At the Races: It’s April, no foolin’

Posted April 1, 2021 at 2:30pm

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President Joe Biden’s choice of a union hall in Pittsburgh as the backdrop for the Wednesday announcement of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan was a clear appeal to the working-class voters Democrats are trying to win back with ambitious government programs. 

“We’ll rebuild the middle class,” Biden said. “We’re going to bring everybody along.” 

Democrats reinforced that message throughout the week on the campaign front, highlighting the infrastructure plan and other Democratic measures in Congress that they say will help America’s working class. 

Pennsylvania’s Democratic lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, who is running for the state’s open Senate seat and joined Biden in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, called the infrastructure package a “slam dunk” and said that it would create “seven figures of new jobs.” Democratic state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, another Senate candidate, also joined Biden in the Keystone State.

The DCCC on Monday released a five-figure digital ad campaign reminding voters of the PRO Act, which is meant to provide protections for workers to organize and passed the Democratic-controlled House last month. 

And House Majority Forward, an outside group that supports House Democrats, launched a digital ad campaign in 31 districts highlighting the American Rescue Plan’s benefits “for working families.” 

But Republicans responded with their own barrage of messaging, making it clear that they are not going to give up this valuable bloc of voters without a fight. 

The NRCC spent the week blasting reporters with emails alleging that the Democrats’ plans would hurt — not help — the middle class. 

“It's simple: Joe Biden and House Democrats are raising taxes on the middle class to pay for their socialist agenda,” NRCC spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair said in one email this morning. 

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Tim Phillips, the president of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, penned an op-ed for Fox Business saying the PRO Act “would undermine the livelihoods of tens of millions of independent contractors at a time when they can least afford it.”

And Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, wrapped it up in a memo he shared with House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy outlining the party’s chances for success. Its title: “Cementing GOP as the Working Class Party.”

Starting gate

In the Hart land: Democrat Rita Hart withdrew her challenge to the election in Iowa’s 2nd District, which she lost to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks by just six votes. 

Speaking of six-vote elections: A select group of New Mexico Democrats picked state Rep. Melanie Stansbury, who previously worked for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Obama administration, as their nominee to replace Deb Haaland in the deep-blue 1st District. Stansbury will face GOP state Sen. Mark Moores in a June 1 special election. 

On your right: Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski drew a Republican challenger this week. Kelly Tshibaka, the state Department of Administration commissioner, painted the incumbent as a career politician and also referenced Murkowski’s vote to convict Donald Trump at his impeachment trial for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. Politico reported that some Trump campaign veterans have joined Tshibaka’s team.

‘Bona fide’ bodyguards: After a three-hour debate last week, members of the Federal Election Commission approved, by a 5-1 vote, an advisory opinion to allow lawmakers to use campaign funds to pay for security expenses to protect themselves and their immediate families. But such security personnel must be “bona fide, legitimate, professional,” the FEC said.

ICYMI

Keystone cash: Fetterman’s campaign announced this morning that he raised a whopping $3.9 million in the first fundraising quarter from 140,000 donations and that 99 percent of the donations were under $200. The press release did not say how much money his campaign had on hand.

The Long Game: CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he has no plans to vacate his Senate seat early, despite supporting legislation in Kentucky to change the way appointments are made for Senate vacancies to ensure a successor of the same party as the departing senator. “I’m not going anywhere. I just got elected to a six-year term and I’m still the leader of my party in the Senate, so this is a hypothetical," McConnell said in Shepherdsville, Ky.

THE Ohio Senate race: Ohio Rep. Michael R. Turner took some steps toward a Senate run in Ohio, launching an introductory video and a “listening tour,” while fellow GOP Rep. Brad Wenstrup said he isn’t running. One of the current Republican candidates, Josh Mandel, released his first TV ad of the race. He has reportedly hired well-known ad maker Fred Davis. On the other side of the aisle, 314 Action, which backs candidates with STEM backgrounds, said this week it would spend $5 million in the Democratic primary to support former state health director Amy Acton if she decides to run. Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan hasn’t yet said if he’s definitely running, but his campaign announced today that he raised $1.2 million in the first fundraising quarter, which ended yesterday, and had $1 million on hand.

