Campaigns

At the Races: Managing impeachment (and the spotlight)

By Bridget Bowman, Simone Pathé and Stephanie Akin 

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi named impeachment managers yesterday, and the House sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Unsurprisingly, none of the seven impeachment managers are in a competitive race — Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates them all Solid Democratic. Vulnerable House Democrats want to focus on “kitchen table” issues in their campaigns (read: not impeachment).

The group of managers does include one freshman in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program for vulnerable members: Colorado’s Jason Crow. The Army veteran’s district had been trending blue before he unseated Republican Mike Coffman in 2018. So it remains to be seen how aggressively Republicans will target Crow, given that there are more vulnerable Democrats running in more GOP-leaning districts.

And while the impeachment managers will be in the spotlight, attention will also turn to vulnerable senators as a trial moves forward. For a refresher on who those senators are, check out our 10 Most Vulnerable list.

Starting gate

Last chance: For the three senators running for president, Tuesday’s debate in Iowa — just three weeks ahead of the Feb. 3 caucuses — was extra important because it was likely their last big event in the state before the Senate impeachment trial that will keep them in Washington. No senator had more riding on the debate than Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who repeated her pitch about electability and took some swipes at her more progressive opponents. But the tension between Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders over gender and electability stole the night. Colorado’s Michael Bennet, the only other senator left in the race after New Jersey’s Cory Booker dropped out Monday, did not qualify for the debate. For more on the debate dynamics, check out the latest Political Theater podcast featuring CQ Roll Call politics editor Herb Jackson.

Make it 45: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has added six new seats to its 2020 target list as it tries to expand the battlefield farther into GOP-held territory.

Just super: It’s been 10 years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for money in campaigns. And even though Democrats have sharply criticized the decision, they’ve also benefited from it, CQ Roll Call’s Kate Ackley reports as part of her deep dive into the role of super PACs in the last decade.

Amash pit: A handful of Republicans — including those who previously supported or donated to Michigan Rep. Justin Amash — are competing to replace the now-independent lawmaker and help the party regain a seat that has long been safely in its column. It’s mostly become a three-way race that will test the party’s appetite for electing either a young military veteran from a wealthy local family, a female state legislator or a self-proclaimed Trump loyalist.

Jersey justice: New Jersey public officials ensnared in the 2013 Bridgegate scandal came to the Supreme Court on Tuesday to argue that they were guilty of bare-knuckle politics, but that’s not a crime. If the court agrees with them, it could further limit the scope of federal public corruption statutes that apply to officeholders at every level.

Remember him?: West Virginia’s Richard Ojeda is back, this time running to take on GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. The retired Army major first gained national attention when he ran for the state Senate in 2016 as a Trump-supporting Democrat (not an unusual thing in West Virginia). By 2018, he’d soured on Trump and ran for the open 3rd District, but lost by 13 points when the GOP effectively nationalized the race. (Revisit this July 2018 dispatch from his hometown of Logan for more on how national politicos started taking his unconventional campaign seriously.) Challenging Capito won’t be easy — it’s a Solid Republican race — but the state as a whole actually voted for Trump by a smaller margin (42 points) than the southern coal-mining district Ojeda lost in 2018 (49 points.)

Every Rose has its thorn: New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose became the first member of Congress this week to endorse former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg donated to Rose’s 2018 GOP opponent, but Rose doesn’t appear to have a problem with that.

ICYMI

It’s on in AZ: It’s probably an understatement to say that the Arizona Senate race is going to be expensive. GOP Sen. Martha McSally had her best quarter of 2019, raising $4 million in the last three months of the year. (Her campaign touted her $12 million total for the year as higher than any other senator’s.) But her likely Democratic opponent, Mark Kelly, outraised her for the fourth quarter in a row, bringing in $6 million from October through December and $20 million total in 2019. He also has a cash-on-hand advantage, ending 2019 with $13.6 million in the bank to McSally’s $7.6 million.

Speaking of fundraising: Vulnerable House Democrats have continued to report big fundraising numbers for the fourth quarter (reports are due Jan. 31). But one of the most striking was New York Rep. Anthony Brindisi’s. He doubled his fundraising from the previous quarter, bringing in $900,000, according to Syracuse.com.

New caucus: CQ Roll Call’s Kate Ackley reports that a group of freshman House Democrats, some facing tight races this November, launched a new “End Corruption” caucus Thursday. Rose, whose race is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections, and Katie Porter of California will lead the effort. The lawmakers plan to huddle regularly to discuss new proposals and gin up support for legislation aimed at curbing the influence of corporate lobbyists — a regular message on the 2020 campaign trail.

Mark your calendars: The special election to replace New York GOP Rep. Chris Collins, who resigned amid insider trading charges, is likely to take place on April 28, according to The Buffalo News. That’s the same day as the state’s presidential primary, so higher Democratic turnout for the presidential race could help Democrats there. But they still face an uphill climb in the 27th District, which Trump carried by the widest margin in the state.

Getting awkward: Members of Congress are taking sides in the Massachusetts Senate Democratic primary, with Georgia Rep. John Lewis and a handful of other House Democrats backing Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III against the sitting senator, Edward J. Markey, who has the support of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Not just Russia: China, Iran, North Korea, and other nonstate “hacktivists” are likely targeting U.S. elections, and the threats in 2020 are “more sophisticated,” a senior intelligence official said Wednesday, according to CQ Roll Call’s Gopal Ratnam.

Beehive buzz: Thom Carter, the director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, told the Deseret News that national Republicans are recruiting him to run for the state’s 4th District, a prime GOP target. He would enter a crowded primary, but high-profile Republicans, including former Rep. Mia Love, have expressed doubts that anyone in the race could defeat Democratic incumbent Ben McAdams after national Republicans’ preferred candidate, state Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, unexpectedly backed out in December.

