THE SKIES ABOVE UTICA, N.Y. — As their charter plane’s WiFi picked up snippets of the highly anticipated Pennsylvania Senate debate, Steve Scalise and three fellow Republicans turned to each other in shock.
Watching Democratic nominee John Fetterman stumble through several debate answers as he grapples with the aftereffects of a stroke, there was visible enthusiasm among the Republicans on board. GOP nominee Mehmet Oz had just won the election, Scalise predicted.
And Oz wouldn’t even serve in the chamber Scalise may lead next year. Which made the debate-watching moment a display of earned confidence from the House minority whip, who zipped across Michigan and upstate New York over the course of two days goosing fundraising for six GOP candidates in four states as his party eyes sweeping midterm gains.
Scalise, who’s given $3.4 million to members and candidates so far this cycle on top of $25 million to the House GOP campaign wing, predicted to a friendly crowd in Bay City, Mich., that “on November 9, you might be waking up late because you were out at the victory party really, really late.”
Unmentioned amid Scalise’s pre-election celebration was what awaits him and House Republicans’ agenda next year if they do capture the chamber. The Louisianan, who’s set to become majority leader should his party reclaim the House, repeatedly asserted to crowds that the conference’s “Commitment to America” blueprint shows “exactly” what they’d do in the majority — yet party leaders still haven’t drilled down into the details.
And the general promises they’ve made won’t be so simple to fulfill once they take power. For now, though, Scalise and his crew of rising Republican lawmakers were content with avoiding the messy details of legislating.
Asked about concessions the House GOP might seek on a future debt limit vote, for instance, Scalise said simply that “now is not the time to negotiate the debt limit,” arguing that the Biden administration hasn’t yet genuinely sought to meet and work with House GOP leadership. “There’s things we want to address.”
He went on to describe his four-day-a-week sprint during the pre-election month as helping give “one final jolt of energy” to cash-hungry candidates in close races.
“You’re raising all your money prior to Labor Day to spend it all in a short period of time when people really start focusing on an election,” Scalise said. “And so, it’s those final days, where everybody is just worn to the edges.”
That gave Scalise’s swing a much different vibe than the large rallies and open events that are common in the earlier months of a campaign. To convince GOP donors to open up their frayed pocketbooks one last time, Scalise was ushered before small groups of supporters and candidates who saw his presence in their district as a sign of burgeoning GOP influence.
On Tuesday, Scalise joined Michigan GOP candidate Paul Junge and roughly 40 supporters who flocked to a windowless meeting room in a local manufacturing plant to hear Scalise and Junge talk about serving as a check on the Biden administration. Junge, a former Trump administration official, is working to oust Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee, whose family has represented the area for more than 40 years — though the seat became competitive after redistricting.
Then Scalise pushed on to stump in the Detroit suburbs for Tom Barrett, a Michigan state senator who’s looking to unseat Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin in the state’s newly drawn 7th Congressional District. Slotkin is one of 31 Democrats who helped power her party to the majority in 2018 but now face existential threats during a midterm that’s swinging away from them.
Barrett and Slotkin are on pace to have one of the most expensive House races of the midterms, with millions of dollars dropped on the airwaves each month. Underscoring the intensity of the campaign, Scalise’s crew was joined at the Barrett event by Michigan GOP candidate John James, Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) and former Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.).
Scalise and his colleagues tuned into the Fetterman-Oz debate on their way from Michigan to Utica, where they appeared at a bar event for New York GOP candidate Brandon Williams before pushing on to Binghamton, where they stopped by a country club event for Republican hopeful Marc Molinaro.
Both Williams and Molinaro are vying against Democratic challengers for swing seats; Williams is running against Francis Conole for retiring Rep. John Katko’s (R-N.Y.) seat, and Molinaro is squaring off against Josh Riley to represent a newly drawn district that includes part of the Hudson Valley.
In separate interviews, Junge, Barrett and Molinaro all touted their ability to draw the likely future House majority leader as a sign their races are in play. One Michigan GOP official even excitedly accepted an autographed Commitment to America one-pager from Scalise.
“It shows folks here in the district that this district really is in play,” Junge said in an interview after his event with Scalise. “I think they’re excited about seeing Republicans from all over the country come to support what I’m doing.”
Barrett noted that Scalise’s visit is a “great signal to the donors that are here that this is the utmost important race to focus on.”
He’s hardly the only GOP leader to lend their cred to candidates. Minority Leader and speaker frontrunner Kevin McCarthy, as well as National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Tom Emmer, are among the senior Republicans also crisscrossing the country in the final days before the midterms.
Scalise was joined by his chief deputy whip, Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Ohio GOP candidate Max Miller. And of course, like his fellow top Republicans elsewhere on the map, Scalise used his stump speech to blast Democrats.
But his other rhetorical flourishes offered clues to how he would help shape messaging for a future majority: Scalise cited former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s departure from the Democratic Party to argue that his rivals are too far-left; he praised Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin as a “glimmer of hope” for flipping the state red last year; and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks‘ (R-Iowa) 2020 victory by just 6 votes powered a reminder that every vote counts.
Befitting the friendliness of the crowds, Scalise and his colleagues fielded questions that ranged from how they would stop the Biden administration’s spending and executive orders to the tight Senate races in Georgia and Pennsylvania to the need to investigate President Joe Biden’s eldest son, Hunter Biden.
And the avoidance of challenging topics — like how they’ll handle the need to raise the debt limit, or whether they’ll try to make Trump-era tax cuts permanent — didn’t break the Republicans’ stride on a trip that felt as much about chemistry-building as it did about fundraising. Scalise’s traveling partners predicted that their camaraderie on the road would help their work on the Hill go more smoothly.
“It does the same thing in the military or any team sport,” said Miller.
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