At the Races: Punting isn’t just for football

Posted October 7, 2021 at 2:30pm, Updated September 30, 2021 at 4:02pm

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By Bridget Bowman, Stephanie Akin and Kate Ackley

Whether or not it’s football season, members of Congress are experts at punting. The latest example came this week as lawmakers tried to avoid fumbling the debt limit. Senators reached an agreement to temporarily raise the borrowing limit until December, avoiding an economic catastrophe for now. Stay tuned for more negotiations and gridlock. 

Speaking of negotiations and gridlock, Democrats continued to hammer out the details of President Joe Biden’s sweeping $3.5 trillion tax, social safety net and climate package, with Biden meeting virtually with House Democrats who were back home in their districts. A baker’s dozen of vulnerable lawmakers who are part of the DCCC’s Frontline program met with the president Tuesday. A Democratic aide familiar with the meeting said Biden stressed his commitment to getting both the spending package and a bipartisan infrastructure deal across the finish line, and each member was given time to discuss their priorities, according to CQ Roll Call’s Joseph Morton.  

Biden also heard from another Democratic lawmaker facing a tough race who wasn’t in the meeting: Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin. She rode with Biden in his motorcade to an event in her district where the president touted his agenda. Slotkin stressed the need to pass the infrastructure deal, which was delayed last week as progressives demanded the spending package pass the Senate first. Slotkin bluntly told Biden, “I want you to go back to Washington and crack some heads and get it done,” according to Politico

The episode underscores the frustration several vulnerable Democrats voiced last week as a vote on the infrastructure bill stalled. They’re ready to run on the infrastructure deal, but Democrats have to wrap up a different kind of bridge building to get it done.

Starting gate

Staying focused? Liberal activists frustrated with Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s role in reconciliation negotiations are actively organizing to take her on in the 2024 primary. But Arizona organizers have a more pressing Senate race to contend with first, and they say their current focus on Sinema won’t distract them from the 2022 race that could determine control of the Senate.

Opposition on tour: CQ Roll Call’s Paul M. Krawzak was on the ground in Howell, Mich., this week for Biden’s visit to Slotkin’s district, where Trump supporters lined the streets, holding signs and flags in the deep-red territory of Livingston County.

No proxy war: With a crowded field and little interest from outside groups, the Nov. 2 Democratic primary in the special election to replace the late Democrat Alcee L. Hastings in Florida’s 20th district has yet to turn into the type of proxy war over the future of the Democratic Party that we have seen in other deep-blue districts this cycle. 

‘Take a win’: Democrats facing tough races in 2022 were frustrated last week as a House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal was delayed. They stressed the need for the bill to pass and implored their colleagues to “take a win.” 

Public feud: As K Street weighed a more forceful lobbying approach to the debt limit impasse this week, the rift between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and congressional Republicans, stemming from the chamber’s 2020 endorsement of a slate of Democrats, was on full display. One lobbyist called the relationship “as bad as it could ever be.” 

Take five: California Rep. Young Kim, whose Los Angeles-area district is a top target for Democrats in 2022, told CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa that she believes in the Republican Party, “not in one person defining who our party is” when asked whether she stands by her earlier comment that there “is no party of Trump.”

ICYMI

Drawing lines: Indiana GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a new congressional map, drawn by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, that would solidify the party’s hold on seven of the state’s nine districts. Four states have now finalized their new congressional maps; Maine, Oregon and Nebraska are the others. Iowa’s Republican-controlled Senate, meanwhile, voted down the new map proposed by the state’s nonpartisan commission.

New turf: With Texas GOP lawmakers finalizing a new map that would likely make Rep. Vicente Gonzalez’s Rio Grande Valley seat more competitive, the Democrat told Politico he has a plan. Gonzalez is “seriously considering” a run in the neighboring 34th District, which will remain safely Democratic and where incumbent Filemon Vela is retiring. In Colorado, Democrat Kerry Donovan, the highest-profile challenger to GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert, paused her fundraising after the state’s independent redistricting commission submitted a map to the state’s Supreme Court that would make the district safer for Republicans. The court has until Nov. 1 to finalize the map — and several groups have promised legal challenges — but candidates are already starting to announce bids for the newly drawn 8th District, north of Denver, which would be the most competitive in the state.

