At the Races: Trillion-dollar talks

Posted October 14, 2021 at 2:30pm

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By Stephanie Akin, Bridget Bowman and Kate Ackley

Democrats found little common ground this week as they faced an end-of-the-month deadline to winnow down their $3.5 trillion social welfare and climate change package, though most agreed that passing something — and quickly — is imperative to their 2022 midterm strategy.

The sheer size of the proposal, meanwhile, has obscured Democrats’ messaging. Polls released this week from Quinnipiac University and CBS News/YouGov found that even though a slight majority of Americans approve of the package — and larger percentages like individual parts of it — people are much more likely to have heard about how much the plan costs than what’s actually in it.

Democratic strategists argue that voters will reward them once they start to reap the benefits of things such as expanded Medicare coverage and lower prescription drug costs. But the focus this week on what could be left out of the bill, rather than what it will actually do to change people’s lives, isn’t helping Democrats make that case to voters.

And while some Republicans have expressed concerns about the package’s popularity in recent polls, they think Democrats have the most to lose. A memo circulated by the conservative Republican Study Committee, for example, provided four pages of bulleted talking points and said the bill would be much less popular if Republicans were doing a “better job letting the American people know what’s in it.”

NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer said Thursday morning that in the coming weeks Republicans would shift their focus from the bill’s cost to its “devastating policies.” “Higher prices at the grocery store, higher prices for housing, higher prices for your heat over the winter, energy costs,” he said during a conference call with reporters. “We’ll make sure that that’s very clear to voters.”

None of this will matter, though, if GOP voters continue to follow the lead of former President Donald Trump, who issued a statement saying Republicans wouldn’t vote in 2022 and 2024 if there was no solution to baseless claims of election fraud. “It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do,” Trump wrote.

Starting gate

Fundraising roundup: Congressional candidates have to file their third-quarter fundraising reports by midnight tomorrow, but several Senate contenders in top battlegrounds have already disclosed their cash hauls as an early show of strength. 

Retirement watch: Though he later told reporters he was “one of the more optimistic Democrats” about his party’s chances in the midterms next year, House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky said Tuesday he would retire after his current term. Yarmuth was facing the possibility of his district becoming more Republican-leaning in redistricting, and also had a primary challenge from the left. Former Democratic state Rep. Charles Booker, a 2020 Senate candidate who has worked on Yarmuth’s campaigns, said he was still focused on challenging GOP Sen. Rand Paul and would not make a play for Yarmuth’s seat.

The R team: The NRCC named 32 candidates who had met its benchmarks to be included in the first tier of its Young Guns candidate support program.

Under pressure: Liberal groups plan to hold regular demonstrations outside the White House as well as a multimodal relay from West Virginia to the U.S. Capitol in the coming weeks as they work to keep voting and elections legislation on the Senate agenda, even as other matters take center stage. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said today that he planned to tee up a procedural vote next week.

ICYMI

Line leaders: West Virginia Republicans David B. McKinley and Alex X. Mooney will be in the same northern district under a new House map adopted by the GOP-led state Legislature on Thursday. The Mountain State is losing a seat to reapportionment after the 2020 census. New Mexico’s Citizen Redistricting Committee will hold a public meeting on Friday to adopt maps to submit to the Democratic-controlled state Legislature, which has the ultimate say over the final lines. Both chambers of the GOP-controlled Arkansas state legislature approved a new map that would make Republican French Hill’s 2nd District a safer seat for the party. But GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was concerned about how the new map would divide up minority communities. He allowed the bill to become law without his signature, a move he said would make it easier for the new map to be challenged in court.

On the airwaves: One Nation, the nonprofit arm of the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, announced yesterday it was launching “the first installment of a $10 million advocacy effort” to oppose Democrats’ reconciliation package, labeling it as a “multi-trillion dollar spending spree” and the “largest tax increase in decades.” The buy will include television, radio and digital ads aimed at Democratic senators representing Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also blasted out its opposition to the package in a new round of TV ads, targeting Democratic Reps. Deborah K. Ross and Kathy Manning of North Carolina, Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, Angie Craig of Minnesota and Antonio Delgado of New York. 

Endorsed: Trump endorsed Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley’s bid for an eighth term at a rally in Des Moines over the weekend. “I was born at night, but not last night,” the GOP senator said after Trump called him onstage. “So if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart. I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement.” And in Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown endorsed the Senate bid of fellow Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan in the open-seat race. 

