Conservative courts order Wisconsin election to proceed—risks to health and democracy be damned

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

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.

Election Changes

Please bookmark our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, both of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.

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.

New Jersey: Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy says he'll be "stunned" if the state doesn't postpone its June 2 presidential and downballot primaries, promising a decision "pretty soon."

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.

1Q Fundraising

TN-Sen: Bill Hagerty (R): $1.2 million raised, $5.6 million cash-on-hand (note: Hagerty's campaign would not tell the Associated Press how much of his haul came from self-funding)

IA-03: David Young (R): $400,000 raised

MA-04: Jake Auchincloss (D): $474,000 raised, $947,000 cash-on-hand; Alan Khazei (D): $278,000, $783,000 cash-on-hand raised

NH-01: Matt Mowers (R): $354,000 raised, $315,000 cash-on-hand

TX-07: Wesley Hunt (R): $920,000 raised

TX-24: Kim Olson (D): $370,000 raised; Candace Valenzuela (D): $305,000 raised

Senate

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."

MI-Sen: The conservative think tank American Principles Project is out with a poll from the GOP firm Spry Strategies that gives Democratic Sen. Gary Peters a 42-40 edge over Republican John James.

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.

Gubernatorial

MT-Gov: On Monday, the Montana Federation of Public Employees endorsed Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney in the June Democratic primary. Cooney's campaign says that this is the state's largest union.

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."

House

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."

The ad comes shortly after the NRCC also began spending here. Politico reports that the committee is deploying $330,000 for broadcast TV in addition to the $690,000 cable buy we noted last week.

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: Candidate filing closed last month for Virginia's June 9 primary, and the state now has a list of contenders.

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.

VA-02: Democrat Elaine Luria unseated Republican incumbent Scott Taylor 51-49 last cycle, and Republicans are hoping to take back this 49-45 Trump seat in the Virginia Beach area.

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.

Other Races

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.

Morning Digest: Coronavirus leaves Virginia GOP unsure how to hold House nominating conventions

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.

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Leading Off

VA-05, VA-07: Republicans in Virginia’s 5th and 7th Congressional Districts had planned to pick their nominees at April 25 party conventions, rather than in June's primary, but Republicans leaders are still deciding how to proceed in light of the coronavirus.

All of this uncertainty is causing plenty of angst in the 5th District, where freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman faces a challenge from the right from Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good. Riggleman even speculated to Roll Call that, if the process gets out of hand, Team Red won’t even have a nominee in this 53-42 Trump seat. National Republicans will also be keeping a close eye on the 7th District, where plenty of candidates are competing for the right to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger.

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For now, the only things that anyone knows are that the April 25 conventions won’t be happening as planned, but that Republican voters in these two seats still won’t be selecting their candidates through a primary. The 5th District GOP recently posted a memo saying that it's not permissible at this point to switch from nominating candidates at a convention to the state-run primary, which is on June 9.

Ben Slone, who runs the 7th District GOP, told Roll Call’s Stephanie Akin that his group would discuss what to do on Thursday. All he would say about alternatives to the convention, though, was, “We have a set of contingency plans that will be invoked depending on guidance and government health dictates.”

Melvin Adams, who runs the 5th District GOP committee, also told Akin that they would be talking next week about moving the convention date, and he was more forthcoming with his plans. Adams said that he’d hoped to move the event to June 6, which is the weekend before the statewide primary.

However, Riggleman and his supporters say that Adams has been promoting another option if it’s still not safe to hold a convention by then, and it’s not one they like at all. Riggleman said the 5th District Republican Committee, which has fewer than 40 members, could end up picking the party’s nominee, and Adams didn’t deny that this was a possibility. Indeed, this is how Riggleman got chosen as Team Red’s candidate two years ago after Rep. Tom Garrett ended his campaign after winning renomination. That was a very different set of circumstances, though, and an unnamed Riggleman ally on the committee said that, if this ends up happening this year, “I think it would be unfair. It’s a very undemocratic process.”

There’s another huge potential drawback to using this method. Riggleman said that party rules require a candidate to earn the support of at least two-thirds of the district committee, which raises the possibility that no one could end up with the GOP nod. And even if someone claims a supermajority, the congressman argued, it’s possible that the state Republican Party won’t recognize this person as the rightful nominee. Indeed, an unnamed former state party official told Roll Call that the committee only picked the candidate last cycle because their nominee had dropped out, and that “[c]hanging to a process where Republican voters don’t have a voice would be against the party plan and potentially against state law.”

Riggleman himself sounds quite unhappy with this whole state of affairs, saying that he wanted a primary instead of “a convoluted convention process that is collapsing under the weight of this crisis.” Riggleman already had reasons to be wary about party leaders, rather than voters, choosing the nominee here. The congressman infuriated plenty of social conservatives at home in July when he officiated a same-sex wedding between two of his former campaign volunteers. This quickly resulted in a homophobic backlash against him, and local Republican Parties in three small 5th District counties each passed anti-Riggleman motions. It also didn’t escape notice that the convention was supposed to be held at Good’s church.

Riggleman’s path to a second term could be even more perilous if the 5th District Committee ends up choosing the nominee, especially since its chairman sounds very frustrated with him. “I know the congressman and some of his staff and other people have been putting out false information, or at least implying this committee is trying to rig things,” Adams said. “This committee is not trying to rig things.”