Dem candidates: Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton is planning to join the Democratic primary for Senate in North Carolina next week, according to the Carteret County News-Times And in Florida, former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson filed to run against GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, although he hasn’t decided if he’s definitely running, according to Florida Politics. He has also filed to run in the yet-to-be-drawn 28th District.

Déjà vu: Former Rep. Paul Broun said he will run for his old seat in Georgia’s 10th District, which fellow Republican Jody B. Hice is vacating to run for secretary of state. And after losing a special and a general election last year to GOP Rep. Mike Garcia in California’s 25th District, Democrat Christy Smith announced this week she is planning to run again.

Soul-searching the polls: Civil rights groups sued Georgia over new voting restrictions that Biden called an atrocity and other Democrats denounced as a return to Jim Crow. But analyst Dave Wasserman of The Cook Political Report said the rules could backfire on the Republican-led state legislature by turning out enraged Democratic voters, and it would do little to stem the blue tide sweeping over the state.

Progressive support: Democrat Gary Chambers, an activist who outperformed expectations when he finished third in last month’s special election for Louisiana’s 2nd District, endorsed former rival Karen Carter Peterson in the April 24 runoff. Carter Peterson and runoff opponent Troy Carter, both Democratic state senators, had each sought Chambers’ endorsement. But it was especially important to Carter Peterson, who was thought to have lost some of the progressive vote to Chambers. 

Blame game: The Republican Accountability Project, a group that opposes Trump’s influence on the GOP, is spending $1 million on digital and TV ads criticizing six House Republicans it says “encouraged a deadly attack” on Congress on Jan. 6. The ads target McCarthy, along with Reps. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Mo Brooks of Alabama, who is running for the state’s open Senate seat.

Partisan puppies: It may be a new month today, but we’re still cleaning out our inboxes from the flood of end-of-quarter fundraising solicitations. It’s hard to stand out amid the barrage, but one appeal from Rep. Elissa Slotkin was, shall we say, top dog. The Michigan Democrat featured a pic of her two pups and noted that one of the best parts of working from home during the pandemic “has been getting to spend some extra time with my puppies Rocky (8 months) and Boomer (5 months). … Their favorite part of the day? When I can finally stop sending fundraising emails, step away from my computer, and come play.”

Filibuster infighting: Progressive-leaning political and policy groups have turned their activism toward abolishing the filibuster in the Senate — with one notable exception: abortion rights organizations, according to Politico. “Groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL know that killing the legislative filibuster could remove an obstacle to getting abortion rights legislation on the books,” Politico explains. But they’re also worried about a future Senate under Republican control and so have not joined the push.

What we’re reading

Laying the groundwork: The Miami Herald digs into NRSC Chairman Rick Scott’s political ambitions as he heads to Iowa today with a potential 2024 run for the White House on the horizon. 

Cha-ching: A number of political money groups connected to Trump are popping up, attempting to harness the former president’s fundraising power, The Washington Post reported.

Lone Star battleground: The Texas Tribune takes a deep look at how South Texas is emerging as an epicenter of the state’s political universe with competitive House seats that could determine which party controls the chamber in 2023. 

Political secrets: The New Yorker has a scoop on what GOP aides really think of HR 1, the Democrats’ big overhaul of election, campaign finance and ethics laws. Even with Republicans’ unified against the measure, behind closed doors, Jane Mayer writes, they admit some of the provisions in the bill limiting secret campaign spending are overwhelmingly popular across the political spectrum. 

Carpet-riding cowboy? At the Races readers will remember former pro wrestler Dan Rodimer’s 2020 run for Congress in Nevada, where he won the Republican nomination to challenge Democrat Susie Lee in the GOP-targeted 3rd District, in spite of past baggage that included an arrest at a Waffle House in Florida. The Washington Post delves deeper into Rodimer’s past, now that the former New Jersey prep school student has reinvented himself as a Texas cowboy running in the state’s crowded 6th District special election. 

What we’re listening to: Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock joined The New York Times’ The Daily podcast to discuss his Senate victory, running statewide in Georgia as a Black pastor and the fight over voting rights.

Defund the police: Politico takes a look at competing efforts to determine whether calls to defund the police hurt Democratic candidates in 2020. 

