More Republicans look to join the House ‘What coronavirus threat?’ caucus

Donald Trump isn’t the only Republican downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. He’s joined in that disregard for human life by many Republican lawmakers—and by many of the Republican candidates who hope to reclaim some ground in the House in 2020. That’s both because this is Trump’s party and because Republicans have long put their version of the economy (the economy of the rich and corporations) above the health and lives of working people.

Missouri’s Rep. Ann Wagner, for instance, went out on March 7 and, insisting on her knowledge of the situation—“We have had multiple, multiple briefings at the federal level for some time”—went on to assure the public, “As I said, this is, it's clear that the risk to our US public is low.” 

Let's turn it all blue. The whole government, at every level. Can you give $1 to each and every one of these Daily Kos-endorsed candidates? If you can't, how many can you help?

Former Democrat Jeff Van Drew, who became a Republican over the impeachment of Donald Trump, also downplayed the threat, insisting that “This is not mass destruction. This is not 9-11. This is a terrible situation that has happened. But at the same time, we know that we deal with the flu every year.” That was on March 11. Van Drew is from New Jersey, which has now lost more than 16,000 people to COVID-19—more than five times the death toll of 9/11 as a whole.

Other congressional Republicans have postured against public health restrictions, like Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, who encouraged a church to hold services despite a police order not to do so. “Hold the services anyway, using common sense spacing, separation, etc. ... encourage elderly to stay home. But this kind of authoritarian nonsense must be challenged. #SicSemperTyrannis,” Roy tweeted. The church was in Virginia, far from Roy’s home state.

Wagner, Van Drew, and Roy are not alone in downplaying the threat or opposing public health restrictions—and if the Republican Party has its way, they’ll get a whole lot more company after November’s elections.

Company like Michelle Steel, challenging Rep. Harley Rouda in California’s 22nd Congressional District, who sounded a lot like Trump on March 22 when she said “hopefully the weather gets better this will all disappear.” At the end of April, she complained that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to close crowded beaches was “a clear example of unnecessary government overreach,” unnecessary because “Orange County has been successful in flattening the curve.” At the time, Orange County had reported 2,400 COVID-19 cases. That number has risen to more than 50,000.

In South Carolina, Nancy Mace is challenging Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham. On June 8, she said “Our health has not been adversely affected in the way we were told it was going to be. We should have opened up sooner.” COVID-19 cases had already started rising in South Carolina at that point, and would be over 1,000 new cases a day for most of the following two months.

In Texas, Sheriff Troy Nehls, who is competing against Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni for an open seat, has squawked loudly about mask rules, insisting “this government MANDATE from Harris County is unnecessary, unconstitutional, and unAmerican. It’s an unprecedented overreach which looks more like a communist dictatorship than a free Republic.” That was April 22. Texas, of course, went on to have a major spike.

Right now it’s impossible to pick apart how much Republicans downplay coronavirus and rail against restrictions aimed at slowing its spread because that’s what Donald Trump does, and how much it’s because they themselves, independently, think if they clap loud enough it will just go away. Either way, though, Republicans join Trump in owning the United States’ pandemic failures. And they must not get the power to make things even worse.

Morning Digest: Darrell Issa thought he had an easy path to a comeback. A new poll says guess again

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.

Leading Off

CA-50: While California Republican Darrell Issa looked like a sure bet to return to the House after he narrowly prevailed in the March top-two primary, a new SurveyUSA poll finds him locked in an unexpectedly close open seat contest with Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar. The poll, which was done for KGTV-TV San Diego and the San Diego Union-Tribune, shows Issa up just 46-45. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the sample finds Joe Biden ahead 48-45 in California's 50th Congressional District, an ancestrally Republican seat in inland San Diego County that backed Donald Trump 55-40 in 2016.

This is the first independent poll we've seen since the top-two six months ago. Last month, Campa-Najjar released numbers from Strategies 360 that found him down 47-43, but his campaign did not mention any presidential results. So far, though, no major outside groups on either side have booked air time here, though that could always change over the next two months.

