At the Races: So much for infrastructure week

Posted August 19, 2021 at 2:30pm

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To quote the late Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the impact of Afghanistan’s collapse on next year’s midterms is a “known unknown.” At this point, however, it is difficult to see how it would be helpful to Democrats when holding on to control was always going to require bucking the historical trend. 

Already, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan seems to have dented President Joe Biden’s reputation as a calmer and more competent steward of government, and the drop in his approval ratings this week to below 50 percent may not be an outlier. The Republican campaign committees have tried to drag battleground lawmakers down at the same time. Typical was the NRSC’s missive titled, “Democrat Senate Candidates Refuse To Condemn Biden.”

Former President Donald Trump, who negotiated a troop withdrawal last year that Biden chose to enact, seized on the Afghan government’s collapse and is sending fundraising emails. One said simply that a donation was needed to “Save America.” Another urged, “contribute ANY AMOUNT RIGHT NOW to DEMAND Joe Biden resign and your gift will be increased by 300%.”

As things stand now, Afghanistan is not on the agenda when the House comes back into session next week to adopt the budget resolution the Senate approved on a party-line vote. Moderate Democrats are saying they won’t vote for the budget unless the House votes on the bipartisan infrastructure package. Stay tuned for how that drama unfolds.

Meanwhile, events overshadowed what might have been the best news for Democrats in the past week: the release of census figures that showed population growth in places like suburbs and with groups such as Latinos that have been shading maps bluer in recent years. Even so, GOP-controlled legislatures and governors will control drawing more of those districts. 

One step the Democrats hope will provide a counterbalance is a bill that’s also on next week’s agenda to beef up the Voting Rights Act and give the Justice Department more power to sue to block or overturn state laws. That measure would still be subject to a filibuster in the Senate, however, unless House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn gets his way and convinces the chamber that constitutional issues such as voting rights outweigh Senate rules and cannot be filibustered.

Starting gate

Listening to Latino voters: In the aftermath of the 2020 elections, Democrats agreed that they needed to do a better job reaching Latino voters. We took stock of that effort on a recent trip to the Dallas suburbs. 

Betting the house Senate: Republicans landed a top recruit in Nevada with former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt jumping into the contest against Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Laxalt’s announcement kicks off what is expected to be one of the most competitive races in the country.

Growth spurt: CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone crunched the new census data to find 10 districts that are sure to change in redistricting, including some that have to shed more than 100,000 people when the new lines are drawn. Some states face tight deadlines to finish those maps.

Vote set on voting: A revised bill that could give the Justice Department more power to sue to block or overturn state voter laws and redistricting maps was introduced Tuesday, and faces a likely House vote next week, Macagnone reports. Democrats held several hearings this year to build a legal record for the bill, anticipating a challenge to the Supreme Court.

’22 preview: Amendments to the budget resolution are not binding, but senators can also propose them on almost any topic. So last week’s “vote-a-rama” before the Senate skipped town included attempts to get lawmakers on the record on issues such as critical race theory and abortion that the GOP plans to use in next year’s battle for control, CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson reports.

ICYMI

They’re running: A handful of Democratic Senate hopefuls launched their campaigns this week. Lawyer Morgan Harper, who lost a primary race against Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty last year, jumped into the race in the Buckeye State. Steven Olikara, who founded the Millennial Action Project, joined the crowded primary in Wisconsin. After weighing a run for months, former Florida Rep. Alan Grayson is once again challenging GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. And in Indiana, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. filed with the FEC to take on GOP Sen. Todd Young, but The Indianapolis Star reports that “he has not formally launched his campaign but said he plans to start fundraising and taking the necessary steps to do so.”

Waiting for Ron: NRSC Chairman Rick Scott still sounds hopeful that Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson will run for a third term. “I think he’s going to run and I think he’ll decide in the next few months,” Scott said at an event in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Counterprogramming: The liberale group Future Forward USA Action is launching a $1.4 million ad campaign next week in seven districts to give “air cover” to moderate Democrats who have been under fire from conservative groups opposed to Democrats’ plans to spend $3.5 trillion through a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill.

Learning to run: Reps. Lauren Underwood of Illinois, Katie Porter of California and Nikema Williams of Georgia were today named as honorary co-chairs of the National Democratic Training Committee, which focuses on training Democrats on how to run for office, work on campaigns or become local party leaders.

Sidelined: With the FBI joining the investigation into how Mesa County, Colo., voting system passwords ended up on the far-right Gateway Pundit blog and Telegram social media site, the Republican county clerk, Tina M. Peters, was barred from overseeing elections by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat. Griswold has also said the existing voting equipment must be replaced.

No pressure here: Georgia’s State Election Board appointed a panel to investigate election management at Fulton County, home of Atlanta and site of a voting line in last year’s primary that was so long The New York Times shot video of it from a drone. The review could lead to a state takeover of elections in the heavily Democratic county.

What we’re reading

A Key(stone) race: NBC News dives into the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania, describing the race as “the next big existential fight for Democrats.”  

Retirement watch: Politico checks in on the five senators who have yet to say whether they’re retiring or running for reelection. 

Playing out a lot of hypotheticals: CNN reports that if California Gov. Gavin Newsom loses the upcoming recall election, there may be calls for the state’s senior senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, to resign before Newsom leaves office to avoid a scenario under which a Republican governor would fill a Senate vacancy. Feinstein said she would not resign.

Survey says: Polls before last weekend showed most Americans wanted troops out of Afghanistan, right? The Dispatch argues, however, that polls about issues, especially issues most people don’t pay much attention to as they go about their daily lives, are “stupid” and “should be ignored.”

Defund Decamp? Amid rising crime rates, some Democrats have started to distance themselves from calls to defund the police, Reuters reports.

