At the Races: September storms

Posted September 2, 2021 at 2:30pm

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The devastating floods and “spinning storms” that swept from Louisiana to the Northeast were as good a metaphor as any for what is about to hit the campaign world in the coming weeks. 

Congressional committees are starting to hash out the details of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to take up the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27. House passage of the Democratic measure to restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act — along with a brewing showdown over abortion rights — has intensified pressure on Senate Democrats to scrap the filibuster. All of this is unfolding while lawmakers face an escalating battle over the debt ceiling. 

Democrats have made it clear for months that all are high-priority measures they want to push through — largely without Republican consent — before the midterm elections, with the very real possibility that they will lose control of one or both chambers of Congress in 2022. 

The battle for the House is about to become a lot more concrete, as states, finally armed with the census data they need to draw new district lines, start drawing congressional maps for 2022. Those maps will almost certainly prompt a string of retirements, campaign announcements and increased investments from outside groups and party committees in select districts as the battleground comes into focus for the first time this cycle.

Up first is Colorado, where nonpartisan commissioners have until Oct. 1 to send their final maps to the state Supreme Court. 

Starting gate

Abortion politics: The new ban on most abortions in Texas had Democrats sounding the alarm Wednesday about the importance of upcoming Senate races, given the chamber’s role in confirming federal judges.

#CARecall: Without an opponent on the ballot against him, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s fight to avoid being recalled will be closer than you’d expect in a state Joe Biden carried by 29 points, CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales reports. Ballots went out in the mail Aug. 16 and voting ends Sept. 14. Turnout as of this week was running a bit ahead of a similar point in the 2020 election.  

Voting fights: Civil rights marchers on the National Mall over the weekend seemed poised to blame Democrats, especially Biden if the Senate does not pass HR 4, the voting rights bill named in honor of the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis. It would restore to the Justice Department powers that could affect new voting restrictions as well as redistricting and voter ID laws. But even before Congress acts, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports, states were warned Wednesday that the DOJ is ready to step in if they “don’t draw maps that fairly enable all citizens, regardless of race … to elect the candidates of their choice.”

Battleground climate: Climate Power and the League of Conservation Voters launched a nearly $1 million television and digital ad campaign invoking wildfires and extreme weather to persuade moderate voters to reject a handful of battleground House Republicans in California and Florida.

ICYMI

Trump’s picks: Former President Donald Trump took sides Wednesday in another GOP Senate primary, backing Army veteran Sean Parnell in Pennsylvania. (As a reminder, Trump weighing in on primaries in competitive states is new this cycle.) Trump also endorsed another primary challenger taking on a House Republican who voted to impeach the former president for inciting the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, backing retired Green Beret Joe Kent in his race against Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler

#GASen: Republicans are worried that former football star Herschel Walker’s troubled past could be a problem in the Georgia Senate race, and that was before another eye-catching headline this week. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained a 2012 police report in which Walker’s ex-girlfriend claimed he “threatened to ‘blow her head off’ and then kill himself.”

Miami heat: The fields in Florida’s competitive 26th and 27th districts are still undetermined, held up by uncertainties over how new district lines will be drawn and the plans of former Democratic Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna E. Shalala. Neither has ruled out rematches against Republican Reps. Carlos Gimenez and María Elvira Salazar, their respective vanquishers in 2020. But a primary clash between Mucarsel-Powell and Shalala “could also be in the works,” the Miami Herald reports. 

Social guesswork: Digital consultants are trying to figure out what it means that Facebook is going to “de-emphasize political posts” in users’ news feeds, but they’re concerned it won’t be a good thing, Campaigns and Elections reports.

Reconciliation opposition … The conservative American Action Network launched ads attacking moderate Democratic Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey for voting for the budget resolution to set up a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, adding them to a $5 million television and digital ad campaign that was already running across 39 House districts. 

… and support: Groups on the left also swept in to thank lawmakers in battleground districts who supported the budget resolution. The #CareCantWait coalition, which includes organizations such as Care in Action, SEIU, MomsRising and Paid Leave for All, announced a “six figure” digital ad buy on behalf of Murphy and Democrats Cindy Axne of Iowa, Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath of Georgia, Angie Craig of Minnesota, Tom O’Halleran of Arizona, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. 

Notable nod: Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia, endorsed McBath for reelection. The move was interpreted as a sign of allegiance to the more progressive McBath in case the state’s Republican-controlled legislature draws her into the same suburban Atlanta district as Bourdeaux, who was among the House moderates who had threatened to derail the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package without a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Envelopes for Owens: Democrats in Utah descended on a town hall that GOP Rep. Burgess Owens held this week, complete with mock envelopes that said: “FRAUD” and “FEC VIOLATION.” Democrats were drawing attention to an FEC fine against Owens’ campaign over undisclosed donations, as well as a Salt Lake Tribune report that a charity to help incarcerated young people that Owens is tied to had given zero funds to incarcerated youths.