Feeling the squeeze?: Politico also has a tally of the Democrats considering runs for higher office as the redistricting process in Republican-run states puts their seats in jeopardy. The NRCC blasted out a link to the article in an email — with the subject line “Told ya’ so” — highlighting its “exit” list of members the committee predicts will soon retire because, it says, “House Democrats are going to lose their majority or they are going to lose their seats.”

The count: 10%

“Despite a record turnout in the 2020 general election, only 10% of eligible Americans nationwide cast ballots in primary elections that effectively decided the winners in a supermajority (83%) of Congressional seats,” wrote the authors of a new report titled “The Primary Problem” from Unite America, a group focused on political reforms that backs candidates of both parties. The group looked at primary participation in 361 House districts rated “safe” by The Cook Political Report, and found that of the 234.9 million voters eligible to vote in those districts’ primaries, just 23.4 million cast ballots. The figure does not include votes cast in primaries where the “dominant party” did not face any competition.

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales takes a look at the Senate battleground, and the limited number of pickup opportunities for both parties in 2022. In fact, this battleground features one of the smallest batches of competitive states in recent years.

Candidate confessions

As Texas Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez seeks to stand out from a crowded field in the special election for the Republican-leaning 6th District, she knows she will have to appeal to a growing population of Latino voters — some of them in her own family. 

Sanchez comes from a large Latino family with deep roots in the district. Her grandfather settled there when he came to the United States from Mexico as a farm worker and became a citizen in the 1960s. Of his 27 children, a number stayed in the region, including Sanchez’s father. 

Some of those relatives are part of a constituency that has gotten a lot of press coverage recently: Latinos who voted for Trump in 2020. Sanchez said those voters are often taken for granted by Democrats, who make the mistake of seeing Latinos as a monolithic group. But she said Latino voters want the same things as their white neighbors, including health care access, good-paying jobs and sustainable infrastructure.

Shop talk: Justin Barasky

Barasky, a former senior adviser to the DSCC, recently became a partner at Left Hook, a Democratic media and strategy firm. 

Starting out: “This dates me, but it was probably when the Bush-Gore election happened, and I was glued to CNN at the time,” Barasky said in a recent interview. “And I was outraged over what I believed to be an election that had been stolen away, based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of what happened in Florida. And that’s when I switched majors in college. I was a broadcast journalism major. And I knew that I wanted to go into politics and be in the fight instead of reporting on the fight.” Barasky first switched to political science and later to political communication. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment? It’s a tie between two election night wins. The first was former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s victory in 2010, when Barasky worked as Reid’s rapid response director. “That was a race that no one thought we were going to win,” Barasky recalled. “Even in the days leading up to the election, there were national stories about how we were losing. So certainly, there’s nothing like winning. There's nothing like the moment they call a race.” Barasky’s second unforgettable moment came in 2012, when Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown’s victory was called. “That race was my first race where I was senior staff on a big statewide race,” he said, noting that he was one of Brown’s first hires and he served as communications director. “In that cycle, we were the campaign that had the most money spent against it by outside groups in the entire country,” Barasky said. “And we still won. So it had been like a relentless onslaught against us for over a year. And it was a very special feeling.”

Biggest campaign regret? “When I first started out, I used to keep my apartment in D.C. It was just the dumbest possible thing I could have ever done, sending thousands of dollars in rent money to an empty apartment every month while I found places to live for free,” Barasky said, recalling that he once sold his car to make rent. Barasky now advises new campaign staffers: “Do not live in D.C. when you’re first starting out. Live anywhere. Get a place on the campaign that you’re working on. It’s going to be cheaper.”

Unconventional wisdom:  “At the end of the day, too many people in campaigns worry about things they can’t control,” Barasky said, later adding that examples include “basically everything on Twitter,” such as advice and criticisms that flood a campaign after it launches. “If people spend less time worrying about the things they can’t control and focusing on a small subset of things that they can, they’ll ultimately (a) be more successful in their races, (b) have a better working environment, which I think really matters, and (c) just generally be happier.”

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

Coming up

As much as some people want to lament it, baseball is back, and CQ Roll Call deputy editor Jason Dick talked to a guy named Fear about what they’re doing to protect fans at Nationals Park.

Photo finish

Even better than Infrastructure Week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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