the lack of ticket-splitting also creates gridlock in Congress. And he joined Jason Dick on the latest Political Theater podcast to discuss the shrinking number of “mismatched” House members and senators. 

Getting off Scott free? NRSC Chairman Rick Scott told CPAC that he is not getting in the middle of internal party conflicts. 

What’s in HR 1? The House approved its sweeping political money, elections, influence and ethics measure late last night, 220-210. The package totals about 800 pages and includes 60 pieces of legislation, so we took a look at five of the lesser-known provisions.    

No suit for you: The conservative majority on the Supreme Court appeared ready Tuesday to make it more difficult to strike down state election laws under the argument that they disproportionately harm minority voters, CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger reports.

Partisanship: Many of K Street’s power players have gone in search of Democratic talent now that the party controls official Washington, but one shop went in a totally different direction: recruiting its newest partner from the Trump administration. The CGCN Group plans to remain a single-party firm, and unapologetically so, with its newest partner Tim Pataki.

ICYMI

Coming to your news feed: Facebook announced Wednesday that it would end its temporary ban on political, electoral and social issue ads starting today. The company said it would “take a closer look at how these ads work” over the coming months. The announcement came an hour after DCCC executive director Tim Persico and DSCC executive director Christie Roberts issued a joint statement slamming the ban as “reckless and haphazard.”

A sign of the times: The FEC is expected to approve a request from the GOP campaign committees allowing candidates to use campaign funds for personal security, Bloomberg Government reported. The NRCC and the NRSC made the request after the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol.

Taking sides: The anti-tax Club for Growth is endorsing former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel in the GOP primary for the state’s open Senate race, Politico reported this morning. The endorsement comes after conflicting reports about whether Trump would back former state GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken, with Axios reporting that Trump was talked out of an early endorsement. For her part, Timken sided with Trump in the GOP primary against Gonzalez in the 16th District, calling on the congressman to resign one month after she said Gonzalez was “an effective legislator” and a “very good person.”

Thinking about it: House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs is weighing a run for Senate in Arizona, The Hill reported. Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Ron Kind also said he will take a look at running for Senate “down the road.” And former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018 amid multiple scandals, also said he’s weighing a GOP primary challenge against Sen. Roy Blunt. 

Outside windfall: Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who voted with nine other GOP colleagues to impeach Trump, will get a boost from a new super PAC that his allies have in the works, according to The Washington Post. Trump and his allies have vowed revenge, in the form of primaries, against Kinzinger and the others, including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney. 

Shipping out: Robby Mook, a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve and president of the Democratic-aligned outside group House Majority PAC, will mobilize for a one-year overseas assignment, the super PAC said recently. Mike Smith, a former DCCC deputy executive director, is joining HMP as senior adviser. Smith has also served in senior political and fundraising roles for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Abby Curran Horrell will remain HMP’s executive director.

Diversify, diversify: The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is associated with House GOP leadership, named its top Democratic targets and said in a memo that retaking the majority would require recruiting more women and people of color.

Remember this guy? Former Kansas GOP Rep. Steve Watkins signed an agreement to avoid a criminal trial in a voter fraud case that contributed to his loss in a 2020 primary, The Kansas City Star reported.

What we’re reading

Popularity depends: Democrats pushing to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package frequently point to polls showing the popularity of its provisions, but FiveThirtyEight digs into why Republicans may not face a backlash for voting against it or other policies the new House and Senate majorities enact with President Joe Biden. 

Margins of error: FiveThirtyEight also delves into why national polling was off in 2020. And the Pew Research Center looks at what campaign polling problems mean for issue polling

Behind the scenes: The Washington Post takes a deep dive into Trump’s budding political operation. The paper reported that there is some effort to support a primary challenge against Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, but some Trump advisers acknowledged that would be difficult. 

‘A’ for action: The New York Times heads to the battleground state of Pennsylvania, which will host one of the nation’s most hotly contested open-seat Senate races next year, and finds public school parents are mobilizing politically with the goal of getting their students back in the classroom. 

Political profits: Maryland Republican Kim Klacik became something of a celebrity among conservatives during her run for the House last cycle in a deep-blue Baltimore district. After posting a huge fundraising haul, one consulting firm reeled in half of the cash, according to The Washington Post.

Progressive pressure: Progressives are putting their weight behind the most liberal candidates in a handful of upcoming special elections in deep-blue districts in an effort to push the Democratic Party further to the left, Politico reported.

