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One year into Democratic control of Washington, the GOP can hardly contain its glee about the party’s prospects for the midterms in 292 days. It’s almost as if Republicans are not only measuring the drapes but also scheduling a contractor to come in and install a bay window next year. And they do have cause for optimism given historical trends, President Joe Biden’s sagging approval numbers and congressional Democrats’ failures, so far, to enact their biggest-ticket proposals. Republicans blocked a sweeping elections and voting rights overhaul, as expected, last night in the Senate. Biden acknowledged in his news conference Wednesday that congressional leaders may have to slim down his stalled social spending, climate change and tax package, if any of it is to pass the Senate.
But all of this is not necessarily such bad news for vulnerable incumbent Democrats, who may actually prefer a slimmed down package to a mega-scope, multitrillion-dollar measure.
The political ripples of the filibuster fight remain somewhat uncertain, too. Last night’s vote exposed the obvious fissures on the Democratic side, as Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona joined all Republicans in voting against a rules change aimed at moving the voting rights bill with a simple majority. The debate now will shift almost entirely to the campaign trail, where support for changing the filibuster rules has already become a mainstay of Democrats’ fundraising and messaging even for more middle-of-road candidates like Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb and former Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer who are seeking Senate nominations in their states.
Neither Manchin nor Sinema is on the ballot this year, but some activists — and even party insiders — are mulling efforts to mount primary challenges to either, or both, in 2024. EMILY’s List and NARAL have said they will no longer support Sinema. The Primary Sinema Project said this week it has raised more than $300,000 in the three months since it started. Our Nathan L. Gonzales made an astute observation: Sinema’s vulnerability may depend on whether “GOP shenanigans” dominate in the 2022 elections, and he’s skeptical Manchin seeks reelection.
Republicans were happy to note that vulnerable incumbent Democratic senators, such as Arizona’s Mark Kelly and New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan are now on the record voting for a rollback of the filibuster, but even GOP operatives concede that those elections are likely to rise or fall on more pressing matters like inflation and the pandemic — which right now don’t look so great for Democrats.
Coming up short: Democrats and their outside allies said they would continue their so-far-unsuccessful push for a sweeping federal voting rights and elections overhaul, perhaps shifting to smaller revisions of the Electoral Count Act as well as putting more focus on state legislatures. Here’s a peek at what’s in the 735-page combined bill, which the Senate did not pass Wednesday, including provisions on political money disclosures, curbs on partisan gerrymandering in redistricting efforts and making Election Day a holiday.
Moving on: New York Rep. John Katko became the third of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump to announce his retirement — avoiding a potentially tricky reelection campaign. Democrats Jim Langevin of Rhode Island and Jerry McNerney of California also joined their party’s House exodus, announcing their exit plans within minutes of each other.
SCOTUS pocus: The Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority appeared ready to side with Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in his challenge to the law that limits how much donor money he could pay to himself after self-financing part of the cost of his 2018 election, CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger reports. But the bigger question is whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was right when he argued in a court filing that the case provides an “ideal opportunity” to wipe out other parts of campaign finance law.
Back to the drawing board: The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the state’s new congressional map in a ruling Friday over allegations it unfairly favored Republicans, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports. It’s the first time a court has tossed a state’s redrawn district lines in the current redistricting cycle, and the state’s Republican-controlled legislature has 30 days to pass a new map. And earlier today, Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the congressional and legislative maps, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The GOP has veto-proof majorities in the legislature, so an override is likely, but candidates were supposed to file to run on Tuesday.
Messaging: At his rally in Arizona on Saturday, Trump not only re-upped his false claims the 2020 election was stolen, he also threw in some new conspiracy theories and volatile claims about race, CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett reports. And new apps and websites could fuel the spread of that kind of message, CQ Roll Call’s Gopal Ratnam reports.
#TX-28: The FBI acknowledged that it conducted a “court-authorized” search of Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar’s home Wednesday evening, and a reporter from the local Monitor newspaper also noted “some activity” outside his campaign headquarters. Cuellar, a Democrat who is facing a rematch from progressive Jessica Cisneros in the March 1 primary and a raft of potential Republican opponents, said he would “fully cooperate in any investigation.” Cisneros noted on Twitter Wednesday evening that she’d “Been getting a lot of new followers tonight!”
On the air: Wisconsin Democrat Alex Lasry, the senior vice president of the Milwaukee Bucks seeking the nomination for Senate, launched three television ads, part of a seven-figure statewide media buy. One focused on voting rights. The other two highlighted his work on the new Bucks arena as an example of “progressive values” at work in a successful business. And in Ohio, Republican Matt Dolan launched the first TV ad of his Senate campaign. Part of a $1.7 million buy, it focused on what he described as a U.S. “cold war” with China.
