At the Races: California dreamin’

Posted September 16, 2021 at 2:30pm

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By Bridget Bowman, Stephanie Akin and Kate Ackley

All eyes turned westward this week as California Gov. Gavin Newsom fended off an attempt to throw him out of office. DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney cheered the Democrat’s decisive victory, telling reporters Wednesday that the recall defeat was a sign that voters will reject the GOP in 2022. 

“I don’t think the difference between the two parties has ever been greater,” Maloney said, accusing Republicans of appealing to “reckless and dangerous” elements of their party. “Look we’re not perfect,” Maloney said of his fellow Democrats, “but we are responsible adults, and we’re trying to fix tough problems.”

Democrats’ attempt to “fix tough problems” involves cobbling together a sweeping $3.5 trillion package that’s central to President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda — a difficult task with razor-thin majorities and wary party moderates in both chambers. As House committees drafted different pieces of the proposal this week, Democrats continued their effort to build support in key battlegrounds. This week, the Biden-aligned outside group Building Back Together announced it would spend $40 million in ads and on-the-ground organizing, in addition to the $110 million the group has already invested. 

But lawmakers are also facing pressure from GOP groups over the package’s large price tag. The anti-tax Club for Growth PAC this week launched TV ads in 10 districts, nine held by Democrats (including Texas’ Filemon Vela, who is retiring) and one represented by moderate Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger, encouraging viewers to tell lawmakers to “stop Nancy Pelosi’s tax scam.” The ads are the “first phase” of a $2 million campaign, according to a press release. 

Starting gate

Going to court: Last week, former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt grabbed headlines for suggesting the GOP could launch election-related lawsuits ahead of the 2022 midterms. Laxalt, who is running for Senate, led Donald Trump’s campaign’s unsuccessful effort to challenge the 2020 presidential result in Nevada. But he wasn’t the only Senate hopeful involved in election lawsuits — eight others filed, or actively supported, failed lawsuits that furthered Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rife with fraud.

About that recall: Some Democrats touted Newsom’s recall victory as a good sign for their chances in 2022, but some Republicans and strategists downplayed any connection between the result and what might happen in congressional races more than a year away.

Compromise position: Senate Democrats offered a slimmed-down version of their party’s signature elections and campaign finance overhaul this week, slicing out ethics and lobbying overhauls from the package. Still, the new measure appears unlikely to pass because no Republicans support it.

Mask on, between bites: Lobbying firms have pushed back official reopening dates, but K Street denizens say they’re still attending in-person fundraisers and meetings. The fundraising solicitations to events benefiting lawmakers’ reelection coffers come with caveats and caution now.

No hurry: While campaigns seem to be starting earlier and earlier each cycle, Nathan L. Gonzales explains why the race for the 2024 presidential nominations in both parties will likely be paused for a while.

ICYMI

Mapmakers, mapmakers, make us some maps: New York’s independent redistricting commission put out two draft congressional maps Wednesday after a partisan split kept the group from deciding on a single one. Those maps may not hold for long though, as the Democratic supermajority in the New York Legislature has the ability to draw its own map. Gov. Kathy Hochul told The New York Times earlier this year she would use her power to maximize Democratic gains in redistricting. The GOP-controlled Indiana legislature on Tuesday unveiled its own map, which would shore up the suburban Indianapolis district held by Republican freshman Victoria Spartz, a DCCC target. The new map would move more of blue-leaning Marion County to Democrat André Carson’s district. And Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency released its first proposed map this morning. The map would increase the number of Democratic voters in the 1st and 3rd districts, held by Republican Ashley Hinson and Democrat Cindy Axne respectively, and increase the number of Republicans in the 2nd and 4th, currently held by Republicans Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Randy Feenstra, according to a Des Moines Register analysis. The state’s GOP-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds would need to sign off on the map.

On the air: New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan this week became the first Democrat in a battleground state to launch a TV ad ahead of the midterms, going up with a 30-second spot touting her work with veterans. The ad is part of a six-figure buy and will air on broadcast, cable and radio networks, as well as online, according to Hassan’s campaign.

Senators playing favorites: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren took sides in the Democratic Senate primary in Wisconsin, endorsing Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. And Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley endorsed author and venture capitalist JD Vance in the Republican Senate primary in Ohio. 

