At the Races: Biden’s final pitch

Posted October 28, 2021 at 2:30pm

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call campaign team. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

This could be the final inning of negotiations over President Joe Biden’s sweeping spending plan. Biden announced earlier today that Democrats have agreed on a framework for a $1.75 trillion bill. But, as lawmakers learned at last night’s Congressional Women’s Softball Game, hopes of a game-winning play can be dashed in an instant (or, in last night’s case, by a spectacular catch from a Bad News Babe). 

Biden’s announcement comes days before polls close in Virginia, where both parties are watching the hotly contested governor’s race for clues about what to expect in the midterms.

Republicans view Glenn Youngkin’s closing message on education as a potential blueprint for winning back voters in the suburbs. The NRSC released polling this week showing education is a salient issue among suburban voters.

“Two things: I think the issue is good, and I think it’s going to help us get more voters out,” NRSC Chairman Rick Scott told reporters, noting that an increase in people running for school boards could drive more people out to vote in the midterms.

Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has been working to tie Youngkin to Donald Trump. The strategy could test whether the former president still motivates Democratic voters to turn out and whether those suburban swing voters will once again reject Republicans who are linked to the Trump. McAuliffe has also been focused on abortion rights, which Democrats believe could be a winning issue for them next year, particularly among suburban women. 

But not all of the action next week is in Virginia! We’ll be watching special elections in Florida and Ohio, where Democrats are looking for a potential upset. So stay tuned here for our latest coverage.

Starting gate

Attack ad fodder: CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette runs down the slew of disclosures last week about ethics probes into Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and Republican Reps. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, Alex X. Mooney of West Virginia and Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota. 

Eyes on the Buckeye state: Democrat Allison Russo has been running a spirited campaign against Trump-backed Republican Mike Carey in Tuesday’s special election to replace former GOP Rep. Steve Stivers in Ohio’s 15th District, leading some Democrats to hope for an upset. But with little outside spending on either side — and in a seat drawn to favor the GOP — Republicans say that’s wishful thinking. 

Making moves: Maryland Democratic Rep. Anthony G. Brown announced he would vacate his suburban D.C. seat to run for state attorney general, telling CQ Roll Call that his party’s efforts to retain the House majority didn’t factor into his decision. Two Democrats — former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey and state Del. Jazz Lewis — have since announced bids for the deep-blue 4th District. Lewis has been a senior adviser to House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer

Democrats coalesce: As if she weren’t busy enough today, Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Ohio Democrat Shontel Brown, who is expected to glide to victory over Republican Laverne Gore in Tuesday’s special election for the 15th District seat Democrat Marcia L. Fudge vacated to become HUD secretary. “Shontel will work hand in hand with our Democratic Majority and the Biden-Harris Administration to help Ohio and the country recover from COVID, rebuild our economy For The People, and reduce gun violence,” Pelosi said in a news release shared first with At the Races. Brown’s real race was the Democratic primary where her main rival was progressive favorite Nina Turner, who co-chaired Sen. Bernie Sanders’ the 2020 presidential campaign. Turner has taken steps to challenge Brown again next year. Some Turner supporters have now endorsed Brown for Tuesday, including California Rep. Ted Lieu and numerous local Ohio officials and lawmakers.

ICYMI

Warming up to Walker: While some Republicans had concerns about Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign in Georgia, GOP leadership is coalescing around the former football player, who has Trump’s endorsement and has faced allegations that he threatened his ex-wife and overstated his business success. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Walker on Wednesday, saying in a statement, “Herschel is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator [Raphael] Warnock, and help us take back the Senate.” South Dakota GOP Sen. John Thune, the second highest-ranking Republican, also endorsed Walker this week. 

Senate ad wars: In Ohio, the Club for Growth and the Freedom Fund teamed up on a new TV ad attacking Republican Senate hopeful JD Vance for his past Trump criticism, Politico reported. In Pennsylvania, Carla Sands, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Denmark and is self-funding her Senate run, is up with a cable and digital ad saying she “can’t be bought,” according to Fox News. And Politico reports that a local TV station in Nevada is pulling a Senate Majority PAC ad that was critical of former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, following a request from the NRSC that the ad be taken down because it was “flagrantly false.” Other Nevada stations are still airing the ad.

Bipartisan swipe: After Biden’s framework did not include allowing Medicare to negotiate to lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, former Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer took aim at both the Iowa Republican senator she’s trying to oust, Charles E. Grassley, but also Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. “We have a chance to lower prescription drug prices for every Iowan,” Finkenauer said in a statement. “But politicians from both parties like Senators Sinema and Grassley are standing in the way. Instead of lowering costs for seniors they’re protecting drug company profits.”

