At the Races: Policies and primaries

Posted March 25, 2021 at 2:30pm

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call campaign team. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

News of yet another mass shooting, this week in Boulder, Colo., prompted renewed calls for Congress to address gun violence. The House passed two gun control measures earlier this month, with some GOP support and the backing of all but one Democrat, a sign of how the politics of gun violence has shifted in recent years. But the bills face slim odds of passing the Senate. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III has said he does not support the House measures, and Democrats also face a 60-vote threshold to end debate on legislation. 

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats moved forward with their first hearing on a massive overhaul of election and campaign finance laws, known as S 1 (or HR 1 in the House). The bill is just one example of the sweeping policies that Republicans expect to campaign against in 2022. Republicans are largely united against the Democratic agenda. But before they can make their case that Democrats shouldn’t be in charge, they have to contend with political divisions in their own party, with former President Donald Trump continuing to wield his influence in primaries. 

This week, Trump endorsed Georgia Rep. Jody B. Hice in his GOP primary challenge to Secretary of  State Brad Raffensperger, who rebuked Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen. In the battle for the Senate, three new Republican candidates launched campaigns by arguing that they supported Trump and fought for his agenda. NRSC Chairman Rick Scott told reporters at the Capitol that he has encouraged the former president to stay out of intraparty contests. 

Scott said he wants Trump to “help me win races.” Citing a recent meeting at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, Scott said he told Trump, “I hope you’ll get involved after the primaries.”

Starting gate

Motivated: Treating Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in 2011 was a “defining moment” for surgeon Randy Friese, who went on to push for gun control as a member of the Arizona Legislature and today formally launched a bid to succeed retiring Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick in the Tucson-area 2nd District.

More Mo: A lot has changed since Alabama GOP Rep. Mo Brooks launched an ill-fated Senate campaign four years ago. After entering the open race this week for the state’s other Senate seat, Brooks said in an interview that he’s “cautiously optimistic” he’ll have Trump’s support this time and that his role as one of Trump’s most ardent defenders will propel him to victory.

Calling it quits: Three House members said this week they would not seek reelection to the chamber: Texas Democrat Filemon Vela, who faced uncertainty with the opposing party in control of redistricting; New York Republican Tom Reed, who was rocked by revelations of a drunken 2017 encounter with a lobbyist; and Hice, who wants to take on a Trump bête noire in Georgia.

Top billing: As outside groups ramped up multimillion-dollar campaigns for and against it, senators on Wednesday took their first formal look at the Democrats’ symbolic top-priority S 1 bill. But the overhaul’s fate may come down to one senator: Manchin, with the NRSC launching a $1 million ad campaign against the bill focused mainly on senators up for reelection next year in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Nevada, according to Axios.

#LA05 settled, #LA02 fight continues: In special elections Saturday, Louisiana voters picked Republican Julia Letlow for the seat won by her late husband in the 5th District, while two Democratic state senators, Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson, advanced to an April runoff in the 2nd District, most recently held by Democrat Cedric L. Richmond, now White House engagement director.

Watch your language: As candidates start to jump into races for open House seats, Nathan L. Gonzales cautions about describing the political makeup of districts when that could look very different by the time voters actually go to the polls in 2022.

ICYMI

Waiting on lines: Senate Republicans slammed the Census Bureau director at a hearing Tuesday, saying delayed population figures will likely result in litigation and other redistricting problems, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said constitutional requirements could mean his state would “not be able to use your data, which is just unheard of.” 

Kim’s new mission: New Jersey Democratic Rep. Andy Kim, a GOP target in 2022, announced Wednesday that he’s launching In Our Hands PAC to “recruit, train and support AAPI and candidates of color to run for office at all levels,” according to a press release. Kim, the son of Korean immigrants and New Jersey’s first Asian American member of Congress, said in the release, “When I first ran for Congress, insiders told me I can’t win because my majority white district wouldn’t vote for an Asian American or a candidate of any color. With the help of many people, we proved them wrong and I want to now work with you to lift up AAPI and other candidates of color all over the country.”