New president in town: EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, announced this week that Laphonza Butler will be the group’s new president. She is the first woman of color and the first mother to lead the organization. Butler served as a senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign and worked as a partner at SCRB Strategies, which is based in California and was renamed BearStar Strategies earlier this year. She has also held leadership roles in the Service Employees International Union. 

Cue the attack ads: Arizona Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran racked up more than $11,000 in late fees and other costs associated with delinquent payments and tax liens on two properties he owned between 1995 and 2010, according to The Arizona Republic. That period largely coincided with O’Halleran’s time serving in the state legislature. “Property taxes — now paid in full — from over 10 years ago are not relevant to public policy decisions being made today,” he told the paper. 

Back in business for ‘Never Again’: Former Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell is now the chairman of the Never Again super PAC, which is targeting 147 Republicans who objected to certifying some states’ electoral results for Biden, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Anti-inflation: The GOP fundraising platform WinRed, which seeks to compete with Democrats’ ActBlue but collected higher fees than its liberal counterpart, said it was lowering its rates. WinRed said its new formula will be a flat 3.94 percent, down from its previous 3.8 percent plus an additional $ 0.30 per transaction, according to a news release. That puts it more in line with ActBlue’s fees. The switch will amount to a 15 percent reduction in costs, WinRed said. “Due to our ability to achieve and maintain scale, we are excited to announce that WinRed is lowering our prices,” WinRed President Gerrit Lansing said in the release. 

Juntos Together: The DCCC is launching a new effort, dubbed Juntos Together, a digital hub of Spanish and English language materials aimed at combating “dangerous right-wing disinformation,” the group said in a news release today. “Latino voters are integral to the Democratic Party’s coalition, and that means that Democrats need to engage early and often with our community,” Victoria McGroary, executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC, said in the release. 

Fundraising fodder: Just about everything is fundraising fodder. The RNC said it would mount a legal challenge to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates and asked supporters to “Help fund our efforts,” in an email appeal. “Please contribute $45 or more RIGHT NOW to help fund our efforts against Biden to end his vaccine mandate,” the solicitation read. Separately, GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who represents New York’s swingy 11th District, urged her contributors to buy a $30 T-shirt that borrowed its theme from New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ Met gala ball gown.    

Moving on: Meredith McGehee, who has been executive director of the campaign finance overhaul group Issue One for the past five years, said she will depart the post at the end of this month. “My immediate plans are to take the remainder of 2021 to rest, relax and restore after almost 40 years of daily professional involvement on these issues that all of us view as fundamentally important,” she wrote in an email. “Come the new year, I will decide what — if anything — is next for me.” 

What we’re reading

Retro: Think we’ve never had a period of partisanship and division like this? Stu Rothenberg disagrees.

Ties that bind: McClatchy explores how Democrats are deploying an early line of attack against New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, a potential challenger to Hassan, that tries to tie him to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

On the trail: National Journal hits the campaign trail with Indiana GOP Sen. Todd Young as he tries to campaign as an “effective conservative.”

Stuck in the middle: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team have been quietly supporting some House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, underscoring “the kinds of headaches facing McCarthy” while he attempts to prop up the moderates he needs to win the House majority without rankling the former president and his supporters, CNN reports. CNN also looks at a similar dynamic in the Senate, where McConnell is “carefully choosing his battles” with Trump when it comes to GOP primaries.

Clicker: The analysts at The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter map the House incumbents most at risk during redistricting.

It’s all about Texas: The Boston Globe takes a look at policies favored by the far right and passed by Republican state lawmakers in Texas this year — including new restrictions on voting and abortion, and the elimination of permit and training requirements for handgun carriers — that could shape the 2022 midterms.

Hey, big spender: The liberal mega political donor and philanthropist George Soros has been restructuring his Open Society Foundation, making “painful” adjustments and severing longtime ties with nonprofit groups, according to The New York Times. 

In the money: OpenSecrets examines Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney’s war chest, as her Trump-backed primary challenger Harriet Hageman seeks to raise campaign cash.  

