At the Races: Audit-ioning for Trump

Posted June 17, 2021 at 2:30pm

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Lawmakers have returned to D.C., and Democrats are still looking for a path forward for their overhaul of elections, campaign finance and lobbying laws. But they aren’t waiting on Congress to act. The DSCC announced this week it was investing $10 million in a new “Defend the Vote” program to track new restrictions, engage in lawsuits and fund “on-the-ground voter protection staff in coordinated campaigns,” according to a press release. 

Meanwhile, Republicans are still grappling with former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Morning Consult reports that some GOP strategists are concerned Trump’s focus on the past could hurt the party’s efforts to win back control of Congress in 2022. Multiple Republicans have said Trump’s decision to cast doubt on the legitimacy of elections contributed to the GOP’s losses in a pair of Senate runoffs in Georgia earlier this year, which handed Democrats control of the chamber. 

Republicans are looking to win back one of those Senate seats in Georgia next year, as well as one in Arizona. The Grand Canyon State has become ground zero for Trump’s election falsehoods, culminating in an ongoing audit in Maricopa County, which is already affecting Senate races. Last month, Trump chided Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, now a Senate candidate, saying that Brnovich was “always on television promoting himself, but never mentions the Crime of the Century, that took place during the 2020 Presidential Election.” 

On Monday, Brnovich told the Justice Department that his office “will not tolerate any effort to undermine or interfere with our State Senate’s audit.” The Arizona audit has attracted other GOP Senate hopefuls, including former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who skipped GOP events in the Show-Me State to witness the audit instead.

Starting gate

Fallback position? If efforts in Congress and the courts don’t undo new voting restrictions in red states, Democratic election law attorney Marc Elias says Democrats should object to seating House members elected under those laws, CQ Roll Call politics editor Herb Jackson writes.

Indebted: Five House Democrats representing the more moderate end of the caucus threw some doubt on the future of President Joe Biden’s agenda, CQ Roll Call’s Paul M. Krawzak and Lindsey McPherson report. House Republicans’ campaign arm is targeting four of them: Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Dean Phillips of Minnesota.

Prebuttal to ‘socialism’ attacks? Phillips and another targeted House Democrat, Pennsylvania’s Chrissy Houlahan, are forming a caucus focused on “stakeholder capitalism,” CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa writes.

Follow the Mooney: The Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating whether West Virginia GOP Rep. Alex X. Mooney used campaign funds for personal use, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette reports. 

Trending: Stu Rothenberg looks at how the decline in split-ticket voting could affect the fight for the Senate in 2022.

ICYMI

Everybody in the pool: The DCCC has named 18 new House members to its leadership team, including regional vice chairs Angie Craig of Minnesota, Scott Peters of California and David Trone of Maryland, as House Democrats seek to defend their narrow majority in the midterms. “With their diverse array of backgrounds and experiences, we are on an even stronger footing to recruit candidates, build powerful campaigns, and deliver for the American people,” Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York said in a statement.

Battle for the Senate: In Pennsylvania, Rep. Madeleine Dean has ruled out a Senate run, meaning Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh may be the highest-profile woman in the Democratic primary. In Arizona, Brnovich jumped into the GOP Senate primary this week. In Alabama, retiring GOP Sen. Richard C. Shelby is backing his former chief of staff, Katie Britt, in her bid to replace him. That’s bucking Trump, who’s endorsed GOP Rep. Mo Brooks (who nabbed a Club for Growth endorsement this week). And in New Hampshire, GOP Gov. Chris Sununu said it’s going to be a “really long time” before he makes a decision about running for Senate.

Trump’s pick: North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd’s campaign released a poll this week showing that Trump’s recent endorsement could give Budd a boost. The poll of 500 likely GOP primary voters, conducted by Rob Autry of Meeting Street Insights, showed former Gov. Pat McCrory with an early advantage, leading the primary field with 45 percent, while 19 percent backed Budd and 12 percent backed former GOP Rep. Mark Walker. When voters were informed of Trump’s endorsement, 46 percent supported Budd, 27 percent backed McCrory and 8 percent backed Walker. 

Florida man: William Braddock, who is running to replace departing Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th District, was caught on a secret recording obtained by Politico threatening to send a “Russian and Ukrainian hit squad” after GOP primary rival Anna Paulina Luna and make her “disappear.” The recording surfaced shortly after Luna, the 2020 GOP nominee in the district, obtained a stalking injunction against Braddock, saying he was plotting to murder her. 

S 1 watch: The National Democratic Redistricting Committee this week launched a digital ad buy and web video as well as billboards in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania to push for Senate passage of S 1, dubbed the For the People Act, Democrats’ overhaul of election, campaign finance and lobbying laws. The digital ads will run through next week on Facebook and other platforms. Meanwhile, the progressive group Indivisible this week launched a grassroots push, called Deadline for Democracy, in support of the measure. It will include in-person events across the country, the group’s co-executive director Ezra Levin said. “We already have activists in literally every state,” he told ATR.

Remember him? Former Arizona GOP Rep. Matt Salmon launched a run for governor this week. 

Power of the purse: Winning for Women PAC, which supports Republican female candidates, offered its first wave of endorsements this week, backing nine House freshmen: Young Kim and Michelle Steel of California; María Elvira Salazar of Florida; Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa; Nicole Malliotakis of New York; Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma; Nancy Mace of South Carolina; and Beth Van Duyne of Texas.

