The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
• Wisconsin: A day of maximal chaos in Wisconsin ended with two conservative courts insisting Tuesday's election go forward and limiting absentee voting, moves that threaten to prevent countless voters from participating and render the results illegitimate.
On Monday afternoon, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order postponing the election—which includes a presidential primary and races for state and local office—to June 9. Republicans, however, have bitterly opposed such a delay and immediately challenged the order before the state Supreme Court. Hours later, the court's four conservatives who heard the case blocked Evers' order, with both liberal justices dissenting. As a result, the state was left with no choice but to proceed with in-person voting Tuesday, despite the serious risks to public health and a crippled elections infrastructure.
Not long thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an order made last Thursday by a lower court, which said that voters could cast absentee ballots so long as election officials received them by April 13, regardless of when they were postmarked. In a 5-4 ruling—which, like the Wisconsin high court's decision, fell along strictly ideological lines—the court's conservatives ruled that all ballots must be postmarked by April 7.
This means that those who have the misfortune to receive their ballots late—a distinct possibility for many, given the huge surge in requests—now face an impossible choice, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in a dissent: They must either risk their health by voting in person on Tuesday, or disenfranchise themselves by not voting at all. The same holds true for anyone who was unable to request a ballot, as well as the many groups of voters who cannot vote by mail, such as those who are without housing.Campaign Action
And for those who do choose to head to the polls, they face an elections infrastructure in shambles. Due to a shortage of poll workers, Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, was set to open just five polling sites, down from its usual 180. The same problem has plagued jurisdictions across the state. Many voters will therefore be deprived of their right to vote, and efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus will be undermined.
But a deep cynicism motivates the right-wing hostility to letting voters participate in the election safely: With progressives mounting a competitive campaign to unseat an arch-conservative appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker on the state Supreme Court, Republicans appear to be counting on the pandemic to disproportionately suppress votes on the left.
In part that's because social distancing is more difficult in denser urban areas, which make up the bulk of the Democratic vote; voters in more sparsely populated rural areas are likely to be less deterred from voting in person, since they're apt to encounter fewer people at the polls or on their way there. In addition, polling shows Republicans are simply less concerned about the coronavirus in general, meaning they're more willing to ignore the danger to public health (and their own) that in-person voting poses.
And now, after decades of concerted effort, Republicans have succeeded in installing partisan ideologues on the bench—both federally and at the state level—who are only too happy to cloak the GOP's malevolent political goals in the language of legalese and bless them with the authority of the bench. In a searing irony, a message atop the Wisconsin Supreme Court's website explains that the courts are closed due to COVID-19—just above a link to the court's order saying Tuesday's election must take place despite COVID-19.
In his ruling last week delaying the deadline for absentee ballots to be received, Judge William Conley included a pregnant footnote. "The court will reserve," he wrote, "on the question as to whether the actual voter turnout, ability to vote on election day or overall conduct of the election and counting votes timely has undermined citizens' right to vote."
In other words, Conley suggested that he might entertain further challenges after the election if the all-important right to vote has been abridged in some way based on how the election is carried out. As things stand, it's impossible to see how those rights won't be sabotaged, but with the partisans in robes sitting above Conley, it's just as hard to see them permitting any remedy he might fashion to stand.
● Iowa: Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate says that he's considering the option of conducting November's general election entirely by mail. Previously, Pate said he'd mail absentee ballot applications to every active registered voter ahead of Iowa's June 2 downballot primaries. Pate says he considered making the primary all-mail but opted not to after talking to officials in Washington and Oregon, who described the long timeframes that had been needed to convert their states to mail voting.
● Montana: Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton says that all 56 Montana counties plan to conduct the state's June 2 presidential and downballot primaries by mail, an option that Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock recently made available.
● Virginia: Republicans in Virginia's 7th Congressional District have indefinitely postponed their April 25 convention and have voted to sue the Board of Elections to seek an exemption from Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. Officials are also considering alternate methods of conducting their convention, such as online or by mail. The committee must pick a nominee by June 9. Republicans in the 5th District, who face the same situation, are meeting on Sunday to discuss their plans.
● KY-Sen: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently went up with a commercial that praised him for the coronavirus economic bill, and Marine veteran Amy McGrath is now out with a response ad. The narrator declares that McConnell is "already taking a victory lap against the coronavirus in TV ads, even though medical experts say hundreds of thousands of Americans could die." The Democrat's ad also takes McConnell to task for blocking "emergency research until drug companies could overcharge for vaccines."
● South Dakota: Candidate filing closed last week for South Dakota's June 2 primary, and the state has a list of contenders available here. A primary runoff will take place on Aug. 11 in races where no candidate took more than 35% of the vote.
