At the Races: Quarterly clues

Posted October 21, 2021 at 2:30pm

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Recent fundraising reports, detailing how much cash candidates hauled in during the third quarter, provide something of a peephole into next year’s battle for control of the House and Senate. The disclosures are fueling some retirement watches. Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, for example, disclosed raising less than $140,000, far off the nearly $600,000 average haul in the same period for other incumbent battleground Democrats, according to our analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. 

The reports also demonstrated the fundraising strength of some lawmakers potentially vulnerable to primary challenges, including Rep. Liz Cheney, who dramatically outraised her opponents. The Wyoming Republican, who voted for President Donald Trump’s impeachment earlier this year, raised $1.7 million in the third quarter. Her Trump-endorsed challenger, Harriet Hageman, raised about $300,000.   

But there is so much we still don’t know and can’t glimpse in the latest money totals. The biggest unknown for House races is the delay in setting new district lines — and the ensuing legal challenges to those maps. Plus, the candidates! Republicans today were touting a new poll showing potential weakness for New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, but only if a particular GOP candidate enters the race (read on for more on that in Candidate Confessions below). One Republican currently challenging Hassan, retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, not only posted lackluster third-quarter receipts (just shy of $60,000 to Hassan’s nearly $3 million) but he also polled behind her.  

Also unclear are the dominant campaign messages for the 2022 midterms. Republicans seem focused for now on the nation’s rising inflation and attacking Democrats’ reconciliation proposal as an exercise in wasteful government spending and tax increases. Democrats aren’t sure yet what they’ll run on because they’re waiting on intraparty negotiations over the reconciliation measure and a bipartisan-in-the-Senate infrastructure bill. Some of the programs in both packages could become wildly popular, if the bills ever get to the president’s desk.

Starting gate

Texas dropouts: Latinos do not dominate any of the new House districts in the map adopted by the Texas Legislature this week, and an immediate legal challenge was filed, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports. The map did make incumbents in both parties safer, though, according to Daily Kos Elections data. Freshman Republican Beth Van Duyne goes from being in a district Joe Biden won by 5 points to one Trump would have won by 12, leading Democratic state Rep. Michelle Beckley, who had already begun fundraising for the race, to drop out, citing “extreme gerrymandering.” Also ending his campaign was Democrat Larry Wallace, the mayor of the Austin suburb of Manor, who was running against GOP Rep. Michael McCaul. McCaul’s district shifts from one that backed Trump by less than 2 points to one he would have carried by almost 19 points.

Tale of the tallies: The latest fundraising reports provided some clues about how the midterms are shaping up, with several vulnerable House Democrats facing well-funded GOP opponents and Senate Democrats continuing to dominate the money battle. 

Exit, stage left: Two House Democrats — North Carolina’s David E. Price and Pennsylvania’s Mike Doyle — announced this week that they would not run for reelection.

Rules of debate: Senate Republicans blocked debate on an elections and campaign finance overhaul, but Democrats and their allied outside advocates say they plan to carry on their push, including lobbying to change the chamber’s filibuster rules. 

Game on: West Virginia mapmakers gave us the first member-versus-member House primary of the redistricting cycle. Republicans Alex X. Mooney and David B. McKinley will face off next year after the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature approved a new map last week that drew them into the same district.  

ICYMI

Upping the ante: The Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC went up on the airwaves in Nevada this week with an ad praising Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and knocking Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, the former state attorney general who has Trump’s endorsement. The ad is part of an $800,000 buy for both digital and TV networks and it will air during the Las Vegas Raiders game and the World Series, according to a press release. In Missouri, Rep. Vicki Hartzler became the first Republican Senate candidate to launch a TV ad, and she took aim at two of her primary opponents, former Gov. Eric Greitens and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt. 

Taking sides: There were a few more Senate endorsements this week. The Congressional Black Caucus PAC endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in the Democratic primary in Wisconsin. VIEW PAC, which supports female GOP candidates, endorsed Army veteran Marjorie K. Eastman in North Carolina. On the Democratic side in North Carolina, Planned Parenthood Action Fund announced this morning it was backing Cheri Beasley, the former state Supreme Court chief justice. And Republican Study Committee Chair Jim Banks endorsed Blake Masters, an associate of billionaire Peter Thiel, in Arizona’s Senate race.

’Bama brawl: The GOP Senate primary in Alabama got even more crowded this week. Army veteran Mike Durant, whose harrowing experience as a military pilot and prisoner of war in Somalia was portrayed in the film “Black Hawk Down,” jumped into the race.  

