In this edition: Lessons from the latest fundraising reports, Black Democrats look to replace retiring White incumbents, and the Colin Powell presidential bid that never was.

Please make the most of these five minutes when campaigns are too busy with FEC forms to send you emails begging for money. This is The Trailer.

The third fundraising quarter of 2021 showed what anyone watching closely knew already: Republican donors are confident they can win the House in 2020, and Democratic donors are obsessed with holding the Senate. The July-to-September period, which saw President Biden's approval rating dip into the 40s, was unsurprisingly solid for the GOP, but not particularly terrible for Democrats.

What mattered? Ask us next November, but in the meantime, here are five big takeaways.

The “green wave” washes over everybody. Democratic fundraising transformed in the Obama years, as the ActBlue donor portal became a campaign standard. It got supercharged in the Trump years, with candidates for high-profile House and Senate seats finding disgruntled Democrats transformed into new small-dollar donors. Republicans spent most of Trump's presidency trying to catch up — then, with the launch of WinRed, they began to do so.

Republicans are now competitive, in fundraising, nearly everywhere they need to be competitive. Their official party committees, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recovered from the first quarter of the year to narrowly outraise Democratic committees in the second and now third quarters — $269.7 million for Republicans to $261.3 million for the Democrats, so far this year. 

That's an improvement since 2020, mitigated for Democrats by the Biden-era Democratic National Committee raising about as much money as a Republican National Committee that now competes with former president Donald Trump's Save America PAC and MAGA PAC, instead of counting on him for frequent fundraisers. The RNC outraised its Democratic competitor by the tiniest of margins, $110.2 million to $110.1 million. At this point last year, with the presidential campaign underway, the RNC was nearly tripling the donations flowing into the DNC. That's improvement for Democrats but not the overwhelming advantage we usually see for a party committee when it controls the White House.

Republicans have also hacked away at the Democratic advantage in House races, which started in 2017 — that's when the GOP began bemoaning a “green wave” — and continued through 2020. Six incumbent Democrats were outraised by challengers: Reps. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), and Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.). Just one Republican, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), was outraised by a Democratic opponent.

The House map may already be shrinking. (The Senate map isn't.) Fundraising patterns are accelerating what partisan mapmakers set out to do at the start of the year: take more seats out of serious partisan competition. We won't have final maps in most states for a few more weeks, but in a few districts that were competitive in 2018 and 2020, incumbents are stacking dollars without a serious challenger ever emerging. 

That includes Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), who raised $3 million and, under a new Republican-drawn map, will be trading a competitive seat for a safely red one. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) was outraised by more than $1 million when she won the state's only swing seat last year; she raised nearly $1 million in the third quarter, and no serious Democratic candidate has emerged in the district. Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) narrowly won a seat in 2018, held it in 2020, and raised more than $900,000 in the third quarter — but even before new maps are drawn by a nonpartisan commission, ambitious Republicans are avoiding the race.

At this point in 2017, it was clear that small-dollar Democratic donors were staying engaged and making real competition happen in districts where no candidate had been able to invest before. After the past two congressional elections, there are just a handful of incumbents in districts carried by the presidential candidate of the opposite party: Just two, the previously mentioned Golden and Wagner, were outraised in the third quarter. Money, as Democrats learned last year, is not insurance against a loss if the trends cut against them. But we're not seeing the potential shocks and surprises that began to emerge from fundraising patterns four years ago. We basically know where the competition's going to be, that Democrats need several miracles to hold on to the House, and that they're not getting any right now.

The party is in better shape in Senate races. No Senate Democrat facing reelection next year was outraised. Some, like Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) — who chaired the party committee as it won back control — have tremendous cash advantages already. How seriously are vulnerable Democrats taking these races? Sen. Maggie Hassan (N.H.), who won 2016's closest contest, raised $3 million over the quarter; that's more than then-Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) raised in any quarter of 2017, when he, like Hassan, was expected to face a well-funded Republican opponent the next year. There are, at the risk of understatement, far more wealthy donors in Florida than in New Hampshire.

