At the Races: DC, where TX Dems summer

Posted July 15, 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.

Senators returned to the Capitol this week with a lengthy to-do list, as voting rights remained top of mind. President Joe Biden traveled to Philadelphia to warn that claims that the 2020 election was stolen were “threatening the very foundation of our country,” while Democratic legislators in Texas fled their state to delay a bill that would impose new voting restrictions. 

If Georgia voters were looking to escape politics for a night and enjoy America’s pastime, they struck out. Republicans launched TV ads during the MLB All-Star Game to remind Georgians that the Peach State lost out on business generated by the annual showcase of baseball’s top players. Major League Baseball moved the game from Atlanta to Denver as a response to GOP-led efforts to change Georgia’s voting laws. The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Heritage Action aired ads saying the decision cost Georgians, with the NRSC directly targeting Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is running for a full term next year after winning a special election in January. 

Warnock, meanwhile, has continued to build up his campaign. He has reported raising $7 million from April through June and ended the second fundraising quarter with $10.5 million on hand, which his campaign said is more than any Georgia Senate candidate has ever reported at this point in the election cycle. 

The GOP field has been partially frozen as Republicans wait to see if former football star Herschel Walker, who would likely have former President Donald Trump’s backing, decides to move from Texas to run. One Republican who is running, retired Navy SEAL Latham Saddler, announced that he raised $1.4 million in the second quarter. Fundraising reports due to the Federal Election Commission by midnight tonight will provide a clearer picture of how other Republicans running against Warnock are faring. 

We’ll be combing through the fundraising reports to see how battleground races, open-seat contests and primary challenges are shaping up, so stay tuned to our coverage here.

Starting gate

Hey big spenders: Some Senate candidates who have announced big fundraising numbers ahead of tonight’s deadline have already spent a good chunk of that money. While high “burn rates” used to raise eyebrows, digital strategists say early investments are key to building email lists that will pay dividends next year. 

Tim $cott: One of those early spenders was Sen. Tim Scott. The South Carolina Republican, who is up for reelection next year, raised a whopping $9.6 million in the second quarter.

Giddyup: Ousted from House GOP leadership and targeted for defeat by former President Donald Trump, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney took in nearly $1.9 million from April to June. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who like Cheney has been outspoken against false voter fraud claims, raised $1.3 million.

Beasley bucks: In case you missed the At the Races scoop last week, Democratic Senate hopeful Cheri Beasley raised nearly $1.3 million for her campaign in North Carolina. One of Beasley’s primary opponents, state Sen. Jeff Jackson, raised $700,000. In the GOP primary, former Gov. Pat McCrory announced last week that he raised $1.2 million in the second quarter.

U-S-A: In honor of the upcoming Olympic Games, elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales spoke with two former Olympians preparing runs for Congress next year and looked back at past Olympic athletes who’ve made the jump to politics. 

Not like the others: Nathan also joined Political Theater podcast host Jason Dick this week to discuss the extra-chaotic nature of the 2022 midterms.

ICYMI

It’s good to be an incumbent: In addition to Warnock, four other senators in battleground states have each released their Q2 totals ahead of tonight’s filing deadline. Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly raised nearly $6 million and had more than $7 million on hand. New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan raised $3.3 million and had more than $6.5 million in cash on hand. Nevada Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto reported a quarterly haul of $2.8 million, ending with $6.6 million in the bank. Florida Republican Marco Rubio raised $4 million, while his top Democratic challenger, Rep. Val B. Demings, brought in $4.6 million and ended the quarter with $3 million on hand.

In other Senate battlegrounds: Democrat Alex Lasry, whose father co-owns the Milwaukee Bucks, raised $1 million and had the same amount on hand for his campaign to take on Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson. In the open-seat race in Pennsylvania, Democrats John Fetterman and Val Arkoosh raised $2.5 million and $1 million respectively, with Arkoosh ending the quarter with $625,000 on hand. Pennsylvania Republican Jeff Bartos raised nearly $1.2 million. 

They’re running: Republican Blake Masters, who works for venture capitalist Peter Thiel, launched his Senate campaign in Arizona last week. (Thiel is bankrolling a super PAC that supports Masters.) In Pennsylvania, Carla Sands, who served as U.S. ambassador to Denmark under Trump, joined the GOP Senate primary. Author J.D. Vance entered the crowded Republican primary for the open Senate seat in Ohio. And in North Carolina, Brunswick County Commissioner Marty Cooke jumped into the GOP primary in the contest to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr

On your right: Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who is challenging Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski and was recently endorsed by the state GOP, has raised $750,000 since launching her campaign in late March. Arkansas Sen. John Boozman picked up another Republican primary challenger with former pro football player Jake Bequette launching a run. The chairman of the Oklahoma GOP endorsed Republican Sen. Jim Lankford’s primary challenger, Jackson Lahmeyer. The state party is also considering a censure resolution against Lankford on Saturday, for opposing Electoral College objections.