Democrats, by contrast, opted to hold a traditional primary in June, and so Team Blue doesn’t have anything like the mess that’s haunting the 5th District GOP. Democrats have several notable contenders running here, and while it will still be tough to flip a seat that Trump won by double digits, GOP infighting could give the eventual nominee more of an opening.

Election Changes

Alaska: Alaska's Republican-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would allow Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to order that the state's Aug. 18 downballot primaries be conducted entirely by mail. (The lieutenant governor is Alaska's chief election official.) However, Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats to require that the state provide dropboxes where voters can return their ballots, an option that is very popular in states that have adopted universal voting by mail, in part because it obviates the need for a postage stamp and avoids the risk of delayed mail return service.

The bill now goes to the state House, which is controlled by a Democratic-led coalition that includes Republicans and independents. The Alaska Daily News says that Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is "expected" to sign the measure "speedily" if both chambers pass it.

Indiana: Indiana's bipartisan Election Commission has unanimously waived the state's requirement that voters who wish to vote absentee in June's presidential and downballot primaries provide an excuse in order to do so.

Nebraska: Election officials in Nebraska say there are no plans to delay the state's May 12 presidential and downballot primaries, but at least half a dozen counties—including the three largest—will send absentee ballot applications to all voters, while a number of other small counties had previously moved to all-mail elections prior to the coronavirus outbreak. In all, more than half the state will either receive absentee applications or mail-in ballots, including all voters in the state's 2nd Congressional District, a competitive district that features a multi-way Democratic primary.

Nevada: Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and local election officials from all 17 Nevada counties have announced plans to conduct the state's June 9 downballot primaries almost entirely by mail. Every active registered voter will be sent a postage-paid absentee ballot that they can return by mail or at an in-person polling site, of which each county will have at least one. Importantly, these voters will not have to request an a ballot. At least one in-person polling place will also be available in each county.

Ballots must be postmarked or turned in by Election Day, though they will still count as long as they are received up to seven days later. Officials will also contact any voter whose ballot has an issue (such as a missing signature), and voters will have until the seventh day after the election to correct any problems. Cegavske's press release wisely cautions that, under this system, final election results will not be known until well after election night, though this is a point that officials across the country will have to emphasize loudly and repeatedly as mail voting becomes more widespread.

One potential issue with Cegavske's plan, though, is that registered voters who are listed as "inactive" on the voter rolls will not be sent ballots. However, as voting expert Michael McDonald notes, these voters are still eligible to vote, and every election, many do. While they can still request absentee ballots on their own, they now face an obstacle that active voters will not. Approximately 14% of Nevada's 1.8 million registered voters are on inactive status.

Ohio: Lawmakers in Ohio's Republican-run legislature unanimously passed a bill extending the time to vote by mail in the state's presidential and downballot primaries until April 28, and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said he will sign it "soon." There would be limited in-person voting only for people with disabilities or special needs, and voters would also be able to drop off absentee ballots in person on that day, but ballots would have to be mailed by April 27 and be received by May 8 in order to count. However, voting rights groups have expressed serious reservations about the plan and say they may sue.

Under the bill, the state would send postcards to voters explaining how to request an absentee ballot application. Voters would then have to print out applications on their own, or request one be mailed to them, and then mail them in—they cannot be submitted online. They would then have to mail in their absentee ballots (though these at least would come with a postage-paid envelope).

Voting rights advocate Mike Brickner notes that there is very little time left to carry out this multi-step process, particularly because each piece of mail would be in transit for several days. In addition, printing all of these materials, including the postcards that are designed to kick off this effort, will take considerable time, especially since government offices, the postal service, and print shops "may not be operating optimally," as Brickner observes.

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania's Republican-run legislature has unanimously passed a bill to move the state's presidential and downballot primaries from April 28 to June 2. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will sign the measure.

Wisconsin: The city of Green Bay has filed a lawsuit asking that a federal judge order Wisconsin officials to delay the state's April 7 elections until June 2 and to extend its voter registration deadline to May 1. (The deadline for registering by mail has already passed, but voters can still register online through March 30 thanks to an earlier order by a different judge.) Green Bay has also asked that it be allowed to cancel in-person voting and mail ballots to all registered voters.

Senate

MI-Sen: The GOP firm Marketing Resource Group is out with a new survey giving Democratic Sen. Gary Peters a 42-35 lead over Republican John James, which is an improvement from the incumbent's 43-40 edge in October. The only other poll we've seen this month was an early March survey from the GOP firms 0ptimus and Firehouse Strategies that gave James a 41-40 advantage.

ME-Sen: The Democratic group Majority Forward has announced that it's launched a new six-figure ad campaign supporting state House Speaker Sara Gideon. The spot praises Gideon's work securing millions for coronavirus testing, as well as workers and small businesses.

SC-Sen: Democrat Jaime Harrison is out with a poll from Brilliant Corners that shows GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham leading him by a small 47-43 margin. The only other survey we've seen in the last few weeks was a late February Marist poll that showed Graham up 54-37.

Gubernatorial

WV-Gov: The GOP firm Medium Buying reports that GOP Gov. Jim Justice launched his first ad of 2020 last week, and we now have a copy of his commercial. The ad begins with a clip of Donald Trump at a rally saying, "My good friend, and your governor, Jim Justice," before the narrator jumps in and praises the incumbent as a conservative Trump ally.