Campaign Action

Issa infamously decided to run here the cycle after he retired as the congressman from the neighboring and more Democratic 49th District just ahead of the 2018 blue wave, and it's possible that his weak connections to this area are hurting him. SurveyUSA finds Issa with an even 32-32 favorable rating, while Campa-Najjar sports a 37-26 score.

If SurveyUSA is right, though, then there's also been a big shift to the left in this seat over just the last two years. Back in 2018, then-Rep. Duncan Hunter managed to fend off Campa-Najjar 52-48 even though the Republican incumbent was under indictment at the time for misusing campaign money. That was a much better performance than Democrats usually pull off in this area, but the fact that this district still decided to return Hunter to Congress even in a terrible year for Republicans didn't seem to bode well for Campa-Najjar's second campaign, especially after Hunter took a plea deal in late 2019 and resigned.

We'll need to see if more polls find a close race, and we'll also be keeping an eye out to see if major outside groups spend here. However, if this contest is tight, Campa-Najjar will have the resources to run a serious campaign. The Democrat ended June with a $890,000 to $516,000 cash-on-hand, though Issa is more than capable of self-funding if he needs to.

Senate

AK-Sen: A newly formed PAC called Independent Alaska has launched an ad campaign supporting Al Gross, an independent who won the Democratic nomination last month. The commercial touts Gross' time as a fisherman and a doctor and informs the audience, "Dr. Al's father was Alaska's AG [attorney general], and his neighbor and fishing partner growing up was Republican Gov. Jay Hammond." The narrator concludes, "We're in a pandemic. It's time to send a doctor to D.C." There is no word on the size of the buy.

GA-Sen-B: Republican Rep. Doug Collins is running his first ad on broadcast TV, and he begins by saying of the appointed GOP incumbent, "Kelly Loeffler spent $30 million on slick ads telling lies—now it's my turn to tell the truth."

Collins continues, "I'm not a billionaire. I'm a state trooper's kid, a husband, a father, an Air Force chaplain and Iraq War veteran." He adds, "I'm President Trump's top defender against the sham impeachment, and yes, his preferred pick for the Senate." Trump reportedly did very much want Collins to be appointed to this seat, but he hasn't taken sides in the Nov. 3 all-party primary between the congressman and Loeffler.

On the Democratic side, pastor Raphael Warnock, who would be the state's first Black senator, is using his newest commercial to talk about his experiences with systemic racism. The narrator begins, "1982. A 12-year-old is accused of stealing and dragged out a store, told he looks suspicious because his hands are in his pockets." The audience then sees it's the candidate speaking as he continues, "I'm Raphael Warnock and that boy was me."

Warnock goes on, "Back then I didn't understand how much the system works against those without power and money, that the rules were different for some of us. Too often that's still true today, especially in Washington." Warnock ends by saying that it's time for this to change.

MI-Sen: The Glengariff Group's new poll for WDIV and the Detroit News finds Democratic Sen. Gary Peters leading Republican John James 44-41, while Joe Biden is ahead 47-42. Glengariff's last poll was all the way back in January, and it showed Peters up by a similar 44-40 spread.

MN-Sen: Citizens United (yes, the Citizens United) has launched what the National Journal's Dylan Wells reports is a six-figure buy supporting Republican Jason Lewis. The commercial, like Lewis' own ads, promotes Lewis as a supporter of the police and an opponent of violent mobs; both Lewis and Citizens United's spots also ignore racism and police brutality.

NC-Sen: Democrat Cal Cunningham has the first commercial we've seen anywhere focusing on allegations that the Russian government put out a bounty on American troops in Afghanistan. Cunningham says that his fellow veterans are the first ones to answer the call and continues, "So when [Republican Sen.] Thom Tillis fails to act while the Russians pay bounties for dead Americans, something is deeply wrong in Washington."

