Morning Digest: Facing Trump venom and GOP censure, Murkowski goes wobbly on seeking re-election

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Matt Booker, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

AK-Sen: Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski unequivocally said back in January that she was running for re-election, but she's sounding a lot less certain now. When reporters recently asked her when she would decide, the 18-year incumbent noncommittally responded, "Well, I have to do it before 2022, right?" If Murkowski does choose to retire, it would mark the first time that an incumbent senator has not sought re-election in Alaska since it became a state in 1959.

One person who would be incredibly happy if Murkowski decided to call it a career is Donald Trump, who talked about trying to unseat her even before she voted to remove him from office in January. Trump has continued to make it clear he'd try to help defeat Murkowski if she ran again, though the Washington Post reported in March that some members of his inner circle are skeptical "that he will be as much of a potent force in the race because traveling to campaign against her would require such a long flight, which Trump generally avoids." The Alaska Republican Party's central committee, which has a much shorter commute, also piled on Saturday when it voted to censure the senator over her vote.

If Murkowski did seek a fourth full term, she would compete under very different electoral rules that could actually make it easier for her to fend off a hard-right challenger regardless of whether Trump actually schlepps out to Anchorage. Last year, Alaska voters approved a referendum that would require all parties to now run together on a single primary ballot, with the top four vote-getters advancing to November. Such a system would make it all but impossible to block Murkowski from the general election, when voters would then choose a winner by means of an instant runoff.

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Senate

AZ-Sen: Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said back in January that he would not challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, but CNN reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still hasn't given up trying to recruit him. There's no word whether the termed-out governor is listening to McConnell's entreaties, though, and some very loud voices closer to home would prefer he just leave the political scene altogether. The Arizona Republican Party censured Ducey over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic around the same time that the governor took his name out of contention, vividly demonstrating the kind of primary he'd have been in for.

GA-Sen: Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan said over the weekend that he would not seek the Republican nomination to face Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

KY-Sen: Former state Rep. Charles Booker said Sunday that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination to face Republican Sen. Rand Paul. Booker campaigned for Kentucky's other U.S. Senate seat last year and lost a surprisingly close primary to national party favorite Amy McGrath, who in turn went on to lose badly to Sen. Mitch McConnell.

MO-Sen: Politico's Alex Isenstadt reports that major GOP outside groups are open to spending in Missouri’s open seat primary to stop disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens if he runs. Isenstadt says that Senate Leadership Fund, a major super PAC close to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, "has been engaged in talks about how to keep the former governor from endangering their hold on what should be a safe seat," though no one has settled on anything yet.

Isenstadt adds that GOP operatives in the Show Me State are aware that a crowded field could make it easier for Greitens to win the nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt, though unnamed "top Republicans" acknowledge that they haven't come up with a plan to stop him at this early point in the cycle.

NV-Sen: CNN says that former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who was Team Red's 2018 nominee for governor, is considering challenging Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto next year. The incumbent will be a top GOP target as she seeks re-election in a state that backed Joe Biden by a close 50-48 margin, but a bit surprisingly, we've heard very little about the prospective field to face her until now.

Laxalt, who unsuccessfully sued to overturn Biden's victory in the state, has not yet said anything publicly about his interest, though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly sees him as a Republican who "could bring together the warring wings of the party." Back in December, the Las Vegas Review-Journal also relayed "rumors" that Laxalt was thinking about seeking a rematch with Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who beat him 49-45, but we've heard nothing new since then.

OH-Sen: While "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance hasn't publicly expressed interest in seeking the Republican nomination for Ohio’s open seat, that hasn't stopped a group of far-right billionaires from pouring massive sums into a super PAC set up to aid him if he does. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Peter Thiel has given $10 million to a group called Protect Ohio Values, while the PAC’s spokesperson says that Robert Mercer's family has also made a "significant contribution."

On the Democratic side, Rep. Tim Ryan recently told CNN he would decide "in the next few weeks" if he'll campaign to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman.

UT-Sen: Former state Rep. Becky Edwards recently told Utah Policy that she was "all in" for a Republican primary campaign against Sen. Mike Lee, but she'll be in for an exceedingly difficult race: Edwards, who retired from the legislature in 2018, spent last year encouraging fellow Mormon women to vote against Donald Trump.  

Governors

CT-Gov: New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said Sunday that she would not seek the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, a move that the Hartford Courant writes "appeared to take both parties by surprise."

MD-Gov: Nonprofit executive Jon Baron told the Baltimore Sun's Bryn Stole that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s open governorship. Stole writes that Baron, who is a former official in the Clinton-era Department of Defense, currently serves as vice president of Arnold Ventures, a group supported by a billionaire couple that describes its mission as "invest[ing] in evidence-based solutions that maximize opportunity and minimize injustice."

MN-Gov: Republican Rep. Pete Stauber said Sunday that he would not challenge Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. KSTP’s Ricky Campbell reports that some GOP operatives “had considered Stauber a favorite,” while one top Republican, former state House Speaker Kurt Zellers, was openly dismayed. “I'm a little shocked and, honestly, disappointed," said Zellers. "I would have loved to see Congressman Stauber run. I don't know if there's a clear path right now for any candidate."

