At the Races: Hitting the road

Posted November 18, 2021 at 2:30pm

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Editor’s Note: At the Races will not publish next week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill became law this week, making it through several roadblocks on the path to passage. But the journey is just beginning for Democrats. They still have to sell their agenda to voters. 

President Joe Biden hit the road to do just that, traveling to New Hampshire and Michigan. DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney told reporters Tuesday that every House Democrat is planning events to tout the infrastructure package and a sweeping social spending and climate package that’s still being debated, CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson reports. Each member is supposed to do five events, which works out to more than 1,000 nationally by the end of the year.

Democrats believe policy accomplishments will help them weather a difficult midterm environment. At a caucus meeting this week, the DCCC shared polling conducted this month that showed Republicans with a 2-point advantage in House battlegrounds, and Democrats with a 4-point edge once those surveyed learned about the infrastructure and broader spending packages. 

The broader social spending package, known as the Build Back Better bill, could see a House vote this week, but it still has to go through the Senate, where moderates have balked at the nearly $1.75 trillion price tag. Republicans believe voters will reject the sweeping legislation — Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel dubbed it the “Build Back Broke” bill during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday morning. 

Even with big-ticket policy accomplishments to tout on the campaign trail, 2022 is shaping up to be a difficult environment for Democrats, and more lawmakers are heading for the exits. So far 26 House members — 16 Democrats and 10 Republicans — are retiring or running for another office, which is still below the average of 41 retirements in recent redistricting cycles. But with states still finalizing their district lines, there will likely be more to come.

Starting gate

Leahy’s leaving: Longtime Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy announced this week that he will not run for reelection, becoming the first Senate Democrat to retire this cycle. Leahy, the chamber’s unofficial photographer and “Batman” star, will leave behind a storied legacy. Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, a potential candidate to succeed Leahy, said in a statement Tuesday he would make a decision about his future plans “in the coming days.”

And so are they: Reps. Jackie Speier of California and G.K. Butterfield North Carolina both announced this week they are not running for reelection. Speier, a staunch advocate for women’s rights and a survivor of the Jonestown massacre, leaves behind a district expected to remain safely Democratic after redistricting. But Butterfield was facing the most competitive election of his 17-year House career after the state’s GOP-controlled legislature approved a new map that erased the district’s strong Democratic advantage. 

Less is more argument: Some Republicans say the GOP can build on gains with Latino voters by offering targeted measures in response to Democrats’ faltering efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul, CQ Roll Call’s Suzanne Monyak reports.

Elf wanted: Chatting with voters in a swing county in Michigan, CQ Roll Call’s Paul M. Krawzak finds business owners who can’t fill job openings, and shoppers whose grocery bills are climbing. 

Third time’s the charm: Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, the CEO of a home health care company, became the likely successor to deceased Democratic Rep. Alcee L. Hastings in Florida’s deep-blue 20th District after narrowly winning the Democratic primary in the special election. Cherfilus-McCormick unsuccessfully challenged Hastings in primaries in 2018 and 2020.

Palmetto approval: South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott, a top fundraiser heading into his reelection campaign, endorsed Republicans in nine competitive House races this week, including Army veteran Wesley Hunt in Texas’ new 38th District and Iowa Reps. Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Reruns rock: If you missed our webinar on the 2022 races, you can catch the video here — with the first minute deleted because someone forgot to turn on his microphone. Portions are also featured in this week’s Political Theater podcast.

ICYMI

Selling it: Biden this week appeared with two of Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents, Sen. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Chris Pappas, during his trip to New Hampshire, and he showed his love for cars during a trip to Michigan, CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reports. But it’s going to take a lot of salesmanship to get voters to look past the price of poultry and gas to get them to Thanksgiving dinner next week, CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett notes. 

Senate retirement watch: Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski ended speculation that she might retire, announcing late last week that she will run for reelection. Two other Senate Republicans have yet to say whether they’re running: South Dakota’s John Thune and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson. Johnson recently told talk radio host Jay Weber that he would make an announcement in the “coming weeks,” while Thune told Politico his announcement could come by the end of the year.

Shelby to shell out? The Washington Post reports that retiring Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby is planning to use $5 million of his campaign funds to bolster a super PAC supporting his preferred candidate in the Republican primary for his open seat: his former chief of staff, Katie Britt. 

Taking a side: Collective PAC, which supports Black candidates, announced this week it was backing state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary. Collective PAC has already spent in the primary, launching radio and digital ads in April against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, highlighting a 2013 incident in which Fetterman drew a gun on a Black man who was jogging. (Fetterman explained his actions in a Medium post earlier this year.) 