What we’re reading

Hyde your ambassadors! We hadn’t heard of Robert F. Hyde before this week. The Republican is running for Connecticut’s 5th District, a safe Democratic seat, and hasn’t reported raising any money to the FEC. But he became a national name this week when the House Intelligence Committee released text messages he exchanged with Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, about tracking Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. “Wow. Can’t believe Trumo [sic] hasn’t fired this bitch,” Hyde wrote in one message. He has a history of inappropriate remarks — he tweeted much worse about California Sen. Kamala Harris — and Connecticut Republicans have condemned him. He’s a strong Trump supporter, but police had to remove him from Trump National Doral in Florida. The Hartford Courant and The Intercept have much more about this bizarre figure, whom the chairman of the Connecticut GOP asked to end his campaign Wednesday.

The billionaire bump: If you didn’t know Tom Steyer before Tuesday’s debate, you probably do now. Stu Rothenberg digs into Steyer’s standing in recent polls that landed him a spot on the debate stage.

AOC vs. DCCC: HuffPost has a report on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s new leadership PAC, which is supporting liberal candidates, including primary challengers. Her PAC, pitched as an alternative to the DCCC, is called Courage to Change (seems like a missed opportunity to name it AO-CCC). But, while a leadership PAC can make contributions to other candidates' campaigns, it cannot make the kinds of independent expenditures that make the DCCC powerful.

Late entry: The Miami Herald previewed Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez’ anticipated announcement of a run for Florida’s 26th District. Giménez has been recruited by national Republicans and has a record as a prolific fundraiser, but he would enter a primary well underway with Omar Blanco, the former head of the Miami-Dade County firefighters union, and Irina Vilariño, co-owner of the Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine restaurant chain, already vying to take on freshman Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in this GOP-targeted district.

The count: 36

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads the field in congressional endorsements with 36 members backing him in the presidential primary. This week he added three to his list: Texas Rep. Colin Allred, New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski. All three had previously backed candidates who have since dropped out, and they all could face competitive reelection races (and they’re not the only potentially vulnerable lawmakers backing Biden).

Mike Bloomberg got his first congressional endorsement this week (from Rep. Max Rose, see above). Sen. Elizabeth Warren picked up an endorsement from Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, who had previously endorsed his brother. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg got some early state endorsements from Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack and New Hampshire Rep. Ann McLane Kuster. And Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, who co-chairs the Progressive Caucus, endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday.

Nathan’s notes

Republicans are counting on Trump to boost their down-ballot candidates in 2020, but the president may not be the savior GOP operatives are making him out to be, Nathan writes. Using Inside Elections’ Vote Above Replacement metric, Nathan explains how Trump actually underperformed typical Republicans in two of the states he’s credited with flipping in 2016.  

Candidate confessions

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney announced Thursday that she is not running for Senate in Wyoming to replace retiring GOP Sen. Michael B. Enzi. That means former GOP Rep. Cynthia Lummis  may not get a “barn-burner” of a primary after all. Lummis announced she would run for Senate in July and predicted a competitive race if Cheney ran as well. But more GOP candidates, including megadonor Foster Friess, could still jump into the contest. Lummis is a self-described constitutional conservative and told CQ Roll Call recently that she is an ardent supporter of Trump. (She did originally endorse Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul for president.) Lummis interviewed twice to be Trump’s Interior Secretary but did not ultimately get the job.

Reader’s race: IL-01

Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush, 73, has won landslide victories in every general and primary election since he was first elected in 1992 — including a 2000 primary challenge from a young upstart named Barack Obama. He is also a legend in the Chicago area, where he was a civil rights leader in the 1960s and founded the state’s Black Panther chapter.

“Taking on Bobby Rush among black voters is like running into a buzz saw,” pollster Ron Lester, who worked for Obama, once told The New York Times.

That hasn’t stopped three Democratic challengers from entering the 2020 primary in Rush’s heavily Democratic 1st District. The contenders have youth on their side — the slate includes a 27-year-old gun control activist and a graduate student at the University of Chicago. The contenders are no doubt encouraged by Rush’s age and the ethical cloud that has hung over him since 2014, when the House Ethics Committee started looking into his use of an office he had occupied, rent-free, since he was an alderman on the City Council in 1989.

The primary, with its inevitable comparisons to Obama’s first foray into national politics, has attracted some curiosity from national media and progressive groups. Robert Emmons Jr., the gun control activist, has scored endorsements from the progressive groups People for Bernie and Brand New Congress, which is affiliated with Ocasio-Cortez. Sarah Gad, a third-year law student, has attracted support from social justice advocates for her background as a former convict. Gad delved into her opioid addiction and related felony convictions in a piece for Marie Claire magazine and an attention-grabbing campaign video.

But as of the end of the third quarter on Sept. 30, no one had the kind of money that would make Rush nervous. Emmons had raised $52,000 and spent $37,000, ending the quarter with $15,000 in the bank. Gad, the only other primary challenger to have raised money at that point, had spent all but $840 of the $24,000 she had raised. Rush raised $146,000 and spent $134,000, ending the quarter with $83,000on hand.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the Montana Senate race or the South Carolina Senate race. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

The Senate impeachment trial starts next week, so stay tuned to CQ Roll Call’s ongoing coverage, especially with our daily impeachment tracker.

Photo finish

Members of Congress are just like us. Rep. Madeleine Dean snaps a shot of the articles of impeachment on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Members of Congress are just like us. Rep. Madeleine Dean snaps a shot of the articles of impeachment on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Subscribe now using this link so you don’t miss out on the best news and analysis from our team, plus key stories and data that will keep you informed about 2020 races.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.