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.
● NM-02: The June 2 GOP contest to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico's 2nd District turned negative a long time ago, and it may now be the ugliest primary anywhere in the country.
The Associated Press' Russell Contreras reported Tuesday that 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell had texted with a conservative cartoonist named Roger Rael about a meme Rael was creating that suggested that Herrell's main rival, businesswoman Claire Chase, had been unfaithful to her first husband. Herrell showed a close interest in Rael's illustration, going so far as to inform him about multiple spelling errors: "It should say gold digging, not good digging," she wrote, adding, "Let me send them in the morning. There are a couple of more."
Herrell's campaign did acknowledge that she had communicated with Rael, who it just so happens is currently under indictment for what Contreras describes as "disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property charges in connection with an alleged attack on a Republican state House candidate." However, Herrell's spokesperson claimed that Rael had incessantly messaged Herrell, saying that her texts only came in response to his. (What better way to fend off unwelcome texting than to turn into the grammar police?) Herrell also put out a statement saying, "I have never attempted to use personal rumors about Claire in this race, and will never do so. Neither has my campaign."
Chase, unsurprisingly, was not appeased, and she called for Herrell to drop out of the primary. Chase's former husband, Ben Gray, issued his own statement slamming Herrell: "I can't believe Yvette Herrell would try to use me in this false, disgusting attack," he wrote. Gray, who said he was still friends with Chase and is a member of a group called Veterans for Claire, added, "What kind of person would smear a Veteran to win a political campaign?"
But even before these latest developments, this was a messy campaign. Both candidates launched ads last month that accused the other of trying to undermine Donald Trump in 2016; Herrell's commercial even employed a narrator who used what Nathan Gonzalez described as a "ditzy tone" to impersonate Chase. Gonzalez, who titled his article, "The campaign attack ad no man could get away with," also characterized the spot as "one of the most sexist campaign ads in recent memory."
Whoever makes it out of next month's primary will emerge bruised, but the winner will still have a chance to beat Torres Small simply because of the district's conservative demographics: This southern New Mexico seat supported Donald Trump 50-40, and Daily Kos Elections rates the general election a Tossup.
But Torres Small, who defeated Herrell 51-49 last cycle, had nearly $3 million in the bank to defend herself at the end of March, while her prospective opponents didn't have anywhere close to that much. Herrell enjoyed a $378,000 to $264,000 cash-on-hand lead over Chase while a third candidate, self-funder Chris Mathys, had $200,000 to spend.
● Florida: The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, along with two other organizations and several voters, has filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to relax a number of Florida laws related to absentee voting for the state's Aug. 18 primaries and the November general election. In particular, the plaintiffs want absentee ballots to count so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days; currently, ballots must be received by 7 PM local time on Election Day. They're also asking that the state pay the postage on return envelopes for mail-in ballots, and that Florida's ban on paid organizers assisting with ballot collection be lifted.
● Nevada: Nevada Democrats and their national counterparts have withdrawn their legal challenge seeking a number of changes to the state's June 2 primary after officials in Clark County acceded to two of their biggest demands. According to a court filing, plaintiffs say that Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria has agreed to mail ballots to all voters, not just those listed as "active," and will add two in-person voting sites, for a total of three.
Officials in other parts of the state have made more limited concessions, per the filing, but Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, is home to 71% of Nevada voters and 81% of all "inactive" voters in the state. Democrats also say they plan to continue pressing their claims for the general election.
● North Carolina: Several North Carolina voters, backed by voting rights organizations, have brought a lawsuit asking a state court to relax a number of laws related to absentee voting for the November general election. In particular, the plaintiffs want absentee ballots to count so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within nine days, which is the same deadline for military voters; currently, ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received within just three days.
They're also asking for an expanded definition of the term "postmark" to include modern imprints like barcodes, and in the event a postmark does not include a date, they want officials "to presume that the ballot was mailed on or before Election Day unless the preponderance of the evidence demonstrates it was mailed after Election Day."
In addition, plaintiffs want the state to pay for postage for both absentee ballot applications and ballots, and they want the court to waive the requirement that absentee voters have their ballots either notarized or signed by two witnesses. Finally, plaintiffs are requesting that voters be given the opportunity to correct any issues if their signatures allegedly do not match those on file.
● Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down a requirement that absentee ballots be notarized and issued an order prohibiting officials from sending out ballots or other voting materials suggesting that notarization is still mandatory. Last month, the League of Women Voters challenged the notary requirement, calling it antithetical to stemming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The court's decision, however, was not grounded in public health but rather a state law that allows a signed statement made under penalty of perjury to suffice in lieu of a notarization in most cases where an affidavit is called for.
● CO-Sen: Businesswoman Michelle Ferrigno Warren's campaign came to an end on Monday when the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously reversed a lower-court ruling that had placed her on the June 23 Democratic primary ballot. Denver District Court Judge Christopher Baumann had ordered Warren onto the ballot last month even though she didn't have enough signatures after deciding that, in light of disruptions caused by social distancing, she had collected enough to justify her place in the primary. However, the state's highest court ultimately ruled that only the legislature has the authority to change how many petitions are needed.
This could spell very bad news for another candidate, nonprofit head Lorena Garcia. Baumann had also ordered Garcia onto the primary ballot for the same reason he had applied to Warren, but Secretary of State Jena Griswold's office announced Monday evening that she was appealing his decision to the state Supreme Court.
● GA-Sen-A: 2017 House nominee Jon Ossoff is out with a new statewide ad ahead of the June 9 Democratic primary that prominently features Rep. John Lewis and touts his endorsement. Lewis speaks positively of Ossoff, imploring voters to support him and "send Donald Trump a message he will never forget", while clips of the pair appearing together are shown.
Lewis and Ossoff have a relationship that dates back several years. Ossoff previously interned for the civil rights icon and Atlanta-area congressman, while Lewis was one of Ossoff's earliest supporters in his 2017 special election bid for the 6th Congressional District.
● ME-Sen: The Democratic group Senate Majority PAC is out with a health care-themed spot, supported with a six-figure buy, attacking Republican Sen. Susan Collins. The ad ties Collins to the pharmaceutical industry and also states that she "voted against Mainers with pre-existing conditions and for corporate special interests." The commercial, which also shows images of Collins seated alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, closes by saying, "Money changes everything, even Susan Collins."
● NC-Sen, NC-Gov: A new poll conducted by Democratic pollster Civiqs on behalf of Daily Kos shows Democrats well ahead in North Carolina's Senate and gubernatorial contests. (Civiqs and Daily Kos are owned by the same parent company.) Cal Cunningham leads GOP Sen. Thom Tillis 50-41, while Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper posts a similar 53-44 edge against Republican Dan Forest; this sample also finds Joe Biden ahead 49-46.
This is the largest lead we've seen for Cunningham since he won the primary in early March, though we still don't have too many other polls to work with. The conservative Civitas Institute released numbers in mid-April from the GOP firm Harper Polling that showed Tillis ahead 38-34, while the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Cunningham ahead 47-40 around that same time. A SurveyUSA poll released last week also had Cunningham ahead just 41-39.
Civiqs does find Cooper taking about the same percentage of the vote as other firms do, but it finds Forest in better shape. While Cooper has consistently posted very strong approval ratings since the coronavirus pandemic began, it seems unlikely that Forest will end up in the mid-30s when all is said and done in this polarized state. Indeed, the last time a major party gubernatorial nominee failed to take at least 42% of the vote was 1980.
● TX-Sen: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar picked up an endorsement this week from Rep. Veronica Escobar ahead of the July Democratic primary runoff.
● MT-Gov: Businesswoman Whitney Williams picked up an endorsement on Tuesday from Hillary Clinton for the June 2 Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, Williams is also out with a commercial where she declares that, while trailblazing women built Montana, Rep. Greg Gianforte and Donald Trump are threatening women now. Williams declares that Trump and the GOP primary frontrunner "want to take away our right to choose. Even restrict birth control. I won't let that happen."
Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who is Williams' primary opponent, is also out with a TV spot. The narrators say that Cooney worked with outgoing Gov. Steve Bullock to expand healthcare access, protect rural hospitals, and create the jobs "that will steer our economy through this crisis." The ad ends by reminding voters that Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester are backing Cooney.
While the primary is almost a month away, voters will have the chance to cast their ballots very soon. Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton announced in March that all 56 Montana counties plan to conduct the state's primary by mail, and that ballots will be mailed out to registered voters on May 8.