NE-Gov, NE-02: In a development that will almost certainly be a relief to House Republicans, Rep. Don Bacon announced Monday that he would run for re-election rather than campaign for governor. While Republicans are the heavy favorites to keep the governor's office in deep red Nebraska no matter whom they nominate next year, holding Bacon’s Omaha-based 2nd District would be a much more difficult task without him. In its current form, the seat swung from 48-46 Trump to 52-46 Biden last year, but the congressman ran far ahead of the ticket and won his third term 51-46.

 NY-Gov: On Friday, reporter Jessica Bakeman became the seventh woman to accuse Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. Bakeman wrote that she attended a 2014 holiday party at the executive mansion where Cuomo had held her in place without her consent and refused to let go of her after taking a picture with her even as she “practically squirmed to get away from him.” She further described how Cuomo went on to make a joke about what had just happened in front of her colleagues, which Bakeman said left her in “stunned silence, shocked and humiliated.”

Two days after Bakeman’s allegations became public, the New York Times and Washington Post both reported that Larry Schwartz, a longtime Cuomo adviser tasked with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, had been contacting county executives over the last two weeks to assess their loyalty to the governor.

One unnamed Democratic executive reportedly filed an ethics complaint with the state attorney general’s office because, as the Post wrote, they “feared the county’s vaccine supply could suffer if Schwartz was not pleased with the executive’s response to his questions about support of the governor.” On Monday, Cuomo’s attorney put out a statement insisting that Schwartz “would never link political support to public health decisions,” though she didn’t deny the calls had taken place.

Both stories attracted attention days after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced Thursday that state lawmakers would open an impeachment investigation into Cuomo, a development that came after a majority of legislators called for his resignation. Notably, if a majority of the Assembly votes to impeach Cuomo, his powers would temporarily be transferred to a fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. The governor would regain his powers if he manages to avoid conviction.

Cuomo has repeatedly said that he won’t step down, but now one of his longtime allies is reportedly considering running to replace him. The New York Daily News writes that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a moderate Democrat, has been talking to donors and fundraisers about a possible bid, though he has not yet said anything publicly. There’s no word if Bellone would be willing to challenge Cuomo if the governor is in a position to seek re-election next year.

VA-Gov: On Friday evening, the Virginia Republican Party's State Central Committee opted to allow convention delegates who will be choosing the party's statewide nominees on May 8 to vote at one of roughly 37 locations across the state. The decision came weeks after the party originally opted to hold its gathering at Liberty University in Lynchburg, only for the school to announce the next day that it hadn’t in fact agreed to host the event at all.

But if you thought the intra-party bloodletting over this convention is finally over, think again. The Richmond Times-Dispatch's Patrick Wilson writes that, even after the party reached its decision, "the meeting veered into a bitter debate related to minutia over how people will file to become delegates." The GOP also won't finalize its list of voting locations until April 24, about two weeks before the event itself.

Democrats, meanwhile, will pick their candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general in a traditional June primary―an event that will be open to any eligible voter and feature far more than 37 voting locations.

House

 NM-01: The U.S. Senate confirmed Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland as secretary of the interior on Monday, making Haaland, who is a member of the federally recognized Laguna Pueblo tribe, the first Native American to ever run a cabinet-level department. The congresswoman's departure from the House will also set off a special election in New Mexico’s 1st District in the Albuquerque area, which supported Joe Biden 60-37 last year.

In anticipation of a vacancy, several candidates from both parties have been running here for some time, but there won't be any primaries. Instead, state law requires each party's central committee to pick their candidate: The Democrats’ body is made up of about 180 members, while Republicans put their own membership at 119. Lawmakers introduced a bill this year to institute traditional primaries instead, but it looks unlikely to win the support of the necessary two-thirds of each chamber before the legislature's session ends on Saturday.

We’ll have a look at both parties’ fields in a future Digest, but there was one notable development on the GOP side shortly before Haaland was confirmed when state Sen. Mark Moores announced he would run. Political observer Joe Monahan writes that while Moores, who is the only Republican in the chamber who represents any part of the city of Albuquerque, would have a tough time flipping this seat, even an unsuccessful House campaign could help raise his profile for a bid against Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham next year.

Haaland’s confirmation also ends, at least for now, her brief but historic time in elective office. Haaland, who was a longtime Democratic activist, first appeared on the ballot in 2014, when she was then-Attorney General Gary King’s running mate in that year's election for governor. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s strong poll numbers and the terrible political climate for Democrats made the race very challenging, though, and the King-Haaland ticket lost 57-43.

Haaland soon won the race to chair the state party during the 2016 cycle, an election that saw Democrats retake the state House after two years of GOP control. Haaland got a chance to run for the 1st District to succeed Lujan Grisham when the congresswoman ran for governor, but she had to get through an expensive primary. The contest effectively turned into a three-way race between Haaland, who earned the top place on the ballot by winning the state party convention; retired University of New Mexico law school professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez; and former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez.

