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.
● Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Illinois: With the coronavirus pandemic leading to widespread shutdowns, it appears that in-person voting in Tuesday's primary in Ohio will not go forward, though the three other states with elections Tuesday said they would proceed as planned.
On Monday evening, a judge rejected a request supported by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine to postpone the election until June 2, calling the idea a "terrible precedent," but DeWine responded with a defiant statement saying that "it simply isn't possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans." The governor later declared that the director of the state's Department of Health, Amy Acton, would "order the polls closed as a health emergency," which she did shortly before 11 PM ET.
Though the petition to delay the election was unopposed by the state, Franklin County Judge Richard Frye cited a litany of reasons not to postpone the primary. Among other factors, he noted that neither DeWine nor legislative leaders had called an emergency session of the legislature to address the matter. Adding to the confusion, the Republican speaker of the House, Larry Householder, said prior to the governor's last statement on Monday night that he opposed DeWine's efforts and insisted the election would indeed go forward on Tuesday.Campaign Action
DeWine's decision to ignore Frye's ruling could result in him and other officials, particularly Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, being held in contempt of court. However, as election law expert Ned Foley noted, Frye did not order the primary to proceed but rather denied a request that the election be delayed, meaning that Acton's order might not have defied a judicial command. DeWine also added that LaRose will "seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options."
At this point, if anyone were to succeed in a last-minute attempt to override DeWine and Acton, election administration would unfold disastrously. Many poll workers were mistakenly told to stay home Tuesday while matters were up in the air on Monday, and at least one told the Columbus Dispatch earlier in the evening that she still doesn't plan to open her polling site on Tuesday—and that was before Acton's order came down.
As of this writing just before midnight on Monday night, it appears that in-person voting will not go forward on Tuesday, assuming officials heed Acton's order and no further legal actions are forthcoming. That may not be a safe assumption, though: In response to DeWine's announcement, Republican state Rep. John Cross declared, "We have a constitutional crisis now in Ohio," and warned, "I will be fighting in the AM to keep our polling locations OPEN in the 83rd district with law enforcement as the Ohio Department of Health can not shut down an election."
As another election law expert, Rick Hasen, pointed out, while Acton may have the authority to close polling sites, that does not necessarily give DeWine the authority to reschedule primary day. It's possible this problem could be retroactively resolved, Hasen says, if the legislature were to pass a law setting a new date for in-person voting. If not, Ohio would find itself in the bizarre situation of trying to decide a primary election based solely on absentee votes.
LaRose, however, doesn't seem interested in waiting on lawmakers. He released his own memo in response to Acton's insisting that the primary had in fact been rescheduled for June 2 and forbidding local election officials "from tabulating and reporting any results until the close of polls" (which would be 7:30 PM ET) on that day.
Meanwhile, officials in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois all reiterated on Monday that they would proceed with in-person voting on Tuesday. However, whether the primaries end on Tuesday is a different question: Voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit in Florida late on Monday asking a federal court to extend the deadline to request an absentee ballot to March 24, and to order that election officials count all such ballots postmarked by that date and received by March 27.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to alter life in the United States, we’ve added a new section to the Digest specifically devoted to potential or actual changes to election dates and procedures. As these decisions are finalized, we will update both of our 2020 calendars: one for statewide primary dates and the other for key downballot elections.
● AL-Sen, AL-01, AL-02: On Sunday, GOP Secretary of State John Merrill requested an opinion from the state attorney general's office on whether Republican Gov. Kay Ivey could postpone the March 31 primary runoffs due to the coronavirus. Merrill said that Alabama law doesn't explicitly allow anyone to delay an election once it has been scheduled, but that he wanted Attorney General Steve Marshall to issue a legal opinion on whether Ivey had the authority to take this action now that she's declared a state of emergency.
For now, though, the GOP runoffs for the U.S. Senate and the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts are still set for March 31. Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, who is running in the 1st District, said Monday that he was suspending all of his political advertising due to the ongoing situation.
That same day, the anti-tax Club for Growth also announced that it was endorsing former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville in the Senate runoff and 2018 candidate Barry Moore in the race for the 2nd District. The Club threw its support behind former state Sen. Bill Hightower, who is competing with Carl, during the summer of last year.
● Kentucky: At the recommendation of Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has issued an executive order postponing Kentucky's primaries both for the presidential race and for downballot office from May 19 to June 23. To effect the change, Beshear and Adams relied on what one report described as a provision of law that had never before been used. Because Kentucky's filing deadline passed in January, it's unaffected by Beshear's order.
