At the Races: 1 BIF does not equal BFFs

Posted July 29, 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.

A bipartisan club of senators, including a few facing potentially tough reelection campaigns in 2022, proved this week that across-the-aisle deals can still happen, at least in theory. But the $1 trillion compromise — dubbed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, or BIF — is probably more of an outlier than a sign of things to come, even as the White House dispatched a memo today titled, in part, “Swing Voters Want Bipartisanship.”

Expect to see the deal-making crop up as a messaging point in some of next year’s pivotal contests, especially for Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Mark Kelly of Arizona, as well as for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who faces a challenge in Alaska from fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump. For what it’s worth — and we’re not sure since GOP voters rejected his favored candidate in a Texas special election this week — Trump panned the infrastructure deal and warned Republican senators, “If this deal happens, lots of primaries will be coming your way!”    

Over on the House side, lawmakers spent the week before they head out of town for their August respite debating spending measures, as well as reliving some of the most difficult moments of the year with the first public meeting of the House Jan. 6 select committee. The panel is sure to provide campaign fodder, especially for GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who face primary challenges. 

Trump gets another test of the power, or not, of his endorsement in a GOP primary in Ohio’s 15th District next week, while Democrats will look to a primary in Ohio’s 11th District for signs of where their voters in a deep-blue seat are trending. The two front-runners in that crowded primary are Nina Turner, an unapologetic progressive with the backing of Justice Democrats, and Shontel Brown, who has the support of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn.

Starting gate

Disturbance in the force? Trump-endorsed Susan Wright lost the all-Republican special election runoff Tuesday for her late husband’s seat in Texas’ 6th District. But winner Jake Ellzey was pretty Trumpy too, and analysts warned against reading too much into Wright’s loss.

A Key (stone) race: Rep. Conor Lamb is expected to launch a Senate campaign in August, three sources familiar with the Pennsylvania Democrat’s decision told At the Races.

Dominion debut: President Joe Biden’s first campaign trip of the year was across the river into Virginia, where former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s bid for another term in Richmond will be an early test of how the overall Democratic message will play in 2022, CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski writes.

Boom town: The lobbying and political sectors in Washington appear poised to smash revenue records, even as Democrats who control Capitol Hill have invested copious amounts of messaging this year on overhauling the nation’s political money and influence systems.

Pulled over: Competing concerns about conditions on police grants from vulnerable Frontline members and some in the Congressional Progressive Caucus led House Democratic leaders to delay a bill funding the Justice Department that they had been hoping to pass this week, CQ Roll Call’s Jennifer Shutt, Lindsey McPherson and Todd Ruger report.

ICYMI

Outside influences: Senate Democrats are working on a compromise, with no hint of bipartisanship in sight, as they seek to revamp their party’s overhaul of election and campaign finance laws. Former Sen. Doug Jones, the Democrat who lost his Alabama seat last year, urged in an op-ed today that his party move on a slimmed-down version of the House-passed HR 1 measure.

Thanks, but no thanks: Former Missouri Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon announced today that he is not running for the state’s open Senate seat, saying in a statement, “I believe I will be more effective outside of this partisan back and forth. I always thrived on policy more than politics” The Missouri Independent reported earlier this month that Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer “has dropped Nixon’s name in calls with donors discussing potential 2022 races to watch — the only Missourian who gets a mention, according to those on the calls.” 

Also in Pennsylvania: Corporate consultant Craig Snyder, who served as former Sen. Arlen Specter’s chief of staff, joined the Republican Senate primary Wednesday, betting that he can win as an anti-Trump candidate in a primary with multiple pro-Trump hopefuls.

Trump’s return: Trump returned over the weekend to Arizona, where GOP Senate candidates have to simultaneously appeal to the ex-president’s supporters while building a broader coalition. Trump briefly referenced the Senate race in his nearly two-hour speech at a Turning Point Action event. He said it was necessary “to hold those that are responsible for the 2020 election scam — it was a scam — the greatest crime in history,” and implored state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who is seeking the GOP Senate nomination, to take information from the controversial election audit in Maricopa County and “do what everybody knows has to be done.” Trump added, “If he doesn’t do that, it would be so sad.” Trump name-checked the three Republican candidates who also spoke at the event: Blake Masters, who runs billionaire Peter Thiel’s investment firm and foundation, solar power executive Jim Lamon, and Mick McGuire, a retired major general of the Arizona National Guard.