Former state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, by contrast, has been running commercials since June of last year, and he's out with another one ahead of the May GOP primary. Thrasher tells the audience that the coronavirus is creating hardships for West Virginia, and that the state "needs to be proactive in terms of its reaction to this crisis, not reactive the way we have been so many other times." Thrasher then lays out his plan for helping the state economically during the pandemic.

Thrasher doesn't mention, much less directly criticize, Justice's handling of the situation, but he still argues that the state isn't doing enough. "Our president is being very proactive in terms of dealing with those issues," Thrasher says, "We need to follow suit and be proactive as well." He concludes, "It's time for the state of West Virginia to get something done."

House

IN-05: In an unusual move, retiring Rep. Susan Brooks' office publicly told businesswoman Beth Henderson to stop saying that Brooks had recruited her or even given her any special encouragement to run at all. "Susan talked with all Republican candidates who called her and expressed an interest in running in the 5th District to share her insights about representing this district," a Brooks aide said. "Some candidates did not call her." Brooks has not taken sides in the crowded June GOP primary to succeed her.

However, Henderson made it sound like the congresswoman was pulling for her back in February when she declared, "Susan Brooks encouraged me to run." The candidate put out a statement this week insisting that she and Brooks "have had a couple conversations regarding the Fifth district. She has been encouraging throughout my campaign, as I imagine she has been with other candidates as well."

The Indianapolis Star also obtained a voicemail from an unidentified person raising money for the Henderson campaign who said, "Susan actually recruited Beth to run for her, and we are working hard to raise funds to ensure that that happened." Henderson's team acknowledged that this person was affiliated with the campaign but insisted that none of that was included in the script that caller was given.

MI-13: Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones announced Wednesday that she would seek a primary rematch against Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is one of the most high-profile members of the House freshman class. Jones, who briefly held this seat for a few weeks in the lame-duck session of the last Congress (more on that later), kicked off her campaign with a video declaring that she was “running for re-election” to this safely blue seat.

While Jones didn’t mention Tlaib in that message, she argued in a new interview with the Detroit News that her opponent has “spent a lot of her energy in places other than the 13th District.” Jones said that, unlike the congresswoman, “I will be totally focused on the 13th District, being the third-poorest district in the United States.”

Jones and Tlaib have a lot of history. Thanks to some very unusual circumstances, they even faced off three separate times in 2018. That August, Michigan held two different Democratic primaries on the same day for this seat: one for a special election for the final months of former Rep. John Conyers' term, and one for the regular two-year term. Jones had the support of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and some unions, but she had trouble raising money. Tlaib, by contrast, didn’t have as many prominent local endorsements, but she decisively outraised each of her many opponents.

Tlaib narrowly beat Jones 31-30 in the six-way primary for the full term. However, there were only four candidates on the ballot in the special election primary, and in that race, it was Jones who edged Tlaib 38-36.

The two candidates who were only on the ballot for the regular term, state Sen. Coleman Young II and former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson, took a combined 18% of the vote, so their absence in the special primary likely had an impact. Jones, Young, and Jackson, along with more than half the district's residents, are black, while Tlaib is of Palestinian descent (only 4% of residents identify as Arab American). It's therefore probable that the presence of two additional African American candidates in the regular primary but not in the special primary made the difference between the two close outcomes.

Jones, however, didn't relish the idea of serving just a few weeks in the House and wound up launching a last-minute write-in campaign against Tlaib for the general election. It was a misguided move, though, as she took just 0.32% of the vote. Jones and then-Speaker Paul Ryan ended up working out an apparently unprecedented agreement that allowed Jones to serve a few weeks in the House without resigning as head of the Detroit City Council, letting her take a hiatus from that post until Tlaib was sworn in in January of 2019.

Tlaib immediately earned national attention on her first day in office when she said of Donald Trump, "[W]e're going to impeach the motherfucker," and she’s been in the headlines plenty since then. Most notably, Trump targeted Tlaib and the three other women of color who make up “The Squad” with a racist tweet in July. Thanks to her celebrity, Tlaib has done well in raising money from progressives across the country, ending last year with a hefty $1.2 million on-hand.

Tlaib, who has been a prominent Bernie Sanders surrogate, has her share of intra-party critics and recently inflamed some of them when she booed Hillary Clinton at a Sanders campaign event in January in Iowa. Jones, however, has her own issues, particularly as a longtime supporter of Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic head of the Nation of Islam, even sharing the stage with him at a 2017 event in Detroit.

If Jones has any reservations about Farrakhan—whose lowlight reel includes gems like, “The Jewish media has normalized sexual degeneracy, profanity, and all kinds of sin,” and, “In Washington right next to the Holocaust Museum is the Federal Reserve where they print the money. Is that an accident?"—she hasn't put them on display. Rather, just last month, her chief of staff said that Jones was sponsoring a resolution commending Farrakhan’s newspaper, which ran a piece Farrakhan wrote in 2016 saying that the Sept. 11 attacks were “a false flag operation,” for its “truthful articles.” For his part, Farrakhan himself singled Jones out for praise in a speech in Detroit two years ago.

TN-01: State Rep. Timothy Hill announced on Tuesday that he was joining the August GOP primary for this safely red open seat. Hill has served in the state legislature for four terms, and he's risen to become chair of the Commerce Committee.

Morning Digest: Alabama Republicans air each other’s dirty laundry ahead of nasty Senate primary

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

AL-Sen: Two Republican firms are out with new polls from Alabama of the March 3 GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, and they both show former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville advancing to a runoff.