Primaries still growing: The GOP Senate primary field in Arizona grew this week, with Justin Olson, a former state legislator, announcing yesterday that he would jump into the race. Olson currently serves on the Arizona Corporation Commission, a statewide elected office. And in Iowa, retired Navy Vice Adm. Mike Franken joined the Democratic primary to take on Grassley. Franken also ran for Senate in 2020 but lost the Democratic primary to real estate executive Theresa Greenfield, taking 25 percent of the primary vote. Multiple Democrats are seeking to challenge Grassley, including former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who announced she raised more than $1 million in the third fundraising quarter. 

Odd couple: Republicans Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman wrote a New York Times essay arguing that the only way for “rational Republicans” to counter the “viselike grip” political extremists hold on the post-Trump GOP is to team up with Democrats. Taylor, a former Homeland Security chief of staff, was the anonymous author of a 2018 guest essay for the Times that criticized Trump’s leadership. Whitman is a former New Jersey governor and served as EPA administrator under President George W. Bush. They announced that they are launching a program called the “Renew America Movement” that will  support nearly two dozen Democratic, independent and Republican House and Senate candidates in 2022.

House campaigns: Rebecca Cooke, a businesswoman who serves on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation board, became the third Democrat to announce a campaign in Wisconsin’s battleground 3rd District, where longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind is retiring. Ashley Ehasz, a retired Army pilot and West Point graduate, is the first Democrat to launch a campaign against GOP Rep Brian Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania’s 1st District, a DCCC target. Democrat Adam Metzendorf, who stepped down last week as the director of membership experience for the Phoenix Suns, the Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers, announced he would join two other Democrats and one Republican vying to challenge GOP Rep. David Schweikert in Arizona’s 6th District. In Indiana, former Democratic state Rep. Melanie Wright launched a bid against GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz in the 5th District, which became a safer GOP seat in redistricting. In Illinois, Rockford Alderman Jonathan Logemann became the first Democrat to launch a campaign for the competitive 17th District, where Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos is retiring. And Republican Raul Reyes announced he would run for the Texas state Senate rather than seek a rematch against GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales in the 23rd District. Gonzales beat Reyes by 45 votes in a 2020 primary runoff.

Congressional aid: The campaign of Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor who is running for his old job again, has turned to Capitol Hill for some help in his race. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is slated to headline a fundraiser for McAuliffe at the end of the month. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren penned a fundraising appeal for him this week. Ditto for Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who urged his supporters to chip in, splitting donations between Brown and McAuliffe, according to an email. Brown also pointed out that “everyone will be watching this race as we head into 2022,” looking for clues about how voters may cast their ballots in the midterms. McAuliffe appears to be in a closer-than-expected race against Republican Glenn Youngkin. 

What we’re reading

Due diligence: The Associated Press reports that some Republicans are concerned about Trump’s vetting process — or lack thereof — when it comes to endorsing Senate candidates.

Speaking of Trump-backed candidates: Georgia Republican Herschel Walker was in the headlines yesterday after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a supporter hosting a fundraiser for his Senate campaign had posted a swastika made of needles as her Twitter profile picture. Walker’s spokeswoman initially responded that the picture was “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic,” but the fundraiser was later canceled.

The last anti-abortion Democrat: National Journal takes a deep look at what role Texas’ new restrictive abortion law will play in Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar’s primary rematch with progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros. Cuellar is the only Democrat opposed to abortion rights in the House. 

Too big to sail? The New Republic looks into why the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill isn’t more popular, when a broad majority of Americans say they support the things that it is supposed to achieve. 

Playground politics: The Virginia gubernatorial race this year offers an early test for the politics of post-pandemic education fights and could determine whether candidates stress the issue in next year’s midterms, according to The New York Times. National Journal also looks at how schools are a major flashpoint in the race. 

Democrats peaking? The Democratic Party’s got to look within to fix its declining support among working-class voters, data analyst David Shor argues in a lengthy piece by New York Times columnist Ezra Klein. “The people who run and staff the Democratic Party are much more educated and ideologically liberal and they live in cities, and ultimately our candidate pool reflects that,” he said.

The count: 546 percent

That’s how much early voting, through Wednesday, was up this year in Virginia compared with a similar point in 2017, the last time a governor’s race was at the top of the ballot, according to the Democratic political data firm TargetSmart. The firm’s early vote dashboard shows that 20 days from Election Day 2017, those modeled as Republicans and Democrats each accounted for 46 percent of the early electorate. Through Wednesday of this week, however, Democrats made up almost 57 percent of early voters while Republicans made up less than 30 percent. Caveat: The site notes that “partisanship predictions are not intended to predict specific votes,” and the lede anecdote in this Washington Post story should make clear that just because someone’s a Democrat, they’re not automatically voting for McAuliffe.

