• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG

͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
sunny Washington
sunny Sharm El-Sheikh
thunderstorms Aspen
rotating globe
November 9, 2022


Sign up for our free newsletters
Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Good morning Washington! Good morning Aspen!

You’ll enjoy my chat with Aspen’s Adam Frisch, the Democratic locked in a surprising too-close-to-call contest with high-profile MAGA star Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s 3rd District. Frisch was clear in saying “I don’t want to get ahead of my skis” and respects the vote counting process — he’s currently  64 votes ahead with 99% of the vote counted — but he goes into surgical detail on why this seat was an attractive opportunity. Frisch says people have now started returning his calls.

Joseph Zeballos-Roig reports some Democrats think that the dynamics of a GOP with a razor-thin majority could be a nightmare and make achieving a debt limit deal vastly more complex.

AND: Morgan Chalfant was in the room at the White House when President Joe Biden took a victory lap “with a pep in his step” mocking press and pundits for predicting a red wave which he said “didn’t happen.” In One Good Text, Kadia Goba queries Rep. Madeleine Dean on how she and John Fetterman scored in Pennsylvania. AND in Another Good Text, former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton says that “Trumpian, Neo-isolationist candidates fared very poorly, which is good news.”

PLUS: David Weigel notes that after non-partisan redistricting commissions rewrote legislative maps in Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, Democrats appear ascendant in state houses controlled by Republicans for years.

Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here!


White House: President Biden and Vice President Harris will speak at a DNC event at the Howard Theatre in Washington this afternoon. Then, Biden turns his focus squarely to climate and foreign policy as he jets off for a trip abroad for stops at COP27, an ASEAN meeting and the G20 (where he’ll meet face-to-face with Chinese leader Xi Jinping).

Chuck Schumer: Whether Schumer retains his job as Senate majority leader may well rest on another Georgia Senate runoff in only 26 days.

Mitch McConnell: The Kentucky Republican says he’s not in the forecasting business on whether the GOP wins the Senate. “I don’t deal in feelings. The question is, they’ve got to count the votes and then we’ll figure out where we are,” he told ABC News.

Nancy Pelosi: The Speaker led her first post-election caucus meeting Wednesday and seems to be continuing her farewell (?) tour by announcing she’ll be joining a CODEL to COP 27 in Egypt.

Kevin McCarthy: After Republicans did much worse than expected on election night, the Republican leader has to be considering his next move with the House Freedom Caucus who could upend his chances as House speaker if the GOP has a slim majority.

Need To Know

Biden took a victory lap on Wednesday, delighting in the lack of a “giant red wave” as the balance of power in the next Congress was still undecided. He also again voiced his intention to run for reelection in 2024 but said he would make a final decision early next year. Some White House allies think the midterm results – while not yet final – will bolster a decision to run.

House Republicans for months have been jockeying for leadership seats when (and if) they take the majority. But Tuesday’s deflated returns have caused some consternation around who should lead the party. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, for the most part, appears to be the presumptive Speaker of the House. Especially after Rep. Steve Scalise announced his bid for majority leader and denied any interest in opposing McCarthy. Some have floated Rep. Jim Jordan, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, as a potential spoiler even though the Ohio lawmaker and his office have repeatedly denied wanting the position.

Rep. Elise Stefanik is on track to keep her seat as the chair of the conference. That is, of course, if she can stave off the ambitious freshman from Florida, Rep. Byron Donalds who announced a long-shot campaign months ago.

All eyes are on the whip race. After election night disappointed, some Republicans are second guessing their support for current National Republican Congressional Committee chair Tom Emmer. But the same rings true for Jim Banks who, for some, is too Trump-aligned — which has become less of a draw in the last few days. This leaves a window open for Georgia Rep. Drew Ferguson, who could serve as a spoiler. As one member put it, “I’m voting for Drew. I can’t vote for either of those guys.”

A new memo from the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund shared first with Semafor outlines what the organization calls the “success of the MAGA Republican branding project” for Democrats in the 2022 midterms. Democrats fended off a Republican wave and outperformed in many races across the country despite high inflation and low approval ratings for Biden. CAP’s political arm argues that’s in part due to the group coordinating with progressive allies to reframe the midterm election not as a referendum on the sitting president, but a choice between progress under Biden and GOP extremism on social and economic issues. “Rather than reward the party out of power with an overwhelming mandate, Americans viewed the election as a choice and rejected the alternative,” the CAP memo says.

Biden said at his post-midterms press conference that he believes Elon Musk’s “cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries” are worth looking into. Musk, who just bought Twitter, has business ties to China. The billionaire hasn’t responded to Biden’s comments yet.

— Kadia Goba and Joseph Zeballos-Roig and Morgan Chalfant

The Map

Arizona: Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly is still leading Republican challenger Blake Masters. Democrat Katie Hobbs is still leading Republican Kari Lake in the gubernatorial race. There’s plenty left to be counted and few confident predictions.