WT&S Consulting, which tells us that their poll was not done for any client, gives Sessions the lead with 32% as Tuberville leads Rep. Bradley Byrne 30-22 for the second spot in a likely March 31 runoff. Roy Moore, who lost this seat to Jones in 2017, is a distant fourth with 7%, while state Rep. Arnold Mooney takes 3%. This is the first poll that WT&S, which is run by state party official John Wahl, has released of this contest.

Campaign Action

The anti-tax Club for Growth, which has been running ads against Byrne, is also out with another survey from WPA Intelligence that shows the congressman failing to advance to a second round. WPA gives Tuberville the lead with 32%, which makes this the first time we've seen him in first place since Sessions entered the race for his old seat in November. Sessions outpaces Byrne 29-17 for second, while Moore barely registers with 5% and no one else breaks 1%.

These results show some small improvements for Tuberville at Sessions' expense from the poll the Club released one week ago. That WPA survey found Sessions edging Tuberville 34-29, while Byrne was in third place with the same 17% he takes in the new poll.

The new numbers come as Sessions, Tuberville, and Byrne and their allies have been launching negative ad after negative ad at one another while ignoring the other contenders. Sessions' new spot declares that Tuberville and Byrne "are desperate, telling lies about Jeff Sessions." The narrator then reminds the audience that Sessions was the one senator to back Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries, which is true.

The ad glosses over Sessions' miserable tenure as Trump's attorney general, which ended with Trump unceremoniously firing him, and instead continues to rehash the 2016 election. The narrator argues, "Byrne stood with the liberals, said Trump was 'not fit' to be president and stabbed Trump in the back right before the election."

Byrne did indeed say after the Access Hollywood tape was released a month before Election Day that Trump, who was recorded bragging about sexually assaulting women, was "not fit to be president of the United States and cannot defeat Hillary Clinton." The congressman also called for Trump to "step aside" and allow Mike Pence to lead the GOP ticket.

Byrne, like almost everyone in the Republican Party, fell in line right after Trump won a month later, though, and like all of his primary opponents, he's been emphasizing his unquestioning loyalty to the White House. Byrne recently addressed his 2016 remarks in an interview with the New York Times Magazine's Jason Zengerle by saying that Trump has never mentioned them because, "He just doesn't care. He's more interested in what we're doing now." Sessions cares, though, and he's betting that GOP primary voters do too.

Sessions is also hoping that his party will care about some of Tuberville's non-Trump issues. His ad continues by calling the former Auburn coach "a tourist in Alabama. He lives, votes, and pays taxes in Florida." Tuberville is originally from Arkansas, and he coached at the University of Mississippi until he arrived at Auburn in 1998. Tuberville had a mostly successful tenure, but he resigned in 2008 after a bad season and went on to coach out of state at Texas Tech and Cincinnati. During those years he unsuccessfully tried to sell his home near Auburn multiple times.

Tuberville later moved to Florida as Sessions' ad alleges. The former coach did say that he'd relocated to Alabama in August 2018 as he considered a Senate run, though he remained registered to vote in the Sunshine State that year and cast his ballot in Florida's elections.

Sessions also released a new TV ad on Wednesday that targets just Tuberville. After declaring that the former coach is "shameful" for lying about Sessions, the narrator says, "Tuberville is trying to trick you, hiding his support for immigration amnesty." An audio clip then plays where Tuberville is heard saying, "There are people coming across the border that need jobs … And we want them to come over here." He continues, "And we let 'em come in and become citizens like we all became citizens." The rest of the commercial again casts Tuberville as a Floridian who is in Alabama as a tourist.

Tuberville, meanwhile, is out with his own ad attacking both Sessions and Byrne. The commercial begins by going after Byrne for calling Trump "not fit" to serve before the narrator declares that Sessions "deserted President Trump, sticking us with the Russian witch hunt." The spot then throws in a shot at Sen. Mitt Romney, who is … not running for Senate in Alabama, by saying he "voted for the liberal impeachment sham." Tuberville appears and promises he'll be a Trump ally while "weak-kneed career politicians aren't tough enough to stand with President Trump."

Tuberville's allies at GRIT PAC are also running a commercial that casts both of his intra-party adversaries as "two career politicians who are out of touch with Alabama." The narrator also declares that Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation while serving as attorney general was a betrayal of Trump, while Byrne "didn't even want Trump in the White House."

Two cows then appear on screen along with a picture of Romney in the shape of manure as the narrator explains, "In a place where Mitt happens, we need to watch our step." Perhaps fearing that that joke was too subtle, the narrator declares, "No bull," which is followed by a censor's beep, "no weak knees. It's Tommy Tuberville time for U.S. Senate."

Byrne, it will not shock you to learn, is also out with an ad that hits both Sessions and Tuberville. The commercial features a trio of actors interviewing the Senate candidates, and they begin by giving this negative rating: "Tommy Tuberville? Says he wants illegals here. Paid him not to work. He can't keep a job." An actor portraying Tuberville then angrily slams down his clipboard and walks out, and the committee stamps his resume with the word "Fired."

A Sessions look-alike then arrives sporting a red cap without anything written on it. The committee is no more impressed with him than they were with Tuberville and says, "He let the president down and got fired. And Hillary still ain't in jail." The committee, which apparently believes that Sessions' refusal to send political adversaries to prison without a trial is a massive character flaw, also delivers the dreaded failure stamp to his file.