However, both the primary and the general election should be quiet this year in this very red state. GOP Sen. Mike Rounds faces an intra-party challenge from state Rep. Scyller Borglum, who raised very little cash in 2019. Rep. Dusty Johnson also drew a challenge from former state Rep. Liz Marty May, who narrowly lost re-election last cycle.
● WV-Gov: Democratic state Sen. Ron Stollings is out with a spot ahead of the June primary focused on the coronavirus. Stollings, who works as a physician, appears in his lab coat and tells the audience, "Regarding the coronavirus, I'm so glad we were able to get $2 million in the budget to help fight that. That was my amendment."
Stollings spends the rest of the ad telling the audience to use "good common sense" during the pandemic. He says to "assume everyone has the coronavirus. They don't, but that way, you will socially distance yourself and you'll use hand washing techniques." He also urges the viewer, "Do not go around your loved ones, your older loved ones, if you're sick."
● CA-25: The DCCC has launched a $1 million ad campaign against Republican Mike Garcia that the Los Angeles Times reports will run until the May 12 special election. Politico reports that $930,000 of this is going to cable TV and another $42,000 will be for Spanish-language commercials, while the balance will be for digital advertising.
The DCCC's opening spot alludes to the coronavirus without mentioning it directly: The narrator says, "More than ever we need a leader who will put our health and safety first." The commercial goes on to say, "But Mike Garcia would let insurance companies deny coverage for pre-existing conditions … and hike up costs for life-saving drugs." The commercial then praises Democrat Christy Smith for refusing to "take a dime from pharmaceutical companies."
● FL-19: Physician William Figlesthaler uses his first ad ahead of the August GOP primary to tell the audience that "career politicians from both parties have failed" to handle the coronavirus. The candidate uses an image of Bernie Sanders to represent Democrats who "want socialized medicine," while the late John McCain stands in for the establishment Republicans Figlesthaler says "failed to implement President Trump's aggressive free market health care solutions."
● KY-04: GOP Rep. Thomas Massie is up with an ad portraying him as a loyal Donald Trump ally while ignoring that Trump called him "a disaster for America, and for the Great State of Kentucky" less than two weeks ago. Massie also doesn't mention Todd McMurtry, who is his opponent in the June primary.
● MI-13: Target-Insyght is out with a survey of the August Democratic primary conducted from March 31 to April 2 that gives Rep. Rashida Tlaib a 43-34 advantage in her rematch against Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. Back in July, well before Jones kicked off her campaign, the same firm found Tlaib with a far larger 56-19 lead. Jones, who entered the race on March 25, announced on Thursday that she had tested positive for COVID-19 but added she was "not experiencing any of the horrific symptoms associated with the coronavirus."
● NM-02: A recently formed super PAC called Citizens United for NM is spending at least $47,000 on a commercial attacking 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell ahead of the June GOP primary to take on Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. This group was created by Butch Mathews, who owns a trucking company that works in the state's oil and gas industry, and it donated to Herrell's main intra-party foe, oil businesswoman Claire Chase.
The commercial says that in 2016, Herrell sent out emails "to undermine Trump's campaign for president" and also "used taxpayer funds to attend an anti-Trump soiree at a San Diego hotel where they hung a Trump piñata from the ceiling." The commercial comes several months after Chase ran into problems when her old 2016 social media posts attacking Trump surfaced.
Virginia allows parties to nominate candidates through party conventions or through a party-run firehouse primary, so not every November matchup will be decided in June. Both parties are holding primaries for Senate, but the situation varies in House seats: The GOP is hosting primaries in only five of the 11 congressional districts, while Democrats are doing primaries everywhere except for the safely red 9th Congressional District.
Taylor initially decided to launch a longshot challenge to Sen. Mark Warner, but he announced in January that he would instead seek a rematch against Luria. Navy veteran and 2010 candidate Ben Loyola was already running, though, and he decided to remain in the contest. Loyola has the support of former Rep. Scott Rigell, who defeated him 40-27 in the primary for an open seat in 2010 and retired in 2016. Navy veteran Jarome Bell is also running, but he didn’t report raising any money during the final months of 2019.
Taylor is the frontrunner to win the GOP nod, but Team Red may still benefit from a different nominee. Taylor’s staff was exposed during the 2018 campaign for forging signatures on behalf of Democrat-turned-independent Shaun Brown (who was booted off the ballot by a judge), and Democrats ran ads slamming Taylor's campaign for its skullduggery.