Stand down: The district attorney in Douglas County, Kan., says her office won’t enforce a new state voting law because it’s vague. A statement from DA Suzanne Valdez, a Democrat, said the law also “criminalizes essential efforts by trusted nonpartisan groups like the League of Women Voters,” and will lead to “weakened or depleted voter engagement efforts — and thus a less representative electorate.”

House endorsements:  The Women’s March super PAC and affiliated Women’s March Win made their first political endorsement this week, throwing support behind Turner in the Democratic primary for the special election in Ohio’s 11th District. Turner, the group’s Rachel O’Leary Carmona said, “has been on the front lines for policies that would protect women, immigrants, people of color, workers, and the everyday Americans still struggling to get by.” Meanwhile, on the way other side of the political spectrum, North Carolina GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn endorsed Republican Catalina Lauf, a primary challenger to Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment, in Illinois’ 16th District. 

Senate woes: It sounds like Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, who has yet to announce if he’s running for a third term, doesn’t really like being in the Senate. In a recent podcast interview with conservative commentator Lisa Boothe, Johnson lamented the rising national debt and Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare, saying, “I don’t feel like my time here has been particularly successful.”

Epic spending: Texas GOP Rep. Daniel Crenshaw’s campaign spent $144,000 on an “epic” July 4 fundraising party at the Lago Mar Crystal Clear Lagoon in La Marque, Texas that featured, “a country singer, drone light show, two DJs and a Blink-182 tribute band,” Forbes reports.

Joining forces: Democrats Judy Stahl and Holly McCormack, who are running against populist House GOP firebrands Paul Gosar in Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia, respectively, announced a joint fundraising venture they called the “Stop QAnon caucus.”

Politics of inflation: Republicans’ attacks on Democrats over inflation are among the most “powerful” critiques yet, according to a Democratic memo that The Washington Post obtained. The NRCC put out “one of the first inflation spots we’ve seen and it was one of the most powerful Republican ads to date,” according to the Post’s coverage of the memo.

What we’re reading

Stu says: After Pearl Harbor and 9/11, the country came together. But with the coronavirus pandemic seemingly sharpening our divisions, Stu Rothenberg wonders what might reunite us.

Movin’ on up: Bloomberg Government unpacks the House members who are looking to jump to the Senate. 

What the NRSC is reading: The Associated Press has an eye-catching report on potential Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s “turbulent past,” including “accusations that he repeatedly threatened his ex-wife’s life, exaggerated claims of financial success and alarmed business associates with unpredictable behavior.” Trump has encouraged Walker to challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Battle for the Senate: The Washington Post reports that Republicans are worried former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens might get Trump’s endorsement in the state’s open Senate race. E&E News details the “long odds” facing Republicans who want to defeat Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. The Philadelphia Inquirer delves into Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Kathy Barnette’s “futile hunt for voter fraud” after losing a House race last year. And NBC News catches up with New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu as he weighs a Senate run.

Eating her words? The New York Times profiles Republican Nancy Mace, who flipped a coastal South Carolina district in 2020 and called herself a “new voice” for the GOP who was willing to criticize Donald Trump in the early months of 2021 but has since “swung back into line.”

New playing field: Democrats across the country are voicing “growing concern — bordering on alarm,” about the potentially catastrophic impact new voting restrictions passed by GOP-controlled state legislatures could have on Democratic turnout in 2022, Politico reports.

The count: 42 points

That’s how much the vote in Tarrant County, Texas, swung for Rep.-elect Jake Ellzey between his 2018 GOP primary runoff loss to Ron Wright and his win Tuesday in the special election runoff against Wright’s widow, Susan Wright. Tarrant is home to Arlington and the biggest bloc of 6th District voters. It’s also where Ron Wright worked as the county tax assessor-collector, and he beat Ellzey there by 36 points in May 2018. This week, Ellzey won the Tarrant County portion of the district by 6 points, on his way to a more than 6-point win overall.