She’s running: Former Ohio state House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes announced a bid for the Democratic nomination in Ohio’s open 13th district, where Trump-backed Republican Max Miller is seeking the GOP nomination. Inside Elections rated the district Tilt Republican under the map that was just rejected, noting that Sykes was Democrats’ “most exciting option,” in a district that Biden carried.
So is she: Former Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland will seek a seat in Congress again, entering the primary race for the state’s 4th District, the Washington Post reports. Already, a number of Democrats are vying for the nomination in the deep-blue Prince George’s County race, including Jazz Lewis, a former aide to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who endorsed his former aide.
He is, too: Chris Mathys, a GOP businessman and former member of the Fresno City Council, plans to run against fellow Republican Rep. David Valadao of California, according to the Bakersfield Californian. Valadao voted to impeach Trump, and Mathys called that a “betrayal,” the newspaper reported.
New NewDems: The centrist NewDem Action Fund added seven candidates to its Watch List of “competitive and results-driven challengers and open seat competitors in must-win districts,” according to a press release. They are: Nikki Budzinski in Illinois’ 13th District, Tony Vargas in Nebraska’s 2nd, Randolph Bracy in Florida’s 10th, Val Hoyle in Oregon’s 4th, Ben Samuels in Missouri’s 2nd, Eddie Rodriguez in Texas’ 35th and Brad Pfaff in Wisconsin’s 3rd. The group also announced its endorsement of former NewDem member Max Rose, who is seeking a rematch against GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who ousted him in 2020.
Red in the black: The GOP fundraising platform WinRed, which has sought to emulate Democrats’ success with ActBlue, said that it had processed $559 million in donations last year. It has also lowered its processing fees to 3.94 percent as of Jan. 1. “Following a record year of fundraising, WinRed is hitting the ground running in 2022,” said WinRed President Gerrit Lansing in a news release.
To be blunt: Louisiana Democratic Senate candidate Gary Chambers — who also ran in the special election for the state’s 2nd District House seat last year — smoked a blunt in a campaign ad calling for a pathway for marijuana legalization and forgiveness for people who were arrested for possessing small amounts of pot, “just like me,” he said.
Took the dough: Lawmakers in competitive districts who touted the release of the first chunk of more than $27 billion to repair the country’s decaying bridges included Republicans who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure package that paid for it — which the DCCC pointed out in press releases and on social media.
New district, new challenge: Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has said she will seek reelection in the state’s Detroit-area 12th District, is likely to face a primary challenge from former state lawmaker Shanelle Jackson. Jackson told Jewish Insider that she’s been “rallying the troops” and that she would take a more mainstream approach to Middle East issues, including support for Israel. Tlaib, who was one of the first two Muslim women elected to the House in 2018, has been a critic of Israel and voted against U.S. funding for an Israeli missile defense system in September.
Taking sides: The Club for Growth took a side in the incumbent-vs.-incumbent race in Illinois’ 15th District. The conservative group’s PAC said it was endorsing first-term Rep. Mary Miller over 5th term Rep. Rodney Davis, whom the club said had a 46 percent career rating on its scorecard. Miller, who was embroiled in controversy last year at the beginning of her term for quoting Adolf Hitler, also has an endorsement from Trump.
FEC files: The Federal Election Commission voted unanimously to reject a complaint that Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar had converted campaign funds to personal use by hiring her then-romantic partner to work on her campaign. Omar later married the campaign consultant, Tim Mynett, according to the FEC documents.
What we’re reading
Miami freeze: The evidence is “piling up” that Democrats are having trouble recruiting candidates to run in two South Florida House districts that the GOP flipped in 2020, McClatchy reports. Party leaders point to the state’s unfinished congressional map, but there is “growing suspicion among some Democrats” that the “wait-and-see approach” of former 26th and 27th District Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala could also be a factor.
Handoff hindsight: An analysis of lessons learned from the Trump-Biden transition by the Center for Presidential Transition and the Boston Consulting Group included a renewed call for reducing the number of political appointees subject to Senate confirmation. New recommendations include more funding in transition years for the General Services Administration and for the FBI, which does security clearances.
‘Tactical’ errors?: The new publication Grid takes a dive into Democrats’ handling of the party’s overhaul efforts on elections, voting rights and political money law.
Blame game starts: CNN gave several anonymous Democrats a chance to unload on how the Biden White House is approaching the midterms and the picture they painted was of a team “lacking both a political strategy and the discipline to execute one.” Among the kindest comments was that the administration isn’t giving the issue the level of “urgency” it deserves.
