At the Races: All-nighter August

Posted August 12, 2021 at 2:30pm, Updated August 13, 2021 at 11:03am

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Corrected Aug. 13 | Both parties’ messaging machines kicked into high gear this week, as lawmakers set out for an abbreviated recess and the promise of a packed schedule of high-stakes votes when they return to Washington. 

Meanwhile, a potentially more consequential development in the fight for control of the House is also about to get underway, with the release this afternoon of the detailed census data that will be used to draw district lines for the next 10 years of congressional elections. 

Sleepy August it is not.

With the bulk of the redistricting battle just on the horizon, most of the energy on the campaign front was devoted to Democrats’ race to move President Joe Biden’s ambitious policy overhauls through Congress. 

Nineteen Republican senators defied pressure from former President Donald Trump and voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, a testament to the value of promoting old-fashioned spending on roads and bridges back home. But Todd Young of Indiana and Jerry Moran of Kansas, two Republicans who helped negotiate the bill, ultimately voted “no,” citing concerns about its impact on the deficit. Both are up for reelection.

Groups on the right responded to Tuesday’s Senate passage of the infrastructure legislation — which includes an additional $550 billion for roads, rail, broadband and more — with warnings about runaway spending that would increase the national debt and open the door to a sweeping $3.5 trillion package on the agenda in September. That measure, which will be handled through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process, would address everything from Medicare to climate change to immigration policy to universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds.

Heritage Action launched a “save our paychecks national tour.” American Action Network announced it would spend $5 million across 39 districts on ads opposing the “huge tax hikes, wasteful spending, and a socialist takeover of the prescription drug market” in the reconciliation package. 

On the left, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited New Jersey, one of the first stops in a tour to aggressively promote the infrastructure bill. 

Progressives, meanwhile, are promoting the reconciliation package, even attacking moderates in their own party. Our Revolution sent a warning shot on Wednesday to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III after he said he had “serious concerns” about the proposal. 

“We will not cave,” Our Revolution executive director Joseph Geevarghese said in a statement. “We will organize like we never have before to ensure that Senator Manchin and the like don’t turn their back on working families.”

Starting gate

Out of gas: Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, whose swingy House district voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, is retiring. The announcement brought renewed attention to Republican hopeful Derrick Van Orden’s use of campaign funds to attend the Jan. 6 protests in D.C. that turned into the Capitol riot, and his  controversial remarks about women. Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL who narrowly lost to Kind last cycle, is the top fundraiser in the 2022 race and has the backing of national GOP leaders. Trump gave Van Orden his “complete and total endorsement” today. 

Empire state of mind: New York Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s surprise announcement this week that he is stepping down amid sexual harassment allegations means the Empire State will get its first female governor: former Rep. and current Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa delved into Hochul’s political career, which included her election to Congress after another politician marred by scandal decided to resign.  

On the border: CQ Roll Call’s Suzanne Monyak takes a look at the political headwinds facing House Democrats in states on the southern border.

Bold redistricting: BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, announced a “six-figure investment” to help organizations in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico focused on training, educating and organizing Latino communities to fight for fair and representative district maps.

Celebration of specialness: If you didn’t get enough of the interpretations of the #TX06, #OH11 and #OH15 results, this week’s Political Theater podcast takes you through it with host Jason Dick, politics editor Herb Jackson and Inside Elections analyst Jacob Rubashkin.

ICYMI

#FL20: Candidate filing in the race to replace the the late Florida Democrat Alcee L. Hastings in the deep-blue 20th District closed Tuesday, with 11 Democrats qualifying for the Nov. 2 special election primary. Hastings died of pancreatic cancer in April. Two Republicans, two candidates without a party affiliation, one Libertarian and a write-in hopeful also qualified to run. The general election is scheduled for Jan. 11.

The return of the pickup truck?: Former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott P. Brown resigned his post leading New England Law | Boston and said he will be “reengaging in the political arena,” according to The Boston Globe. Brown adviser Colin Reed told Fox News that the former senator, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate from New Hampshire in 2014, would not be on the ballot in 2022. Reed said that if Brown “has another political rodeo in him, it will be in the state of New Hampshire.” 

So … is that a ‘no’? New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was asked in a recent CNN interview if she would challenge Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer in a primary. It didn’t sound like she was seriously considering it, but she didn’t rule it out either. “I’m not commenting on that,” she said after explaining that she doesn’t approach her career by eyeing the next highest office. When CNN’s Dana Bash remarked that she would have to make a decision soon, Ocasio-Cortez said, “I feel like this is a decision that was almost put on me, right? … I never thought about this as a decision that needs to be made or not need to be made.”