They’re running: Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been coy about whether she’s running for reelection. And while she hasn’t made a formal announcement, her campaign did file paperwork with the FEC indicating she’s running. In Utah, failed 2016 presidential candidate Evan McMullin announced he’s challenging GOP Sen. Mike Lee as an independent. In North Carolina, Marjorie K. Eastman, a retired Army intelligence officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, jumped into the GOP Senate primary. Controversial Colorado state Rep. Ron Hanks, who reportedly attended a pro-Trump protest in D.C. on Jan. 6, announced he was seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. And in Kansas, former Kansas City Mayor Mark Holland, a Democrat, entered the race against GOP Sen. Jerry Moran.

Them too: LongtimeNew England broadcast journalist Gale Huff Brown announced a bid in the crowded Republican primary to take on Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in New Hampshire’s 1st District. Huff Brown is the wife of former Massachusetts Sen. Scott P. Brown, who also served as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand under President Donald Trump. In Wisconsin, state Sen. Brad Pfaff, who was a longtime staffer to Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, announced he will run in the competitive 3rd District, where Kind is retiring. 

On the air: The battle for the Senate hit the airwaves this week. In Wisconsin, Democrat Alex Lasry, whose father co-owns the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, launched his first TV ad touting his ties to the team (there are 10 months to go until the Senate primary). Club for Growth Action launched a new TV ad in North Carolina highlighting Trump’s endorsement of GOP Rep. Ted Budd. And in Arizona, a super PAC funded by billionaire Peter Thiel released a new ad supporting Thiel associate Blake Masters and knocking one of Masters’ GOP primary opponents, state Attorney General Mark Brnovich. 

Taking sides: End Citizens United/Let America Vote, which backs candidates that support a campaign finance overhaul, announced its first Senate challenger endorsements this week, backing a pair of Democrats: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley in North Carolina. 

Stay tuned: Former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham didn’t name him in her op-ed Tuesday in The Washington Post, but she said in later interviews that the former Trump staffer who was abusive toward her in their romantic relationship was Max Miller. Miller, who has Trump’s endorsement in his bid for retiring anti-Trump Republican Anthony Gonzalez’s seat in Ohio, responded with a defamation lawsuit but a judge would not prohibit Grisham from repeating her claims. 

Hearing, interrupted: Senate Democrats held a hearing Wednesday on their version of the House-passed John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the Justice Department’s ability to vet state and local voting laws in places with a history of discriminatory practices. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who called it an “urgent bill,” said recently that “it’s my intention to hold a vote on this legislation in the near future.” But if the hearing was any indication, the measure may find itself subject to delay by other urgent matters on Capitol Hill. Votes and caucus meetings over the debt limit interrupted the hearing.

Budding campaign: Marcus Flowers, one of three Democrats challenging Georgia Republican firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene in a deep-red Georgia House district, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he will report raising more than $1.3 million from July to September, ending the fundraising quarter with more than $1 million in the bank. Flowers, an Army combat veteran, has the backing of VoteVets and has attracted more than 110,000 unique donations from all 50 states, the paper reported. Greene also has a Republican challenger.

What we’re reading

The Trump primary: The Wall Street Journal delves into the GOP Senate primary in Ohio, which has mostly become a battle over which candidate is the most pro-Trump. The former president hasn’t endorsed in the primary yet, but he told the Journal that he’s watching Ohio “very very closely.”

Stress test: Insider looks at what it calls threats to democracy at the state level ahead of the 2022 midterms, and why Congress is “largely helpless to stop it.”

Beach read: The Republican primary in Florida’s 13th District is turning into a potboiler, with an alleged murder for hire plot, candidates calling each other names, and, of course, a Trump endorsement. The big question, though, is whether the drama could jeopardize the GOP’s chances of flipping a seat the party has had in its sights for years, Politico reports.

For whose benefit? An Associated Press report raises questions about a nonprofit started by Oregon Republican Alek Skarlatos with $93,000 left over from his failed 2020 campaign against Democratic Rep. Peter A. DeFazio. Skarlatos, a member of the Oregon National Guard who helped foil a 2015 terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train, said the charity would help veterans. But the group has been largely inactive beyond providing $65,000 to his 2022 rematch, the AP reports. 