● IA-04: This week, the deep-pocketed U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed state Sen. Randy Feenstra over white supremacist Rep. Steve King in the June 2 GOP primary.
● PA-10: Attorney Tom Brier is up with his first TV spot ahead of the June 2 Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Scott Perry.
The commercial shows several images of Brier's volunteers as the candidate explains his campaign "has always been about bringing progressive Democrats together. Lots of Democrats who are now volunteering from home." Brier's supporters then say what they believe in, including taking money out of politics, dealing with the opioid crisis, and healthcare for all. Brier ends by telling the viewer, "Apply for your mail-in ballot today."
Brier faces state Auditor Eugene DePasquale, who has the support of the DCCC, in next month's primary, and DePasquale ended March with a large $657,000 to $145,000 cash-on-hand lead. Perry, who narrowly won re-election last cycle, had $816,000 available to defend himself in a seat in the Harrisburg and York area that backed Trump 52-43.
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: On behalf of The Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC, a group supporting former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller, the Democratic firm Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group is out with a mid-April poll showing a tight June 2 Democratic primary.
The first survey we’ve seen since mid-March finds that Miller, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, and City Council President Brandon Scott are in a three-way tie with 16% each, while incumbent Jack Young is at 13%. Two other contenders, former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith and former state prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah, are at 11% and 10%, respectively, while 18% are undecided. It only takes a simple plurality to win, and the Democratic nominee should have no trouble in November in this very blue city.
The primary, which was delayed from April 28 to early June because of the coronavirus pandemic, has also turned into a very expensive contest. The Baltimore Sun reports that Miller has raised $800,000 and self-funded an additional $1.5 million this year, which has allowed her to outspend her many opponents; Miller had only $150,000 left in late April, but she may have the resources to self-fund more.
Miller is also the only one of the many major candidates who is white in a city that’s 63% African American and 32% white: The other notable candidates are Black except for Vignarajah, who is the son of Sri Lankan immigrants. Baltimore’s last white mayor was Martin O’Malley, who was elected in 1999 and resigned in early 2007 to become governor of Maryland.
Vignarajah has also been a strong fundraiser, and he had the largest war chest in the field last month with $700,000 in the bank. Scott, who has the backing of several unions, led Dixon in cash-on-hand $415,000 to $300,000, while Young had $202,000 to spend; Young’s campaign said that he’s all but stopped fundraising as he deals with the coronavirus. Smith, meanwhile, was far behind with just $22,000 available.
It would ordinarily be quite surprising to see a crowded race where the incumbent trailing in both the polls and the money contest, but Young has only been in office for about a year. He was elevated from City Council president to mayor when incumbent Catherine Pugh resigned in disgrace (she later was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges related to her self-published children's books), and a number of candidates quickly made it clear that they’d challenge Young.
Young’s critics have argued that the veteran local politician isn’t the right person to help Baltimore deal with its long-term problems, and they’ve also taken him to task for his many gaffes. To take one example, Young said of the city’s high homicide rate last year, “I’m not committing the murders, and that’s what people need to understand," and, "How can you fault leadership? This has been five years of 300-plus murders. I don't see it as a lack of leadership."
Several polls taken during the winter showed Young badly trailing, and Mason-Dixon gave him a 28-39 favorable rating in mid-March. However, that was during the early days of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, and we don’t have enough data to indicate if Young's handling of the situation at home has given him a better shot to win a full term this year.
Miller began airing commercials months ago, and she’s largely had the airwaves to herself. Miller also has a new commercial where she tells viewers that Barack Obama brought her on at the Treasury Department during the Great Recession, and argues she has the experience to help Baltimore “come back stronger” from the current pandemic.
Dixon, meanwhile, went up with her first spot last week, which featured several people praising her accomplishments as mayor. Dixon resigned that post in 2010 after she was convicted of stealing gift cards that were supposed to help needy families, but she’s maintained a base of support since then. Dixon ran for mayor again in 2016 and narrowly lost the primary to then-state Sen. Pugh 37-35. Dixon launched a write-in campaign just a month ahead of the competitive general election and took second place with 52,000 votes, which was good for a 58-22 loss.
Vignarajah also recently went up with a new ad that features several locals praising him as a responsive leader. Vignarajah’s supporters say he got them jobs, stopped their water from being shut off, and halted illegal trash dumping. One woman also praises Vignarajah for convicting the men who murdered her young son.