Buyer’s remorse: Twelve months into his presidency, many supporters of Biden describe a coalition in crisis, according to The Associated Press. “People are feeling like they’re getting less than they bargained for when they put Biden in office. There’s a lot of emotions, and none of them are good,” Quentin Wathum-Ocama, president of the Young Democrats of America, told the AP.
The count: 75%
That’s the percentage of House and Senate offices, out of the 147 that responded to CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa’s inquiry, said they’d received death threats since 2020. Capitol police estimate they reviewed 9,600 disconcerting messages and direct threats against members in 2021, up from 8,613 in 2020 and 3,939 in 2017.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who deprived the GOP of a top recruit this fall when he opted not to run against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, said he had been “pretty close” to making the opposite decision until he started talking to Republicans already serving in the Senate about what the job would entail, he told the Washington Examiner this week.
Almost all of them said that, presuming Republicans could take the majority in November, they planned to spend the next two years blocking Biden’s agenda until, they hoped, a Republican could win the presidency.
“They were all, for the most part, content with the speed at which they weren’t doing anything,” he said. “It was very clear that we just have to hold the line for two years. OK, so I’m just going to be a roadblock for two years. That’s not what I do.” Sununu added that he was “bothered” by the reaction to his follow-up question. “I said, ‘OK, so if we’re going to get stuff done if we win the White House back, why didn’t you do it in 2017 and 2018?” The response?.”Crickets,” he said. “Yeah, crickets. . . They had no answer.”
Shop talk: Sam Oh
Oh, a former chief of staff in the California State Assembly and to then-GOP Rep. Mimi Walters of California, is a vice president at Targeted Victory where he helps lead the firm’s general consulting division. He works with candidates and elected officials including Republican Reps. Young Kim, Michelle Steel and Jay Obernolte of California as well as South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
Starting out: “After I graduated from college, I joined a targeted California State Assembly campaign in San Diego as a regional political director, which was a very generous title because I was tasked with going door-to-door, making phone calls, and stuffing envelopes for 15 hours a day, seven days a week,” Oh recalled. “My boss, a Republican running in a Democrat seat, narrowly won an expensive, hard-fought race, and I saw firsthand how a good candidate, strong message, and talking about real issues can overcome anything. I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Election night 2020 was easily my most rewarding campaign moment,” Oh said. “Early in 2019, I recruited two candidates — a former California State assemblywoman and the chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors — to run in seats that Democrats flipped in 2018, but … in a cycle that many political pundits expected to be a tough year for Republicans.” Those two candidates were Kim and Steel, who became the first Republicans to defeat incumbent Democrat members of Congress in California in a general election since 1994, Oh said. “Despite being outspent and running in seats that Biden won, Young Kim and Michelle Steel showed that candidates with deep roots in their communities, with a strong message, and with a strong work ethic can win anywhere irrespective of the circumstances. Reps. Kim and Steel — two of the first Korean-American women to serve in the halls of Congress — are trailblazers who overcame the odds and persevered, and I couldn’t be more proud of them and what they’ve accomplished.”
Biggest campaign regret: Not spending even more in the earliest stages of a campaign on digital fundraising, Oh said. “The proliferation of digital fundraising has fundamentally changed candidate campaigns in recent cycles,” he said. “Many of the most recent successful campaigns — both Republican and Democrat — have shown that an early and strong investment in a small-dollar contribution program can act as a force multiplier and drastically change the trajectory of the campaigns by supercharging direct voter contact budgets. Young Kim, who ran in 2018 and narrowly lost, raised $116,000 in small dollar contributions but in her 2020 rematch campaign with Gil Cisneros, she raised nearly $2.8 million in small-dollar contributions, which really altered the course of her campaign. Many of the most successful campaigns invest early and often and I think most campaigns, if they are being honest, would say they regret not investing even more early on.”
Unconventional wisdom: “National Democrats aren’t just facing hurdles with base enthusiasm — which can’t be fixed with more persuasion and more direct voter contact — they’re facing larger, more complicated issues,” Oh said. “Washington Democrats are pushing an out-of-touch agenda and can’t clearly articulate solutions on some of the biggest issues weighing on the minds of independent and minority voters — the very voting blocs that will determine which party will win many of these toss-up seats. This fundamental issue for Democrats is exacerbated as Republicans have done a great job of recruiting and promoting diverse and dynamic candidates, with compelling personal stories that have crossover appeal. And because of that have shown a track record of winning tough races in tough areas: Mike Garcia, María Elvira Salazar, Winsome Sears,” he added, referring to GOP House members from California and Florida and the new Republican lieutenant governor of Virginia, respectively.
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