At the Races: Racing to recess

Posted August 5, 2021 at 2:30pm

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Senators are stuck in Washington working through a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill, and Democrats are eager to tout the bill and pandemic relief packages back home. The DNC, DSCC and DCCC issued a joint memo Tuesday stating that Democrats plan to “use tactics like press events and press calls, local bookings and placing guest columns from local voices” to highlight their accomplishments, including infrastructure investments and a new child tax credit. 

But Republicans believe they have the upper hand in the 2022 elections, and they’re betting voters will reject Democrats’ spending. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC, kicked off its August messaging this morning, launching digital ads targeting Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia and Haley Stevens of Michigan, tying them to issues of inflation, crime and so-called critical race theory. 

Republicans also see weaknesses they think they can exploit. Consider the GOP’s response to Sen. Mark Kelly’s first floor speech Wednesday. The Arizona Democrat touted his role in crafting the infrastructure package and pledged “to continue focusing on delivering results.” He also raised concerns about Washington’s failure to address “crisis after crisis at our border.” Republicans seized on that reference and labeled Kelly a hypocrite, pointing out that, after the speech, he voted against an amendment that would have protected former President Donald Trump’s border wall. 

Of course, both parties will have to contend with primaries before they face off in November, and a pair of special election primaries in Ohio this week offered clues about intraparty battles to come. In the deep-blue 11th District, the establishment pick prevailed, while Trump’s preferred candidate won the GOP nod in the red 15th District.

Starting gate

Mixed results: Trump’s preferred candidates have lagged behind their opponents in overall fundraising, and a new filing from WinRed, the top Republican donation platform, shows his endorsements having mixed results in boosting online contributions.

Know your audience: We traveled to North Texas, where freshman Rep. Beth Van Duyne — the most conservative House Republican representing a district that voted for Joe Biden in 2020 — walks a fine line as she works to appeal to her diverse constituency while maintaining the firebrand profile that has made her a conservative media fixture. 

Another establishment win: Shontel Brown took more than 50 percent of the vote, beating progressive favorite Nina Turner and a crowd of others in the Democratic special election primary for the 11th District in Northeast Ohio. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus who campaigned for Brown argued that Turner, a former top aide to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ two presidential runs, would not be a reliable supporter of Biden’s agenda

#TX06? Never heard of it: Mike Carey got just 37 percent of the vote, but it was enough for the Trump-backed coal lobbyist to beat 10 other Republican contenders in a special election primary for Ohio’s 15th District, south of Columbus. The win may blunt concerns about the value of Trump’s endorsement raised by last week’s loss by Susan Wright, who had the former president’s support in an all-GOP runoff in Texas.

A Long primary ahead: GOP Rep. Billy Long jumped into the Missouri Senate race this week, while Rep. Ann Wagner decided to seek reelection instead of joining the crowded Republican primary for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Roy Blunt.

The fine print: “No corporate PAC” pledges have been all the rage, especially among Democrats in competitive House districts. But most of those lawmakers still benefit from corporate and union money, according to a CQ Roll Call review of fundraising disclosures from the 62 members of Congress who have made that pledge.

ICYMI

RT = Endorsement: Iowa Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne signaled this week that she will not be running for Senate, instead endorsing her former House colleague, Abby Finkenauer, who recently launched a campaign against Sen. Charles E. Grassley. The seven-term Republican has not yet announced if he is running for reelection. Over in Wisconsin, state Sen. Chris Larson ended his Senate campaign and endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in the Democratic primary in an effort to consolidate progressive support behind Barnes. 

Getting personal: Former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, a onetime governor of Alaska, recently hinted that she could challenge Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Palin also knocked the senator’s Trump-backed challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, saying she had “never heard of her.” In an interview with the Washington Examiner, former North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker said one of his rivals in the Republican Senate primary, Rep. Ted Budd, is a “bad candidate,” unelectable and ineffective. And in Georgia, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who is seeking the GOP nomination for Senate, launched a digital ad “mocking [Herschel] Walker’s flirtation with entering the race from his home in Texas,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Primary fight: Arizona GOP Rep. David Schweikert is getting a primary challenge from businessman Elijah Norton, who recently filed to run for the state’s 6th District. Norton is already hitting the incumbent over ethics issues; Schweikert has been fined and reprimanded by the House Ethics panel. 