The rest of the ad shows Byrne, whom the committee actually allows to talk, talking about his conservative pro-Trump record. The trio is pleased, though his resume goes unstamped. Byrne is also the only one in any of these commercials to mention Jones, saying that he should be the next one to get fired.

Byrne's allies at Fighting for Alabama Fund also are up on the air with a spot that ignores Sessions and just tears into Tuberville. After showing clips of Trump thanking Byrne, the narrator argues that Tuberville "attacked Trump's agenda. Even attacked Trump's immigration plan." The same audio of Tuberville from the Sessions commercial then plays where Tuberville sounds happy to welcome "people coming from across the border that need jobs."    

Senate

AZ-Sen: Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who faces no serious Democratic primary opposition, is up with his first TV commercial. The minute-long spot features Kelly working on his motorcycle and talking about his struggles in school and career in the Navy and NASA.

Kelly continues, "My parents didn't have a lot of extra money, but you could comfortably raise a family on a middle-class income, and it doesn't work so well today." He declares, "Now my hope for Arizona is that everybody has the conditions and an environment that allows anybody to accomplish anything they want, if they're just willing to work hard at it." Kelly does not mention appointed GOP Sen. Martha McSally, who recently began airing negative spots against him.

GA-Sen-B: Former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver kicked off his long-awaited campaign on Wednesday, a move that makes him the third noteworthy Democrat to enter the November all-party primary.

Tarver, who pitched himself as a moderate, represented a state Senate seat in the Augusta area until he became the first black U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia in 2009. Tarver remained at his post until early March of 2017, when Donald Trump ordered him and another 45 Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys to resign.

National Democrats have consolidated behind pastor Raphael Warnock, who like Tarver would also be Georgia's first black senator, while businessman Matt Lieberman is also running. Appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins are duking it out on the GOP side, and there's a risk that they could both advance to a January 2021 runoff if the three Democrats split Team Blue's vote enough.  

ME-Sen: GOP Sen. Susan Collins is up with another TV ad against state House Speaker Sara Gideon, who is the favored candidate of national Democrats, and the Bangor Daily News reports that she's putting at least $90,000 behind the buy.

The narrator argues that Gideon is a hypocrite for saying she's rejecting corporate PAC money while "taking tens of thousands from groups funded by corporate PACs." The commercial also tries to stir up some trouble on Gideon's left by featuring photos of two of her June primary foes, attorney Bre Kidman and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet, and saying that her opponents "criticized Gideon for laundering corporate money into her own campaign. And Maine's Ethics Commission fined Gideon for breaking campaign finance laws."

The paper took a look at the backstory to this ad back in December. Gideon has accepted contributions from groups like Senate Majority PAC that take money from corporations, but only about 2% of her total donations came from PACs as of the end of the third quarter. Collins, by contrast, received 22% of her donations from PACs through late September.

The part about the Maine Ethics Commission is from a completely separate matter. The commission fined Gideon's now-defunct PAC in December all of $500 for reimbursing her that same amount for donations Gideon made to two state-level political committees in 2016.

As we wrote back then, reimbursements like these run afoul of federal and state laws that forbid anyone from making campaign contributions in another person's name. Gideon, however, didn't try to conceal her efforts; rather, they were discovered because her PAC publicly disclosed the reimbursements. For that reason, the commission declined to investigate further, concluding Gideon's disclosure meant it was unlikely she had knowingly sought to violate the law.

MI-Sen: Quinnipiac University is out with a poll giving Democratic Sen. Gary Peters a 45-39 lead over 2018 GOP nominee John James. The margin is very similar to the 44-40 Peters edge that the local Glengariff Group found in early January, though Baldwin Wallace University gave the incumbent a larger 42-32 lead last month.

Gubernatorial

UT-Gov: Salt Lake County Council chair Aimee Winder Newton announced this week that she would try to gain enough support at the April state GOP convention to advance to the June primary rather than continue to gather signatures. One other Republican, former state House Speaker Greg Hughes, is competing at the convention and not collecting petitions to make the primary ballot, but the two candidates made this choice under very different circumstances.

Winder Newton acknowledged that she couldn't afford to hire a firm to collect the 28,000 valid signatures she needed, an undertaking she estimates could cost more than $200,000, and that her volunteer-led effort wouldn't be able to gather enough petitions in time. Hughes, though, has access to plenty of money, but he still decided to focus on the convention in January.

House

CA-16: Democratic Rep. Jim Costa is out with an ad ahead of the March 3 top-two primary that features old footage of his intra-party rival, Fresno City Councilor Esmeralda Soria, praising him.

CA-25, TX-02: The progressive group End Citizens United has endorsed Assemblywoman Christy Smith in California and attorney Sima Ladjevardian in Texas, who each face notable intra-party opposition in their March 3 races.

Progressive political commentator Cenk Uygur, who is Smith's main intra-party rival in California's 25th District, is also out with a new ad where he proclaims he's "new to politics." Uygur continues, "They say it's rude for me to say that other politicians are corrupt. They say it's rude to point out that lobbyists don't give money to politicians for charity, they give it to bribe them." He then implores the audience, "Send me to Washington, so I could be rude to more lobbyists and politicians."

MN-01: Freshman GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn announced on Wednesday that he has been receiving treatment for Stage 4 kidney cancer over the last year, but that this would not prevent him from running for re-election this year.  