Show-Me a crowded race: The Missouri GOP Senate primary continued to grow this week with state Senate President Dave Schatz jumping into the race

GOP primaries: John Gibbs, a software engineer who was a housing official under Donald Trump, got the former president’s endorsement for his just-announced challenge to Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, one of 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment in January. And in Florida, Air Force veteran Bryan Jones entered the GOP primary to challenge Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for sex trafficking of a minor. 

Building backing: Trump also endorsed West Virginia Rep. Alex X. Mooney in his post-redistricting member-on-member Republican primary against Rep. David B. McKinley. The endorsement came after McKinley — who backed Trump more often in Congress than Mooney — joined 12 other Republicans to support the infrastructure bill. The anti-tax Club for Growth also came out with a Mooney endorsement after the vote. 

Sore feet: Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase, who gave us the memorable image of “Trump in heels” during her unsuccessful bid for the commonwealth’s GOP gubernatorial nomination this year, announced she would join what is shaping up to be a very crowded field of Republicans seeking to challenge Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger in the competitive 7th District.

Medicine man: Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist, told a virtual meeting of House conservatives that a complaint against him has been filed with a physicians board for prescribing ivermectin to treat COVID-19. Democrats are attacking Harris as a member of the “Ivermectin Caucus” after his  previous acknowledgment that he had prescribed the controversial drug and other statements downplaying the effectiveness of vaccines. His district, the only one held by a Republican in Maryland, could become more competitive after redistricting.

Majority on the line: The NewDem Action Fund launched its first ad of the cycle highlighting its moderate-leaning members, dubbed the majority makers in the digital spots. “We know we have a tough fight ahead of us, but we also know there’s a long way to go before the election,” said Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider, who chairs the fund.

Ground game: The DCCC announced this week “the earliest-ever investment House Democrats have made to persuade, engage, and mobilize voters of color and key constituencies.” The $30 million effort builds on a previously announced seven-figure investment that placed 50 organizing directors on the ground in key battleground regions, according to a press release. The campaign arm also said it was naming Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams as its first chairwoman for voter protection to lead House Democrats’ efforts to “protect voters’ access to the ballot” in 2022.

On second thought: Indiana GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz has one less opponent after former Democratic state Rep. Melanie Wright switched from running for Spartz’s seat to running for a state Senate seat instead. That turn of events happened after Indiana finalized its House map, making Spartz’s 5th District seat significantly redder. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

Going the distance? Campaign ethics watchdogs raised concerns about mileage reimbursements to GOP candidate Tyler Kistner, who is seeking a rematch against Democratic Rep. Angie Craig in Minnesota’s 2nd District. “We thoroughly log and review all expenses, and in accordance with FEC guidance, the campaign has reimbursed Tyler for the cost of this campaign travel,” Kistner campaign spokesman Tyler Dunn told the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Republicans swept the three statewide races in Virginia this month and also won a majority in the commonwealth’s House of Delegates, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a toss-up state, our Stu Rothenberg writes.

Primary problems? The Washington Post delves into GOP concerns about problematic Senate candidates and divisive primaries.

Beehive state buzz: The Atlantic unpacks the campaign against Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee and the “​​unusual coalition” working to defeat him

No deal: The New York Times takes a close look at two Illinois Republicans’ divergent positions on the infrastructure bill. Rep. Darin LaHood’s vote against the measure and Adam Kinzinger’s vote for it are a case study in how congressional deal-making has changed in the post-Trump GOP.

A dud, all stuck in the mud? Politico New Jersey looks at what the Nov. 2 election results — including the state Senate president’s upset loss to a truck driver — mean for the South Jersey political organization built by George Norcross, brother of Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross

Profiles in politics: National Journal profiles some of the masterminds behind the biggest super PACs playing key roles in the midterms, including Congressional Leadership Fund’s Dan Conston, House Majority PAC’s Ali Lapp, Senate Leadership Fund’s Steven Law and Senate Majority PAC’s J.B. Poersch. And our former colleague Alex Clearfield looks at the TV news anchors who are making a run for Congress

Field day: National Journal visits the Hispanic community center that the Republican National Committee opened outside Miami in October, one of nine such centers already “tucked between Cuban cafes and Peruvian eateries, Japanese restaurants and threading salons, in strip malls across the country.” The RNC plans to open 35 centers catering to minority communities by the midterms in an attempt to build on the GOP’s recent successes with voters of color.  

The count: 297

That’s how many ballots postmarked on or before Monday, Nov. 1, weren’t counted in the special election primaries for Florida’s 20th District because they didn’t arrive at the supervisors of elections’ office until after the legal cutoff on Nov. 2, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Cherfilus-McCormick won the Democratic primary in the deep-blue district by 5 votes. 