Endorse: Ohio Democrat Joyce Beatty, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, endorsed fellow Rep. Tim Ryan’s campaign for the Buckeye State’s open Senate seat. On the Republican side, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who leads the conservative Republican Study Committee, endorsed Ohio Senate hopeful JD Vance. In California, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna endorsed Sen. Alex Padilla’s bid for a full Senate term, silencing chatter that Khanna could challenge the recently appointed Democrat. And in Pennsylvania, the American Federation of Government Employees endorsed Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb just a few days after he officially launched his Senate campaign. 

Going for gold: Colorado Republican Eli Bremer, a former Olympian, isn’t limiting his jumping to the modern pentathlon (one of the events is equestrian show jumping). This week, he jumped into the race to take on Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Bremer, who just wrapped up a stint on NBC’s Olympic broadcast team, previously told CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales, “An Olympic athlete is going to overthink and overprepare everything.”

RIP: Former Missouri state Sen. Ed Emery, 71, who was campaigning for the Republican nomination to replace GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler in the 4th District, died after collapsing at a campaign event.

Friendly fire: Trump told a crowd at a Republican fundraiser that he expects New York GOP Reps. Claudia Tenney and John Katko to face off in a primary after the state redraws its congressional lines this fall. Trump has already said he would back a challenger to Katko — who voted to impeach him in January. So it’s little surprise which side he would pick in such a hypothetical fight. “We’re going to be for Claudia,” he said, according to the New York Post. 

Not so fast: After Suzanne Valdez, the Democratic district attorney for Douglas County, Kan., said last month that her office would not enforce a new state voting law because it was too vague, state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, responded that he would prosecute offenders. “Any law enforcement agencies that obtain evidence of election crimes may present the results of an investigation to our office for review,” announced Schmidt, who is running for governor.

What we’re reading

No sugar coating: “No, I don’t,” was the blunt answer House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn gave when CQ Roll Call columnist and podcaster Mary C. Curtis asked him if Democrats could keep their majorities in the House and Senate without federal laws to overturn state voting restrictions. He quickly added that he didn’t think they need to worry because the bills will pass.

Cashing in: Politico details how South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott has benefited from Republican megadonors ahead of his 2022 reelection race and a potential 2024 White House run.

War stories: Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, who chaired the DCCC last cycle and is retiring from Congress next year, joined with adjunct professor Robin Johnson of Monmouth College in compiling 69 pages of first-hand accounts from Democrats representing “small blue islands in the big red sea of the Heartland” on “how to win.” Along with Bustos and Wisconsin’s Kind, it includes accounts from Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Cindy Axne of Iowa and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, and 20 state legislators.

Family feud: Jewish Insider takes a close look at the “fierce and unusually personal intraparty rivalry” between hard-left and moderate Democratic groups over Israel. That dynamic most recently played out in last week’s special election primary between Shontel Brown and Nina Turner in Ohio. 

Drawing an advantage: The Associated Press analyzes congressional elections since the last redistricting cycle, in 2010, and finds that “Republican politicians used census data to draw voting districts that gave them a greater political advantage in more states than either party had in the past 50 years.”

Majority makers: CNN unpacks how Republicans’ path to the House majority in 2022 depends largely on the success of GOP women.

The count: 5

That’s how many House Democrats, after Kind’s retirement announcement, are running for reelection after winning Trump districts in 2020. We’ll see if redistricting makes things easier or harder on this exclusive club, but one member, New Jersey’s Andy Kim, reacted the way you’d expect a battleground candidate to react: He tried to raise money off it. “The number of Democrats running for reelection in a Trump district now matches the size of the Democratic House majority,” his campaign wrote, in bold type, in a fundraising email. “Andy is one of the last five protecting that majority. We must invest NOW in the ground game we need.” Presumably that money won’t be invested on ground that will be in someone else’s district next year.

Candidate confessions

Taylor Keeney, a GOP contender in Virginia’s 7th District, said in a recent interview that she plans to focus on the economy and education policy in her bid to unseat second-term Democrat Abigail Spanberger. Keeney is the founder of a nonprofit community organization called Little Hands Virginia, which helps provide basic essentials to children from newborns to age 3. She said she’s anxious to get her own children, ages 2 and 4, out on the campaign trail with her. They’ve already gotten a taste of it. On the day Keeney announced her candidacy, she said, her husband pulled out the children’s matching American flag outfits. “My son said, ‘Daddy, why am I wearing my American flag shirt today?’” Her husband explained that his mom was running for Congress. Her 4-year-old replied, “Mommy’s running for Congress? That is a big day,” Kenney recalled. “It was cute.” 

Keeney said that even in these early stages of her candidacy, juggling parenting and campaigning can be a challenge, but she noted that she’s been a working mom for the past four years. “The only difference has been honestly that my husband has packed more school lunches over the last two weeks than he’s used to,” she said. 