Everyone in the pool: House races across the country have been getting off to a slow start this cycle, as potential candidates wait to see where district lines fall after delayed census data is released in August. But the end of the fundraising quarter nevertheless prompted a wave of candidates to enter the field — some of them in districts that still don’t exist. Candidates challenging battleground incumbents include Democrat Derrick Gay, a retired Marine, who was the first Democrat to announce a bid against Republican freshman Beth Van Duyne in suburban Dallas. Nebraska state Sen. Tony Vargas and 2020 Senate candidate Alisha Shelton launched bids against Republican Rep. Don Bacon in Nebraska’s 2nd District. Van Duyne and Bacon are among the nine House Republicans who represent seats Biden carried in 2020. Iowa state Sen. Zach Nunn became the third Republican to launch a bid against Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne in a Des Moines-anchored district Republicans are hoping to flip. In Georgia, Jake Evans, the former chairman of the state ethics commission, joined what is shaping up to be a crowded GOP field seeking to challenge Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath in suburban Atlanta.

Commonwealth campaign: Republican Taylor Keeney, who was a press secretary to former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, launched her campaign this week for the state’s 7th District, which is currently represented by Democrat Abigail Spanberger. Anthony Pileggi, a former NRCC regional political director, serves as Kenney’s general consultant, while another NRCC alum, Liesl Hickey, a partner at Ascent Media, is the media consultant. Spanberger was among the first round of lawmakers whom the NRCC said it was targeting for the 2022 elections. 

Primary challenges: Democrats also announced some noteworthy primary challenges to longtime incumbents. Three-term Kentucky state Rep. Attica Scott said she would run against Rep. John Yarmuth for the state’s only House seat held by a Democrat. Brittany Oliver, the founder of advocacy group Not Without Black Women, announced a bid against Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in a Baltimore-area district in Maryland. 

One more time: Several candidates who narrowly lost in 2020 said they would run again. They include Tom Kean Jr., the Republican leader of the New Jersey Senate, who is running for the second time against Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski in the 7th District (after losing bids for U.S. Senate in 2006 and a House nomination in 2000). Retired Army pilot Wesley Hunt, a Texas Republican who lost to Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in 2020, said he is running in a district to be determined after new lines are drawn. And retired Army Ranger Jesse Jensen, a Republican, is again challenging Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier in Washington. 

Warmer waters: Former New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi, who lost to Republican Claudia Tenney by 109 votes last cycle, announced he would seek a judgeship after ruling out a return to Congress, prompting the analysts at the University of Virginia Center for Politics to point out that far more Republicans are seeking 2022 rematches than Democrats, a possible indication of how both parties see their midterm prospects.

Hagedorn says cancer returned: GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who represents Minnesota’s 1st District, said he’s had a recurrence of kidney cancer. He first disclosed his diagnosis in February 2020. “Since initially being diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer 29 months ago, my doctors consider my response to treatment and recovery as exceptional,” Hagedorn said in a recent statement. “Since that time, I have maintained a full, active schedule in Congress, campaigned aggressively for re-election, and lived and enjoyed life to the fullest.”

What we’re reading

When the Beatles were ‘more popular than Jesus’: It’s true that just like 1966, when Democrats lost 47 House seats, the 2022 midterms could be affected by a spike in crime and white-voter backlash against the administration’s racial justice efforts. But Stu Rothenberg also sees differences between then and now.

Stuck in 2020: Vice details how supporting Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent has become a litmus test in GOP Senate primaries. A Washington Post analysis found that one-third of the 700 Republicans candidates who have filed to run for Congress next year have echoed Trump’s lies (many of them currently members of Congress).

On the Senate trail: The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at Val Arkoosh’s campaign as the only woman in the Democratic primary. The New York Times catches up with Hassan in New Hampshire. The Washington Post goes to North Carolina for a dive into the Democratic primary. The Associated Press trails Warnock back home in Georgia and sits down with GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley in Iowa. And Time magazine has breakfast with J.D. Vance in Cincinnati. 

Hot dog of a problem: The New York Times takes a trip to Southern Michigan, home to two of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump this year, and measures the fallout in terms of the hot-dog eating attendees at the Fourth of July “Festival of Truth,” who fervently believe that Trump won the 2020 election.

Where the midterms will be won? Republicans and Democrats are in a messaging war for suburban voters, and whoever wins will have the power to determine the second half of the Biden administration, writes The New York Times. Meanwhile, the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute releases the first of four reports exploring the challenges facing the GOP as it transitions from a “party based in the suburbs to a party based in rural areas.”

Tech fight: During an argument over antitrust legislation at a meeting of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren noted that she had raised piles of money from Silicon Valley companies over the years.