Mistakes made: HuffPost does a deep dive into progressive Nina Turner’s recent special election primary loss in Ohio and finds that the Democrat suffered from a mismanaged budget and strategic misfires as much as with the influx of “corporatist” money opposing her that Turner has publicly blamed for her defeat. 

Not that Monmouth: An item last week about a report on how Democrats won in GOP-leaning districts released by Illinois Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos misidentified co-author Robin Johnson. He is with Monmouth College in Illinois, not Monmouth University in New Jersey.

The count: 17

That’s how many members of Congress served in combat in Afghanistan, according to CQ member data. The list includes five House Democrats, nine House Republicans and three GOP senators. Each party is targeting just one of the Afghanistan veterans in 2022. The NRCC listed Maine Rep. Jared Golden, a Marine veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, among its midterm targets. And the DCCC is targeting Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Navy veteran. 

Candidate confessions

“My kids can’t get enough of Star Wars,” Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt says in the opening seconds of his Senate campaign announcement video over footage of his kids playing with toy lightsabers. “We’ve watched all nine movies, twice, and counting. They love it because it’s a story of right and wrong, good versus evil. In our house and at our church, we talk a lot about what’s right and what’s wrong. And right now it seems like the wrong side is winning.”

The former state attorney general kept the Star Wars references going at the end of the video, saying, “This won’t be an easy battle. They’re David, we’re Goliath. We’re the rebels, they’re the Empire.”

Shop talk: Julie Conway

Conway is the executive director of VIEW PAC, a group that backs female Republican candidates. She is involved in recruitment and garnering support for the congressional hopefuls, often serving as a mentor.

Starting out: Conway grew up in the small town of West Shokan in upstate New York, where her grandfather was elected the superintendent of highways. “You get a lot of snow and certainly the superintendent of highways really controls everybody’s ability to get around,” Conway said. “I started understanding politics at a very early age from watching my grandfather, who had run for reelection. … My grandfather was a Republican, and it was really interesting because the vast majority, it still is today, [are] Democrats where I grew up. And the fact that my grandfather could win as a Republican, it really taught me that this game was just as much about personality and integrity. Everybody loved my grandfather. He just was well-respected, and he was the kind of guy that everybody gravitated towards. And even though he ran as a Republican, that was less important to the people of our community than who he was. Half of it was certainly policy and platform — he had to be doing things right and taking care of his community. But really, how much politics is based on respect and personality and integrity, at least back then.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: When Conway was just starting out in her career, she landed a job at a small fundraising firm for Senate Republicans as just one of three employees. Before long, she was sitting with senators making fundraising calls. “The first person I ever sat in one of those little tiny, maybe 5-by-5, maybe 6-by-6, rooms to make fundraising phone calls at the National Republican Senatorial Committee was with John McCain. … I  spent hours and hours and hours in that tiny room with John over the next few years, and really learning politics, in a way that growing up in a small town, doing undergrad, getting your master’s — it’s just not the same. And to be able to sit in the room with someone like John McCain, seeing the good, the bad and the ugly and really understand what it’s supposed to be to be a public servant, I’ll just never forget how truly passionate he was, and also how funny he was. … You could disagree with John, but … at some point, he was going to say something where you couldn’t help but laugh, bring [you] back to the human side of it. And I’ll never forget that. It really set me up for my entire career, and how to be able to disagree with people, but not be disagreeable, understanding that at the end of the day, it is really all about people.” 

Biggest campaign regret: Conway described the record number of GOP women elected in 2020 as the “high point” of her career. “But I immediately go back to the ones we left on the field,” she said, thinking specifically about candidates such as Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, who came close to unseating Texas Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, and Esther Joy King, who ran a competitive race against Bustos in Illinois. Both candidates are running in 2022. “I’m not a Debbie Downer by nature, but I just think, as much progress as we’ve made, there’s still so much that’s yet to be done,” Conway said. “And there were limited resources that went towards the women — certainly a lot more in 2020 than there ever had been in the past, but not nearly as much as went to the guys. … I regret not having been able to get these other women on the radar screen. And it’s especially true in primaries.” While the focus in 2022 is on reelecting women who flipped seats in 2020, Conway also said, “I’m really going to double down on when there’s somebody that I think people really need to be paying attention to, to really keep screaming it until people pay attention.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Coming out of 2018, for our Republican women, there were two things: One, they were inspired, no doubt, by the success of the Democratic women,” Conway said. “In terms of Trump, Republican women realized that there was no longer this exact formula to run for office. … One of the reasons why Republican women have not been well represented in Congress is because there had been this notion that you had to wait your turn, or you needed a certain résumé — you needed to have been on your city council, state rep, state senator, a mayor. And more often than not, those positions were held by guys. There was always a guy in line for the seat. … And a lot of the Democratic women who won in 2018 were not coming from elected office. Some did, but certainly not all. And it just broke a lot of the stereotypes about what it looks like to run. … It’s a trend that hasn’t really been covered because it seems obvious. But for so many years, I’ve been asked, ‘Why aren’t there more Republican women serving in the House and the Senate?’ And that’s really been it — it’s the breaking of that chain of succession. And that’s critically important.”

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

Coming up

Trump is heading back to Alabama for a rally on Saturday, which coincides with the state GOP’s summer meeting. The rally is set for 7 p.m. at York Family Farms in Cullman. State GOP Chairman John Wahl noted in a statement announcing the rally that the event is set in the 4th District, which Trump won by the largest margin of any district in the country. We’ll be watching to see if Trump mentions the congressman from the neighboring 5th District, GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, whom the former president has endorsed in the state’s open Senate race. 

Photo finish

Protesters calling for the United States to help the people in Afghanistan hold flags and signs outside the White House in Lafayette Square on Monday as President Joe Biden speaks on the crisis in Afghanistan. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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