Black candidates had fundraising breakthroughs. Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) had never sought elected office before running last year. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has never had a serious Democratic opponent in his two previous reelection bids. Yet over the summer, Warnock and Scott raised more than any other senators facing reelection next year, apart from Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) — $9.5 million and $8.4 million respectively, leaving them with $17.2 million and $18.8 million cash on hand.

Warnock and Scott led off a blockbuster quarter for Black candidates, including $8.5 million for Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who is challenging Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and $3.8 million for former Georgia football star Herschel Walker, a Republican running against Warnock. In three more states — North Carolina, Wisconsin and Kentucky — Black Democrats running for Senate raised more from donors than any of their opponents. (Two Democrats outraised Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes overall, but both Milwaukee Bucks VP Alex Lasry and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski made personal loans to crack the $1 million mark.) One big exception: Pennsylvania, where state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta was outraised by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Rep. Conor Lamb (D).

“We’re thrilled and I think it shows just what’s possible when candidates are groomed and developed for these opportunities,” said Quentin James, the co-founder of the Collective PAC, which supports Black candidates in Democratic primaries and in general elections. “I also think the grass roots are calling for more diverse representation and they’re doing it with their dollars and their votes.” 

Pro-impeachment Republicans outraised their challengers. Just 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection, or voted to convict him in the Senate, are on the ballot next year: Nine House members and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The senator, who has won two races in a row with more conservative challengers sharing the ballot, raised nearly $1.1 million, while her Trump-endorsed rival Kelly Tshibaka raised less than $470,000. Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) raised $1.7 million, more than any other House Republican besides House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and party phenom Dan Crenshaw. Her Trump-endorsed opponent, Harriet Hageman, raised around $300,000.

The money surge for Republican critics of Trump got plenty of attention last week, but it would be a mistake to read too much into it for 2022. Hageman, for example, only got into the race near the end of the filing period; she raised an average of $100,000 per week, not far off Cheney. None of the challengers were particularly well-known when they launched their campaigns, but all of the ones given Trump's blessing have raised enough to run credible campaigns — and the national committees have seen no downside whatsoever to being identified with Republicans (House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, NRSC chair Rick Scott) who challenged the election results.

The left's focus on a few 2022 campaigns isn't paying off yet. Groups like Justice Democrats, founded after the 2016 election to change the post-Clinton party, spread resources around the country in 2018 but had a more targeted strategy in 2020. That paid off, electing a handful of safe-seat Democrats who have shifted the House conference to the left, like Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). Both were outraised but won races where the left, from White liberals to non-White voters who usually skipped primaries, consolidated behind their candidacies.

Justice Democrats has made just a few endorsements this year. All of its candidates, from Odessa Kelly in Tennessee to Jessica Cisneros in Texas, raised six figures while being outmatched by incumbents. Cisneros, the only Justice Democrats-backed challenger facing one of the Democrats who demands that the bipartisan infrastructure bill be passed before the party's social spending bill, raised around $450,000. Her opponent, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), ran more than $200,000 ahead of that. 

Four years of organizing and building larger and larger mailing lists has created a model for the left to use in winnable primaries, and after a disappointing set of 2021 special elections, it's getting used. But most of the Democrats who've withheld their votes from the big social spending bill, the party's main priority for Biden's first year, have no left-wing challenge. And none had any problems raising money.

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Two more long-serving House Democrats announced their retirements on Monday, with Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) following Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) out the door. All of them are walking away from powerful roles in Congress, which Republicans were quick to point out as a sign of momentum for their own party. And for the moment, before final district maps are finalized, all are leaving safely Democratic seats where Black candidates are running or considering it.

In Price's 4th Congressional District, which includes the city of Durham and delivered a 35-point margin for Biden last year, state Sen. Wiley Nickel had already been putting a campaign together; he made it official moments after Price's announcement. He could face competition from former state senator Floyd McKissick Jr. who told the News & Observer that he was interested in running but the “biggest question is what the district will look like” after a redistricting process that will be run, as it was 10 years ago, by Republicans. 

In Doyle's 18th Congressional District, University of Pittsburgh law professor Jerry Dickinson was already running before the congressman's announcement, having captured around 32 percent of the vote in a 2020 primary challenge. On Tuesday morning, state Rep. Summer Lee joined the race, with the backing of Justice Democrats — a group that, so far, has only endorsed women of color in safe Democratic seats next year.