● New York: Officials in New York are considering postponing the state's presidential primary, which is set for April 28, and consolidating it with the primaries for downballot office that will be held on June 23. Such a move would also include delaying the special election for the state's vacant 27th Congressional District, which is likewise scheduled for April 28. Douglas Kellner, the co-chair of the state Board of Elections, told the New York Times that a decision might not come for another two weeks.
Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an order Monday moving village-level elections that had been scheduled for Wednesday to April 28. Presumably, if the April primary is delayed until June, these village elections would shift with them. Cuomo also reduced the signature requirement to get on the June ballot to 30% of the amount normally required by law and ordered that all petitioning halt as of Tuesday evening.
● Pennsylvania: As Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf began weighing whether to delay the state's April 28 primary for the presidential race and downballot offices, a judge in Bucks County denied an emergency request from local officials seeking to postpone a hotly contested special election for the state House set to take place on Tuesday—despite the fact that Wolf has asked residents in southeastern Pennsylvania to stay home.
Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai, who is responsible for scheduling all special elections for his chamber, had refused to change the date. Turzai originally set the race for the 18th House District for March 17 rather than consolidate it with the April election, likely because he anticipated that Democratic turnout would be lower in mid-March with no other races on the ballot than it would be for the presidential primary. Two other special elections for the House in red districts are also taking place Tuesday in western Pennsylvania.
As for the presidential primary, Wolf said that it's "too far out for anyone to make a decision." Like in Wisconsin (see our item below), it's not clear whether the governor would have the power to unilaterally change the date, which is set by state law.
● Puerto Rico: As expected, Puerto Rico's Senate passed a bill on Monday moving the commonwealth's presidential primary from March 29 to April 26, though the House apparently will not take it up until next week. According to USA Today, Gov. Wanda Vazquez supports the change.
● South Carolina: Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has issued an executive order postponing all local elections in South Carolina that had been slated to take place before May 1. The measure affects 32 different races across the state, a full list of which can be found here. The order does not impact the state's June 23 primary for state and federal office. Officials have said that the filing period, which runs from noon on March 16 to noon on March 30, remains undisturbed, though they've asked candidates to schedule appointments to file their paperwork in order to minimize crowding.
● Texas: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said on Monday that he will announce later this week how Texas plans to proceed with its primary runoffs, which are scheduled for May 26. In a large number of primaries, which were held on March 3, no candidate won a majority of the vote, which under Texas law means that a second round of voting between the top two finishers must take place.
● UT-Gov: Businessman Jeff Burningham said on Friday that he would no longer collect signatures to make it onto the June GOP primary ballot because of the dangers of the coronavirus and would instead compete at the April 25 state party convention. Both major parties also announced late last week that these state party gatherings would take place online rather than in-person.
Utah allows statewide candidates to reach the primary by turning in 28,000 valid signatures or by taking enough support at their party convention, though candidates have the option to try both methods. Former state House Speaker Greg Hughes announced in January that he would only go through the GOP convention route, while Salt Lake County Council chair Aimee Winder Newton said last month that she would do the same thing because of the high cost of gathering petitions.
Former party chair Thomas Wright, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, and former Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, though, have each turned in signatures; the state has announced that Wright has submitted enough valid petitions to appear on the primary ballot, while Cox and Huntsman's signatures are still being verified.
● Wisconsin: Some Wisconsin politicians are calling for the state to postpone its early April elections, but Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has so far opposed the idea, saying he's not considering a delay "at this time." Should his position change, experts are divided on whether Evers could act unilaterally, or whether the legislature would have to pass new legislation changing the date. Wisconsin is set to conduct its presidential primary on April 7, as well as general elections in an important race for the state Supreme Court and several other judicial posts.
● AZ-Sen: Two independent polls released on Monday both showed Democrat Mark Kelly leading appointed GOP Sen. Martha McSally by margins comparable to what several other recent polls have found. Monmouth gave Kelly a 50-44 advantage, while Marist's survey for NBC had him ahead by a smaller 48-45.
● CO-Sen: Former Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Monday that the state had verified that he'd turned in enough signatures to appear on the June Democratic primary ballot to take on GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, and that he would no longer compete at the state party convention.
Colorado allows candidates to reach the primary either by turning in enough valid signatures or by winning the support of at least 30% of the delegates at their party's convention, though contenders have the option to try both methods. Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is Hickenlooper's only well-funded intra-party opponent, is trying to make the ballot by taking part in the convention.
● Iowa: Candidate filing closed Friday for Iowa's June 2 primaries, and the state has a list of contenders available here. Iowa has an unusual law that requires party conventions to select nominees in races where no candidate receives over 35% of the vote in the primary.
● IA-Sen: Five Democrats are competing to take on GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, who flipped this seat six years ago. National Democrats, including the DSCC, have consolidated behind real estate executive Theresa Greenfield, who had a large financial advantage over her primary rivals at the end of 2019.