What we’re reading

Primary problems? HuffPost delves into crowded Senate Democratic primaries in top pickup opportunities for the party, which is a shift from recent cycles when the DSCC picked favorites. Senate Republicans have contentious primaries of their own, Politico reports, with pro-Trump candidates potentially replacing retiring deal-makers. 

Digging deeper: Insider digs into Ohio GOP Senate hopeful JD Vance and draws the conclusion that “it’s not clear what, if anything, Vance has achieved through his [investment] company or his charity” that was supposed to help combat the opioid epidemic. And The Washington Post uncovers GOP Rep. Ted Budd’s role in his family’s agriculture business going bankrupt, which cost farmers millions. Budd is running for Senate in North Carolina.

Not just Afghanistan: The drop in Biden’s standing in the polls also has to do with the rise of the delta variant and COVID-19 restrictions that resumed with it, FiveThirtyEight.com reports.

Voter views: The New York Times looks at voters’ views on Afghanistan in California’s swingy 39th District, currently held by Republican freshman Young Kim

Overhaul angst: David Shor, a onetime Obama campaign aide, tells the New Statesman that if Congress does not pass major voting and elections overhauls, Democrats will likely “be kept out of power for the next decade.”

‘Rage-donating’ Candidates who had no chance of winning raised some amazing sums last year, and you can expect that to happen more often going forward, FiveThirtyEight.com reports.

#TX15: National Republicans see Texas Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez as a prime target as the GOP seeks to show it can make inroads in South Texas, The Texas Tribune reports. The district’s “top-tier battleground status” was “cemented” this week when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy endorsed Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, who narrowly lost to Gonzalez in 2020 and is running again. 

Veep on the stump: Vice President Kamala Harris is planning a “robust” campaign schedule as she seeks to drum up enthusiasm and cash for House and Senate candidates in the 2022 midterms, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

The count: $7.8 billion

That’s how much the tracking firm Kantar/CMAG estimates will be spent in elections this year and next on advertising on local broadcast, local cable/satellite, radio, digital and “over the top” services such as Netflix and Hulu, a company vice president wrote in Ad Age. Overall, the firm expects campaigns and committees — including those in the California gubernatorial recall this month and Virginia governor’s race in November — to raise $13 billion overall.

Nathan’s notes

An international crisis used to cause a popularity bump for the president and the government more broadly, known as the “rally ’round the flag” effect. But as Nathan writes in his latest column, the reactions to last week’s attack at Kabul airport that killed 13 American servicemembers underscore that this “rally” phenomenon “is functionally over for the undetermined future.” 

Candidate confessions

New Hampshire Republican Matt Mowers, who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in the 1st District last year, is seeking a rematch in 2022. Mowers, a former State Department official in the Trump administration, will first have to face off against multiple other GOP contenders. 

Mowers, who is originally from New Jersey, took 46 percent of the vote last year to Pappad’ 51 percent. But he’s counting on a potentially more favorable environment for Republicans in the midterms. 

“We came very close last time, and a lot of the things that I talked about on the campaign trail last year — whether it was standing with law enforcement to allow our communities to be safe, making sure that we’re doing things the New Hampshire way by keeping taxes low and spending in check — all these things were the total opposite of what’s been going on in D.C. throughout the year,” Mowers told New Hampshire’s WMUR in a recent interview.

Shop talk: Ryanne Brown

Brown recently joined the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, where she is charged with overseeing digital paid media for the 2022 campaign cycle and heading efforts to reach voters online. She has been working in politics for a decade, most recently as managing director of digital advertising at Do Big Things.

Starting out: Brown grew up in Chicago, where her grandfather served as an alderman and her father and cousins were community organizers. “The thing I’ve learned from my family, particularly from my dad, is that change is possible if you put in the work. A lot of times people get overwhelmed and think that change is not possible, but it really does make a difference if you just get involved,” she said. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: As a member of the digital team on the Organizing for Action nonprofit, Brown helped manage the 2012 Obama campaign’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, occasionally sending messages on Obama’s behalf. “Being able to hit that button and see behind the curtain was just a really, really cool, dope moment,” she said. 

Biggest campaign regret: “There were a couple of times during a campaign when I was like, ‘This doesn’t feel right, something’s not right here,’” she recalled. “And I wish I had spoken up. Because it turned out that my gut was right on those things, so I wish I had done more in those positions to speak up when I was younger. But now I have learned, I am better. I have no problem telling you what I think.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Vacations are the best, and everyone should take them,” she said, adding that she is also a believer in taking an extra day off after returning from a trip. “A lot of folks don’t think, until later in their career, that it’s OK to reset and recharge. And also, the extra day will be fine. So you should go ahead and take it,” Brown said. 

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

Coming up

Labor Day is Monday, which is also when enhanced unemployment benefits enacted in response to COVID-19 last year, and then extended in March, will run out. A study by The Century Foundation said 7.5 million people will lose benefits. Biden said in June he was not going to push for another extension, though the administration has told states they could use other pandemic relief aid to pay for their own extensions. 

Photo finish

From right, Reps. Al Green, Terri A. Sewell, Sheila Jackson Lee, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III rally in Washington on Saturday to urge the Senate to pass voting rights legislation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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