The count: 2

That’s how many House Democrats — Kind in Wisconsin and Jared Golden of Maine — voted against their party’s policing overhaul Wednesday night. The bill, named for George Floyd, whose killing by the Minneapolis police in May 2020 touched off worldwide civil rights protests, would restrict a number of policing practices by law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding, including no-knock warrants in drug cases. The DCCC put both Kind and Golden on its list of vulnerable Frontline members for the 2022 midterm cycle. 

The NRCC wasted no time in criticizing the other House Democrats who voted for the measure. “House Democrats obviously didn’t learn their lesson in 2020,” NRCC spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair said in a statement. “By voting to make it harder for local law enforcement to protect their communities, House Democrats just ignored every single American who told them they didn’t want to defund the police.” 

Nathan’s notes

A lot can happen before November 2022, but that hasn’t stopped the leaders of both parties’ campaign committees from making bold midterm predictions. Nathan breaks down each of their claims in his latest column.

Candidate confessions

Louisiana Democrat Troy Carter has the endorsement of Cedric Richmond, whom he is trying to succeed in the 2nd District, but Carter told CQ Roll Call there is one part of the former congressman’s legacy he can’t hope to fill. Richmond, who resigned in January for a post in the Biden administration, pitched nearly every inning for the Democratic team in the last nine Congressional Baseball Games and was such a standout that The New York Times called him “the Babe Ruth of Congress.” 

Carter told CQ Roll Call that his skills lie in other areas, like hosting regular bipartisan icebreakers for fellow lawmakers at his Baton Rouge apartment when the state Senate is in session. 

“Let me tell you what I have promised all of my friends and all the people who are supporting me in Baton Rouge,” he said. “I’m still going to do the crawfish boil. I’m still going to do the beignets. We’re going to have hurricanes and hand grenades —not the kind you throw but the kind you drink. But I’m not going to be on that mound. … I’m gonna stay in my lane, man. Listen, Cedric was very unique in that ability. I don’t have that same skill set. So I’ll do all the other stuff. Somebody else is going to have to throw that fastball.”

Shop talk: Robyn Patterson

Patterson, a native of Texas who served as the DCCC’s national press secretary for the 2020 cycle, recently settled into a new role as deputy communications director for Pelosi. She manages rapid response for the California lawmaker and other House Democrats.

Starting out: “I was always interested in politics,” says Patterson, a graduate of the University of Southern California. “But I decided to make it a career while volunteering on a Los Angeles City Council race during my sophomore year of college. I went door to door with the candidate on a few occasions and watching his conversations with voters about housing costs and safer neighborhoods made me want to keep working for good people.” That candidate was David Roberts, who didn’t win. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment? “For me, nothing will ever top election night 2008. President Obama’s election made anything and everything feel possible. I still get goosebumps thinking about the moment networks called the race.”

Biggest campaign regret? “I’ve come to regret every decision I didn’t make with a healthy dose of skepticism,” Patterson notes. “I’ve definitely been guilty of paying too close attention to the indicators that point in the direction I’ve wanted them to. On campaigns, as in life, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Planning for all of the worst-case scenarios can make a big difference in a close race.” 

Unconventional wisdom: “I think folks take for granted how much ‘Who’s up, who’s down’ political coverage misses the moment that we’re in. The House Republican campaign arm spent much of 2020 claiming that Democrats wanted to release Black and brown criminals into suburban neighborhoods, and House Republicans in good standing with their caucus praised Kyle Rittenhouse and others like him,” says Patterson, who is Black. Rittenhouse was charged with killing two people who were participating in a Black Lives Matter demonstration, in Kenosha, Wis., last summer. “The 2020 election cycle was a particularly terrifying campaign cycle for a lot of staffers of color who watched these trends go unremarked upon. Coverage that doesn’t call out the racism and other forms of ugliness that we’re seeing right now (beyond just QAnon) risks glossing over and normalizing some alarming developments in our politics,” Patterson says.

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

Coming up

Contributions and spending disclosures for candidates running in the March 20 special elections in Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th districts are due Monday to the FEC. Karen Carter Peterson, one of the Democrats seeking Richmond’s 2nd District seat, has already announced she’s raised $750,000 since entering the race in late November.

Photo finish

Capitol Hill denizens got some good news this week! The famed coffee shop Cups in the Russell Building is coming back in April, Jim Saksa reported for Heard on the Hill. Our bet is that superfan Ted Cruz will be first in line when Cups reopens. (Photos by Bill Clark and Tom Williams/Composite by Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call)

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Dean DeChiaro and Jacob Metz contributed to this report.