Morning Digest: Flipping the Senate is within reach as three key race ratings shift toward Democrats

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

Race Ratings: As the battle for control of the Senate grows more competitive, Daily Kos Elections is moving a trio of contests in the Democrats’ direction, though all three Republican incumbents very much remain in the fight. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s race moves from Likely to Lean Republican, while Maine Sen. Susan Collins' and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis’ seats have gone from Lean Republican to Tossup.

With these changes, we now rate three Republican-held seats as Tossups (the two above plus Arizona) and one as Lean Democratic (Colorado). If Democrats can sweep these races and retake the White House, they'll win back control of the Senate even in the likely event that Alabama Sen. Doug Jones loses his bid for re-election.

Campaign Action

Iowa (Likely Republican to Lean Republican). At the start of the cycle, it wasn’t clear whether Joni Ernst would be a serious target, but of late, both parties have begun treating the Hawkeye State as a major battleground. Ernst’s allies at the NRSC and the Senate Leadership Fund have reserved a total of $15.2 million in ad time, while the DSCC and the Senate Majority PAC have booked $20.4 million to unseat her. Businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, who has the support of national Democrats in the June 2 primary, has also proven to be a strong fundraiser, though Ernst still had considerably more money to spend at the end of March.

Still, while Ernst is in for a tougher race than she may have anticipated even a few months ago, she remains the favorite thanks to Iowa’s swing to the right over the last few years. Though the Hawkeye State had been competitive turf for generations, Ernst won by a surprisingly lopsided 52-44 margin in 2014, and Donald Trump did even better there two years later. Iowa did shift back towards Democrats last cycle when Democrats unseated two Republican House incumbents, but Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds still won a full term 50-48 in a bad year for her party.

Maine (Lean Republican to Tossup): Susan Collins has pulled off lopsided wins during all three of her re-election contests, and she remained very popular in her home state of Maine as recently as a couple of years ago. However, the incumbent’s numbers took a dive after she provided the decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, something that she seemed to acknowledge last summer.

We’ve only seen two polls this year, but they both showed Collins narrowly losing to state House Speaker Sara Gideon, who has the backing of national Democrats in the July primary and swamped Collins on the money front in the most recent quarter. Maine only narrowly backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Collins has a strong shot of winning a fifth term if Trump can come close again. But Collins, whose once-moderate veneer helped her win many Democratic votes in years past, is unused to having her fate tied to the top of the ticket and can no longer count on crossover support now that her extremism has been exposed.

North Carolina (Lean Republican to Tossup): Thom Tillis is another GOP incumbent who seemed to have the edge just a few months ago, but things have improved for Democrats since Cal Cunningham won his primary in early March. Cunningham decisively outraised Tillis over the following weeks, and multiple polls have shown Tillis trailing. North Carolina did back Trump 50-46, but if this swing state ends up in Joe Biden’s column this fall, Tillis will have a tough time hanging on.

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.

California: Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an order directing that all California voters be sent a mail-in ballot for the November general election, though in-person voting will still remain an option. Leaders in the Democratic-run legislature plan to pass a bill that would do the same thing, but they had asked Newsom to issue this order so that election officials could begin making the necessary preparations immediately.

Delaware: Democratic Gov. John Carney has postponed Delaware's presidential primary a second time, from June 2 to July 7. The delay will give the state more time to send absentee ballots applications to all registered Democrats and Republicans who have not yet requested one, a move that Carney also just announced. Carney's order also postpones all school board elections, which previously were moved from May 12 to June 16, until July 21.

Louisiana: Voting rights advocates, including the NAACP, have filed a federal lawsuit asking that Louisiana's requirement that voters present an excuse in order to vote absentee be waived for all elections that take place during the coronavirus pandemic. The suit also seeks to waive the requirement that absentee voters obtain a witness' signature for their ballots. In addition, plaintiffs want the early voting period extended from seven days to 14.

Michigan: Michigan officials have accepted a federal judge's original plan for easing ballot access requirements for congressional and judicial candidates despite an appeals court ruling that overturned that plan. As a result, the filing deadline for such candidates was extended from April 21 to May 8, the number of signatures required was halved, and candidates were allowed to collect and file signatures electronically.

Minnesota: Democrats in the Minnesota House have given up on a plan to conduct the state's elections by mail after the Republican-run state Senate refused to consider it. Instead, both chambers passed a compromise bill that appropriates federal funds to promote absentee voting, help process an expected surge of mail ballots, and open more polling places to reduce crowding.

Senate

MI-Sen: Advertising Analytics reports that Republican John James has launched a new $800,000 buy that will last for two weeks. The commercial touts James' time in the Army and in business and does not mention Democratic incumbent Gary Peters.

House

IN-01: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus' BOLD PAC has spent about $150,000 on mailers supporting state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon in the June 2 Democratic primary.

Candelaria Reardon is one of several candidates competing to succeed retiring Rep. Pete Visclosky in this reliably blue seat in the northwestern corner of the state, and there's no clear frontrunner at this point. Attorney and environmental advocate Sabrina Haake, who has self-funded most of her campaign, ended March with a $237,000 to $161,000 cash-on-hand lead over Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, who considered challenging the incumbent before Visclosky decided not to seek re-election.

Candelaria Reardon wasn't far behind with $146,000 available, while 2018 Secretary of State nominee Jim Harper had $81,000 to spend. North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan, who has Visclosky's endorsement, had just $43,000 on-hand, while businesswoman Melissa Borom did not report raising anything.

NJ-03: Defending Main Street, a super PAC that backs establishment Republicans in primaries, has spent $100,000 on mailers boosting former Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs and opposing wealthy businessman David Richter in the July GOP primary.

While Republicans reportedly recruited Gibbs to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Andy Kim, her fundraising has been very disappointing in this very expensive district. Gibbs outraised Richter $71,000 to $19,000 during the first quarter of 2020, but Richter self-funded another $100,000 and ended March with a large $462,000 to $112,000 cash-on-hand lead.

Kim hauled in $760,000 during this time and had a hefty $2.7 million available. However, despite the GOP's fundraising woes, this is still tough turf for Democrats: This seat, which includes the Philadelphia suburbs and central Jersey Shore, swung from 52-47 Obama to 51-45 Trump.

TX-03: Attorney Lulu Seikaly picked up an endorsement on Friday from Rep. Marc Veasey, who serves as a regional DCCC vice chair, in the July Democratic runoff to take on freshman GOP Rep. Van Taylor.

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.

Public Service Announcement: If you haven't yet filled out the 2020 census, please do so by clicking here to do it online, by mail, or by phone. This way, census workers won't have to come to your door. The Census Bureau advises completing the census now even if you haven't received your 12-digit census ID by mail.

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.

Campaign Action

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.