At the Races: Hot mule sweat summer

Posted July 1, 2021 at 2:30pm

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Editor’s note: To honor America’s independence and Congress being on recess, At the Races will not publish next week. We will be back on July 15.

Anyone looking for a quiet few days on the politics front heading into the July Fourth recess can thank the Supreme Court for not making that happen. The court issued a pair of long-awaited, high-profile voting rights and donor disclosure cases this morning, siding with Republicans in both. 

Democrats and their outside group allies blasted the decisions and said the court had given even more urgency to their beleaguered overhaul of elections, campaign finance and ethics laws as well as a forthcoming Democratic voting rights bill — not to mention the potential undoing of the filibuster.

Incumbents and candidates raced to get out statements and messaging on the SCOTUS cases, but we know what was really top of mind: tabulating their second-quarter fundraising receipts after days of frantic appeals. If you’re like us, your inbox was flooded with end-of-quarter solicitations up until midnight — from congressional leaders such as New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer to congressional hopefuls such as Republican Jen Kiggans, who is running in Virginia’s 2nd District. 

Schumer’s campaign said that it was close to reaching its “goal of 10,000 donations” before midnight but that “close doesn’t count” given the 50-50 Senate “if we want to keep fighting to defend voting rights and expand our majority.” Kiggans’ campaign offered a ridiculously specific dollar goal, telling prospective donors: “we are still $39,412 away from the goal Jen set to meet for the quarter.”

Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, whose state is set to lose a House seat, acknowledged that she’ll have to introduce herself to new voters and that she needs a respectable haul for the quarter: “That number matters because if we can make clear to the world that I will run another strong race, it can, as it has before, discourage potential Republicans from getting in the race.”

While Slotkin took a serious approach, Louisiana GOP Sen. John Kennedy donned a workout outfit and tried for, well, something else. He told donors he was “sweatin’ like a sugar mill mule” to raise money.

Starting gate

Another notch: In a case that has Arizona GOP Attorney General-turned-Senate candidate Mark Brnovich’s name on it, the Supreme Court made it harder to use the Voting Rights Act to overturn state election laws, CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger reports. And in a case brought by Americans for Prosperity, the court also struck down as a First Amendment violation a California law requiring charities to disclose their donors to the state attorney general’s office.

Campaigning for a living wage: The Federal Election Commission may revise the rules for candidates’ salaries and health benefits, a move that campaign finance overhaul groups say would make it easier for a more diverse collection of people to seek public office. 

Campaign fine-ance: Utah GOP Rep. Burgess Owens was slapped with a nearly $4,000 FEC fine for failing to report $34,000 in last-minute contributions to his 2020 campaign. 

Out like a Lamb? Pennsylvania Democrat Conor Lamb was among the lawmakers most likely to split with his party’s leadership when he first came to the House in 2018. But he’s been more willing to vote the party line since then, as he navigates a competitive district and weighs a Senate run.

Running into fire: Daniel Hernandez was credited with helping to save Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords’ life after a 2011 mass shooting at a district event when he was an intern. He talked to us about how the experience helped cement his commitment to a career in politics. Now a state representative, Hernandez recently launched a campaign for the Democratic nomination in state’s open 2nd District. 

Alabama getaway: A ruling by a three-judge court that the state of Alabama and GOP Rep. Robert B. Aderholt were not able to show how they would be harmed by waiting for detailed census redistricting data could clear the last legal hurdle to the Biden administration’s planned August release, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports.

Capitol probe: Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney got the headline, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s picks for the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol include two House Democrats on the NRCC’s target list for next year: 20-year Navy veteran Elaine Luria of Virginia and former Pentagon analyst Stephanie Murphy of Florida.

ICYMI

Rhymes with “time it strange”: As a Democratic Senate committee aide negotiating with Republicans over a water conservation bill, “we were actually told that we would need to remove the words ‘climate change’ from the bill in order to get support from the GOP,” the House’s newest member, Melanie Stansbury of New Mexico, tells CQ Roll Call’s Eleanor Van Buren.

They’re running: Former Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker, who lost the Democratic primary to take on Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell last year, announced this morning that he’s challenging the state’s other Republican senator, Rand Paul. In Ohio, author J.D. Vance filed paperwork with the FEC to join the already crowded GOP primary for the state’s open Senate seat. He is expected to launch his campaign at an event in Ohio tonight.

Rising politics: The NRCC launched a five-figure digital ad campaign this week, targeting potentially vulnerable House Democrats over rising prices and inflation. Those incumbents are: Arizona’s Tom O’Halleran, California’s Josh Harder, Colorado’s Ed Perlmutter, Georgia’s Carolyn Bourdeaux, Iowa’s Cindy Axne, Michigan’s Slotkin and Haley Stevens, Oregon’s Peter A. DeFazio, Pennsylvania’s Chrissy Houlahan, Texas’ Vicente Gonzalez and Virginia’s Luria.  

Taking sides: Former North Carolina state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley racked up more endorsements this week in the Senate Democratic primary, getting the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, Democracy for America PAC, Higher Heights for America and Democrats Serve. EMILY’s List also took sides in Wisconsin, endorsing state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski for the Democratic Senate nomination.