NY-02: Suffolk County Board of Elections member Nick LaLota announced this week that he was dropping out of the June GOP primary and would instead challenge Democratic state Sen. John Brooks. LaLota made his decision a few weeks after local party leaders, including retiring Rep. Peter King, threw their support behind Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino's bid for this open seat.

The only other Republican who is still running an active campaign for this competitive Long Island district is fellow Assemblyman Mike LiPetri. Another local elected official, Islip Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, announced she was running back in November but didn't report raising any money through 2019 and still doesn't appear to have a campaign website or social media account. On the Democratic side, Babylon Town Councilor Jackie Gordon doesn't face any serious opposition.

OH-01: Air Force veteran Nikki Foster and former healthcare executive Kate Schroder are each up with new TV spots ahead of the March 17 Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. Steve Chabot.

Foster tells the audience she's not once backed down from a fight from "serving as a combat pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan to fighting for my son's life in the intensive care unit." Foster declares that her next fight is making health care more affordable, and that Donald Trump and Chabot would "slash coverage for people with pre-existing conditions" like her son.

Schroder uses her commercial to talk about solving problems she's told are impossible. She describes how she helped expand dental care while she was on the Cincinnati Board of Health and dramatically reduced drug prices while working abroad. "As a cancer survivor," Schroder continues, "healthcare is personal."  

OH-03: The progressive group End Citizens United is supporting Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty in her March 17 primary against former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advisor Morgan Harper.

Harper has proven to be an unexpectedly strong fundraiser for someone challenging an uncontroversial incumbent, though Beatty still holds a huge financial advantage here. Beatty outraised Harper $315,000 to $221,000 during the fourth quarter, and the incumbent ended 2019 with a $1.7 million to $273,000 cash-on-hand lead. Whoever wins the Democratic nod will have no trouble prevailing in November in this safely blue Columbus seat.

PA-01: Pennsbury school board member Debbie Wachspress announced Thursday that she was dropping out of the April Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a development that could have very bad implications for Team Blue's attempts to put up a serious fight in this 49-47 Clinton seat, one of just two districts nationally that voted for Clinton in 2016 and has a Republican incumbent seeking re-election.

Wachspress made her decision two days after candidate filing closed and one day after LevittownNow.com reported that she'd been accused in a lawsuit against the school district of using racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic language at a meeting. Wachspress responded by saying that she had been recounting when she was subjected to an anti-Semitic slur decades ago, but that “[n]ever in my life have I denigrated anyone with words like that.”

Wachspress put out a statement the following day saying she "now find[s] myself in a situation where my family is going to suffer - with this recent offensive and completely false narrative of who I am - and my candidacy will also. It is clear to me that these lies and distortions will be too big a distraction to overcome."

Wachspress exited the race by endorsing Bucks County housing department official Christina Finello, who faces businessman Skylar Hurwitz in the primary. Unfortunately, though, both Finello and Hurwitz each had less than $12,000 on-hand at the end of December compared to the $355,000 that Wachspress had available. Democrats will need to hope that one of their two remaining candidates can bring in a whole lot more cash now that the apparent frontrunner is out if they want to have a real chance at beating the well-funded Fitzpatrick in this swing seat.

TX-12: Businessman Chris Putnam is up with another TV spot against Rep. Kay Granger ahead of their March 3 GOP primary showdown. Putnam tells the audience, "President Trump, he drives liberals nuts. And I drive Kay Granger nuts." Putnam, though, does not get around to informing the viewer that Trump is actually supporting Granger.

Putnam continues by accusing Granger of lying about him and "even making fun of my cowboy hat—but that's what we wear in Texas, Kay." The challenger mystifyingly never bothers to actually put on a cowboy hat during this commercial (so much for Chekov's Hat), though the ad shows pictures of two of Putnam's most prominent supporters, the sheriffs of Tarrant and Wise Counties, decked in some massive headwear.  

TX-23: Future Leaders Fund, an organization started by retiring GOP Rep. Will Hurd, is up with a TV commercial supporting Navy veteran Tony Gonzales ahead of the March 3 primary. Politico reports that this is a "five-figure buy" on Fox News.

VA-05: EMILY's List has endorsed Marine veteran Claire Russo in the June Democratic primary for this 52-41 Trump seat. The GOP nomination will be decided at an April 25 party convention, where freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman is trying to fend off a challenge from Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good.

Morning Digest: Competitive race to succeed longtime GOP congressman begins to take shape

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

NY-02: This week, the crowded GOP primary to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Peter King in this competitive Long Island seat began to take shape … sort of.

On Thursday, state party chairman Nick Langworthy endorsed Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino in the June primary, a move that came days after Garbarino picked up endorsements from the party chairs of Nassau and Suffolk Counties. However, while the powers that be are lining up behind Garbarino, he’s not going to avoid a primary.

Campaign Action

Suffolk County Director of Health Education Nancy Hemendinger announced Wednesday that she would run despite failing to get the endorsement of the county party chairs the previous day. Hemendinger has worked in the department for 36 years, and this appears to be her first run for office.

Assemblyman Mike LiPetri also said the following day that he would remain in the race. Another candidate, Suffolk County Board of Elections member Nick LaLota, said Tuesday that he was still deciding whether to keep running after the county chairs backed Garbarino.

Garbarino, whose father is the GOP chair in the large town of Islip, only announced he was running this week. However, he began quietly raising money last quarter, and he ended 2019 with the largest war chest on the GOP side. Garbarino led LaLota in cash-on-hand $218,000 to $145,000, while LiPetri only opened up his fundraising committee on Jan. 1. Another Republican, Islip Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, announced she was running back in November, but she didn’t report raising any money in 2019.