TX-Sen: Democrat MJ Hegar is airing her first TV ad of the general election as part of what her campaign says is a $1.5 million buy in six media markets that are home to 80% of the state's voters. As faint sounds of explosions are heard, the candidate tells the audience, "It was my third tour in Afghanistan. I was flying a medevac mission when I was shot through the windshield and we went down."

The camera gradually pans out to reveal a smoking helicopter in the canyon behind Hegar as she continues, "So I strapped myself to the skids of the helicopter that rescued us and returned fire on the Taliban as we flew to safety. For that I was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor." The candidate goes on, "I'm MJ Hegar, and we fought like hell to get everyone home safe that day. And I approved this message because my mission isn't over while Texas families are still in danger."

Gubernatorial

WV-Gov: Democrat Ben Salango is airing his first TV spot since he won the primary three months ago. As old photos from his childhood fill the screen, the candidate says, "I grew up in a two-bedroom trailer in Raleigh County. It was a big deal when we got our first washer and dryer."

Salango then goes after Republican Gov. Jim Justice, declaring, "My family worked hard to build a business and even harder to pay the bills. Jim Justice is a billionaire who's been sued over 600 times for not paying his bills. And who made a secret deal with the government he controls to give himself tax breaks." Salango concludes, "I mean c'mon. I'll never betray West Virginia like that. I was raised better."

House

CA-25: Democrat Christy Smith is running her first commercial since her defeat in the May special election. Smith talks about how her mother survived domestic violence and "rebuilt our lives" with a nursing degree from the local community college. The candidate says she went on to work three jobs to pay for her education at that same institution and went on to found an education nonprofit.

CA-48: In its opening TV spot for this race, the DCCC declares that Republican Michelle Steel's allies were at the center of a major corruption scandal, but she "voted to defund the anti-corruption unit in Orange County."

The ad is also running in Vietnamese, which makes this one of the very rare examples of an American political commercial that's aired on TV all or mostly in a language other than English or Spanish. Back in 2018, Democrat John Chiang ran a spot entirely in Mandarin in his unsuccessful bid for governor of California, while Republican Ed Gillespie added Korean subtitles to a commercial during his 2017 primary for governor of Virginia.

There have been a few instances of American political ads airing on the radio in a language other than English or Spanish (and obviously, without subtitles.) In 2016, Arizona Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick recorded some ads in Navajo, which she speaks, for her unsuccessful Senate bid. That same year, Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman's campaign did a Ukrainian radio ad for his re-election campaign.

IA-01: Back in July, Republican Ashley Hinson blamed her campaign staff after the New York Times reported that several op-eds credited to her, as well as material on her campaign site, were full of passages plagiarized from other sources, and the DCCC is using its first TV spot to go after Hinson over this.

The narrator begins, "In tough times, we need leaders we can trust. But Ashley Hinson was caught plagiarizing—word for word—from the Des Moines Register, the New York Times, even her opponent's own policy positions." He then focuses on Hinson's record, declaring, "And Hinson took thousands from the nursing home industry. When the Coronavirus struck—Hinson voted to protect them with special legal immunity. Instead of protecting seniors and workers."

OH-01: House Majority PAC has released a survey from the Democratic firm Normington Petts that shows Democrat Kate Schroder leading Republican Rep. Steve Chabot 50-46, while Joe Biden has a tiny 48-47 edge in this Cincinnati-based seat. We've seen a few other polls this year from Schroder and her allies that have found a tight race, while Republicans have yet to drop their own numbers.

HMP is also running a commercial that targets Chabot over the truly strange scandal that engulfed Chabot's campaign last year, a story that Schroder has also focused on in her ads. The spot begins by reminding viewers that Chabot became a member of Congress in 1995 when "[b]aseball was on strike" and "Toy Story debuted. The first one." The narrator continues, "But now, a confirmed FBI investigation into $123,000 missing from Chabot's campaign. And Chabot's campaign paid his son-in-law's company nearly $200,000." The narrator concludes, "Twenty-four years in Congress has taken its toll on Steve Chabot."