Shop talk: Zac McCrary

McCrary is a partner at the Democratic polling firm ALG Research, and he’s also the host of the Pro Politics podcast, on which people who work in and around politics talk about how they got their starts and offer advice for aspiring politicos. 

Starting out: McCrary has long been fascinated by politics. He recalled following the 1992 presidential campaign as a 10-year-old and discussing the race with his teacher. In ninth grade, he came across the Almanac of American Politics. “I read it from cover to cover, and again, it}s a reference book. It’s not meant to be read like that,” McCrary said. “But, to me, it read like a narrative. From there I was hooked.” (He now has a full collection of almanacs, going back to 1972.) The other key moment in McCrary’s political origin story came during a class trip to D.C. in his junior year of high school. The class was eating lunch in the food court of a local mall when McCrary recognized a certain political analyst. “An 11th grader from Jackson, Miss., is not supposed to recognize, much less accost, Stu Rothenberg at a D.C.-area food court, but I did,” he said. “And he was very hospitable to me, gave me a few minutes of his time. I remember talking to him about specific races coming up. He asked me who my member of Congress was. He gave me his email address and we even corresponded a little bit when I was in high school and college. … And I do think that actually did help encourage me, even though I didn’t have a direct connection into politics, that I [was able to] hold my own. And working in politics, being around politics, maybe wasn’t as impenetrable as I would have otherwise thought.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “There’s really nothing like being in the boiler room on campaign night,” McCrary said, noting that the candidate and campaign staff often look to pollsters for guidance as reports come in from different parts of the state.  He recalled working on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ campaign in 2019, after working on the Louisiana Democrat’s 2015 winning race over scandal-plagued Republican Sen. David Vitter. “By the time 2019 rolls around, red-state Democrats have been dropping like flies,” McCrary said. On election night, McCrary was poring over his spreadsheet with estimates of how many early and Election Day votes Edwards needed in each parish to win. “The first votes to come in were from very rural, small areas that we were losing, but we were exceeding my projections of what we needed,” he recalled. The results from New Orleans typically come in late, but operatives on the ground were sending reports back to the campaign and they had a sense of Edwards’ success there. “I was able to tell Gov. Edwards that he’d won, that he’d been reelected, even though he was still down in the public vote … well before the media called it,” McCrary said. “Our data largely held,” he later added. “So that was an additional sigh of relief.”

Biggest campaign regret: McCrary declined to name the specific campaign or candidate, but his regret came from his work on a state Senate race more than 10 years ago. The campaign had gathered damning opposition research, but the candidate hesitated to use it and thought the issue could be a case of mistaken identity. “It seemed cut-and-dry in our research book against our opponent, so we talked our candidate into it. And it did turn out, in fact, it was much more complicated than we initially thought,” McCrary said. “I’m still not sure we ever fully learned the facts. But our opponent had enough grounds to say we lied about it.” McCrary’s candidate ended up narrowly losing. “It taught me a couple of things. Of course, one, needing to really firm up any research details before they’re leveraged in the campaign, especially if it’s attacking your opponent on something personal, or a character issue — the bar is even higher for that. But, two, if your candidate has major concerns about a line of attack, then make sure to hear him or her out. And make sure that the candidate is fully bought in because it’s their name on the line.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Wisdom might be a stretch, but political signs are often a punch line in campaigns — lawn signs, yard signs — because the candidates themselves want to see their signs out in the district, out in the state, often for ego reasons,” McCrary said. “And it can be a waste of money, waste of effort for the campaign, for the staff. But I actually do think that campaign signs can have a strategic value. Now, just randomly sticking signs on telephone poles or roadways, I don’t think is terribly effective. But when a campaign is trying to put together an upset, trying to run against the partisan DNA of an area, I do think there is value if people, if voters, are seeing signs and activities in yards and neighborhoods where they aren’t used to seeing a Democrat have support. Or if it’s a blue area, [where they] aren’t used to seeing a Republican have support. So I don’t want to overstate it. This stuff is always less important relative to funding staff and traditional paid voter contact. … I do think signs, visibility, can have an important psychological impact that filters down to real voters in the right situation.”

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

Coming up

Just when you thought the completion of a vote-a-rama at 4 a.m. meant this town had seen the last of Congress for the month of August, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is getting the band back together the week of Aug. 23. The budget resolution and voting rights bill are on tap, but, as CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reminds us, the chamber is still operating under COVID-19 protocols that allow for proxy voting, so “not all members need to return physically.”

Photo finish

There may be more golf in the future following the retirement announcement by Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, here in 2002, with Louisiana Rep. Chris John, acknowledging a good fairway shot at the First Tee Congressional Challenge golf tournament at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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This report was revised to show the correct academic institution for the coauthor of a report with Rep. Cheri Bustos on Democrats who won in Trump districts.