By contrast, there’s only one notable candidate on the Democratic side. Babylon Town Councilor Jackie Gordon began running against King months before he announced his retirement in November, and her fundraising spiked after this became an open seat. Gordon took in $261,000 during the fourth quarter compared to the $76,000 she raised during the preceding three months, and she ended 2019 with $290,000 in the bank. The DCCC recently added Gordon to its Red to Blue list for top candidates, so national Democrats don’t seem to be expecting her to have a serious primary.

King always won re-election with ease during his decades representing this area until his final campaign last cycle, and his departure gives Democrats the chance to finally flip the seat. New York’s 2nd District, which is home to Babylon and most of Islip, swung from 52-47 Obama to 53-44 Trump, but it lurched back to the left in 2018. While Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 60-36 statewide win was very similar to Hillary Clinton's 59-37 victory, Cuomo carried King's seat by a 51-47 margin.  

Senate

MI-Sen: Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is out with his first TV spot, which will run during Saturday's men's basketball game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. The commercial touts Peters' time in the Navy Reserve and work helping veterans.

NC-Sen: A mysterious new PAC called Faith and Power recently launched what CNN reports is a two week $1.56 million TV buy to aid state Sen. Erica Smith in the March 3 Democratic primary, and there's good reason to think that Republicans are behind it. There's no information about who runs or funds the organization, but The Hill's Reid Wilson reports that Faith and Power is banking with a firm that frequently does business with GOP groups, including Donald Trump's campaign. The ads were also purchased by a media buyer that has plenty of conservative clients.

National Democrats are supporting former state Sen. Cal Cunningham over Smith in the contest to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, and Cunningham also has benefited from millions in spending from VoteVets. Cunningham, who ended December with a lopsided $1.7 million to $95,000 cash-on-hand lead over Smith, also recently began airing commercials, and a new survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling indicates that the pro-Cunningham media campaign is having an impact. PPP finds Cunningham leading Smith 29-10, which is an improvement from his 22-12 edge last month.

Republicans seem to believe that the underfunded Smith would be easier to beat than Cunningham in November, though, and Faith and Power's new ad campaign could give her a boost next month. The commercial begins with a narrator asking, "Who's the Democrat for US Senate endorsed by progressives and unions? Erica Smith." It continues, "Who's got the courage to vote for 'Medicare for All'? Erica Smith. The number one supporter of the Green New Deal? Erica Smith again."

Whoever wins the nomination will be in for an expensive race against Tillis in this light red state. The incumbent, who does not face a serious primary challenger, ended December with $5.3 million in the bank.

Gubernatorial

IN-Gov: On Wednesday, businessman Josh Owens dropped out of the Democratic primary to take on GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb and endorsed former state Health Commissioner Woody Myers. The deadline to turn in signatures to make the primary ballot is on Friday, so it's incredibly unlikely that Myers will face any serious intra-party opposition.

House

CA-16: Rep. Jim Costa has launched his first TV spot against Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, a fellow Democrat who is running to his left in the March 3 top-two primary. The narrator accuses Soria of saying "she's living paycheck to paycheck" when she "gets $96,000 a year from taxpayers and paid perks and benefits."

The narrator goes on to declare that Soria not only gave herself a pay raise but that her "fiancé and business partner received city contracts worth millions." What the ad doesn't mention is that Soria recused herself from the City Council's discussion and votes on matters concerning her significant other, developer Terance Frazier.

While Costa's decision to go negative less than a month before Election Day could be a sign that he's worried that Soria could take enough support to join him in the November general election, she'll still need a lot to go right to advance past the top-two. Costa has been a weak fundraiser in past cycles, but the incumbent outpaced Soria $506,000 to $135,000 during the fourth quarter (Soria self-funded an additional $13,000), and he ended December with a huge $904,000 to $149,000 cash-on-hand lead.

It doesn't help Soria that there's just one Republican, real estate agent Kevin Cookingham, on the top-two ballot, while former Foreign Service diplomat Kim Williams is also running as a Democrat. This seat, which includes Merced and part of Fresno, backed Clinton 58-36, so even though Cookingham has very little money, he will have a good chance to advance to November if he can just consolidate the conservative vote.

FL-13: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy endorsed attorney Amanda Makki this week in the crowded August GOP primary to take on Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist.

Makki had by far the most money in the bank on the Republican side at the end of December, but she still trailed Crist in cash-on-hand by a lopsided $2.8 million to $470,000. This St. Petersburg seat backed Hillary Clinton by a small 50-46 spread, but national Republicans haven't made defeating Crist, a former Republican governor who is utterly detested by his old party, a priority so far.

GA-14: Former state Rep. Bill Hembree and Army veteran Andy Gunther each announced this week that they would join the May GOP primary for this safely red open seat. Gunther, who works as inspector for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, appears to be running for the first time. Hembree, by contrast, has a long history in Georgia politics, though not a lot of local voters may be aware of him.

Hembree was first elected to the lower house in 1992 from a seat in Douglas County, which is located just outside of this northwestern Georgia congressional district. Hembree served for the next two decades, apart from a two-year absence following his unsuccessful 1996 run for the state Public Service Commission, but he gave up his spot to run for a state Senate seat in 2012. Hembree lost the GOP runoff for Senate District 30, which contains a very small portion of the 14th Congressional District, and he was defeated in another primary there two years later.