Haaland ran commercials talking about how she'd put herself through college and law school as a single mom, noting that she “doesn't look like most people in Congress.” She also received outside help from a new group called 7Gen Leaders that ran ads that promoted her chance to make history as the first Native American woman elected to Congress. (The group's name refers to the philosophy, attributed to the Iroquois, that those living today should strive to work for the benefit of those who will live seven generations from now.)

Still, while Haaland looked like she had a real chance to win, there didn’t seem to be an obvious frontrunner heading into the primary. Sedillo Lopez spent more than any other candidate, while Martinez received considerable outside help. EMILY’s List, meanwhile, aired ads attacking Martinez even though it didn’t endorse either Sedillo Lopez or Haaland.

Ultimately, though, Haaland beat Martinez by a surprisingly wide 41-26, and she had no trouble in November. In January of 2019, Haaland and a fellow Democrat, Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, together made history when they were sworn in as the first American Indian women to serve in Congress, which Haaland did while wearing traditional Native dress.

Mayors

New York City, NY Mayor: Former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and nonprofit executive Dianne Morales have both announced that they've raised enough money from small donors to qualify for the city's matching funds program. The city's Campaign Finance Board, though, will need to verify that they've met all of the requirements before they can receive public money.

Other Races

King County, WA Executive: It's been over a decade since there was a competitive race for the top elected position in Washington's most populous county, but that could change this year. Incumbent Dow Constantine has had no trouble winning since he was first elected in 2009, but state Sen. Joe Nguyen, a fellow Democrat who has represented West Seattle in the legislature since 2018, is now saying he's seriously considering a run against him this fall. The filing deadline is in late May.

Constantine may be in for a tough race because the backlog at the very top of Washington's political pyramid—where Democrat Jay Inslee took the unusual step of running for and winning a third term as governor last year—is starting to have some trickle-down effects on the next tier of political positions. Constantine had looked like a probable candidate for governor in 2020, but he backed Inslee once it became clear the governor wasn’t going anywhere. (As it happens, fully one-third of all elected King County executives have gone on to the governorship, so it's a good stepping stone.) That’s left Nguyen, in turn, stuck in line behind Constantine.

With King County's Republican bench currently consisting of blowing tumbleweeds, it's likely that if Nguyen does run, he and Constantine would face each other in this November’s general election thanks to Washington’s top-two primary system. Nguyen would presumably stake out terrain to the left of the already-progressive Constantine, though note that this race is officially nonpartisan.

Voting Rights Roundup: The House’s new voting rights bill now curtails gerrymandering right away

Programming Note: The Voting Rights Roundup will be taking a break the week of March 13 but will return the following week.

Leading Off

Congress: On Wednesday, House Democrats voted 220-210 to once again pass H.R. 1, the “For the People Act,” the most important set of voting and election reforms since the historic Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965. It also includes a major modification to provisions that would curtail gerrymandering, ensuring that they'll take effect right away. All Democrats except Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson voted for the bill, while all Republicans voted against it.

H.R. 1 would implement transformative changes to federal elections by (1) removing barriers to expanding access to voting and securing the integrity of the vote; (2) establishing public financing in House elections to level the playing field; and (3) banning congressional gerrymandering by requiring that every state create a nonpartisan redistricting commission subject to nonpartisan redistricting criteria.

These reforms, which House Democrats previously passed in 2019, face a challenging path in the Senate given Democrats’ narrow majority and uncertainty over whether they can overcome a GOP filibuster, but their adoption is critical for preserving American democracy amid unprecedented attack by Republican extremists both in and outside Congress. Senate Democrats have announced that they plan to hold hearings on the bill on March 24, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has committed to holding an eventual floor vote.

Using Congress’ power to regulate Senate and House elections under the Elections Clause and enforce anti-discrimination laws under the 14th Amendment, the bill would:

  • Require states to establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions for congressional redistricting;
  • Establish nonpartisan redistricting criteria such as a partisan fairness provision that courts can enforce starting immediately no matter what institution draws the maps;
  • Establish automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies;
  • Establish same-day voter registration;
  • Allow online voter registration;
  • Allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they'll be on the rolls when they turn 18;
  • Allow state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies;
  • Ban states from purging eligible voters' registration simply for infrequent voting;
  • Establish two weeks of in-person early voting, including availability on Sundays and outside of normal business hours;
  • Standardize hours within states for opening and closing polling places on Election Day, with exceptions to let cities set longer hours in municipal races;
  • Require paper ballots filled by hand or machines that use them as official records and let voters verify their choices;
  • Grant funds to states to upgrade their election security infrastructure;
  • Provide prepaid postage on mail ballots;
  • Allow voters to turn in their mail ballot in person if they choose;
  • Allow voters to track their absentee mail ballots;
  • End prison gerrymandering by counting prisoners at their last address (rather than where they're incarcerated) for the purposes of redistricting;
  • End felony disenfranchisement for those on parole, probation, or post-sentence, and require such citizens to be supplied with registration forms and informed their voting rights have been restored;
  • Provide public financing for House campaigns in the form of matching small donations at a six-for-one rate;
  • Expand campaign finance disclosure requirements to mitigate Citizens United;
  • Ban corporations from spending for campaign purposes unless the corporation has established a process for determining the political will of its shareholders; and
  • Make it a crime to mislead voters with the intention of preventing them from voting.