“We’ve been talking about Black women voters and the weight put on Black women in our politics, but we're not seeing a surge in Black women candidacies,” Lee said in an interview. “Races like this are opportunity to change how we're represented.”

Lee, a democratic socialist, ousted a member of a powerful Pittsburgh-era political family to head to Harrisburg three years ago. While Doyle was a reliable vote for Democrats and for most liberal bills, both Dickinson and Lee supported the Green New Deal and opposed fracking — and Lee pointed out that she had opposed a fracking proposal in her current district during her 2018 race.

“We can’t continue to tell the most marginalized folks they can have their health or they can have a livable income,” Lee said.

And in Yarmuth's 3rd Congressional District, which covers the city of Louisville and its closest suburbs, state Rep. Attica Scott was running before the congressman retired. “Progressive is a relative term,” Scott said, adding that even though the retiring incumbent had voted with the left, the district that contains most of Kentucky's Black voters did not have representation that would reliably “hold police accountable or protect protesters.” Like Lee, she would advocate for a Green New Deal, from a blue part of a region largely represented by supporters of fossil fuel exploration.

“It's clear there's a priority for militarizing the police,” Scott said. “It's clear that there's no priority for addressing the needs of the poor and our environment.”

Ad watch

Terry for Virginia, “Always.” The Democratic nominee for governor in Virginia has watched Republican Glenn Youngkin spend three weeks — most of the early voting period — battering McAuliffe's quote that he didn't think “parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” McAuliffe's campaign responded, after a week, with an ad attacking Youngkin for not supporting the same robust school funding as him. 

This is the second response, engaging directly with the issue, with McAuliffe saying Youngkin had taken him out of context. “I've always valued the concerns of parents,” he says. “It's why as governor we scaled back standardized testing, expanded pre-K, and invested a billion dollars in public schools.” The dispute hasn't changed — Youngkin's supporters see the quote as an example of McAuliffe favoring a state role in education that they don't – though the Republican's own ads also say that he wants to sign the largest education budget ever.

American Federation of Teachers Committee on Political Education, “Educators for Terry McAuliffe.” The second-largest teachers union in the country, which endorsed McAuliffe early, is bracketing his own education messaging with its own, rhyming commercials. A parade of teachers appear onscreen to say that of the two major-party choices for governor, only McAuliffe will fund public education reliably. Youngkin's "plan diverts money away from public schools and gives it to private schools instead," two teachers say.

The Committee to Elect Annissa Essaibi George, “A New Boston.” The more conservative Democrat in Boston's Nov. 2 mayoral election has fallen behind since acting mayor Kim Janey endorsed her opponent, fellow council member Michelle Wu. Winning Black voters after Black candidates (Janey included) were locked out of the runoff would make Wu unbeatable. One of Essaibi George's responses is this ad, featuring a non-White student who wants an “inclusive Boston” and says that Essaibi George can deliver it because of her years as a teacher. “I'm voting for real change,” she says, “not empty promises.”

In the states

Minnesota. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) endorsed two left-wing candidates in the Nov. 2 election for mayor of Minneapolis, urging voters to rank activist Sheila Nezhad and scientist Kate Knuth over first-time Mayor Jacob Frey

“We are going to choose not to rank the current mayor because we have great options,” Omar told reporters Monday. She did not specify which candidate voters should rank first, only that Frey, who had “failed” to hold police accountable after promising to during his 2017 race, was “fighting against his constituents" and ignored activist demands in favor of donors.

Five more Democrats are on the ballot, along with a number of third-party candidates and two Republicans. But a Democrat is favored to win the race, and Omar's move was designed to clarify how voters on the left should cast ballots to avoid splintering and leaving a new opening for Frey. Standing beside Omar, Knuth said she's focus on “safety, justice, and police accountability” if elected, while Nezhad said that “our safety shouldn't just be a blank check and no accountability for police.”

New York. State Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs apologized on Monday after comparing the race for mayor of Buffalo, where many in the party support Mayor Byron Brown over Democratic nominee India Walton, to a hypothetical situation in which a white supremacist grabbed the party's nomination. Walton, a democratic socialist, would be the city's first Black female mayor.