Nathan’s notes

As states begin to adopt new maps, Nathan L. Gonzales is rating House races and this week he looked at Indiana, which only has one race not rated either Solid Republican or Solid Democrat, and at Maine, home of the first contest he’s rated a Toss-up.

Candidate confessions

Emmer, during today’s Zoom news conference, walked delicately around Trump’s role in the 2022 midterm elections, given the former president’s recent comments saying Republican voters would sit them out unless the “fraud of 2020” was solved. 

“We’re focused on one goal and that’s retaking a Republican majority in the House and retiring Nancy Pelosi once and for all, and I’m confident Republican voters across this country are fired up to vote in the midterms,” Emmer said. “The former president, he’s a private citizen and he, of course, is entitled to his own opinion.”  

Meanwhile, Emmer said he welcomes having that private citizen speak at an upcoming NRCC fundraising dinner. 

“Look, we’re honored that the president is going to headline our fall dinner,” he said. “He remains the biggest draw in our party, and we’re happy he’s helping our efforts to fire Nancy Pelosi. We’re going to continue to highlight the policies of the Trump administration. They were incredibly popular, and they continue to be incredibly popular. Keep in mind, before this administration took office last January, we did not have skyrocketing prices at the pump.”

Shop talk: Alex Meyer

Meyer recently joined The Lukens Company as a senior political strategist, and he previously worked as campaign manager for Republican Latham Saddler’s 2022 Senate campaign in Georgia. In 2020, Meyer ran Republican Lisa Scheller’s campaign in Pennsylvania’s 7th District, and he served as Missouri state director for the Republican National Committee in 2018.

Starting out: Meyer was shocked to learn about the impact government can have on the economy while studying economics at Ole Miss. “I was blown away,” he said. “I went to my professor after my first lecture and I was like, ‘Seriously, it has that big of an impact?’” That professor encouraged Meyer to intern on Capitol Hill. A St. Louis, Mo., native, Meyer went on to intern for Missouri GOP Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer. “I fell in love with politics,” he said. “And when I was up on the Hill, I actually got a good taste to realize that I’m more of a campaign person than I am an official-side person. I liked the fast-paced things. Growing up, I’ve always been an athlete, so I love the winning and losing. You can’t push back the deadline.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Meyer recalled working as a regional field director for Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt’s hotly contested reelection campaign in 2016. “The results didn’t come in, I don’t think, until maybe 1 o’clock or midnight,” Meyer said. “And so we’re watching the presidential race, and we’re unsure what’s going to happen there. And then in our race, all the polling had us within the margin of error. And finally, when they called the race, we saw it pop up on Fox News. … It was that big first wave of accomplishment. We would put in 20-hour days for weeks and months on end. And it was all for something. … That’s what still drives me to this day, striving for that feeling again.”

Biggest campaign regret: Meyer worked as Scheller’s campaign manager in 2020, when she lost to Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Susan Wild by 4 points in the competitive 7th District. Meyer said Republicans stressed turning out their voters on Election Day, while Democrats were focused on ensuring voters returned mail ballots. “We didn’t put the effort into it that we should have,” Meyer said of the campaign’s mail ballot program. “We certainly built out a team and a plan.” Democrats, he said, “came at us a little bit harder.” Meyer noted that Republicans are known for their effective Election Day turnout operations, but there was an opportunity to bank votes early by tracking down voters who requested mail ballots and ensuring they were returned. Meyer estimated 20,000 GOP voters requested mail ballots but did not return them. “That would have been the difference between winning and losing that election,” he said. “So making sure that we track those people down and make sure that they turn in their [ballots], it’s one of the biggest regrets.”

Unconventional wisdom: “It’s investing early in small-dollar donations,” Meyer said. “So you’re seeing it a lot with these major national names you see across the country, both [on the] Republican and Democratic side. But even someone in rural Missouri or the countryside of Mississippi … if they were to invest that money early into direct fundraising mail or into digital, they would see much bigger dividends in building out their files and things like that. … Those tier-two, tier-three candidates should really be working to capitalize on [small-dollar fundraising], because they’re going to have a lot harder time calling a big donor and asking them for a max-out check.” Meyer said there is often an “old school versus new school struggle” when it comes to spending money early, since that would mean the campaign has less cash on hand. “You got to spend money to make money, literally, with this situation,” 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

In addition to getting a look at many, many candidates’ third-quarter FEC reports on Friday, candidates in Florida’s 20th District special election have to file pre-primary reports by Oct. 21.

Photo finish

Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, left, may be spending more time on the golf course after he retires from Congress. Here’s a throwback to the 2018 First Tee Congressional Challenge golf tournament, as Yarmuth watches Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter take a swing. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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