The count: 6

That’s how many candidates made the first round of 2022 endorsements from the campaign arm of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. AFP Action announced today it was backing GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah as well as Republican Reps. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, Peter Meijer of Michigan, Chip Roy of Texas, Ashley Hinson of Iowa and Spartz in Indiana. The group is planning grassroots events for these members but hasn’t yet planned any advertising.  

Nathan’s notes

Nathan warns against using the California recall election result to jump to “dramatic conclusions” about the midterms, which are still 14 months away. But, he notes, “That doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything.” Check out Nathan’s nine takeaways from the election.

Candidate confessions

Florida Republican Anna Paulina Luna, who is running for a St. Petersburg-area open seat, said that she had only briefly crossed paths with primary rival William Braddock when she started hearing from acquaintances last spring that Braddock had been threatening to have her killed. 

“Mr. Braddock clearly hated my guts and wanted to hurt me,” Luna testified Tuesday during a state civil court hearing. “I started getting very afraid of him. It was horrifying, and it still is.”

Luna, an Air Force veteran and media consultant, is making her second bid for the House after losing to Democrat Charlie Crist last fall. Crist is vacating the seat to run for governor.

Luna is asking the court to permanently extend her June restraining order against Braddock, who dropped his campaign after an apparent recording of him surfaced in which he bragged that he had access to Ukrainian and Russian “hit squads” who could make Luna “disappear.” 

The race, which promises to be among the most competitive in Florida, has attracted intense interest from candidates on both sides of the aisle. Luna got Trump’s endorsement Tuesday.

Shop talk: Daniel Barash

Barash, a senior vice president at the consulting firm SKDK, serves as a strategist and media consultant for organizations and campaigns. Most recently, he was lead strategist for the campaign of Democrat Shontel Brown, who won a hotly contested special election primary last month in Ohio’s 11th District. Barash ran the 2020 presidential campaign of Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and, in 2018, oversaw expansion districts for the DCCC.

Starting out:  Barash grew up in New York and Israel. As a teenager in Israel, he volunteered on Ehud Barak’s 1999 campaign when Barak beat the incumbent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “You really feel the impact of politics when you grow up in the Middle East, and politics stuck with me as a way to create change, make life better for people, and assume some responsibility in my community,” he said. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Shontel Brown’s victory in the primary election is new and already unforgettable,” he said. “After being counted out, Shontel overcame Nina Turner’s 35-point lead in just a couple months. Her win — and President Biden’s primary win — show that Democratic primaries are fundamentally not about moderate versus progressive. Democratic primary voters tend to prefer establishment candidates who are clear-eyed on why they’re running, committed to working collaboratively and rooted in their districts.” Though the Brown campaign may have been a professional highlight, Barash said a previous campaign moment left a lasting imprint on his personal life: meeting his “now-fiancé at a Hillary for America field office in Bristol, Pennsylvania, five days before the tragic 2016 election.”

Biggest campaign regret: “In 2018, I worked at the DCCC and oversaw more than 30 races in tough districts that Trump had carried,” Barash recalled. One of them was West Virginia’s 3rd District, which Trump had carried by 50 points in 2016. “The Democratic candidate, Richard Ojeda, started out ahead and ended up losing by just 12 in this tough district,” he said. “Richard has an amazing story as a veteran, educator, state senator and leader in teachers’ strikes. I regret that we couldn’t get him over the finish line, and think we could’ve done a better job telling his story and emotionally connecting with voters to inoculate him from anticipated attacks. Ojeda would’ve been a unique member of Congress and, I think, emerged as an important voice for our country and party in a region where our support is thinning.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Even in this cynical era, there is so much power and opportunity in focused positive political advertising,” Barash said. “Most recently, in the OH-11 special election, Shontel cut Nina Turner’s lead by over 25 points with positive advertising alone — before any negative ads aired. Shontel empowered her team to tell her story and is compelling on camera. She also had faith that voters would respond to positive messages focused on her record and what she will do for them.”

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

Coming up

Be prepared to hear a whole lot more about Texas, as the Lone Star State kicks off what is bound to be among the country’s more contentious redistricting processes in a special legislative session Monday.

Photo finish

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s flip phone is going to be blowing up this month as senators broker deals to fund the government, raise the debt limit and pass Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.

Correction to Sept. 9 At the Races: Xavier Becerra is secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. A caption last week had a previous title.

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