Another contender to watch is self-funder Eddie Mauro, who lost the 2018 primary for the 3rd District to eventual winner Cynthia Axne 58-26. Also in the race are retired Navy Vice Adm. Michael Franken, attorney Kimberly Graham, and real estate agent Cal Woods, though none of them have brought in much money through December.
Iowa took a sharp turn to the right in 2014 and 2016, though Democrats rebounded last cycle. Ernst has done little to distinguish herself from Trump one way or the other, and her fate is likely tied closely to the presidential contest. Daily Kos Elections rates the contest as Likely Republican, but a more competitive presidential race in the state would give Democrats a better chance against Ernst.
● VT-Gov: Candidate fundraising reports are in covering the period of July 2019 through mid-March of this year, and GOP Gov. Phil Scott has less cash-on-hand than either of his two main Democratic rivals. Scott took in $52,000 during this period, with almost all of that amount coming in during the final month-and-a-half of the fundraising period, and he had $95,000 to spend.
On the Democratic side, former state education secretary Rebecca Holcombe raised $378,000 and had $129,000 on-hand. Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman took in $156,000 and transferred another $27,000, and he had $104,000 in the bank. Attorney Patrick Winburn self-funded almost all of the $106,000 he brought in, and he had $35,000 left after an opening advertising campaign.
● IA-01: Democrat Abby Finkenauer flipped this northeast Iowa district last cycle, and national Republicans quickly consolidated behind state Rep. Ashley Hinson to try to get it back. Hinson's only intra-party opponent is businessman Thomas Hansen, who has raised very little money. This seat swung from 56-43 Obama to 49-45 Trump.
● IA-02: Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack is retiring from a southeast Iowa seat that swung from 56-43 Obama to 49-45 Trump, and former state Sen. Rita Hart faces no opposition in the Democratic primary to succeed him.
On the GOP side, state Republican officeholders have consolidated behind state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who was Team Red's nominee against Loebsack in 2008, 2010, and 2014. Miller-Meeks' main intra-party foe is former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling, who was elected to his one term in Congress in a seat located just across the Mississippi River in 2010; Schilling lost re-election two years later to now-DCCC chair Cheri Bustos, and she decisively defeated him in their 2014 rematch. Schilling has struggled to raise money for his first campaign in Iowa, and he hasn't attracted any help from major outside groups so far.
Three other Republicans are also in, but none of them appear to be running credible campaigns.
● IA-03: Democrat Cynthia Axne unseated GOP incumbent David Young 49-47 last cycle, and Young is running to try to reclaim this Des Moines-area district. Young's only primary foe is Army veteran Bill Schafer, who has raised very little money and doesn't appear to be a threat. This seat swung from 51-47 Obama to 49-45 Trump.
● IA-04: GOP Rep. Steve King had been safe for years in a red northwestern Iowa seat that moved from 53-45 Romney all the way to 61-34 Trump, but he now faces both a competitive primary and general election campaign.
King only narrowly beat Democrat J. D. Scholten 50-47 last cycle after voters learned about a week before Election Day that the congressman was rubbing shoulders with international white supremacist candidates and hate groups, and Scholten is running again. Scholten, who has no primary opposition, didn't attract much outside attention until late in the campaign, but he ended December with a credible $540,000 on-hand.
King also picked up four intra-party challengers after he was stripped of his committee assignments early last year for musing to the New York Times, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?" State Sen. Randy Feenstra ended 2019 with a huge $489,000 to $32,000 cash-on-hand lead over King, while self-funding Army veteran Bret Richards had $100,000 to spend.
Two other Republicans, Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor and real estate developer Steven Reeder, didn't have much money, but they could make it more difficult for anyone to take the 35% of the vote needed to win outright.
While King has little money or outside support, he very well could win another term. Voters in this seat have long tolerated his racism, and the congressman could benefit as memories of his January 2019 comments fade. There's also no telling what would happen if this nomination goes to a convention.
● Idaho: Candidate filing closed Friday for Idaho's May 19 primaries, and the state has a list of contenders available here. We're not expecting much action in the Gem State this year, though: GOP Sen. Jim Risch and Republican Reps. Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson don't face any serious primary opponents, and they're very unlikely to have trouble in November in their deep-red constituencies.
● NV-02: While there was serious talk throughout 2019 that Rep. Mark Amodei could face a serious GOP primary challenger in this reliably red northern Nevada seat, it doesn't appear that the congressman will have much to worry about now that filing has closed. Amodei's only intra-party foe is Joel Beck, who challenged him two years ago and took third place with just 8%.