California dreamin’: Nuestro PAC said it is launching a campaign targeting Latino voters in California, with the aim of helping Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, who was appointed to fill Vice President Kamala Harris’ seat and is seeking a full term next year. The group also said it’s targeting five sitting GOP House members in hopes of flipping those seats for Democrats: David Valadao, Mike Garcia, Young Kim, Michelle Steel and Darrell Issa.

House candidate news: In Pennsylvania, Tricia Staible, the president of a family-run fan manufacturing company, launched a bid for the GOP nomination in the potentially competitive 17th District, which Democrat Conor Lamb is vacating to run for the Senate. In Virginia, state Sen. Bryce Reeves, a military veteran and former police officer, joined the crowded GOP primary in the 7th District to take on Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger. In Alaska, Nick Begich III, a Republican member of one of the state’s most prominent Democratic political families, announced a primary challenge to GOP Rep. Don Young, who succeeded Begich’s grandfather in Congress in 1973. In Texas, Mauro Garza, who was the 2020 GOP nominee in the safely blue 20th District, announced he was switching to run in the new 15th District, which became more Republican in redistricting. In New York, 2020 Democratic nominee Jackie Gordon announced a rematch against freshman Republican Andrew Garbarino in the Long Island-based 2nd District. And in Michigan, 2020 GOP nominee Eric Esshaki  launched a rematch against Rep. Haley Stevens.

Primary challenges: Former Texas county judge Keith Self announced a primary challenge in the suburban Dallas-anchored 3rd District against GOP Rep. Van Taylor, criticizing him for voting for an independent Jan. 6 commission and to certify the 2020 presidential election. And in Mississippi, state Sen. Brice Wiggins became the sixth Republican to announce a primary challenge against embattled Rep. Steven PM. alazzo in the deep-red 4th District. 

Retirement watch: Abel Mulugheta, a Dallas-based lawyer and former Texas legislative staffer, joined what is shaping up to be a crowded Democratic field in the Dallas-area 30th District, deepening speculation that longtime Democratic incumbent Eddie Bernice Johnson will retire. Johnson said in 2020 that she would not run again after that year, but she said the same thing in previous cycles, leading to uncertainty about her true intentions. Johnson hasn’t made a definitive announcement, but she also hasn’t been raising money like she’s gearing up for a competitive primary — her fundraising this year totaled only $12,000 at Sept. 30.

Texas shuffle: Texas Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez announced he will switch districts after the state approved a new map that made his current 15th District more competitive and moved his home in McAllen into the neighboring 34th District, a safely blue seat where Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela is retiring. Daily Kos Elections reported that the shift of his home was the work of a Democratic legislator’s amendment, not mischief by Republicans who control the statehouse. 

Report roundup: Common Cause is out with a new report on election-related disinformation, especially on social media, and includes numerous recommendations that the group says federal and state governments should take to combat the issue. One suggestion is for updated campaign finance disclosure laws that would require paid-for disclaimers on digital advertising. Meanwhile, the Campaign Legal Center has a status check on congressional ethics probes and says that lawmakers in both parties work to “block investigations into their alleged misconduct.” Members — including Reps. Alex X. Mooney, a West Virginia Republican, and Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, among others — “failed to cooperate with investigations for improperly spending or receiving campaign or official funds for their personal benefit.”

Shaping Democrats’ message: The Democratic National Committee confirmed to ATR a report in Politico that Kristen Orthman, a top aide to Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, will join the DNC in the new year as communications director. 

Political money matters: Campaign finance charges felled Lev Parnas and Andrey Kukushkin, who were convicted recently in a political money scheme. “In order to gain influence with American politicians and candidates, they illegally funneled foreign money into the 2018 midterm elections with an eye toward making huge profits in the cannabis business,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. Parnas, an associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, plans to appeal the conviction, according to The New York Times. 

What we’re reading

GOP concerns: Politico reports that Republicans are worried that former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who left office in disgrace in 2018, could be their party’s nominee for the seat GOP Sen. Roy Blunt is vacating, potentially putting the state in play next year. And CNN reports that some Republican senators and donors have raised concerns with NRSC Chairman Rick Scott about his consultants working with Army veteran Sean Parnell in Pennsylvania, despite the committee’s pledge to stay out of primaries. 

Twenty twenty too-much-money: McClatchy breaks down why the 2022 midterms could be the most expensive elections ever

Build back or bust: The Wall Street Journal interviews “more than 50 Democratic voters across six swing states in recent weeks” and found broad support for legislation aimed at expanding the social safety net and mitigating climate change. Voters surveyed thought that Democrats would risk losing their House majority in the midterms and control of the White House in 2024 if lawmakes didn’t act on “the most ambitious legislation possible.” 