Diagnosis none of your business? Nevada GOP Rep. Mark Amodei told The Associated Press last week that he has had three surgeries and an outpatient procedure for cancerous tumors on his kidneys and a cancerous spot in his esophagus over the past 10 months, starting just before the November election. He said he didn’t disclose the diagnosis when he first learned of it, in September, because he didn’t want it to be used against him during his reelection campaign.

Border politics: Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar, who represents a border district, penned a letter with South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham that raised concerns about the number of migrants crossing the southern border and asking Biden to appoint a border czar. Meanwhile, Cuellar’s progressive 2020 primary challenger, Jessica Cisneros, launched a rematch this week.

Thinking about it? California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, who was on Biden’s vice presidential short list, “has signaled” she would be open to running for Los Angeles mayor in 2022, The Washington Post reports, citing “two people familiar with her thinking.” But a Bass spokesman told the paper in a statement that “she is not considering it at this time” and that she plans to run again for her House seat.

He’s back: Former GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin announced this week that he would challenge Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in Maine. Golden narrowly unseated Poliquin in 2018 in the nation’s first-ever use of ranked-choice voting for a congressional race.

‘Share our values’: NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer didn’t rule out backing candidates who were at the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, when asked during a tele-town hall, HuffPost reports. After initially noting that he was prohibited from discussing political business on the official call, he said he was advised he could say he ran the NRCC. “I want as many people as possible who share our values to step up and be the voice and run for office,” he continued. “So I don’t know if that answers your question, but the more people who are running in this country, the better.” NRCC spokesman Michael McAdams followed up with a statement that Emmer believes “anyone who broke the law needs to be held accountable” but that “voters will ultimately make these decisions, not dictators in Washington.”

What we’re reading

Focus: Stu Rothenberg warns in his latest column that Democrats are mistakenly focusing their ire on high-profile Republican officials instead of the former president. “Democrats’ best chance of holding the House and the Senate next year is by keeping the focus on Trump,” he writes.

Georgia on our mind: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution takes a look back at Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock’s first seven months in office, and how his work in the Senate is setting the stage for a hotly contested reelection race. On the other side of the aisle, Politico reports that GOP senators are raising concerns that Herschel Walker could hurt their chances of defeating Warnock if he jumps in the race. 

Big emphasis on small dollars: NBC News reports that Republicans have caught up to Democrats when it comes to online fundraising. 

Mixed messages: Politico reports that DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney has warned vulnerable Democrats they need to do a better job promoting Biden’s agenda if they want a shot at keeping their majority. Maloney, meanwhile, struck an optimistic note about House Democrats’ chances in an NPR interview. 

The count: $2,028,639

That’s how much pro-Israel groups spent to help Shotel Brown win her primary Tuesday in Ohio’s 11th District. The money started coming in shortly after a new round of deadly hostilities between Israel and Hamas in May, bringing to the surface deep rifts in the Democratic Party over how to approach the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Progressive candidate Nina Turner favored putting conditions on U.S. aid to Israel. Spending from the pro-Israel groups in the race almost equaled what Brown raised from her own contributors, which totaled about half what Turner raised. In her victory speech, Brown referenced a trip to Israel that had helped her “understand the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship” and thanked her “Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales follows up on Trump’s and Alabama GOP Rep. Mo Brooks’ sexist attacks against Brooks’ Senate primary opponent, Katie Britt, a former Senate chief of staff whom Trump described as an “assistant.” Nathan also explores why Britt’s former boss — the senator she’s hoping to succeed — appears to be the only one defending her.

Candidate confessions

Seeing that COVID-19 vaccination rates in almost every parish in her Louisiana district were below 30 percent, GOP Rep. Julia Letlow told CBS News what she would say to constituents “on the fence” about taking the vaccine.