On the airwaves: The group Pro-Israel America United is up with a new ad, hitting Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar for comments she made about Israel. The ads are running on network TV stations and on cable news channels in the Minneapolis media market. Jeff Mendelsohn, the group’s executive director, called Omar’s comments dangerous and said they “embolden terrorist groups.” Omar, in a statement last week, said, “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”

Banking bitcoin: Donors to House Republicans have a new option for their campaign contributions: cryptocurrency. The NRCC said it would begin accepting such donations using the payment company BitPay.

Pay no mind to that guy over there: Lawyer Matt Putorti said he raised more than $100,000 in the first 15 hours after launching his campaign against House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik in New York’s 21st District. Putorti is Stefanik’s second Democratic challenger so far. His announcement earned a statement from Stefanik’s campaign denouncing the “second socialist Democrat” to run in the upstate district. 

What we’re reading

Prodding the O.G.: New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a progressive who defeated longtime Rep. Eliot L. Engel in a 2020 Democratic primary, spends some time with NPR in his Bronx-area district and talked about how his younger, more diverse class of lawmakers could push older members of Congress (he calls them the O.G. reps — as in original gangsters) to be more responsive to constituents in communities like his.

Expanding the map: Republicans are looking to make Senate races in Nevada and New Hampshire more competitive by recruiting prominent challengers, Bloomberg Government reports

The Trump nod: CNN looks at how Trump-endorsed candidates have not yet been able to clear primary fields in some Senate races. HuffPost explores how some GOP Senate hopefuls who criticized Trump in the past are now vying for the former president’s endorsement. And Politico reports that Trump’s team has had to push back on candidates who falsely claim they have his endorsement. 

Where the Chips fall: Texas Rep. Chip Roy’s 2022 campaign will be a test of whether a GOP candidate can succeed after sometimes bucking the party and criticizing Trump, The Wall Street Journal writes in this profile. Although Roy didn’t join the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after Jan. 6, he has angered the former president enough for Trump to say he would probably be “successfully primaried in his own district.”

Falling upward: Tim Shepherd lost his job as an evangelical Christian missionary eight years ago when he came out as a gay man. The experience is now central to the Democrat’s campaign to become Missouri’s first gay senator, The Kansas City Star writes in this profile

Hold the line: The Intercept obtained a recording of a Zoom call with Sen. Joe Manchin III and donors that offers insight into where the moderate West Virginia Democrat is on the filibuster and other issues.

Moving on: Virginia’s outgoing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is set to leave office popular among Black political leaders in the commonwealth, despite a 2019 scandal over a racist photo from his school yearbook, according to The New York Times.

The count: 65 percent

That’s how many Capitol Hill staffers, including a plurality of Democrats, said “no” when asked if the GOP will “pay a political price for blocking a Jan. 6 commission,”  according to CQ Roll Call’s latest Capitol Insiders Survey of congressional aides. Just 11 percent of the 44 Republican respondents to the question thought there would be a political price to pay, a figure that grows to only 38 percent for the 29 Democratic respondents. By comparison, 48 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans said there would be no price. The rest, including one independent respondent, were not sure. CQ Roll Call emailed the survey to staffers on June 7 and they had until June 9 to respond.

Nathan’s notes

If you can't watch the whole country next year, Nathan L. Gonzales says you’ll probably know which party is going to win control of Congress if you focus on four states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

Candidate confessions

Florida Rep. Val B. Demings tends to use her enthusiasm for her 2003 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic motorcycle to symbolize her defiance of the GOP caricature of Democrats as weak and ineffectual. Her official House profile mentions it. Her video launching her campaign to challenge Republican Sen. Marco Rubio ends with pictures of her riding it. Demings told MSNBC’s Joy Reid this month that she doesn’t plan to give up the hobby anytime soon. “I intend to be on that motorcycle quite a bit,” she said, adding that she wanted to remind voters “who I am” and of her record in the Orlando Police Department. She served on the motor patrol police force and ultimately headed the department during a four-year stretch that saw a 43.6 percent dip in violent crime.

Shop talk: Jonathan Kott

Kott, a former senior adviser and communications director to Manchin, joined the lobbying firm Capitol Counsel this week as a partner. Most recently, he was a senior adviser to Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat.

Starting out: Kott says his first entry into politics came as an intern in the New York office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development: “I got to help people in New York City, where I’m from, get homes. That is why I got into politics.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Drinking moonshine and singing ‘Country Roads’ with Joe Manchin in a holler in West Virginia in 2018,” Kott recalled, using the West Virginia term for a remote area. It happened during a campaign event after the West Virginia University football team won a game. “For a guy who grew up in New York City, I did not imagine that is how I'd be working on campaigns,” he laughed.

Biggest campaign regret: “I gained 40 pounds and got shingles when I first moved to Iowa,” he said, recalling his work in the state in 2004 for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s presidential campaign.

Unconventional wisdom: “You can be the communications director for two senators at the same time, and not go crazy,” Kott said, referring to 2016 when he served in that role for both Manchin and Coons. Another bit of wisdom from Kott: “Twitter is not real life. Building personal relationships is the best way to communicate on Capitol Hill, not social media.”

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

Coming up

Trump's revenge tour kicks off next week as the former president plans to hold a June 26 rally in Wellington, Ohio, to boost Republican candidate Max Miller, a contender in the 16th District where he is challenging GOP incumbent Anthony Gonzalez, one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump's impeachment.

Photo finish

After reenacting her swearing-in Monday in the Capitol’s Rayburn Room, New Mexico Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury gets a hug from her father, James Stansbury. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

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