RIP: Former Michigan GOP Rep. Dan Benishek, who came to Congress in the 2010 tea party wave and served three terms before retiring in 2016, died late last week at age 69. A former surgeon, Republicans dubbed Benishek, known as “Dr. Dan,” as one of the most improved candidates in 2014. He appeared to be enjoying retirement, telling CQ Roll Call back in 2017 that he was building a pizza oven at his home.

Not reconciled: The conservative nonprofit American Action Network, which is affiliated with the House GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, kicked off a $4.5 million TV and digital ad buy this week against Democrats’ reconciliation effort. The group said it has now invested $20 million against the spending and tax package, which Democrats are still negotiating among themselves. The ads are targeting potentially vulnerable Democrats, including Reps. Cindy Axne of Iowa, Jared Golden of Maine and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, among others. 

In and out: California state Assemblyman Rudy Salas, a moderate Democrat with a record of winning tough elections, launched a “long-awaited” campaign against GOP Rep. David Valadao in the 21st District, which Biden carried by 10 points in 2020. Also in California, former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned in 2019 amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a congressional staffer and a campaign aide, put the kibosh on speculation that she would run against GOP Rep. Mike Garcia in the 25th District, telling Vanity Fair she wants to focus on the upcoming birth of her first child. In Pennsylvania, former Export-Import Bank official Jim Bognet announced a rematch against Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in the 8th District, making him the second Republican in the race. And in Illinois, Rock Island County Board Member Angie Normoyle became the second Democrat to announce a bid to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos in the 17th District. 

Back to the center? Former Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski, who was among the most conservative House Democrats before he lost his 2020 primary to the more progressive Marie Newman, said he is considering another run after seeing state Democrats’ proposed new House map, which would make the district slightly less liberal but still solidly Democratic.

Reading the lines: The proposed Illinois map would favor Democrats, likely resulting in a delegation made up of 14 Democrats and three Republicans, according to media reports. Democrats currently have a 13-5 edge in the House delegation, with the state losing a seat to reapportionment. The proposed map would eliminate Republican Adam Kinzinger’s 16th District, shift Republican Rodney Davis’s 13th District into Democratic-leaning turf, make Bustos’ seat safer for Democrats, and draw GOP Reps. Mary Miller and Darin LaHood into the same deep-red district. And Virginia’s nonpartisan redistricting commission reached a partisan deadlock on how to divide up the state’s congressional districts, increasing the likelihood that the task of drawing new maps will fall to the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court. 

What we’re reading

Stu says: For years, Stu Rothenberg has said that off-year state elections for governor are not the place to find meaningful signs of what federal candidates can expect. “But this year’s contests in the Commonwealth of Virginia feel different, don’t they?” he notes.

Cashing in: Politico delves into the blockbuster third-quarter fundraising totals for several Black Senate candidates. 

The Senate map: National Journal looks at how Wisconsin is becoming a “soft spot” for Democrats. Politico spotlights Democratic Rep. Val B. Demings’ eye-popping fundraising numbers in her campaign against Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. And The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib writes that Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan “in many ways will be the Democrats’ most important candidate.”

Democrats’ distress: New York Times editorial board member Farah Stockman writes in Politico Magazine that Democrats make a tactical error when they talk about Biden’s Build Back Better plan as a safety net expansion rather than a way to help people prepare for and thrive in their work. And even if Democrats manage to pass their ambitious policy proposals, they still face an uphill climb during the midterms unless voters “become more optimistic about current conditions in the country,” The Atlantic reports.

Murphy’s dilemma: Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s high-profile roles on the House Jan. 6 select committee and as a leader among moderate Democrats negotiating the party’s signature social spending bill have earned her attacks from both Republicans and progressive Democrats. She is banking on her bipartisan reputation to help her win what could be a challenging reelection bid after redistricting, National Journal writes. 

The “Q” Question: The Daily Beast probes whether Ron Watkins, alleged to be the anonymous poster who sparked the QAnon conspiracy theory, could ride his celebrity to a victory over better-funded rivals in the GOP primary for Arizona’s 1st District, a competitive seat that could become more Republican after redistricting. Watkins denies any connection to the QAnon movement. 

Partisan contentment: Tom Edsall ruminates in The New York Times about who’s happier, liberals or conservatives. But, hey, what about the moderates? 

Scam PAC awareness: OpenSecrets looked at a group called the American Breast Cancer Coalition, which potential donors may want to avoid. That’s because it’s actually a political group, OpenSecrets reports, and rather than trying to actually address breast cancer, it appears to be a scheme to extract donations.