The story has not gone away since Taylor's defeat. Last month, a former Taylor staffer pleaded guilty for her part in the scheme, and the local prosecutor said the "investigation is still ongoing" and that we're "likely to see more" indictments to come. Taylor himself has consistently denied any knowledge of the scheme, but his staff had previously claimed the congressman was indeed aware of their plans.
● VA-05: While the GOP opted to select its nominee through a convention, Democrats decided to hold a primary here instead. This seat, which includes Charlottesville and the south-central part of the state, moved from 53-46 Romney to 53-42 Trump, but Democrats are hoping that the ugly GOP nomination battle between freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman and Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good will give them an opening.
Four Democrats filed to compete in the primary. EMILY’s List is backing Claire Russo, while VoteVets is supporting fellow Marine veteran Roger Dean Huffstetler, who unsuccessfully ran here in 2018. Physician Cameron Webb and Rappahannock County Supervisor John Lesinski are also running.
● House: House Majority PAC, which is the second-largest spender on House races among outside groups on the Democratic side, has announced that it's reserved a total of $51 million in fall TV time in 29 different media markets. We've assembled this new data into a spreadsheet, but as you'll see, it's organized by market rather than district, so we've also included our best guesses as to which House seats HMP is specifically targeting or defending.
The reason these buys are organized this way is because advertising can only be booked market by market. The geographic regions served by particular TV stations rarely correspond with political boundaries, and the reverse is true as well.
About half of the nation's 435 congressional districts are contained within a single media market, while the other half cross two or more (sprawling Montana's lone House district reaches into nine different markets, the most in the country). Conversely, all but a couple dozen of the 900-plus media markets in the U.S. overlap with two or more congressional districts; jumbo-sized New York City, for instance, covers all or part of 34 different House seats in four different states. Inevitably, this mismatch means that many TV watchers will wind up seeing ads for districts they don't live in.
Most importantly, these reservations give us an early window into which races HMP expects to be competitive, but they don't tell us everything. As Politico notes, most of these media markets will likely attract hordes of ad money from presidential and Senate campaigns, so HMP is reserving now to lock in cheaper rates before high demand for TV time brings prices up. HMP can afford to wait, though, to book ads in competitive House seats located in markets like Los Angeles and Salt Lake City since there won't be nearly as much competition for airtime there.
As we alluded to just above, HMP included several markets in this first wave of reservations that contain at least a portion of several different competitive House seats, most notably Philadelphia. If you're interested in knowing exactly which media markets cover which congressional districts across the country, naturally we've got all that data for you. It's what we used, in fact, to hone our guesses as to which seats HMP cares about.
However, it's still too early to know how much money the PAC will direct towards each race. Often, major outside groups will change their planning based on how individual contests seem to be shaping up.
In 2018, for instance, the NRCC reserved a large chunk of TV time in the pricey Miami media market but, initially, it only used those bookings to air ads defending Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida's 26th District. Late in the cycle, though, the NRCC put some of that reserved airtime to work in an effort to save the open 27th District, which it had previously appeared to give up on.
Around that same time, the committee made the opposite move in the Las Vegas market. The NRCC reserved millions there well before Election Day, and it initially seemed that it would spend to try to flip both Nevada's 3rd and 4th Districts. In October, though, the NRCC decided to direct all its money towards helping former Rep. Cresent Hardy in the 4th District, and it didn't end up spending in the 3rd District at all.
None of these deck chair rearrangements wound up mattering, though: Republicans ultimately lost all four of these races in what was a terrible year for the GOP. But they're a good reminder that TV reservations often do not reveal the entire House battlefield.
● WA-LG: Retiring Rep. Denny Heck recently filed paperwork with the state to run for lieutenant governor, though the Democrat has not said he’s in yet. The filing deadline for Washington’s August top-two primary is May 15.
Heck surprised political observers in December when he announced that he would not seek a fifth term in his reliably blue seat. In an unusually candid letter, Heck described both the many things he'd loved about serving in Congress but also admitted he'd grown "discouraged," explaining that "countless hours I have spent in the investigation of Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry have rendered my soul weary." Last month, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib made an unexpected decision of his own when he revealed that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election and would instead leave politics to become a Jesuit.
If Heck goes forward with a campaign to succeed Habib, he’ll be the second retiring House member this cycle to run for a lieutenant governor’s post. Utah Rep. Rob Bishop confirmed back in July that he’d leave the House, and the Republican later announced in January that he’d serve as former state party chair Thomas Wright’s running mate.
However, both Heck and Bishop would be running for office under very different rules. In Utah, Wright and Bishop will either win or lose the June primary together as a ticket; if they clear the primary, they’d also both be elected or defeated together in the general election. In Washington, though, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor compete separately in both the top-two primary and the general election.