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Niels Lesniewski

At the Races: Votes ease Dems’ Biden blues - Roll Call

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we 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.

There’s no doubt Democrats had a very good night Tuesday, holding on to the Kentucky governor’s mansion and ending up with control of both chambers of the Virginia legislature.

Republicans tried to highlight victories in other races, including other commonwealth-wide offices in Kentucky and local races in places like Utica, N.Y., which elected a Republican mayor for the first time in 20 years.

But, as our friend Nathan L. Gonzales writes, the 2023 wins for the Democrats, particularly when messaging on abortion rights (which anyone watching local TV in and around Washington, D.C., knows was the primary focus of Democratic advertising in legislative races in Northern Virginia) will resonate going into next year.

To wit, the DSCC circulated a memo on Thursday highlighting quotes from Republican Senate candidates in key battlegrounds on abortion policy.

The states featured include most of the races on our list of Most Vulnerable Senate incumbents one year out from the election. The new No. 1 on that list is a Democratic incumbent, but his state is not likely to yield a GOP pickup opportunity.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., joins at No. 1 because of his legal troubles and almost unbelievably low approval rating. The indictment of Menendez did not cause repercussions for New Jersey Democrats on Tuesday — possibly because so many of them, including Gov. Phil Murphy, have already called for his resignation.

On Tuesday, we published the House version of the Most Vulnerable list, which was headlined by members from New York and North Carolina, with the Tar Heel State additions coming because of new maps from off-cycle redistricting. No. 1 on that list is another member of the congressional defendant caucus: Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., who survived an effort by fellow vulnerable New York Republicans to expel him from the chamber last week, as Chris Marquette reports.

Starting gate

Not welcome: Former Rep. Peter Meijer launched his campaign for Michigan’s open Senate seat, but the one-term Republican who voted for Donald Trump’s impeachment was quickly criticized by Republicans in Washington, with the NRSC executive director saying that “there’s worry that if Meijer were nominated, the base would not be enthused in the general election.”

After Ohio: Sandhya Raman reports that advocates are looking for ballot questions in four other states next year after a big win Tuesday for abortion rights advocates in Ohio, where a ballot measure enshrining protections in the state constitution passed easily. The vote was not the only victory for supporters across the country this week, as Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted outside the White House on Wednesday.

Abortion and 2024: Abortion access is likely to shape many races for Congress in 2024, including the one in Arizona’s 1st District. The suburban battleground north of Phoenix features a crowded Democratic primary to unseat Republican David Schweikert. One of those Democrats, Marlene Galán-Woods, received the endorsement of EMILY’s List on Thursday.

Cheneyed: Republican presidential contenders Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley swiped at each other again Wednesday, but the third debate for GOP contenders who are not Trump also featured some substantive discussions about military force and entitlements, John T. Bennett writes.

Tag team: Bennett also notes that Tuesday’s elections may have reduced the odds of Democrats looking to pro wrestling for a new nominee, given President Joe Biden’s weak poll numbers.

New guy: Former Biden aide Gabe Amo’s election makes the son of African immigrants Rhode Island’s first Black member of Congress, and our colleague Jackie Wang tells us how he got inspired by politics.


Hoyer victory on FBI HQ: The long-running fight between Maryland and Virginia over the location of the new FBI headquarters has turned in favor of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and “Team Maryland” with Wednesday’s announcement that a site in Greenbelt, Md., has been selected. Ryan Tarinelli has more.

Round two ahead: Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s bid to be mayor of Houston advanced to a Dec. 9 runoff, but she faces “major headwinds,” The Texas Tribune reports. Jackson Lee finished second on Tuesday, with about 36 percent of the vote in an 18-candidate field, behind state Sen. John Whitmire, who had 43 percent. The filing deadline for the House seat in Texas’ 18th District is Dec. 11, two days after the runoff. Asked if Jackson Lee’s definitely not running, her mayoral campaign said only that she was focused on the mayor’s race. Former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards is already running and had $829,000 in her campaign account on Sept. 30.

Newsom under water: California Gov. Gavin Newsom saw his job approval ratings decline in a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Forty-nine percent of voters disapproved of the Democrat’s performance, a 10-point dip from February, and 44 percent approved. “The fall-off … is broad-based and is particularly noteworthy among political moderates and No Party Preference voters,” the poll found.

AI disclosure: Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced a new policy requiring political ads created with artificial intelligence to carry a disclosure. The change will take effect next year and comes as the Federal Election Commission grapples with how to regulate so-called deepfake political ads.

#MDSEN: Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger endorsed fellow Rep. David Trone’s bid for the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s open Senate seat. Trone faces Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks in the primary.