“I’d tell them about Luke,” she said, referring to her husband. Luke J. Letlow had just been elected to Congress when he died from COVID-19 complications in December. Julia Letlow won the seat in a special election in March

In one of her first interviews about her family’s experience with the disease, Letlow said her husband had no preexisting conditions when he told her he thought he was coming down with a fever. His health rapidly deteriorated. 

“He was having conversations, and he was saying goodbye to people,” she said. “It all happened very quickly. Where he was very aware and cognizant and speaking to people. And then he kind of crossed over the threshold, where I started to see the color drain. And that’s when it hit me that he might not come home.” 

Letlow said she would have her own young children vaccinated “on the first day” it becomes available to their age group. “My prayer is that not one more person has to lose their life to this virus,” she said. “It is a horrific way to leave this world. I don’t wish it on anyone else. We have the answer. Let’s use it.”

Shop talk: Kamal Patel

Patel, a onetime deputy chief of staff to former Texas GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry, is now a director at the lobbying and consulting firm Ferox Strategies, where he crafts strategic advocacy on Capitol Hill and the executive branch.  

Starting out: In the summer of 2006, Patel traveled to D.C. with his uncle, who was taking an oath at the Supreme Court. “During the ceremony, the Supreme Court left out a member of my uncle’s law school class,” Patel recalled. “We were quickly ushered into a beautiful vacant ballroom. They brought in coffee, tea, cookies, the works. A few minutes later, as we were unaware of what was happening, all nine Supreme Court justices walk into the room. After swearing in my uncle’s classmate, they stuck around and mingled with us.” Patel met and spoke with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “It was at that point that I knew without a doubt I wanted to be a part of the political world in Washington, D.C.,” he said. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: He worked on a campaign for now-Rep. Jodey C. Arrington, a Texas Republican, calling it “one of the most unique experiences” of his life. “There were no set hours, no set ‘to-do’ lists, just plain old-fashioned grit. I initially jumped on to the campaign as a volunteer who would help put out some yard signs every now and then,” Patel remembered. “Then, I caught the campaign bug. I had graduated on to large-sign installation, which means I got the pleasure of pounding t-posts into the hard West Texas ground and putting up 5x7 signs on them, all in the bizarre wind conditions. After a while, I was able to get an indoor spot working on policy, talking points and strategy.” His most unforgettable moment, he said, was “riding around alone with Rep. Arrington in his red Ford F-150 after a long day on the trail, and he still wanted to genuinely discuss policy, D.C., family and friendship, and, of course, egg/bacon/cheese toasters from Sonic.”

Biggest campaign regret: Not jumping on Arrington’s campaign sooner. “Although I was able to volunteer on the campaign early on, I would’ve loved to be there from the very beginning,” Patel said. “We were outspent 4-to-1 and being a part of that was special. Being there from the get-go would’ve made it that much sweeter.”

Unconventional wisdom: “When I first moved to D.C. and began my career on the Hill, I never aspired to move to the private sector, especially not lobbying,” Patel said. “I never truly understood what ‘lobbying’ was. I always heard the negative rhetoric around it, and that all lobbyists were bad people looking to get a quick buck. The more I was able to expand my horizon in Washington, I was able to clarify in my mind the role of an effective lobbyist. Effective lobbying is absolutely necessary for D.C. to function. Lobbying connects the private — and sometimes other public — sector to Washington’s ever-changing landscape. Without this critical connection, the political divide between ‘Washington elites’ and the ‘average Joe’ would expand at the cost of every-day Americans.”

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

Coming up

Candidates’ petitions to run in the next special election on the calendar — for the late Rep. Alcee L. Hastings’ seat in Florida’s 20th District — will be certified on Monday and Tuesday. Hastings died in April, but the district won’t have a representative in Congress until after the Jan. 11 special election. The primary is Nov. 2.

Photo finish

Beth Van Duyne
Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne works the room at a July job fair she hosted in her suburban Dallas-Fort Worth district. (Stephanie Akin/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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