The count: 26

That’s the number of House incumbents whose opponents took in more money, either from contributors or their own personal loans, in the third quarter, according to a tally compiled by Daily Kos Elections. Outraised by challengers in their own party were Democrats Danny K. Davis (IL-07) and Donald M. Payne Jr. (NJ-10), and Republicans David Schweikert (AZ-06), Daniel Webster (FL-11), Steven M. Palazzo (MS-04), Kay Granger (TX-12) and Matt Rosendale (MT-02). Outraised by candidates in the opposing party were Republicans Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Tom McClintock (CA-04), Darrell Issa (CA-50), Scott Franklin (FL-15), Andy Harris (MD-01), Ann Wagner (MO-02) and Bob Good (VA-05); and Democrats Julia Brownley (CA-26), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Mike Levin (CA-49), Scott Peters (CA-52), Murphy (FL-07), Lucy McBath (GA-06), Golden (ME-02), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), G.K. Butterfield (NC-01), Pappas (NH-01), Peter A. DeFazio (OR-04) and Jennifer Wexton (VA-10). 

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales looks at Oregon’s new House map and explains why Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader has to make a decision and why DeFazio might be breathing a little easier.

Candidate confessions

It’s going to get a little colder before we know whether New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu is running for Senate. He told MSNBC on Monday that he would likely make a decision “in the winter or early winter.” 

“I’m busy managing the state. But I’d probably make a decision sooner than later. … I haven’t really decided yet,” Sununu said. “I’m taking a lot of advice and talking to my family.” But he didn’t sound overly enthusiastic about joining a gridlocked Senate — the political brinkmanship often frustrates other governors-turned-senators.

“Look, I’m an executive. I’m a manager. I like to design systems and create solutions. Senate and Congress don’t really do that, right?” Sununu said. “They do two things. They vote up and down a policy. They vote up and down funding. And then they go on to the next thing. And 80 percent of them are really tied up into more fighting with each other than actually getting stuff done. I like to get stuff done. So, I have got to make sure that my skill set fits Washington and, frankly, Washington could handle me.”

Shop talk: Bob Salera

A  former spokesman for the NRSC and the NRCC, Salera recently opened his own consulting business, Landslide Strategies, where he works with House and statewide candidates, as well as outside groups. 

Starting out: Salera’s parents were registered Democrats, but he was the one in the family with the strongest interest in politics, starting with an antipathy toward Bill and Hillary Clinton at a young age. His interest in politics deepened in law school, during the 2008 election, and he got an internship with Arizona Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign. “I really, really did not like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, more than I liked John McCain,” he said. “It was more I wanted to try to help these two people not win more than anything.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Salera watched the 2018 election returns come in from the NRSC headquarters, where he was working at the time. “The sky was falling for Republicans everywhere,” he said. “They lost the House and really got destroyed over on that side, but we were still able to pick up seats in the Senate and knock off four sitting Democrats. That was just a really great moment because we swam against the current. And we were able to pull it out. … It’s always tense when results are first coming in. But pretty quickly, it became clear that we were going to win in Indiana and Missouri. And that was big. And as we saw, I think everyone knew that the House was gone. But as the night progressed, and we saw the breadth of how bad it was over there, that we were still winning in North Dakota, we knew that was a win. But Florida, especially, that was really the one that took the cake, a perennial swing state. We were able to get Rick Scott across the finish line. That was big.”

Biggest campaign regret: “In 2014, I worked on one of the few losing Republican campaigns in the country. I was on Gov. Tom Corbett’s reelection campaign in Pennsylvania. I previously worked in his administration, but not being able to win that race was tough considering that Republicans were getting elected governor in Massachusetts and Maryland that night. But we weren’t able to get him reelected. That was a tough one. I don’t know if there was anything we could have done because things were baked in when I came to the campaign already. But still, being one of the only losing campaigns for the country was pretty tough.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Folks in D.C., especially Hill staffers, miss a lot of what’s going on in the country and what the sentiment is. So some advice I always give to D.C.-based, political people is to go out into the rest of the country and do a race. It gives you a much better perspective and lets you understand why people are so mad about basically everything that’s been going on in America for the past, like, 10 years. People in D.C. definitely live in a bubble and don’t necessarily see what’s going on. They can diagnose that people are angry, but they don’t really get why.”

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

Coming up

The Virginia governor’s race is heating up with less than two weeks until Election Day. Former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is calling in reinforcements in his race against Republican Glenn Youngkin for his old job. Former President Barack Obama will headline a “grassroots event” in the commonwealth on Saturday to encourage Democrats to cast early ballots.  

Photo finish

A trip through the CQ Roll Call photo archives finds a whole lot of them showing Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle holding the trophy from the Congressional Baseball Game. These are from 2013 to 2015. (Photos by Bill Clark/Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call; Composite by Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call)

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