Great Scott! South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott officially launched his reelection campaign with a video featuring a who’s who of GOP leaders.  

Join the club: Florida Democratic Rep. Val B. Demings is the latest Senate candidate to oppose the filibuster.

Out of Orden: Wisconsin Republican Derrick Van Orden used money from his 2020 House campaign to pay for his trip to the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally and was photographed inside a restricted area on the Capitol grounds, raising doubts about his repeated claims that he never entered the Capitol grounds that day, The Daily Beast reports. Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL who is again challenging Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, called the report “inaccurate” at a campaign event this week. But he declined a local La Crosse Tribune reporter’s request to elaborate, saying, “Why would I? It’s inaccurate.”

Race in the race: The GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund attacked Rep. Lucy McBath for “stirring up a fresh batch of controversy,” after conservative media outlets, including the New York Post and Fox News, ran headlines that amplified the Georgia Democrat’s recent remark to donors that the country was “founded on racism.” McBath, a Black woman representing a GOP-targeted district in the Atlanta suburbs, also said that recent events — including the murder of George Floyd and the efforts by GOP-controlled states to enact voting restrictions — show that the U.S. has not entered a “post-racial society.”

2022 watch: CLF President Dan Conston told National Journal that Republicans should have no problem winning back the House majority, but they need to focus on “maintaining enthusiasm,” “redistricting and understanding the opportunity presented by redrawing the congressional maps,” “fundraising” and “holding Democrats accountable.” Added Conston: “We need to make the contrast between Democrats and Republicans clear.”

Democrats divided: The No. 3 House Democrat, James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, waded into the Aug. 3 primary in Ohio’s 11th District that has pitted progressive and establishment Democrats against each other. Clyburn endorsed Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chairwoman Shontel Brown over former Bernie Sanders’ surrogate Nina Turner in the special election to replace Democrat Marcia L. Fudge, now the HUD secretary. Brown already had nods from Hillary Clinton and Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty, while Turner is backed by Sanders and other prominent progressives. Both candidates announced surges in donations following the news of Clyburn’s endorsement. 

#VA02 blotter: Robert Catron, a consultant to former GOP Rep. Scott Taylor, was indicted by a Virginia grand jury on 10 counts of false statements and election fraud, television station WAVY reports. The charges date to Taylor’s losing reelection campaign in 2018 to Luria and are tied to fake signatures on petitions seeking to put an independent candidate on the ballot.

#MA03 blotter: Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts announced a six-count indictment accusing Abhijit “Beej” Das of raising $125,000 in illegal contributions for a 2018 Democratic primary campaign and using the money to pay business debts, and then falsifying campaign finance reports. Das finished seventh in a 10-candidate race narrowly won by now-Rep. Lori Trahan.

More House endorsements: Former New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City” fame recently endorsed Rana Abdelhamid, who is running against New York Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney in the Democratic primary. The group VoteVets endorsed retired naval intelligence officer Quaye Quartey, a Democrat running for California’s 25th District, currently held by Republican Mike Garcia. Former California state Assemblymember Christy Smith, who lost to Garcia twice last year in a special election and in November, has also said she plans to seek the Democratic nomination.  

Disclosure request: The Campaign Legal Center and Duke University’s Center on Science & Technology Policy have asked the FEC to change the rules related to public disclosures for subcontractors to outside vendors. “Voters have a right to know where campaign money is coming from, as well as how it is being spent,” said Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at the Campaign Legal Center. “The FEC created this transparency loophole decades ago, and it is about time that they close it.”

What we’re reading

Deciphering: Stu Rothenberg explains what it means when Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison says he “will do everything in my power” to fight GOP voter suppression efforts. “He has no power,” Stu writes.

Battle for the Senate: The Washington Post sits down with DSCC Chairman Gary Peters, who said he likes to be underestimated. NBC News unpacks the GOP Senate primary in Ohio, where one of the Republican hopefuls, Josh Mandel, grabbed headlines for his campaign’s “toxic work environment.” In Alaska, GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski dismissed her Trump-backed Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, in an interview with Politico. And New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision to sign a budget bill that would ban abortions after 24 weeks could complicate a potential Senate run, The Boston Globe reports.

How strong is your password? Political campaigns could be future targets for ransomware attacks, The Hill reports. 

Not your grandparents’ party: The death of 84-year-old Florida Rep. Alcee L. Hastings after a long battle with pancreatic cancer not only made the Democrats’ House majority even smaller, it also forced awkward conversations about the party’s problem with aging members who have kept their younger colleagues from advancing, Politico reports. 

Approval downturn: President Joe Biden is still more popular than his predecessor ever was, but Reuters examines recent polling showing an erosion of support, mostly among Democrats, as the administration wrestles with Congress and as more Americans worry about an uneven post-pandemic economic recovery.

Shifting the lines: Republicans have greater control over the congressional redistricting process, but they’re grappling with how to approach once-GOP suburban enclaves that are trending toward Democrats, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Winning the suburbs: Vice News takes a close look at the conservative American Principles Project. The “NRA for families” is borrowing tactics from The Trump Organization and the gun lobby and has emerged as the “lead organization” working to rally suburban voters around hot-button culture war issues, such as transgender women in sports and the way race is addressed in schools. 