“I should have used a different example, and for that, I apologize,” Jacobs said in a statement, after giving a reporter a scenario in which David Duke won a Democratic primary in New York. “However, I stand by my argument that not every candidate who wins a primary is entitled, unquestionably, to the endorsement of all party leaders or elected officials.”

Jacobs's comment had infuriated some of Walton's supporters, like state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who called on the chair to resign. Asked for comment, Walton's campaign pointed to a version of the “Is This a Pigeon?” meme, with a man representing “corporate Democrats” unable to distinguish between “the KKK” and a “Black working class mother.”

The anger didn't dissipate after that, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joining the calls for Jacobs to go on Tuesday.

Florida. State Sen. Annette Taddeo (D) entered the 2022 primary for governor, where a contest between Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was well underway. Taddeo, who narrowly lost a 2014 race for lieutenant governor on Crist's ticket, said she entered the race in part to broaden the party's diversity. “For us to dare to actually be at the front of the bus instead of the back of the bus is somehow aiming too high,” she told the Miami Herald.

Dems in disarray

After the death of Colin Powell was confirmed, the tributes from Democrats crowded out the remembrances from Republicans. A generation of conservatives, those too young to vote in 2004, had never known Powell as a loyal member of the GOP. Democrats, who'd once feared him as a potential presidential candidate and Iraq War salesman, celebrated him even more than the other converts they made as Powell's party moved right.

None of these impressions were ever tested by a political campaign, because Powell never ran one. For a while Powell was one of the best-liked political figures in America, and for more than a year, from late 1994 to late 1995, he was courted as a candidate for president. There was not one, but two campaigns to draft him into the race. But in November 1995, he declared that he would not run, saying he'd stay involved in Republican politics without seeking office.

“I believe I can help the party of Lincoln move once again close to the spirit of Lincoln,” Powell said.

He did stay involved, becoming a key surrogate, then secretary of state, for President George W. Bush. The 43rd president was the last Republican Powell would ever support for that office. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, in what would be one of his last public statements, Powell told CNN he could “no longer call myself a Republican.” By that point, Republicans didn't care what he thought; Trump's reaction Tuesday to Powell's death emphasized the former secretary of state's role in the Iraq buildup, which Trump had also supported before turning against it.

Why was Powell so popular in the first place? He did not achieve real power in Washington until the end of Ronald Reagan's presidency, when he was installed as national security adviser after the Iran-contra scandal prompted a Cabinet shake-up. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during two conflicts that, according to politicians, licked the “Vietnam syndrome” of American angst about military intervention — the invasion of Panama and the 1991 Gulf War. The idea of this guy becoming the first Black president was so obvious that it would crop up in movies as a trope, a heroic general so popular and so willing to make his life a model for struggling Black men, that White voters could support him.

It helped that Powell's career was never subjected to the scrutiny and negativity of a campaign. Polling in 1995 consistently found him ahead of Bill Clinton; it's taken for granted by many pundits that Powell could have won the presidency if he tried for it. Even as Clinton secured a second term, exit pollsters asked voters how they'd have voted had Powell been on the ballot: Most said they'd have thrown Clinton out.

They never got the chance, and the nostalgia about a Powell candidacy is, in part, a nostalgia for a premillennial politics where there were fewer divisions between the major parties. Powell was personally supportive abortion rights, which no Republican nominee since the Roe v. Wade decision, and serious speculation about how he could win the nomination usually assumed that conservatives would crowd the 1996 primary and split the vote. In 1952, a desperate GOP could turn to Dwight D. Eisenhower, knowing that he did not side with conservatives on their campaign to undo the New Deal, but confident that he could win. By 1996, conservatives ran the Republican Party; by the time Powell stopped endorsing Republicans, just a few northeastern Republican politicians could still be considered liberal.

Powell's 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama also erased one of the myths of his potential candidacy — that the bar for a Black candidate winning the presidency was so high, only a war hero would be able to cross it.


… 14 days until elections in New Jersey and Virginia, and primaries in Florida’s 20th Congressional District 
… 84 days until the election in Florida's 20th Congressional District
… 133 days until the first 2022 primaries