● NV-03: Six Republicans filed to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Susie Lee in a seat in the Las Vegas suburbs that both Barack Obama and Donald Trump very narrowly carried, but only two of them look noteworthy.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is backing former professional wrestler Dan Rodimer, a World Wrestling Entertainment alum who was accused of assault three different times from 2010 to 2013; Rodimer pleaded guilty to battery in one of those incidents, while no charges were filed in the other two. The other candidate worth watching is former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, who has been self-funding almost his entire campaign.
Both men lost primaries last cycle: Rodimer lost a contest for a competitive state Senate seat by a narrow 40-38 margin, while Schwartz took on establishment favorite Adam Laxalt in the race for governor and went down by a brutal 72-9 margin.
● NV-04: Eight Republicans are running against Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, who is defending a seat in the northern Las Vegas area that moved from 54-44 Obama to 50-45 Clinton. Horsford ended last year with $1 million on-hand, which was far more than any of his Republican rivals.
The candidates with the most money at the end of 2019 were former Assemblyman Jim Marchant, who lost re-election in 2018 after one term, and insurance agency owner Samuel Peters. Both men have been self-funding much of their campaigns, and Marchant held a small $209,000 to $206,000 cash-on-hand edge at the end of 2019. Just behind was businesswoman Lisa Song Sutton, who had $187,000 to spend.
Businesswoman Randi Reed and Charles Navarro, a former district director for former Rep. Cresent Hardy, each were well behind with just under $35,000 on-hand. Also in the contest are Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo and two other Republicans who each had less than $10,000 to spend.
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: State Sen. Mary Washington announced Monday that she was suspending her campaign for the Democratic nod so she could focus on her work in the legislature as the coronavirus emergency continues. It doesn’t sound like Washington plans to rejoin the April 28 primary since she referred to her campaign in the past tense and added, “We will work to ensure the next Mayor is held to the standards we deserve, and push them relentlessly to do the hard, bold work this city needs.”
● Special Elections: There are three special elections set for Tuesday in Pennsylvania, including an important pickup opportunity for Democrats in the suburbs of Philadelphia. However, a judge rejected a last-minute request to postpone this hotly contested race, even though Gov. Tom Wolf has asked residents in southeastern Pennsylvania to stay home to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, so turnout could be very low and election administration could suffer. See our Pennsylvania item in the "Election Changes" section above for more on these developments.
PA-HD-08: This is a Republican district in the Mercer area that became vacant when former Rep. Tedd Nesbit became a member of the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas. The Democratic candidate is businessman Phil Heasley and the Republican is Grove City College professor Tim Bonner. This is a strongly Republican district that voted for Donald Trump 71-24 and Mitt Romney 67-32
PA-HD-18: Democrats have a big pickup opportunity in the Philadelphia suburbs, where the 18th District district became vacant after former GOP Rep. Gene DiGirolamo was elected Bucks County commissioner last year.
The Democratic candidate for this seat, which is located entirely in the city of Bensalem, is union plumber Howie Hayes while the Republican is funeral director KC Tomlinson. Hayes has the backing of multiple unions, including the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers. Tomlinson is from a prominent local family and her father, state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, is well-known in the area. The elder Tomlinson represented this district for two terms immediately before DiGirolamo, and his current Senate district contains all of the 18th House District.
On paper, this seat looks favorable for Team Blue, since it's been solidly Democratic at the presidential level, backing Hillary Clinton 53-44 and Barack Obama 58-41. However, it's been much more amenable to supporting Republicans downballot: DiGirolamo had held this seat since he was first elected in 1994, and thanks to his well-known personal brand in the area, won his last re-election effort 57-43 in 2018 despite the blue wave.
For Democrats, flipping this seat has higher stakes than a typical pickup opportunity. This chamber is a top target for Democrats in the fall and a win here would lower the number of seats Democrats need to flip to take control of the Pennsylvania House from nine to eight.
PA-HD-58: This is a Republican district in the Jeannette area, east of Pittsburgh. This seat became vacant when former Rep. Justin Walsh became a judge in Westmoreland County last year. The Democratic candidate is Army veteran Robert Prah Jr. and the Republican is union carpenter Eric Davanzo. There is also a Libertarian in the running, businessman Ken Bach. This is a solidly Republican district that supported Trump 63-34 and Romney 55-43.
These three seats are the only vacancies in this chamber, which Republicans control 107-93.
● Where Are They Now?: It just wouldn't be an election cycle in Nevada without wealthy perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian on the GOP primary ballot. Tarkanian moved to Douglas County in northern Nevada following his 2018 defeat in the 3rd Congressional District in suburban Las Vegas, and he filed on Friday to challenge County Commissioner Dave Nelson, a fellow Republican. Tarkanian has unsuccessfully sought various elected offices a total of six times from 2004 through last cycle, and we'll see if his seventh time is a charm.