PA-01: Democrat Christina Finello's first general election ad focuses on her own struggles with college loans and healthcare. She says that, while she "understands the struggles of the middle class," Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick "votes with Trump. Giving tax cuts to the rich and ending protections for people with pre-existing conditions."

Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, uses his own ad to tout his endorsements from groups that usually pull for Democrats like the AFL-CIO, the League of Conservation Voters, and Everytown for Gun Safety, as well as the local police and firefighter unions. The congressman's mom also makes it clear she's backing Fitzpatrick.

SC-02: EMILY's List has endorsed Adair Ford Boroughs' campaign against Republican Rep. Joe Wilson.

TX-21: While freshman Republican Rep. Chip Roy has shown absolutely no desire to actually vote or behave like anything other than the far-right Freedom Caucus member that he is, the former Ted Cruz chief of staff is using his opening ad to portray himself as a bipartisan figure. Roy declares he'll "hold my party accountable if they're wrong, and work across party lines when it's right for Texas."

TX-23: Republican Tony Gonzales uses his first general election commercial to talk about how he went from growing up in an abusive home where he was abandoned by his father to the Navy.

Meanwhile, VoteVets has launched a $533,000 ad campaign against Gonzales. The ad stars an injured veteran who tells the audience that Gonzales "supports taking away health coverage from half a million veterans."

UT-04: The Congressional Leadership Fund is running a very rare positive TV commercial promoting Republican Burgess Owens, whom House Majority PAC recently began attacking.

CLF promotes Owens as a "pro-football star, political outsider, conservative, successful businessman, and mentor to troubled kids." As the ad shows footage of a football game, the narrator declares Owens will "heal our nation, tackling a virus and protecting the vulnerable." Those feel good themes are not, shall we say, the type of things that CLF likes to fill its ads with.

VA-02: This week, a third staffer from Republican Scott Taylor's 2018 campaign was indicted for allegedly submitting fraudulent signatures in order to get a former Democrat on the ballot as an independent that year. Special prosecutor John Beamer predicted that he would seek at least one additional indictment, and he said of Taylor, "He's part of the campaign and the whole campaign is under investigation."

Taylor is seeking a comeback against freshman Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, who narrowly unseated him in 2018. Last month, Taylor sent a cease-and-desist letter to Luria demanding that she stop making statements claiming that he is under investigation for ballot access fraud only for Beamer to publicly contradict him. Luria soon began running commercials focused on the ongoing scandal.

VA-05: Democrat Cameron Webb is up with two commercials that decry the "lies and dirty tricks" being waged by Republican Bob Good, who recently ran a truly racist spot against Webb.

In Webb's first ad, the narrator declares that the candidate "is not for defunding the police," and adds that "a senior Trump official is praising Webb." The commercial highlights the law enforcement officials backing Webb before the candidate himself appears and talks about his work in the Obama and Trump administrations and support for "free market solutions to bring healthcare costs down."

The second Webb spot stars several former sheriffs as well as Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Hingeley, who praise Webb and implore the audience not to let "Bob Good scare you from electing a good man."

Ballot Measures

CA Ballot: Probolsky Research has released the first poll we've seen of Prop. 15, the so-called "split roll" initiative that would scale back a significant part of the law passed by anti-tax crusaders in 1978, and finds it down 49-41. Probolsky has worked for Republicans in the past, but it says this survey was not done for a client.

The poll was taken just before the pro-Prop. 15 group Schools & Communities First launched its opening TV commercials. One ad declares that wealthy corporate tycoons "think they're entitled to tax handouts. Prop. 15 closes the loopholes." The narrator continues, "The richest 10% of corporate properties provide 92% of the revenue, while homeowners, renters, and small businesses are protected." The second spot argues, "Prop. 15 would raise billions of dollars that our communities and schools need" and would make "wealthy large corporations pay their fair share, while small businesses get a tax break."