Manufacturing an exodus: Democrats are losing voters most rapidly in the Midwest counties with the steepest decline in manufacturing and union jobs, according to The New York Times. The Times also looks at the 2022 gubernatorial races in three battleground states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — where Democratic governors have held the line on the GOP push for new voting and election laws and what those contests might mean for voters’ confidence in election outcomes

The count: $211 million

Facebook was in the spotlight this week thanks to an hours-long outage and a whistleblower who alleged the social media platform puts profits above all else. The platform has been a critical tool for campaign fundraising and organizing online. In the 2020 election cycle, campaigns spent $211 million on Facebook, according to the disbursement database at fec.gov. The real total is likely much higher because campaigns often pay consultants to handle digital campaigns and the expenses show up in the data as that firm’s fee. (Trump’s campaign doesn’t even show up, for example, and he spent heavily on Facebook.) The top spender in the database, by far, was former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign, which shelled out $69.6 million. Biden Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee, was next with $34.8 million, and that was separate from the $1.9 million spent by Biden for President. Others in the top five: Stop Republicans, $33.2 million; Progressive Turnout Project (which got much of its money from Stop Republicans), $11.5 million; and Win the ERA PAC, $9.4 million.  

Nathan’s notes

As new maps are being completed, Nathan L. Gonzales can start to rate House races. His first look at Colorado finds the newly created 8th District will be one to watch next year.

Candidate confessions

Virginia Republican Tina Ramirez’s 6-year-old daughter shares the same first name as Rep. Abigail Spanberger, the Democrat who Ramirez is hoping to unseat in 2022. So she often has to be careful about how she talks about them both. 

“Sometimes I’ll be saying Abigail, and I’m like, no, I’m not talking about you, honey,” Ramirez said in a recent interview. Ramirez, who is making her second bid for the state’s 7th District in suburban Richmond, learned quickly in her campaign that her social media followers would get confused if she mentioned she was bringing her daughter to an event. “We started having to correct it,” she said. “I’m like, don’t worry, there will still be an Abigail at the event, just not that one.” 

Ramirez said she has had to assure her daughter that she chose the name — it’s a biblical reference — long before she ever heard of Abigail Spanberger.

Shop talk: Grant Barbosa

A former aide to then-Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Barbosa this week joined the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen as a principal, focusing on health care and other clients. He most recently served as senior director of federal government affairs and policy for Emergent BioSolutions and says he takes something of an “old school” approach to his work in lobbying  both sides of the aisle. 

Starting out:  Right out of law school, Barbosa moved to Washington to participate in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s graduate fellowship, serving in the office of then-Rep. Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, now the secretary of Health and Human Services. “I was a self-proclaimed policy wonk,” Barbosa recalled. “But that exposure to the official side of politics really demonstrated to me, I had so much more to learn. … That’s what gave me the political bug.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: When he was in high school, Barbosa’s dad campaigned for a spot as a trustee on the Village of Oak Park, Ill., board (similar to serving on a city council). “Knocking on doors for your dad when he’s running for office, it’s really personal,” he said. “It was an illuminating experience. I realized how hard it is to campaign.” His dad ended up losing that race. 

Biggest campaign regret:  “That I wasn’t able to be involved in then-Sen. Harris’ presidential campaign, as a registered lobbyist,” he said. When his former boss, and current vice president, launched her bid, he was forbidden from playing a role or donating to her campaign. “It’s both a regret and sort of not a regret,” Barbosa added. The reason it’s not entirely a regret, he said, is because he went into lobbying so that he could help care for his mother who has a chronic illness. “I regret not being able to help on my former boss’s campaign, but I also don’t regret it because I was able to focus on my family.” 

Unconventional wisdom:  Barbosa says that even as some of the nation’s acronyms, such as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), have become ubiquitous in political and policy discussions during the COVID-19 pandemic, other government outfits that have played key roles in vaccine development still aren’t as well known — including BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and ASPR, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. And, he said, their work ought to get more attention. “Given the large and considerable contribution that led to the multiple FDA-authorized vaccines in record time, it’s frustrating that few people are making the linkage with ASPR and BARDA,” he said.

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

Coming up

Trump returns to Iowa for a rally at the state fairgrounds Saturday, and the event will feature multiple GOP lawmakers, including Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, according to a press release from Trump’s Save America PAC. GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley, who late last month announced he would run for an eighth term, is also scheduled to speak.

Photo finish

Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin looks through a copy of Emory University professor Carol Anderson’s book on the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act before a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would restore them. Visible below the words “No Vote” on the cover page is Durbin’s name — he wrote the foreword. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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