Nathan’s notes

True, Democrat Abby Finkenauer, who’s now running for Senate, did lose her bid for reelection in Iowa’s 1st District last year. But if being a loser in the past means never winning again, how do Iowa Republicans explain 2nd District GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who lost three times before eking out a six-vote victory in November? Nathan L. Gonzales says it’s time to stop attacking candidates just because they lost a previous race.

Candidate confessions

Ohio GOP Senate candidate Bernie Moreno, who made a fortune through a chain of car dealerships, has a close connection to another Republican primary contender in the Buckeye State. Moreno’s daughter is engaged to Max Miller, the former Trump administration official who has the ex-president’s backing in his challenge to Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.

“He’s a good guy," Moreno told National Journal. “His story is a story of redemption. He had a tough time, turned his life around. He survived five years with the president, didn’t he?”

Miller’s background has come under scrutiny. On Wednesday, Politico published a piece detailing his “troubled past,” including a recent incident in which he pushed his then-girlfriend, former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, against a wall and slapped her in the face. Miller’s lawyer told Politico his client “has never, ever assaulted Ms. Grisham in any way whatsoever.”

Shop talk: Chris Scott

Scott joined the progressive Democracy for America as its chief political officer in May. Before that, he served as the national political director for The Collective PAC and as minority engagement director for the Ohio Democratic Party. 

Starting out: Scott studied film production and communication in college and had no plans to go directly into politics until he went to graduate school at American University in Washington, D.C., while his hometown of Detroit was going through bankruptcy. “I remember, every single class, being asked what were my thoughts on it,” he said. “That recreated the urgency, the fire that I need to do this sooner rather than later.” After graduation, he got a job with President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign in Ohio and started as an intern in the office of Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who died last year. “Those two things broadly defined a lot for me,” he said. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Scott was working as the deputy field director on a 2015 mayoral race in Houston for Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who was running against fellow Democrat (and eventual winner) Sylvester Turner, when a news story broke about an inmate’s death. The campaign waited for two weeks to respond, Scott recalled, feeding into the impression that Garcia had something to hide. Garcia went from being in a “virtual tie” to finishing third and missing a spot in the runoff, Scott said. “It didn’t have to be an issue,” he said. “But it became an issue because we didn’t respond to it. And it still haunts me to this day. It was the biggest lesson I learned. And the reason why it’s the most painful memory is because I was in such a junior position that I couldn’t change the outcome of how we responded to it. And it’s funny because a lot of the staffers on that campaign, we were juniors and now we work for national organizations, we still talk about that incident today. If we had to handle this differently, if we hadn’t waited two weeks to respond to this, he’d probably be sitting as mayor now.”

Biggest campaign regret:  “I’ve had a few moments in my career when I wish I was a little bit bolder, earlier, in asserting myself in what I believe the strategy should be going forward, where candidates came up short,” Scott said. One example came in 2017, when he was working with the Ohio Democratic Party and was sent to Toledo to serve as the field director on Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson’s reelection campaign. “I had been begging to go up there earlier in the year and at one point, I just stopped asking for it,” he said. “And that was a race where if I arrived like a month or two earlier to implement the program that we implemented, she’d probably still be mayor.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Unapologetically and intentionally invest in the South,” he said. “That is the new frontier, where you’re probably going to see a lot of American politics fought.”

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

Coming up

In special election primaries Tuesday, Democrats in Ohio’s 11th District will pick the candidate most likely to succeed former Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, while the battle for the GOP nomination in Ohio’s 15th District, where GOP Rep. Steve Stivers resigned in May to head the state’s Chamber of Commerce, will be another test of Trump’s endorsement. Lobbyist Mike Carey has the ex-president’s backing, and is running against Stivers-backed state Rep. Jeff LaRe and a field of nine others. They include golf club owner Tom Hwang and state Sen. Jeff Peterson, who have been outspending Carey, according to Daily Kos Elections, and state Sen. Stephanie Kunze, who has the support of the Franklin County Republican Party.

Photo finish

Looking at the upper chamber? Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb is preparing to announce a run for the state’s open Senate seat. (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.