Battle of the Erics: The GOP primary for Missouri’s open Senate seat kicked off this week, with both former Gov. Eric Greitens and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt launching their campaigns on Fox News. Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe announced that he wouldn’t be running for Senate, launching a 2024 run for governor instead. Greitens’ entry into the race could cause some headaches for Republicans since he resigned from office in 2018 amid multiple scandals. Both of Missouri’s GOP senators declined to comment directly on Greitens, with retiring Sen. Roy Blunt telling reporters at the Capitol that he is “going to let this race settle out.” Sen. Josh Hawley said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll endorse a candidate in the primary. 

Thanks, but no thanks: Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, said this week that she won’t run for Senate.

Leftward momentum: The primary won’t happen until August, but former Bernie Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner continues to rack up progressive endorsements in the special election to replace Democrat Marcia L. Fudge in Ohio’s 11th District. The latest came this week with a nod from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the backing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, which launched its own independent expenditure arm last cycle.

Gotta pay the bills: Nabilah Islam, who made headlines (including in CQ Roll Call) for giving up health insurance to pay her living expenses while she pursued an Atlanta-area House seat last cycle, filed an FEC petition Tuesday that she said would help lower the barrier for people with lower incomes who want to run for Congress by giving candidates more access to money and benefits from their campaigns. Islam lost the 2020 Democratic primary in the 7th District to now-Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.

Checking it twice: The NRCC is out today with an “exit list,” a rundown of the Democrats that the House GOP campaign arm believes are most likely to retire or run for another office in 2022. The committee is adding a nudge in the way of new billboard and radio ads targeting vulnerable Democrats Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas. The NRCC says it’s going up with a radio spot against Gonzalez and billboards in Lamb’s and Kind’s districts. 

Miller time: The conservative Club for Growth PAC threw its support behind Max Miller, a Marine reservist who has mounted a GOP primary challenge against Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a onetime professional football player, who voted to impeach Trump earlier this year. Miller served as a senior adviser to Trump and announced his bid for the suburban Cleveland seat in February.   

What we’re reading

Stu says: Recent lamentations about former President George W. Bush — that he’s the kind of reasonable Republican driven out of his party by the forces of Trump — ignore what Democrats said about Bush when he was in office, Stu Rothenberg writes in a column that decries demonization of the opposition.

Plot twist? Some Ohio Republicans are questioning whether author J.D. Vance would be a formidable Senate candidate, The Washington Examiner reports

The center will hold? Politics on the Hill might be stubbornly partisan. But both parties still need centrists to win elections, a FiveThirtyEight.com analysis found. Data from the 2020 elections showed that the candidates who outperformed their parties on both sides of the aisle tended to be “incumbents with moderate voting records and personal brands that differentiate them from the national reputation of their party.”

Majority rules: The debate over the Senate filibuster isn’t just for Democrats in D.C. Politico reports that Senate hopefuls in three of the party’s best pickup opportunities, in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina, are voicing their opposition to the arcane Senate procedure. 

The big cheese: The New York Times takes a deep dive into how Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a top Democratic target in 2022, “has become the Republican Party’s foremost amplifier of conspiracy theories and disinformation.” Johnson still hasn’t said if he’s running for reelection, but he told a gathering of Wisconsin conservatives last weekend that, to win, Republicans need to “talk about what the Democrats are doing to this country,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Details, details: Among other things, the wide-ranging elections, ethics and campaign finance messaging bill that Democrats gave the top-priority numbers of HR 1 and S 1 requires election administrators to buy voting machines that don’t exist, Votebeat’s editorial director wrote in an opinion piece in The Daily Beast. A look at the writer’s Twitter feed shows this information did not play well with the bill’s supporters.

Yes, labels? After three decades as the fastest-growing group of voters in California, the number of unaffiliated voters in the state is shrinking, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Family ties: Our former colleague Eric Garcia takes a personal look at a larger trend in politics. “My dad’s politics wouldn’t be of much interest to the wider world, except that he’s part of a group that constituted one of the most puzzling footnotes to the 2020 election: Latinos who voted for Trump,” he writes in The Washington Post

Political spies:  GOP officials made a mysterious $36,000 payment in February to private investigators, Insider scoops. 