Importantly, the bill that won approval on the full floor on Wednesday contained critical amendments strengthening its anti-gerrymandering provisions. While the original version would not have required states to use independent commissions and nonpartisan redistricting criteria until 2030, the revised bill would implement them right away. And even if states don't have enough time to set up new commissions ahead of the 2022 elections, they would still be banned from drawing maps that unduly favor a party, which a court could then enforce.​

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​Ending Republicans’ ability to gerrymander is of the utmost importance after Republicans won the power to redistrict two-to-three times as many congressional districts as Democrats after the 2020 elections. If congressional Democrats don’t act, Republican dominance in redistricting may practically guarantee that Republicans retake the House in 2022 even if Democrats once again win more votes, an outcome that could lead to congressional Republicans more seriously trying to overturn a Democratic victory in the 2024 Electoral College vote than they did in January, when two-thirds of the House caucus voted to overturn Biden's election.

If this bill becomes law, Republicans would lose that unfettered power to rig the House playing field to their advantage. Instead, reform proponents would gain the ability to challenge unfair maps in court over illegal partisan discrimination, and the bill would eventually require states to create independent redistricting commissions that would take the process out of the hands of self-interested legislators entirely.

Protecting the right to vote is just as paramount when Republican lawmakers across the country have introduced hundreds of bills to adopt new voting restrictions by furthering the lies Donald Trump told about the election that led directly to January's insurrection at the Capitol. With Republican legislatures likely to pass many of these bills into law—and the Supreme Court's conservative partisans poised to further undermine existing protections for voting rights—congressional action is an absolute must to protect the ability of voters to cast their ballots.

The most important remaining hurdle, however, is the legislative filibuster: The fate of these reforms will depend on Senate Democrats either abolishing or curtailing it. Progressive activists have relaunched a movement to eliminate the filibuster entirely, while some experts have suggested that Democrats could carve out an exception for voting rights legislation. Either way, Democrats will need to address the filibuster in some fashion, since Senate Republicans have made it clear they will not provide the support necessary to reach a 60-vote supermajority to pass H.R. 1 into law.

Redistricting

Minnesota: A group of Minnesota citizens, including a veteran redistricting expert and a former state supreme court justice, filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to prevent Minnesota's current congressional and legislative districts from being used next year if state lawmakers are unable to pass new districts by Feb. 15. That outcome is likely given that Democrats hold the state House and governorship while Republicans hold the state Senate. Similarly divided governments have led the courts to intervene to draw new maps in each of the last five decades.

New Mexico: A committee in New Mexico's Democratic-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would establish a bipartisan advisory redistricting commission to handle redistricting for Congress, the state legislature, the state Public Regulation Commission, and the state Public Education Commission. Democratic state House Speaker Brian Egolf endorsed the proposal after previously opposing a competing reform measure that passed unanimously in state House committee in early February.

The Senate bill would create a commission with seven members, with four chosen by the leadership of both parties in each of the state's two legislative chambers, two unaffiliated members selected by the state Ethics Commission, and a final seventh member named by the Ethics Commission who would be a retired appellate judge and would serve as commission chair. No more than three commissioners could be members of the same party, and anyone who is or has served as an officeholder, candidate, or lobbyist (or whose close family members have) in the two years prior to redistricting could not participate.

Commissioners would devise three proposals for each type of office and hold public hearings to discuss them. Districts would have to be drawn according to the following criteria: equal population; legislative districts cannot split precincts; adherence to the federal Voting Rights Act and its protections of voters of color; compactness; preservation of communities of interest and local government jurisdictions; and preservation of the cores of existing districts. The criteria apparently do not prohibit mapmakers from considering partisanship or incumbency.

Once commissioners have come up with three different proposals for each office and held public hearings, they would submit the maps to the legislature for approval by lawmakers. The bill doesn't mention any prohibition on lawmakers amending the proposed districts, meaning this reform measure could nevertheless result in legislators adopting gerrymandered districts.

South Dakota: Last month, the League of Women Voters and other good-government organizations announced a plan to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year that would establish an independent redistricting commission. Supporters would need to file just under 34,000 signatures, roughly 10% of the total vote for governor in the most recent election, by this November in order to get onto the ballot.

Since South Dakota only has a single statewide congressional district, the proposal would only affect legislative redistricting. The measure would create a nine-member commission chosen by the state Board of Elections with no more than three members belonging to the same party, though the proposal is vague on the specifics of the selection process.

Mapmakers would have to adhere to several criteria, which prioritize compactness, followed by preserving communities of interest and keeping counties and cities undivided to the extent practicable. Commissioners would be barred from considering partisanship or incumbency. While Republican lawmakers would still have the opportunity to draw new districts for the 2022 elections even if the amendment passes, the commission would sweep into action immediately, crafting new maps in 2023 for the 2024 elections and then in years ending in "1" every 10 years afterward.