Nevada: Democrats got encouraging news last night as the remaining mail ballots being counted strongly favor their candidates so far. If the trend holds with the outstanding mail votes, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is likely to win and Gov. Steve Sisolak could potentially hold on.

Colorado: Democrat Adam Frisch is leading Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert by less than 100 votes in the race for the state’s 3rd congressional district — a margin that would trigger an automatic recount under state law.

Georgia: The race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker will go to a runoff on Dec. 6, a contest that could ultimately decide the balance of power in the Senate. It’s the second runoff election in the Peach State in as many years.

Oregon: The Oregonian has called the race for Democrat Tina Kotek over Republican Christine Drazan, but the networks still list the race as too close to call.

New York: Republicans took out DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, who conceded to Republican Mike Lawler on Wednesday. Republicans pumped millions into the race to unseat Maloney in the final weeks leading up to the midterms.

Wisconsin: Republican Sen. Ron Johnson defeated Democrat Mandela Barnes, holding onto his seat for a third term.

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: House Democrats are planning to hold leadership elections on Nov. 30, after Thanksgiving.

Playbook: The House Freedom Caucus is asking that the GOP leadership elections — planned for next week — be delayed and floating a potential challenger to Kevin McCarthy if he doesn’t accede to demands about rule changes.

Axios: Some Trump allies are “considering distancing themselves from his presumptive 2024 presidential campaign” after the former president was blamed for some of the disappointing results in the midterms.

Steve Clemons

A conversation with Adam Frisch, the Democrat who dared to take on Lauren Boebert

Adam Frisch, a Democratic candidate from Colorado, running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, appears in an undated handout photo provided September 28, 2022.
Steve Barrett/Handout via REUTERS

I met Adam Frisch in the Spring of 2022 and found him to be extremely gracious and yet determined. Sort of a really nice unstoppable honey badger. He told me he was planning to run in the Democratic primary and, if successful, wanted to challenge and beat one of the House’s most flamboyant MAGA idols, Rep. Lauren Boebert, whom he thought was achieving nothing but embarrassment for her district.

He was a businessman, policy wonk, long distance skier, doing the kind of ski trekking where you have to go up the mountains as much as down them. He seems to care a great deal about good public policy and has Republican and Democrat friends who also care about policy and spend time talking about real issues with him in fancy haunts around Aspen.

With 99% of the vote counted in CO-3, Frisch leads Boebert by 64 votes. Under Colorado law, that’s less than a 0.5% difference given the total vote counts and thus there will be a recount.

Here is part of my exchange with Frisch, edited for length and clarity, on why and how he took on an incumbent that few saw as vulnerable and beatable. The full conversation is here.

STEVE CLEMONS:  So unpack it for us. How did you do this? This was a race that I knew from knowing you was going to be hot, but most other people said there weren’t going to be any surprises there.

A year ago, Rep. Boebert made some comments. Don’t ask me what the exact words were, but they were not helpful and they were disrespectful. And she’s said a lot worse. And I’m just thinking, “Oh my goodness. Not good.”

And at that time, I’m thinking, let me pull up some numbers and see if there’s any way she or others can lose.  And, you know, you have these five or six people in “The Squad” on the left, and you have eight or nine or ten on the right. And you put them all together, and I don’t want to make any moral equivalency here, but there are 15 or so of those brand name loud ones on either side, and 14 of them have 65% to 80% wins in 2020 in the general election.

But Boebert was at 51%. I realized, oh my goodness, she won 51% to 46%. And if only 5% of the voters switched their vote in 2020, she would have lost. On top of that, she didn’t even win her home county. Those who know her best don’t care for her.

I started to see some tea leaves that maybe the Trumpism is starting to go down. But for better or worse, the only place in the entire country where there’s any mathematical chance to see one of these extremists defeated is Colorado-3. And I knew that somehow there’s a way to make this an emotional win for the country and send a message of enough of the hate, enough of the yelling and screaming.

STEVE CLEMONS: So you’re sort of describing yourself Adam, though not completely, as a kind of Joe Manchin of Colorado. Do you expect that to be welcomed by your fellow members in the Democratic caucus, or will they give you a tough time like they do him?

ADAM FRISCH: People are pushing me like, “I don’t want you to be a Joe Manchin,” “Are you going to be like Joe Manchin?” but said derisively. I’m like, listen, I’m going to be my own person, but I think we need to realize Colorado-3 are ranchers and farmers. It’s 25% Dems. And we have a unique opportunity to get rid of an extremist and try to build a coalition.

And so I’m not going to attach myself to AOC, Nancy Pelosi, [Arizona Senator Kyrsten] Sinema, or Manchin. I am a Western Slope Democrat, who is going to be more conservative.