As David Jarman has written, Prop. 15 would dramatically alter California's property tax landscape and lead to a massive increase in tax revenue by repealing a portion of 1978's Prop. 13. That measure limits the annual property tax on a particular property to no more than 1% of its assessed value and, most importantly, limits the increase in a property's assessed value to no more than 2% per year—even if its actual market value has soared. This has resulted in municipalities and school districts taking in revenues far smaller than they ought to be.

However, voters finally have their chance this fall to modify the system Prop. 13 set up decades ago. This year's Prop. 15 would essentially split the "roll" of properties every municipality maintains by requiring commercial and industrial properties to be reassessed at actual market value while keeping residential and agricultural properties under Prop. 13's rules.

Mayoral

Miami-Dade County, FL Mayor: On behalf of the Miami Herald, the Democratic pollster Bendixen & Amandi International is out with a survey that finds Democrat Daniella Levine Cava leading Republican Steve Bovo 39-32 in this November's officially nonpartisan contest. This sample also found Joe Biden ahead 55-38 in a county that supported Hillary Clinton 63-34.

Primary Result Recaps

NH-Sen: Corky Messner, a wealthy attorney endorsed by Donald Trump, beat retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc 51-42 in the Republican primary. Bolduc responded to his defeat by declaring that he wouldn't back Messner in the general election against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. "I will not support a man who is being investigated for fraud by the attorney general," Bolduc said, "No. I will not support him. I will not disgrace my name to support a man like that."

Last month, Mary Mullarkey, a former chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, asked that state's attorney general and secretary of state to investigate the charitable foundation run by Messner, who lived in Colorado until last year. Mullarkey's request came after the Washington Post reported that the Messner Foundation, whose stated purpose is to provide college scholarships to low-income students, had only awarded a grant to one student in its first 10 years of existence. However, despite what Bolduc said, there are no reports that a legal investigation is underway.

No matter what happens with this story, Messner will be in for a difficult race against Shaheen, a longtime figure in New Hampshire politics. A recent poll from the University of New Hampshire found Shaheen beating Messner 54-36, and no major groups have booked ad time here. Messner's ability to self-fund could still give him an opening if Donald Trump performs well in this swing state, though, so Daily Kos Elections is keeping it on the big board at Likely Democratic.

NH-Gov: State Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes won the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Gov. Chris Sununu by defeating Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky 52-48. On the GOP side, Nobody lost.  

Sununu has polled well during his tenure, and a recent survey from the University of New Hampshire found him beating Feltes 57-33. However, Sununu's allies at the RGA don't seem to think the governor is a lock in this swing state, since they reserved $3.6 million in television time for the general election earlier this year. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Likely Republican.

NH-01: Former Trump aide Matt Mowers, who had his old boss' endorsement in the Republican primary, beat former state party vice chair Matt Mayberry 60-26. Mowers will face freshman Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in the fall.

The 1st District, which includes eastern New Hampshire, has been very competitive turf for a long time, and both Barack Obama and Donald Trump only narrowly won it. Pappas, however, prevailed 54-45 during the 2018 blue wave, and he holds a huge financial edge over Mowers with less than two months to go before voting concludes. A recent poll from the University of New Hampshire also showed Pappas up 52-34, though we haven't seen any other numbers here.

Still, Team Blue isn't leaving anything to chance in this swing seat, and House Majority PAC has reserved $2 million for this race; Republicans have not yet booked any air time. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Lean Democratic.

NH State Senate, Where Are They Now?: Former Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes lost Tuesday's Democratic primary for New Hampshire's 15th State Senate District to Becky Whitley, a disability rights attorney, 41-33. This seat backed Hillary Clinton 58-37, and Whitley will be the clear favorite to succeed state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, who is the Democratic nominee for governor.

Ad Roundup