Voting Access Expansions

Congress: House members are set to introduce a bill with bipartisan support that would make Puerto Rico a state following a referendum last November in which voters backed statehood by a 52-48 margin. The bill's 48 sponsors in the House are mostly Democrats but also include around a dozen Republicans, several of whom are from Florida, which is home to a large Puerto Rican population. However, even if the House passes the bill, it will face a challenging path to overcoming a likely filibuster by Senate Republicans, as only Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are reportedly supporting the bill on the GOP side.

Delaware: Democratic state Rep. Bryan Shupe has announced he plans to introduce a bill later this month that would end Delaware's unusual system that requires voters to register twice: once for state and federal elections and separately for local races. This system regularly leads to situations where voters who are registered in state elections try to vote in their local elections only to find out on Election Day that they can't vote. Democrats hold both legislative chambers and the governor's office in Delaware.

Idaho: Idaho's Republican-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill to set up a standardized process for requiring local election officials to contact voters and give them a chance to fix any errors with their absentee ballots such as a voter signature supposedly not matching the one on file.

Maryland: Maryland's Democratic-run state House has passed a bill to create a semi-permanent list that will automatically mail absentee ballots in all future elections to voters who opt in. A handful of other states have similar systems, though this proposal differs in that voters who don't vote in two consecutive election cycles would be removed from the list and have to reapply.

Meanwhile, state House Democrats passed a bill with some bipartisan support to strengthen voting access on college campuses, military bases, retirement homes, and other "large residential communities." Sites like these would be able to request an in-person voting location, and colleges would be required to establish voter registration efforts on campus and give students an excused absence to vote if needed. The bill would also let military service members register online using their identification smart cards issued by the Defense Department.

New Mexico: New Mexico's Democratic-run state House has unanimously passed a bill that aims to protect Native American voting access in a variety of ways. Among other provisions, the bill requires that every reservation or other Native community have an in-person polling place, which fills an important gap since many Native communities lack reliable postal service for mail voting and also have a large proportion of residents who lack a driver's license or access to other transportation options.

New York: Following its recent passage in the state Senate, a bill has been approved in committee by Assembly Democrats that would automatically restore voting rights to everyone who is not currently incarcerated, which would permanently end the disenfranchisement of parolees. Currently, many parolees are only able to vote because Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order two years ago to restore the rights of people on parole who were convicted of certain crimes, meaning their right to vote could be rescinded by a future governor unless this bill passes.

New Jersey: New Jersey's Democratic-run Assembly has passed a bill with bipartisan support to create an in-person early voting period after their counterparts in the state Senate passed similar legislation last week. The Assembly's bill would adopt 10 days of early voting for general elections starting in November, five days for presidential primaries, and three days for all other primaries and any municipal elections taking place in May. The measure would require each of New Jersey's 21 counties to establish between five and 10 early voting locations.

Utah: Utah's GOP-run legislature has unanimously passed a bill creating a system where voters can track the status of their mail ballots via email or text message. Utah is one of a handful of states that mails ballots to all active registered voters by default.

Virginia: Both chambers of Virginia's Democratic-run legislature have passed a constitutional amendment that would abolish felony disenfranchisement for everyone who is not currently incarcerated. Currently, state law imposes a lifetime ban on voting by anyone convicted of a felony, but that system has been curtailed because Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and his Democratic predecessor issued executive orders to automatically restore voting rights upon completion of any prison, parole, or probation sentences. Those orders, however, could be rescinded by any future Republican governor.

To become law, legislators would have to pass this same amendment again after the 2021 elections before it would have to win approval in a November 2022 voter referendum. A separate amendment that would have abolished felony disenfranchisement entirely, including for people currently in prison, failed to advance before a key deadline.

Voter Suppression

Supreme Court: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case over two Arizona voting restrictions that could deal a crippling blow to what remains of the Voting Rights Act after the high court's conservatives gutted a key part of the law in 2013. Observers widely agreed that the court's conservative majority was leaning toward upholding the Republican-backed voting restrictions, but it was unclear from oral arguments just how gravely the court could undermine the standards used to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

This case involves two Arizona laws that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found had both the effect and intent of discriminating against Black, Latino, and Native American voters. If both findings are overturned, it may become impossible to challenge similar laws in the future.

Last year, the 9th Circuit blocked both measures: one that bars counting votes cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county, and another that limits who can turn in another person's absentee mail ballot on a voter's behalf.

Arizona had largely transitioned to mail voting even before the pandemic, but the 9th Circuit observed that only 18% of Native American voters receive mail service, and many living on remote reservations lack reliable transportation options. That led some voters to ask others in their community to turn their completed ballots in, which Republicans have sought to deride as "ballot harvesting" in an attempt to delegitimize the practice. The invalidated law had limited who could handle another person's mail ballot to just close relatives, caregivers, or postal service workers.