The count: $250,000

That’s how much Democratic Majority for Israel spent on one recent outside ad buy against Nina Turner, the front-runner in the Aug. 3 Democratic special election primary in Ohio’s 11th District to replace ex-Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, who resigned to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The pro-Israel group has also spent money on behalf of Turner’s top rival in the crowded race: Cuyahoga County Council Member Shontel Brown, a more establishment-leaning candidate who has the endorsement of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina. Turner, a former state senator and a leading supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, has the backing of progressives in Congress and their outside allies, such as Justice Democrats. She has also been a vocal critic of Israeli policies toward Palestinians. Support for Israel has become a flashpoint in the race, with organizations on both sides viewing it as something of a bellwether for the Democratic Party’s stance on the Middle East.

Nathan’s notes

What difference does Trump’s endorsement actually make in a GOP primary? Nathan takes a look at the 2022 Senate primary calendar to find out when we might know the answer to that question.

Candidate confessions

Daniel Hernandez’s experience interning for former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffordsserved as a political awakening — not just for him, but for his whole family, he said. 

Hernandez described his family as apolitical when he signed up for Giffords’ 2008 House campaign. He told CQ Roll Call last month that living through the 2011 mass shooting targeting the congresswoman motivated him to stay in politics. 

Hernandez, now a Democratic state lawmaker, is running for Arizona’s open 2nd District, and his younger sisters, Consuelo and Alma, are in public office too. Consuelo Hernandez serves on a local school board — the same post that Daniel held when he was first elected in 2011. Alma Hernandez is her brother’s colleague in the state House. Both sisters were elected to their first terms in 2018, launching their campaigns at a joint event with Daniel, who was running for his second state House term. “We’re jokingly referred to as ‘The Hernandi’ in the state legislature,” Daniel said, “because I guess that’s the plural of Hernandez.”

Hernendez said the possibility of a “Hernandi” caucus on the Hill is yet to be determined. “We’ll see how this campaign goes first,” he said.

Shop talk: Cole Leiter

Leiter, who served as communications director for the DCCC during the 2020 election cycle and worked at the campaign arm in the previous cycle, recently joined the consulting firm Purple Strategies as a campaign manager. His clients include Fortune 100 and 500 companies.

Starting out: Leiter felt drawn to politics since he was young, growing up in Raleigh, N.C., where his parents were active in the community. “Both of my parents were the kind of people who would show up at neighborhood association, zoning board and city council meetings,” he recalls. “I remember knocking doors for neighbors who were running for office — mayor, school board, state legislature — when I was in second and third grade.” One of those candidates is now in the House: Democrat Deborah K. Ross, who represents the state’s 2nd District. “The thing that got me hooked was seeing the kind of impact that an engaged group of community leaders can have in the direction of their city or their community,” Leiter says.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Most of Leiter’s most unforgettable moments, he says, are “really the ones you’d want to forget, except you made them in a foxhole with lifetime friends.” But he still savors the memory of the 2018 election when Democrats won control of the House. “We knew we had left it all out on the field, and the whole moment was at another level after we had collectively taken it on the teeth in 2016,” he says.

Biggest campaign regret: “It is really valuable for people who are communicators or think of themselves as strategists to spend time talking to real voters, not just reporters and donors,” he says. “I regret not spending more time talking to persuadable voters at the doors, to figure out what matters to them and makes them tick. Surprisingly, it’s not Twitter!”

Unconventional wisdom: Leiter says three trends are going under-noticed. One is that voters of color are the “beating heart and soul of the Democratic Party” but that it’s the college-educated white voters who are “dragging the party to the left.” “When people talk about communicating to voters of color, they have a knee-jerk assumption that means you need to push a more liberal policy position. The reality is that isn’t necessarily how you meet voters of color where they are and instead is catering to loud, white liberals. There are moderate and conservative Democrats of color at the core of our coalition you are potentially alienating,” Leiter says. “It’s an existential tension that the party has to work out.” The second trend, he says, is that access to abortion care for people in need is a popular position and Democrats engaging in a back-and-forth on abortion rights “is not a poisonous policy conversation,” when it comes to swing voters. And third, he says, reporters are so “hamstrung by their desire to present a ‘both sides’ narrative on every issue that they end up characterizing coordinated Republican voter suppression as an equal and legitimate position to work to protect access to the ballot,” rather than as an “existential threat to our democracy.”

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

Coming up

We’ll soon have more insight into fast-approaching special elections thanks to upcoming fundraising deadlines. The two Republicans competing in a July 27 runoff in Texas’ 6th District have to file their reports by midnight tonight, covering May 22 through June 30. State Rep. Jake Ellzey announced that he raised $1.2 million in that period, while Susan Wright, who is running to replace her late husband Ron Wright in the House, has not yet announced her fundraising total. Candidates competing in special elections in Ohio’s 11th and 15th districts have to file their pre-primary reports by July 22. Those primaries are set for Aug. 3.

Photo finish

Democrats from the Texas Legislature who flew to Washington to deny state GOP lawmakers a quorum needed to pass new voting restrictions meet Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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