See you in December: Joe Ganim, the Democratic mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., beat challenger John Gomes. But, as the Connecticut Post reports, “Ganim’s win triggers a court-ordered do-over of their September primary, likely in December. If Gomes wins that election, a fourth round of voting could eventually determine who becomes the people’s choice to run Connecticut’s most-populous city.”

What we’re reading

Stu says: After nodding (or nodding off) to the news that former Rep. Will Hurd and former Vice President Mike Pence ended their bids for the GOP nomination, Stu Rothenberg assesses the remaining non-Trump contenders.

No sugarcoating: Columnist David Winston dives into recent presidential polling numbers to show how bad things look one year out for Biden.

Lines drawn: Multiple amendments to spending bills sponsored by House Republicans have used transgender care to lay down ideological markers for 2024, colleague Lauren Clason reports. Columnist Walter Shapiro writes that efforts to trap members facing tough races with “gotcha” votes usually don’t work.

Politics and grief: On the surface, Auburn, Maine, City Councilor Leroy Walker Sr.’s Election Day rituals unfolded as they always did. But in other ways, nothing was the same because his son Joseph was among the victims of last month’s mass shooting. The Boston Globe spent time with the elder Walker and chronicles his grief.

“When are you going to drop out?”: The Atlantic checks in with Doug Burgum, North Dakota’s Republican governor who’s making an under-the-radar run for president. (It’s probably not a good sign that the piece name-checks another wealthy, presidential wannabe: Succession’s Connor Roy.)

The count: $28,000

That’s how much Arizona GOP Senate candidate Mark Lamb reported spending on “campaign attire,” outlays the Federal Election Commission is now questioning since they appear “to possibly constitute personal use of campaign funds by the candidate,” Marquette reports.

Nathan’s notes

Even before Tuesday’s elections were over, the outlook for 2024 was muddy, Nathan writes. Biden’s weakness is a big factor, but Democrats have also shown an ability to pick up seats.

Shop talk: Mike Madrid

Madrid is a California-based Republican strategist, a partner in political consulting firm GrassrootsLab and a co-founder of the Lincoln Project. He is the author of the upcoming book “The Latino Century.”

Starting out: Madrid was still in college when he volunteered for his first congressional campaign, helping reelect then-Rep. Elton Gallegly, a Ventura County Republican. “My first job was actually peeling stamps off of envelopes that had been mislabeled,” he said. “They were trying to see if I was a spy or not. I had no idea that campaigns had spies, but they found out very quickly that I was not a spy after I kept coming back day after day to peel stamps off of envelopes.” Madrid was introduced to influential consultants such as Arthur Finkelstein, and he quickly fell in love with the work. “I was working my way through college and, like a lot of political operatives, I didn’t graduate until I was about 26,” he said. “I was taking every election cycle off … so by my mid-20s, I had a lot of campaign experience.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Madrid was the political director for the California Republican Party in 1998 when he received a call from then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich told Madrid to do everything he could to make sure GOP moderate Brooks Firestone won a congressional primary over the conservative candidate, Tom Bordonaro. “It was kind of overwhelming, being a 26-year-old and [having the speaker] telling you to lean in such a way that you probably should not be doing,” Madrid recalled. “It’s one of those moments [that shows how] politics actually works, compared to the way you think it works.” Bordonaro won the primary but wound up losing to the Democrat. “Gingrich was right,” Madrid said. “We lost that seat. … It’s never come back.”

Biggest campaign regret: “I’ve been a pretty vocal critic of the party and the party’s direction throughout my career,” Madrid said. “The only regret is I probably wasn’t louder and even more critical because of what the party has devolved into. So it’s kind of a strange thing to say: I wish I would have done more of what I did.

“I ended up staying here on the West Coast and making a great career out of it,” he added. “But I probably could have had a bigger impact on the direction of the party had I stayed more involved in national politics and the D.C. scene.”

Unconventional wisdom: Madrid invokes the advice a mentor once gave him: “Never work for a candidate for the money. Look for causes and candidates you believe in and the opportunities will open up for you.”

Coming up

Cue the “Jaws” theme. After the House pulled two of its appropriations bills this week because Republicans didn’t have the votes to pass them, there’s only one week left for Congress to craft and pass another short-term budget before the current one expires at the end of the day on Nov. 17.

Photo finish

The No. 1 and No. 10 members on Roll Call’s latest list of the most vulnerable House members up in 2024, Republican Reps. George Santos of New York and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, were seated together during the House speaker drama last month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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The post At the Races: Votes ease Dems’ Biden blues appeared first on Roll Call.

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