The 9th Circuit's ruling also invalidated a separate provision prohibiting out-of-precinct voting, in which a voter shows up and casts a ballot at the wrong polling place but in the right county on Election Day. Under the invalidated law, voters in such circumstances could only cast a provisional ballot, which were automatically rejected if it was later confirmed that the voter had indeed showed up at the wrong polling place.

This decision relied on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that have a discriminatory effect against racial minorities regardless of whether there was an intent to discriminate. The finding of a discriminatory effect is critical because it's often much more difficult if not impossible to prove that lawmakers acted with illicit intent, whereas statistical analysis can more readily prove that a law has a disparate negative impact on protected racial groups.

Consequently, it's this so-called "effects test" that is the key remaining plank of the Voting Rights Act following the Supreme Court's notorious 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Some legal observers remained optimistic that the worst may not come to pass, since Arizona Republicans' oral arguments did not touch on the constitutionality of the VRA's effects test. However, others have noted that even if the effects test isn't formally struck down, the Supreme Court could make it so difficult to comply with the requirements to prove discrimination that the VRA would nevertheless become meaningless.

In one revealing exchange, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Republican attorney Michael Carvin why the state GOP was even party to this case. Carvin responded with an admission that the 9th Circuit decision striking down the two voting restrictions "puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats" because "every extra vote they get ... hurts us."

Arizona: Republicans in the Arizona Senate have passed a bill that could purge roughly 200,000 voters from the state's "permanent" mail voting list, which is supposed to automatically mail a ballot in all future elections to participating voters and has proven very popular since its implementation. The bill would remove anyone who doesn't vote in two consecutive election cycles, even if they still remain eligible to vote. Republicans only hold a two-seat majority in both the state House and Senate, so they would need every member on board to overcome Democratic opposition.

In the state House, meanwhile, Republicans have passed a bill that would require people and groups who register more than 25 voters in a given year to themselves register with the state, mandating that they put unique identifying numbers on every registration form they submit. Voter advocacy groups have condemned this bill and warn that it could lead to registration forms being rejected.

Alabama: Alabama House Republicans have passed a bill that would ban local election officials from establishing curbside voting or setting up voting machines outside of polling places, which would make it harder for people with disabilities and limited mobility to cast their ballots.

Arkansas: Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed a bill into law that makes Arkansas' voter ID law much stricter, making it one of the first of many Republican-backed voting restrictions under consideration nationwide to become law following the 2020 elections. The bill removes the option for voters who lack an ID to vote by signing a sworn statement under penalty of perjury, instead mandating an ID in order to have one's vote counted.

Georgia: On Monday, state House Republicans passed a far-reaching bill to enact several new voting restrictions that would:

  • Require that voters provide the number on their driver's license, state ID, or a photocopy of their ID when requesting an absentee ballot and a photocopy of their ID when returning an absentee ballot;
  • Limit weekend early voting;
  • Restrict absentee ballot drop boxes to only the inside of early voting locations or county election offices, making them unavailable outside of regular business hours;
  • Set a minimum of one drop box per 200,000 registered voters (other states such as California require one drop box per 15,000 voters);
  • Shorten the runoff period in federal elections from nine weeks to four weeks, with the apparent intent of giving campaigns less time to mobilize voters (instant runoffs would be used for overseas civilian and military voters to avoid running afoul of federal law mandating that their ballots be sent out 45 days before an election);
  • Ban state officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to all voters after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did so in the 2020 primary;
  • Disqualify ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county, which currently may be counted as provisional ballots;
  • Limit mobile early voting buses to only emergency situations;
  • Bar counties from receiving private funding to help administer elections; and
  • Block officials from distributing food and drinks to voters waiting in line to vote.

Meanwhile, in the state Senate, Republicans passed a bill in committee to end no-excuse absentee voting for voters under age 65, who typically lean more Democratic than older voters. Late last month, Republicans in the full Senate also passed a bill that would give the state the power to take over local election boards that supposedly fail to meet certain standards, which Democrats condemned as a way to let Republicans usurp control over election boards in Democratic-leaning counties.

Montana: State House Republicans have passed a bill over Democratic objections that would bar anyone who isn't a family or household member, caregiver, or an "acquaintance" who is a registered voter in the same county from turning in another person's ballot, thereby preventing voter advocacy groups or political campaigns from organizing ballot collection efforts.

A previous Republican-backed law imposing similar restrictions was blocked in court last year for discriminating against Native American voters, who often live on remote rural reservations where mail service and transportation access are limited. This latest bill may therefore also face difficulty surviving a likely lawsuit.

New Hampshire: New Hampshire's Republican-run state Senate has passed a bill along party lines to add a voter ID requirement for requesting and casting absentee ballots, sending it to the state House, which is also controlled by the GOP. New Hampshire is one of several states where Republicans are considering extending voter ID requirements to absentee ballots after Democrats disproportionately voted by mail in the 2020 elections.

Wyoming: State House Republicans have passed a bill establishing a voter ID requirement, sending it to the state Senate, where Republicans are also likely to pass it.

