At the Races: Are voters listening?

Posted August 26, 2021 at 2:30pm

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After a long two days back at the Capitol, House Democrats adopted a budget resolution that kicked off the process to draft a $3.5 trillion spending package and set up a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package, which has already passed the Senate. The House hasn’t passed the infrastructure bill yet, but that hasn’t stopped Democrats from campaigning on it.

“Next up is fighting to fix our aging infrastructure,” says the narrator in a new ad from House Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of the Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC, aimed at bolstering Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood. The ad is part of a $2.5 million television and digital ad campaign spanning 23 districts, touting legislative accomplishments, including an expanded child tax credit. Senate Democrats are getting some air cover too. This week, Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of Senate Majority PAC, reserved $1.4 million worth of airtime in Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire, launching ads noting the senators’ work to lower prescription drug costs. 

The new ads come as Republicans have gone on the offensive, targeting Democrats over rising prices and spending. Majority Forward’s ads aimed to counter prescription drug-related ads from the GOP group One Nation, which is tied to the Senate Leadership Fund. On Wednesday, the NRCC announced a new round of digital ads knocking 15 targeted House Democrats for rising prices. 

The early ad wars are precursors to a battle over the economy in the 2022 midterms. But are voters even tuning in right now? Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told McClatchy that voters crucial to their coalition are checked out and they “feel everything is contentious, exhausting and divisive.” With plenty of partisan battles ahead when Congress returns next month, those feelings probably aren’t changing anytime soon.

Starting gate

‘Step Up Joe’: Just as the House was preparing to pass a voting rights measure this week, a collection of activists gathered near the White House to put the heat on President Joe Biden, urging him to use his bully pulpit in support of the bill and against the Senate’s legislative filibuster standing in the way of enactment.

Walker’s running: Former football star Herschel Walker launched a bid for the GOP Senate nomination in Georgia, but Republicans are concerned he could endanger their chances of defeating Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Walker said in a statement Wednesday, “Our country is at a crossroads, and I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore,” and his campaign also released a biographical video touting his Georgia roots (until recently, he was a Texas resident) and his success on the gridiron.

Rebels quelled: The Democratic moderates who demanded a vote on infrastructure didn’t get it this week, but they did stir the ire of groups on the left battling any delay in passing progressive priorities. CQ Roll Call’s Herb Jackson looks at how vulnerable that makes the so-called Mod Squad in next year’s primaries.

ICYMI

Draft delay: A draft report of findings from the controversial audit of ballots cast in Arizona’s Maricopa County was supposed to be presented to Republicans in the state Senate on Monday. But they only received a partial draft because three members of the five-person audit team tested positive for COVID-19. (As a reminder, some Republicans in the state think the audit is a political problem since casting doubts about the validity of the 2020 election could depress GOP turnout and/or turn off moderates).

Endorse: A few days after Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt launched his Senate campaign, former President Donald Trump endorsed the onetime state attorney general, who co-chaired Trump’s Nevada campaign in 2020. And in Ohio, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee backed progressive lawyer Morgan Harper over Rep. Tim Ryan in the Democratic primary for the open Senate seat. In Georgia, GOP Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter endorsed Walker’s Senate campaign.

Mo-mentum: Trump returned to Alabama on Saturday for a rally, and he spent a few moments of his 90-minute speech touting his preferred candidate in the state’s open Senate race, Rep. Mo Brooks. Trump called Brooks, who led the GOP effort to object to some states’ 2020 Electoral College votes, “a fearless warrior for your sacred right to vote.” At one point, Trump called Brooks up onstage, and the congressman thanked “the future president of the United States of America” and said, “I’m pleased to announce the second coming of President Donald J. Trump.”

Setting up shop: Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, the longtime head of Perkins Coie’s political law unit, is leaving the firm, along with more than a dozen colleagues, to form his own shop, Elias Law Group. The firm will represent candidates, party and political committees, nonprofit organizations and voters, according to a news release.

#MO04: Missouri GOP state Rep. Sara Walsh, who is running to replace Republican Vicky Hartzler in the deep-red 4th District, announced that her husband died after contracting COVID-19. Neither Walsh nor her husband, Steve Walsh, 63, a former journalist and longtime Hartzler staffer, had been vaccinated. Sarah Walsh also contracted the disease but had recovered and was out of quarantine.

The network: Facebook is making moves to form an advisory commission on “global election-related” matters and is expected to make an announcement before the midterms, The New York Times reports.

Blind trust: New Jersey Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, who has been targeted by GOP ads after reports that he had violated the federal STOCK Act by not disclosing dozens of financial transactions, has put his assets into a blind trust, Insider reports.

Bipartisan endorsements: The group Pro-Israel America, and its PAC, which funded billboards to help Democrat Shontel Brown win a special election primary this month in Ohio’s 11th District, is out with 11 new bipartisan endorsements in House races. Democrats on the list are Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, Grace Meng of New York, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland and Kurt Schrader of Oregon. Republicans are Reps. Andy Barr of Kentucky, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, David Joyce of Ohio and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.