The count: 39

That’s how many House members, on average, since 1932, do not seek reelection in years ending in 2 — the first cycle of a new decade, when districts are redrawn to accommodate new Census data — according to the Brookings Institution’s Vital Statistics of Congress, which draws on CQ Roll Call data and other sources. The average for non-redistricting years since 1930 is 32 seats, about 18 percent lower. There’s no partisan split, with an average of 20 Democrats and 19 Republicans retiring or otherwise not running for their seats again in a redistricting year. The biggest departure was in 1992, when 65 members did not run; the fewest was 24, in 1962.

Nathan’s notes

If you’re looking for drama in the special elections coming up this year, Nathan suggests you watch the race to replace the late GOP Rep. Ron Wright in Texas’ 6th District, since the three other House special elections are all rated Solid Democratic — even though we don’t know who the nominees will be yet.

Candidate confessions

In 2017, when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks made abolishing the filibuster a key point of contrast in his GOP primary campaign against appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who supported the procedure at the time. Faced with Democratic control of Washington four years later, Brooks is changing his tune.

“In 2017, we should have eliminated the filibuster, because that was our once-in-a-hundred-year chance to reverse a lot of the damage that had been done when the socialists controlled the House, Senate and White House in 2009,” Brooks said in an interview after launching his 2022 Senate campaign this week. “Now that we’re in the minority, there is no strategic benefit to eliminating the filibuster.” 

Brooks said he would favor eliminating the filibuster if Republicans once again take control of Congress and the White House. “Right now, retaining the filibuster is in the best interest of America, so I want to keep it,” he said. “When the filibuster is damaging America, well, then I want to get rid of it.”

Shop talk: Andrew Romeo

Romeo served as communications director for the 2020 reelection campaign of North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis. He recently joined the Republican State Leadership Committee, which works to recruit, train and elect down-ballot Republicans.

Starting out:  Romeo didn’t grow up in a political family but sought out campaign internships after an injury sidelined him from playing football at Colgate University. He ultimately interned on the presidential campaign of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “I soon found out that campaigns and football have a lot of similarities in terms of being able to plan and execute a winning strategy, being able to handle pressure and shifts in momentum, and the need to focus on the fundamentals in order to be successful,” he says. “I realized politics can provide a similar adrenaline level to sports, and from then on I knew I wanted to make it a career.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Oct. 2, 2020, was easily the craziest day of my political career so far,” he recalls. “Late that day we found out that Sen. Tillis had tested positive for COVID-19 and would have to suspend all upcoming in-person campaign activity.” Romeo was among several staffers who could have been exposed and had to get tested. Then, around 11 p.m. the same day, The (Raleigh) News & Observer called Romeo seeking comment on a forthcoming story about an extramarital relationship of Tillis’ opponent, Democrat Cal Cunningham. “After that roller coaster of a day, we embarked on a monthlong campaign to highlight the contrast between Sen. Tillis and Cunningham on the issue of trust,” Romeo says. 

Biggest campaign regret: “Most of the mistakes I’ve made on campaigns have come from dwelling too long on a bad moment or news cycle. With the amount of twists and turns that occur during the course of a race, what you think is a big deal that day may not end up mattering a whole lot down the line,” he says. The operatives he most admires “are all people who have the ability to handle difficult situations and then move on to the next thing.”

Unconventional wisdom: “One of the most troubling things I’ve observed working in politics is how state and local press corps seem to be shrinking in every state. Some states now only have a handful of reporters with the ability to write daily stories on a big statewide race, let alone cover what is going on in down-ballot races, or in state legislatures,” he says. “The lack of bandwidth state reporters have makes it a lot harder for them to thoroughly vet candidates, which is something that just cannot be outsourced to the national press. The result of this phenomenon could reduce the quality of candidates we see elected from both parties, as it will be increasingly easier for one to get a free pass on their background and record.”

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

Coming up

The New Mexico Democratic Party selects its nominee Tuesday for the 1st District seat vacated by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. A pool of eight candidates in the heavily Democratic district is vying for the support from roughly 200 state party committee members. Republicans pick their nominee Saturday. The special election to replace Haaland is set for June 1.

Photo finish

Here’s a throwback to Brooks’ first Senate run in 2017, when he took his bus tour to Jack’s hamburger chain in Munford, Ala. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Subscribe now using this link so you don’t miss out on the best news and analysis from our team.