The long game: While Democrats are concerned about whether their policies will help them win upcoming elections, the research about what will really make a short-term difference to voters is unclear, FiveThirtyEight.com writes. But major policy changes can dramatically remake the political landscape “in ways that reverberate far into the future.”

The count: 22

That’s how many percentage points Congress’ approval rating among Democrats dropped in one month in a Gallup survey released Tuesday. Just 33 percent of Democrats approved of “the way Congress is handling its job” in the poll taken Oct. 1-19, down from 55 percent in September. The drop fueled an overall decline in congressional job approval to 21 percent, down from 36 percent in March. Still, it’s above the 15 percent mark notched in December, when control of the House and Senate was split between the parties.

Nathan’s notes

Nebraska has a new map, and one of its members is under indictment, but Nathan L. Gonzales’ initial ratings for its three House seats are not any different than they were at the same point in the last cycle. Nathan also looked at the new two-district map in West Virginia, where two GOP incumbents are facing off in a primary.

Candidate confessions

Republican Steve Stivers, the former congressman for Ohio’s 15th District, is watching from home how the midterm field develops this cycle after taking a job heading the Buckeye State’s Chamber of Commerce. He said in an interview last week that he was excited for what he predicted would be a “really good Republican year.”

“This looks like it could be a mild wave. Maybe not to 2010 standards. I think we won 68 seats that year,” he said. “There’s a five-seat [Democratic] majority in the House right now. There could be 30 or 40 seats that move toward the Republicans, which definitely means the Republicans are going to have the majority in ’23.”

That’s a much more optimistic prediction than most Republicans were making when Stivers headed the NRCC during the 2018 cycle, which ended in crushing defeats for the House GOP. But he doesn’t mind watching this one on the sidelines. “It’s kind of fun,” he said. “It turns out politics isn’t bad as a spectator sport.” There are other advantages too. He gets to go to Cub and Girl Scout meetings and soccer and basketball games with his kids, who are 8 and 12. And, “Nobody has yelled at me at a Chipotle in like a year,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

Shop talk: Parker Hamilton Poling

Poling, a former longtime top aide to North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, served as executive director of the NRCC in the 2020 cycle. She joined the lobbying firm Harbinger Strategies early this year as a partner.  

Starting out: “I fell in love with politics in high school, and I devoured information about the 1994 elections,” Poling recalled. “I am not sure I knew much about it as a profession. When I got to college and started volunteering, and then working on campaigns, I knew this was what I wanted to do as a career.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Long ago, I worked on a gubernatorial campaign in New Jersey,” she said, referring to Republican candidate Bret Schundler, “and we caught a guy stealing our signs off the side of a highway in the middle of the day. He was stuffing them into the trunk of a Lincoln Town Car. Turned out he was a union boss and brother of a major Democratic leader in the state. I took pictures with my little digital camera, and they appeared on the nascent political website PoliticsNJ.com. We still lost, but it was a really funny day.”

More recently, Poling says she will never forget sitting in the NRCC’s war room on Nov. 3, 2020, watching the congressional race results. Despite predictions that House Democrats would pick up seats, it was Republicans who ended up making gains, including in some districts that weren’t considered likely to flip. “When the two Miami-area districts (FL-26 and FL-27) started to come in, we knew this was going to be a crazy night,” she said. The NRCC’s regional political director for the Sunshine State started playing music by the rapper Pitbull in the war room, “and the night just kept getting better,” Poling remembered. “No one gave us a chance to win anything, and we picked up 15 seats without losing a single incumbent. It’s one of very few times in American history that one party won the White House, while the other party gained seats in the House.”

Biggest campaign regret: Poling was a finalist to manage a statewide race in the 2002 cycle. “I didn’t get that job, so I moved to D.C. and never left,” she said. “I wish I had done the campaign thing longer, before kids and everything else made it more difficult. But, on the other hand, I met my now-husband in the summer of 2002, so it all worked out for the best!”

Unconventional wisdom: “I am skeptical that I know anything that *no one* else knows, but I have watched with interest the increase in campaign tactics and methods on lobbying,” she said. “For any high-stakes issue, it’s imperative to consider how other types of advocacy can be used to supplement traditional lobbying.”

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

Coming up

Forget governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia. Tuesday is also when vacant House seats in Ohio’s 11th and 15th Districts will be filled, and nominees will be chosen in the special election primary for Florida’s 20th District.

Photo finish

Players from both teams celebrate Wednesday after the Congressional Women’s Softball game, a breast cancer charity fundraiser in which female members of the Capitol press corps (including At the Races’ Bridget Bowman) once again defeated a bipartisan, bicameral team of lawmakers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Subscribe now using this link so you don’t miss out on the best news and analysis from our team.