A couple things that resonated with the non D’s: For 20 years, I would say that if there was a “get stuff done” party, I would be in that party, but that party is not doing very well right now. And our country is suffering for that. I think our district is especially suffering for that because of who our representative is.

Two, people want the circus to stop. That was probably the best five or six words that I used all the time. And again, it resonated with everybody on the right and the left and the center.

And then I have this buddy I went to middle school and high school with Dean Phillips, D-Minn. who is in the Congress, and he’s in the Problem Solvers Caucus.  Dean used this term “Angertainment” about a year ago on some little newscast.

And I’m like, Oh, my goodness, that is exactly the best definition of where the sad part of our political parties are on either side — getting people angry, turning it into entertainment, generating money, generating media off of it. And our district is represented by the Queen of Angertainment, along with Marjorie Taylor Greene. When I talked about wanting this “angertainment industry” to stop, that resonated with a lot of people.

State Legislatures

Dems Run Up Legislature Gains

After surprisingly robust wins on Tuesday, Democrats in Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania expected to control state legislatures that Republicans had dominated for years — a down-ballot shift with implications for the next election.

In Michigan, where a non-partisan commission drew legislative maps for the first time this cycle, Democrats captured the House and Senate for the first time since the 1980s. In Minnesota, they were on track to keep their House majority and flip the state Senate. And in Pennsylvania, House Democratic leader Joanna McClinton declared that the electorate had “overwhelmingly rejected division” and made her the first female speaker. The Associated Press has not called the key races there.

“We’re about to have a bunch of majorities that have two years to deliver results for people,” said Daniel Squadron, a founder of the States Project, which poured millions into legislative races.

It was a big change from 2020, when Democrats fell short in key state legislature races around the country ahead of redistricting. This time, Democrats won races for the same reasons they held off strong Republican challenges in the House and Senate — dominant performances in the suburbs, which many credited to the importance of abortion rights this cycle. The extra money also helped them exploit GOP mistakes, like one vulnerable Michigan incumbent’s evasive answer on whether Joe Biden had won the 2020 election.

The wins also staved off a party nightmare scenario, in which Republicans could use control of election processes in swing states to challenge results in the next presidential election. Narrow wins that prevented Republicans from winning supermajorities in Wisconsin and North Carolina — doing so could have let them override Democratic governors’ vetoes — will have the same effect.

— David Weigel

House Beat

Debt Ceiling ‘Nightmare Scenario’?

Democrats are celebrating their strong performance in the House, where Republicans look likely to take, at best, a narrow majority.

But some Democrats are also starting to worry that a slimmed-down House Republican majority could make for a more unstable negotiating partner than a larger “red wave” version.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., told Semafor on Wednesday that he believes conservatives will gain immense influence if House Republican leaders like Kevin McCarthy have few votes to spare. He cast himself as a potential Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a Democrat who often played spoiler on his party’s agenda in the 50-50 Senate.

One House Democratic aide referred to the prospect of dealing with a narrow House GOP majority as “the nightmare scenario” for raising the debt ceiling, leaving Republican leaders constantly struggling to appease their most confrontational members. Already, McCarthy may have to make concessions to conservatives just to clinch his long-sought speakership.

“I think this dynamic probably makes it much more likely that there’s a push to do a big [omnibus spending bill] and take care of the debt ceiling in the lame-duck,” one Senate Democratic aide told Semafor. “If you’re Mitch McConnell, you probably want to get that stuff out of the way, too.”

Some Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are already pushing to defuse the threat before a Congress adjourns late next month, HuffPost reported. They also seem likely to face pressure from corporate America, which is skittish about any unnecessary tremors in the financial market.

“I think business has awakened to the fact that the debt limit is coming,” Janice Mays, a former Democratic staff director on the House Ways and Means panel and now a managing director of tax policy at PwC, told Semafor. “Businesses are nervous about the debt limit and the push to the cliff.”

— Joseph Zeballos-Roig


One Good Text With... Rep. Madeleine Dean


One More Good Text With... John Bolton


WHAT THE LEFT ISN’T READING: The percentage of auto loans in the U.S. that have been delinquent for at least 60 days hit the highest rate in over a decade, according to a new estimate.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: Voters in the red state of South Dakota voted Tuesday in favor of an amendment to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

— with our partners at Ground News

Staff Picks
How Are We Doing?

If you’re liking Semafor Principals, consider sharing with your family, friends and colleagues. It will make their day.

To make sure this newsletter reaches your inbox, add steve.clemons@semafor.com to your contacts. If you use Gmail, drag this newsletter over to your ‘Primary’ tab. And please send any feedback our way, we want to hear from you.

Thanks for getting up early with us. For more Semafor, explore all of our newsletters.

— Steve Clemons