Ballot Measures

Idaho: Idaho's Republican-run state Senate has passed a bill that would make it all but impossible for progressive initiatives to get on the ballot by requiring proponents to submit voter signatures equivalent to 6% of registered voters in each of the state's 35 legislative districts instead of 18, the current requirement.

The bill, which would take effect immediately, would disproportionately impact progressives because left-leaning voters are heavily concentrated in a handful of denser urban districts. Liberal organizers would therefore have to canvas in rural districts where receptive voters are few and far between. Conservatives, by contrast, would have an easier time canvassing for signatures in cities because, even if right-leaning voters represent a relatively small proportion of voters, they live in closer proximity to one another.

Republicans in Idaho have advanced similar restrictions on initiatives in recent years as a reaction to successful efforts by progressives to expand Medicaid and increase public education funding at the ballot box during the last decade. Fearing a lawsuit, GOP Gov. Brad Little vetoed a similar bill in 2019 but the Senate passed this most recent bill with a veto-proof majority.

South Dakota: South Dakota's Republican-run legislature voted this week to put a constitutional amendment on the June 2022 primary ballot that would institute a 60% supermajority requirement for ballot initiatives that raise taxes or spend more than $10 million in public funds within a five-year period. The amendment would not, however, require a supermajority to cut taxes or spending. Democratic legislators blasted Republicans for trying to manipulate the election to their advantage by placing the amendment on the primary ballot instead of sending it before voters in the general election, noting that turnout in the 2020 primary was just one-third as high as it was last November.

Republicans have repeatedly tried to enact restrictions on ballot initiatives in recent years after voters approved an initiative in 2016 that would have placed strict limits on lobbying, created an independent ethics commission, and implemented a public campaign finance system that would have given each voter a voucher to donate to their preferred candidates.

In 2017, Republicans resorted to declaring an actual state of emergency to enable the legislature to immediately repeal the voter-approved ethics law and make it immune to a veto referendum, meaning supporters of the reform needed double the signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to restore the measure. Although they did just that in 2018, then-Republican Attorney General Marty Jackley gave the new amendment a ballot summary that said it would "likely be challenged on constitutional grounds," and voters rejected the second ethics commission amendment 55-45.

Electoral System Reform

Burlington, VT: Voters in Vermont's largest city of Burlington voted by 64-36 margin to approve a ballot measure that will adopt instant-runoff voting in City Council elections starting next year. This vote comes just over a decade after Burlington voters narrowly repealed instant-runoff voting for mayoral elections after it had been used to elect the mayor in 2006 and 2009. Before it can take effect, though, it must be approved by the Democratic-run legislature and Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

Senate Elections

Kentucky: Republican state senators have passed a bill that would require the governor to fill any future U.S. Senate vacancies with an appointee from the same party as the departing senator.

Currently, Kentucky's governor is Democrat Andy Beshear while both of its senators are Republicans, meaning this bill would prevent Beshear from replacing either McConnell or fellow Sen. Rand Paul with a Democrat if either were to leave office. Republicans easily hold enough seats to override a potential veto by Beshear. The bill would allow the party committee of the departing lawmaker to send a list of three names to the governor, who would be required to pick a replacement from that list.

Ever since Beshear's narrow 2019 win, Kentucky Republicans have advanced a series of moves to strip him of his executive power, and this proposal is part of the same partisan effort to constrain Beshear's authority. However, despite the GOP's self-interested motives, the proposed system is already used in many states for legislative vacancies and a handful of states for Senate vacancies and better ensures the will of voters is respected.

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: Former Hawaii congresswoman enters what could be a crowded race for Honolulu mayor

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

Honolulu, HI Mayor: On Friday, former Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa announced her long-anticipated campaign for mayor of Honolulu.

Hanabusa, who has been raising money for months, is one of several candidates competing to succeed termed-out Democratic incumbent Kirk Caldwell, but others may jump in ahead of Hawaii's June filing deadline. All the candidates will run on one nonpartisan ballot in September, and a runoff would take place in November if no one secures a majority of the vote in the first round.

Campaign Action

Hanabusa has a long history in Hawaii politics, though she lost two high-profile primaries during the last decade. Hanabusa gave up her House seat representing the 1st District, which includes just over 70% of Honolulu, in 2014 to challenge appointed Sen. Brian Schatz, a campaign she very narrowly lost.

Fellow Democrat Mark Takai won the race to succeed Hanabusa, but he announced in 2016 that his battle with pancreatic cancer would prevent him from running for re-election. Hanabusa, who earned Takai's endorsement shortly before he died that summer, went on to win back her old seat with minimal opposition. Hanabusa left the House again in 2018 to challenge Gov. David Ige in the primary, and she was the clear frontrunner for most of the campaign.

However, while Ige's prospects seemed to sink even lower that January when a false ballistic missile alert went out, intense flooding in Kauai and the Kilauea volcano eruption both gave the incumbent the chance to demonstrate the decisive leadership that Hanabusa insisted he lacked. It also didn't help Hanabusa that her duties in the House kept her thousands of miles away from the state for much of the campaign, a problem Ige did not have. Ige ended up winning renomination 51-44, and he carried Honolulu 54-43.