The count: 19 percent

That’s the percentage of Americans who cast ballots in 2020 but did not vote in 2016 or 2018, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center that has lots of interesting data breaking down last year’s electorate. Pew found that those new voters were almost evenly divided between Biden and Donald Trump: 49 percent backed Biden, while 47 percent supported Trump.

Nathan’s notes

If you’re reading this newsletter, you’ve probably used one or two, or 10 million, war metaphors to describe political campaigns. Nathan L. Gonzales collaborates with CQ Roll Call’s Thomas McKinless on a video about where the 2022 Senate race stands that takes “battleground states” literally.

Candidate confessions

Wisconsin state Sen. Chris Larson was one of several Democrats running for Senate in 2022 who joined a virtual forum this week, in which health care was one of the few issues that actually divided the candidates. 

“Count me in for ‘Medicare for All,’” Larson said. “I’ve been in for that for a while. As somebody who grew up with asthma since I was 5 years old, found [out] the hard way that I was uninsurable and that they would be willing to cover just about everything except for my asthma medication. So having walked the walk of having lived a life where I had to split pills and I had to cut my doses to just try and survive, I know what it’s like. And it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous in a country where we are spending more on health care than every other country, but it’s still the No. 1 cause of individual bankruptcy.”

Shop talk: Mark Jablonowski

Jablonowski is the managing partner and chief technology officer of DSPolitical, a digital advertising firm that works with Democrats and promotes progressive causes. The company worked with almost 1,500 candidates nationwide last year.

Starting Out: Jablonowski was a high school sophomore in Anchorage, Alaska, when Republican Gov. Frank H. Murkowski appointed his daughter Lisa Murkowski to the Senate seat he had just vacated in 2002. “I just thought it was clearly the most blatant case of nepotism you could possibly imagine and was very, very opposed to it,” he recalled. “I literally just walked into the campaign office for Gov. Tony Knowles, who was running against … Lisa Murkowski in 2004, and said, ‘I’m too young to vote. But I’d like to help.’” Jablonowski already had the unusual status as an employee of the school district where he was also a student — he was hired to manage the computer network of his high school. So Knowles put him to work overseeing the campaign’s IT infrastructure. He helped implement what he said was the country’s first mobile canvassing operation, which equipped canvassers with PalmPilots synced to the campaigns’ voter files. “We were really pushing the envelope in terms of what the available tech was, back in 2004,” he said.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Jablonowski left Colby College after his freshman year when a summer internship for the 2008 Obama campaign in New Hampshire turned into a full-time job managing IT infrastructure. Early on, he won a weekly contest for the interns. The prize was lunch with New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway during a NASCAR event. Not realizing there were limits on where spectators were supposed to stand, he strolled to a fence surrounding the track after he finished the lunch. “I just walked right out right next to the fence in my jacket and my suit, and I had it unbuttoned, and the cars zoomed by no more than 12 inches away, right on the other side of the concrete, and I just have the distinct memory of the air from the cars blowing my suit jacket off ... over my shoulders and onto my wrists. With just like the sheer force of the car that was driving by. And a whole bunch of security descended on me.” 

Biggest campaign regret: “I make a big point to not live with a lot of regrets,” Jablonowski said. But he said he had frequently been challenged during campaigns, with one of the most notable examples coming when the 2008 Obama campaign was hacked by the People’s Republic of China. “We essentially had gentlemen from the FBI walk into the office and say, ‘You guys have been compromised,’ and then essentially walk out,” Jablonowski recalled. “And so we ended up having to spend the next couple of days sorting things out.” It turned out to be a spear phishing attempt to access position papers on trade policy with China. “It was just one of those things that got a little bit of press after the fact, but nowhere near the level of what has happened in the following years. But it’s been a persistent threat for a very, very long time and will continue to be.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Planning for the future just often does not work in a campaign,” Jablonowski said. “With the whole trajectory of my career, going into college, I had a plan. I knew what my majors were going to be, what I wanted to do, and I just took a left turn by dropping out of college and going into the campaign world. It was an abrupt change for someone who likes to have a little bit more certainty, and a lot more planning going forward. But you just can’t because you don’t know what’s going to happen in two weeks, let alone two days, let alone two hours. You have to be able to respond to the environment and the conditions that you have absolutely no control over. And you can wrestle to have control of the narrative and the news cycle, but at the end of the day, you’re at the mercy of other powers. And for that, my biggest thing has just always been to live in the moment, do the best you can for the task at hand, really excel at that and be willing to adjust or change at a moment’s notice.”

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

Coming up

Play ball! A pair of Los Angeles-area Democrats — Reps. Brad Sherman and Nanette Barragán — plan to raise campaign cash at tonight’s Washington Nationals game when our home team faces their L.A. Dodgers. Sherman’s event is going for $2,500 a ticket, while Barragán’s goes for $2,000, according to a list of upcoming fundraisers.

Photo finish

A Yankee Doodle Nathan. (Screenshot/Composite by Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call)

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