Former state School Superintendent John Barge also filed to run here this week, but he hasn't said anything publicly yet. Barge was elected statewide in 2010, but he quickly came into conflict with GOP Gov. Nathan Deal by opposing the party leadership's charter school amendment. Barge went on to wage a very longshot primary challenge against Deal in 2014 that went absolutely nowhere: Deal secured renomination with 72% while another candidate led Barge 17-11 for second.

Barge defied his party again months later by endorsing a Democrat over Republican Richard Woods in the contest to replace him as school chief. Woods won the general election, though, and Barge decided to challenge him for renomination in the 2018 primary. This campaign also went badly for Barge, and Woods won 60-40.

While Barge seems to have burnt bridges with almost everyone in Peach State GOP politics, one familiar name is reportedly on his side. The Rome New-Tribune writes that former Rep. Jack Kingston, who now works as a Washington lobbyist and serves as a pro-Trump TV talking head, has been talking to people on Barge's behalf.

IA-01: The conservative Future Leaders Fund, which is supporting GOP state Rep. Ashley Hinson, is out with a mid-January survey from the GOP firm Harper Polling that shows Hinson trailing freshman Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer by a small 44-40 margin. This is the first poll we've seen from this 49-45 Trump seat in northeastern Iowa.

IL-03: Businesswoman Marie Newman is out with her first TV ad ahead of her March 17 Democratic primary rematch against conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski.

The narrator touts Newman's local ties and how she "scrubbed floors to pay for college and went without health insurance when she couldn't afford it." The commercial only mentions the incumbent at the end when the narrator declares, "Now Marie is running for Congress to do what Dan Lipinski won't: raise wages for working people and ensure health care is a right for everyone."

IL-14: State Sen. Jim Oberweis is out with a survey from McLaughlin & Associates that gives him a clear lead in next month's GOP primary to face freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood. McLaughlin finds Oberweis leading fellow state Sen. Sue Rezin 46-16 in this seat in the western Chicago exurbs, while former Trump administration official Catalina Lauf is at 6%.

McLaughlin has a bad reputation even in GOP circles, but so far, no one has released any other polls here. And while Oberweis has a terrible electoral history, his large financial advantage over his intra-party rivals could help him win the March 17 primary. Oberweis, who has self-funded most of his campaign, ended December with a $1.1 million war chest, while businessman Ted Gradel was well behind with $649,000 in the bank. (Gradel took 2% of the vote in that McLaughlin poll.) Rezin had $329,000 to spend, while Lauf had a mere $32,000 on-hand.

Even if the GOP avoids nominating Oberweis, though, Team Red will be in for a serious fight against Underwood. The incumbent, who flipped this 49-44 Trump seat in an upset last cycle, ended December with $1.7 million in the bank.

IN-05: On Wednesday, just two days before the filing deadline, state Sen. Victoria Spartz announced that she was joining the crowded May GOP primary for this open seat. Originally hailing from Ukraine, Spartz would be one of a handful of immigrants serving in Congress if she were elected.

Spartz's 20th Senate District is located entirely in the 5th Congressional District, but she's never had to face the voters before. In mid-2017, local party officials chose Spartz to fill a vacancy in the Senate (Indiana does not hold special elections for the legislature) for a term that doesn't expire until the end of this year.

NC-01: Back in December, farmer Sandy Smith ditched her extremely longshot GOP primary campaign against Sen. Thom Tillis and filed to challenge veteran Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield. Smith, who spent most of the fourth quarter running for the Senate, raised just $90,000 from donors but self-funded another $170,000, and she ended 2019 with $202,000 in the bank. Butterfield, by contrast, had $566,000 to spend.

Redistricting moved this inland northeastern North Carolina seat to the right quite a bit: While it supported Hillary Clinton 68-30 under the lines used in 2016 and 2018, the new constituency backed her by a smaller 55-44 spread. However, this is still blue turf that hasn’t voted for a Republican in any federal or statewide partisan election since likely the 1980s, and it will be very difficult for Smith to defeat Butterfield.

NY-22: Former Rep. Claudia Tenney got some good news last week when former Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell dropped out of the GOP primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi, and it looks very unlikely that she will face any serious intra-party opposition now.

George Phillips, who lost the 2016 primary to Tenney, ended December with just $57,000 in the bank, while high school teacher Franklin Sager didn't have so much as one cent to spend. As a result, we've removed this contest from our Primaries to Watch spreadsheet and on to a second tab called "Off the list."

Tenney, though, ended last year at a huge financial disadvantage against Brindisi, who narrowly unseated her in 2018. Brindisi outraised Tenney by a massive $903,000 to $297,000 during her opening quarter, and he enjoyed a $1.85 million to $287,000 cash-on-hand edge. However, Democrats can take absolutely nothing for granted this fall in an upstate New York seat that supported Donald Trump 55-39.

Mayoral

San Diego, CA Mayor: On Monday, GOP San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob crossed party lines and endorsed Democratic City Councilwoman Barbara Bry over Republican City Councilman Scott Sherman. Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria very much looks like the most likely candidate to advance past the March 3 nonpartisan primary, while Sherman and Bry appear to be competing for the second spot in the November general election. Sherman may have the chance to pull ahead of Bry if he can consolidate the city's Republican voters, but Jacob's support for Bry could make his task harder.