Nathan’s notes

The Republican who won her seat by just six votes last year may not have as tough a time keeping it next year, according to Nathan L. Gonzales’ ratings of Iowa’s new House districts.

Candidate confessions

Iowans have a dismal view of Biden — a Des Moines Register poll released last week found just 33 percent of Iowa adults approved of the job he’s doing. That’s about 10 points lower than his national approval rating, according to FiveThirtyEight.com’s polling average.  

But when Rep. Cindy Axne, the state’s lone congressional Democrat, announced on Friday that she would run for reelection in a redrawn district that is slightly more favorable to Republicans, she said she would not hesitate to campaign with the president. “I think Joe Biden is a great president,” she said during a taping of “Iowa Press” on the state’s PBS network. “I would absolutely, always welcome our president to come and visit with me and Iowans.”

She predicted that Iowans would come around after they start to feel the benefits of the new infrastructure bill (now law) and the savings on child care and prescription medications Democrats hope to include in their reconciliation spending package. “When those pieces are put in place, and we start moving those agendas forward, we’re going to overcome some of the false narratives that people are hearing right now,” she said.

Shop talk: Daniel Scarpinato

Scarpinato joined the firm Ascent Media as a partner in September after wrapping up six and a half years working for Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, most recently as his chief of staff. Scarpinato served as national press secretary for the NRCC during the 2014 election cycle and was a regional press secretary at the House GOP campaign arm the cycle before. 

Starting out: “I was really committed to being a journalist in my career, and I spent a decade in the news business. I loved it, and I learned so much about politics,” he said. “One day I was interviewing a spokesperson for someone I was covering, and I was asking questions I didn’t think were that hard — but they couldn’t handle them. I remember thinking, ‘I could answer these better.’” Shortly after that, Scarpinato joined a campaign and quickly realized it wasn’t as easy as he’d thought. “But I got the hang of it, and I still think about everything on a campaign through the eyes and brain of a reporter — what’s the story here, what’s the headline, what questions would I ask, how will this issue play out on the 6 o’clock news?” he said. “For those who have worked with me, I’d like to think it brings some value, even if it’s pretty annoying from time to time.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “In August 2018, we were in the middle of Gov. Ducey’s reelection — it was a tough race as the cycle was a challenging one and we had just had the largest teacher walkout in the country. Then we learned that Sen. [John] McCain had passed away. Everything stopped,” Scarpinato recalled. “While we never announced we were ‘suspending’ our campaign — that’s basically what we did.” For a full week, Ducey dropped everything — fundraising, campaigning, TV ads — and turned his attention to supporting the McCain family and honoring the late senator, he said. The governor gave “very memorable remarks at the Arizona memorial in which he said, ‘Imagining Arizona without John McCain is like picturing an Arizona without the Grand Canyon. It’s just not natural.’ It was an emotional time for the state, the governor and for our team.” Ducey went on to win reelection by 14 points. “I’m certain a part of why he won the support of so many voters is because he handled the situation with so much reverence for Sen. McCain,” Scarpinato said. 

Biggest campaign regret: “Not watching the money. You only get to spend it once, and a campaign can easily get lathered up with consultants and people looking to make a buck,” he said. “I’ve actually found it’s a bigger problem on campaigns that raise a lot of money — people stop being frugal because the fundraising is going well. You need to have someone you trust, with a raised eyebrow, scrutinize every spending decision, contract and retainer.”

Unconventional wisdom: “That voters are really smart,” Scarpinato said. “You see in the focus groups — people have been so inundated with politics and political advertising, that they aren’t easily impressed or persuaded by boiler-plate BS. Everyone in politics says, ‘Negative ads work.’ Yes, but not if they suck. Swing voters need facts and data to be convinced, not just scary music and grainy images of your opponent.”

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

Coming up

Along with watching balloons in the the Macy’s parade for cartoon characters we forgot existed (and not putting out a newsletter), here’s what’s on the Thanksgiving menu that the At the Races team expects to be giving thanks for next week: pumpkin pie for Bridget; sweet potatoes with butterscotch sauce (a family recipe) for Kate; turkey most likely cooked in the backyard smoker for Stephanie (who has a brand new, nonfunctional oven — thanks, pandemic!); Stove Top stuffing made with apple juice, fresh apples and dried cranberries for Nathan; stuffed shells for politics editor Herb Jackson; and loaded baked potato salad for copy editor Andrew Menezes.

Photo finish

Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams takes a selfie Tuesday with an activist in a Build Back Better bill costume inspired by “Schoolhouse Rock!” On a sad note, the author of the memorable “I’m Just a Bill” jingle, Dave Frishberg, died on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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