What we’re reading

All out: Fox News delves into the effort to recruit New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who recently appeared at an event with NRSC Chairman Rick Scott, to run for Senate.

Bookmark alert: The Washington Post has an interactive graphic breaking down how redistricting works in each state. The Philadelphia Inquirer has a handy tracker detailing Pennsylvania’s Senate candidates. 

At the mapmakers’ mercy: Politico uses characteristically colorful language to assess the political future of Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger as the Democratic-controlled state legislature draws new congressional maps. A family-friendly takeaway: He is not in an enviable position. 

Science for “good or evil”: The Guardian takes a look at the evolution of gerrymandering and finds it is a lot easier to draw partisan maps — but also a lot easier to fight them — than it used to be. 

Who you gonna call … Insider looks at 13 political fixers, bold-faced names in crisis communications that lawmakers and candidates tap to crush scandals.   

The count: $12,139

That’s how much Rep. Alex X. Mooney has repaid his campaign since March after the Office of Congressional Ethics began looking into possible personal use of campaign fundsh. Items the West Virginia Republican reimbursed the campaign for included “clear cases of personal use,” the OCE said in a report obtained by CQ Roll Call reporter Chris Marquette. Among them: $947 in propane utility bills Mooney split with the campaign because he uses his basement as a campaign office space, plus a trip with his family to the Canaan Valley Resort.

Nathan’s notes

The turmoil in Afghanistan has been dominating the headlines and, today, fears of an attack at Kabul airport were realized. Earlier this week, Nathan L. Gonzales delved into the effect that the chaotic situation could (or could not) have on the 2022 midterms.  

Candidate confessions

Watching the exodus from Afghanistan in recent days hit close to home for Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, whose family fled Vietnam after the American evacuation. 

“What I’m watching is heartbreaking, not just as a refugee but as an American,” the Democrat told Florida’s Spectrum News in an interview that was published shortly before the attack at the Kabul airport. 

Murphy’s parents were endangered because of their affiliation with the American government. But they were not able to leave Vietnam when the American forces evacuated in 1975. Four years later, her parents joined the more than 700,000 who left the country by boat, taking with them a 6-month-old Murphy and her 8-year-old brother. 

Their boat ran out of fuel in international waters and was “desperately adrift” when they encountered a U.S. Navy ship that gave them enough fuel, food and water to make it to Malaysia. Murphy’s family was eventually brought to the U.S. by a Lutheran congregation and resettled in Virginia. Murphy has helped at least two Afghan interpreters who were trapped under Taliban rule to reunite with their families, she said. 

Shop talk: Terry Holt

Holt, a veteran of political campaigns and a former GOP aide on Capitol Hill, runs Holt Communications Strategies, where he manages issue campaigns, including in the cannabis and energy sectors, and advises business groups on messaging. He was a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns. 

Starting out: Holt recalls volunteering, as an eighth grader, for the 1976 presidential campaign of Gerald Ford, who lost to Jimmy Carter. He got his start covering city and state politics for the Purdue Exponent, the student newspaper of Purdue University. After college, he snagged a job working for Indiana GOP Sen. Richard G. Lugar, whom he had covered as a student reporter. “I came to Washington to visit a friend, and Sen. Lugar’s office said if I could write a reasonable press release, I could have a job,” he said. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: In 1994, the year of the Republican Revolution, Holt did communications for the congressional campaign of George Nethercutt, who ousted Speaker Thomas S. Foley of Washington. “It was the first time in 164 years that a sitting House speaker had been deposed by his constituents,” Holt said. 

Biggest campaign regret: Holt was poised for a communications gig in the office of then-Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio. He wore his only suit, a wool outfit, to an interview with the future speaker. “I was sweating so bad that John didn’t take me seriously,” Holt recalled. “I was absolutely certain that I wouldn’t get the job. I’d been on the campaign trail forever, and I didn’t have suits.” But then Holt called the chief of staff, Barry Jackson, who told him to get into the office — he’d been hired. “Boehner didn’t have anything to do with hiring me,” Holt said with a laugh.   

Unconventional wisdom: Despite dire messaging from conservatives and liberals alike in political campaigns, Holt contends that “things are generally getting better for everybody.” “We are, as a society, evolving and making strides, if you just put your fear down for a minute.” Still, he said, he’s concerned that Republicans haven’t kept pace with the values of the American people and have resorted too much to division, rather than unity, to win campaigns. “And it’s a recipe for never winning another campaign, and I’m talking about nationally,” he said. Though it might imperil Republicans in future presidential contests, Holt said it could work at the district level. He predicted the GOP would win back House in 2022, which would keep the party from seeing the larger-scale danger of the tactics.

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

Coming up

The “March On for Voting Rights” takes place Saturday, timed to coincide with the 58th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, in which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The march will go through Black Lives Matter Plaza and past the White House before a rally on the National Mall where speakers will include the family of the late Rep. John Lewis and Martin Luther King III. King spoke with CQ Roll Call columnist Mary Curtis on her Equal Time podcast this week about the push to pass new voting rights legislation, and an edited transcript is online. Marches are planned in other cities as well.  

Photo finish

Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with reporters in the Capitol on Monday before a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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