Hanabusa began talking about a mayoral run last year by highlighting Honolulu's ongoing difficulties completing its expensive and long-delayed rail system and the island's struggles with homelessness. The former congresswoman launched her campaign last week arguing that she has the "requisite experience, connections and a history of being able to tackle the hard issues and know what you are doing."

A number of other candidates are already running, and two of them had considerably more money than Hanabusa at the end of 2019. Former insurance executive Keith Amemiya, who is a former executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, took in $724,000 and self-funded another $200,000 during the second half of the year, and he had $360,000 on-hand at the end of December.

City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine raised a much smaller $127,000 during this time but already had plenty of money available, and she had $607,000 on-hand. Hanabusa hauled in $259,000 during these six months and had $216,000 in the bank at the close of last year.

The field continued to expand in January when real estate broker Choon James launched her campaign, while former Hawaiʻi News Now general manager Rick Blangiardi entered the race this month. It may get larger still: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser also wrote in mid-February that two prominent politicians, former Mayor Mufi Hannemann and ex-Rep. Charles Djou, had not ruled out running here over the last few weeks.

Hannemann, who has a terrible record when it comes to LGBTQ rights and abortion access, served from 2005 until he resigned to focus on his unsuccessful 2010 campaign for the Democratic nod for governor. After losing a 2012 primary for the 2nd Congressional District, Hannemann bolted the party and took 12% of the vote as an independent in the 2014 race for governor. He considered another independent bid for governor last cycle but decided against it, and it's not clear how Hannemann identifies now.

Djou, for his part, is a former Republican who became an independent in 2018 after waging several high-profile, but mostly unsuccessful, campaigns of his own. Djou beat Hanabusa in a fluke in a three-way 2010 special election for the House but lost their rematch several months later, and Djou failed poorly against her the following cycle. However, Djou came close to winning this seat back against Takai in 2014, and he only lost the 2016 mayoral race to Caldwell 52-48.

Senate

GA-Sen-B: On Monday, GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger set the candidate filing deadline for this special election for March 6, which is the same day that the state requires candidates to file for its regularly-scheduled primaries. This move means that anyone who loses in the spring won't be able to just turn around and enter the November all-party primary for this Senate seat.

IA-Sen: On Monday, Senate Majority PAC began a seven-figure TV and digital ad buy in support of businesswoman Theresa Greenfield well ahead of the June Democratic primary to face GOP Sen. Joni Ernst.

The narrator begins, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do," and he describes how Greenfield worked her way through college. The spot continues by talking about how Greenfield raised her two boys and led a business after her husband died in an accident, and it concludes, "All of it makes Theresa tough enough to take on Washington's corruption and deliver for Iowa."

KS-Sen: Former Gov. Jeff Colyer endorsed Rep. Roger Marshall on Monday ahead of the August GOP primary. Colyer lost an incredibly close 2018 primary to former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who looks like Marshall's main intra-party foe for this race.

KY-Sen: Retired Marine pilot Amy McGrath, who has the support of the DSCC, is out with two January polls that show her in a tight race with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Garin-Hart-Yang, which was in the field Jan. 8-13, gave McConnell a 43-40 edge over McGrath, while Libertarian Brad Barron took another 5%. A Change Research poll conducted Jan. 17-21 showed McConnell and McGrath tied 41-41, while Barron took 7%. McGrath's memo did not mention state Rep. Charles Booker, who is her main foe in the May Democratic primary.

These are the first polls we've seen of this race since July, when a survey from the GOP firm Fabrizio Ward for the AARP showed McConnell leading McGrath by a similar 47-46 spread. However, while the majority leader has been unpopular in Kentucky for years, he's also proven to be a very tough opponent for Democrats in this very red state. Indeed, some early polls from the 2014 cycle showed McConnell trailing Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, but the incumbent ended up winning by a convincing 56-41 spread.

While the political environment should be considerably better for Democrats this year than it was back then, it's still going to be extremely difficult for McGrath or any other Democrat to beat McConnell in a year where Donald Trump will be leading the ballot.

NE-Sen: The GOP firm We Ask America is out with a poll giving Sen. Ben Sasse a 65-17 lead over businessman Matt Innis in the May Republican primary. There was some talk at the beginning of the cycle that Sasse, who once made a name for himself by criticizing #BothSides, could face serious intra-party opposition, but that never happened. Donald Trump has joined the state party establishment in supporting Sasse, while Innis has brought in almost no money.

Gubernatorial

NJ-Gov: Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced over the weekend that he would be treated for a tumor on his kidney early next month. Murphy said, "The expectation is that overwhelmingly, assuming nothing happens on the operating table or you don't get an infection or something, you're back on your feet and back in the game without any impairment going forward."

House

AL-01: The GOP firm Strategy Research is out with a poll of next week's Republican primary for News 5, and it gives Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl the lead with 29%. That's well below the majority needed to avoid a March 31 runoff, though, and former state Sen. Bill Hightower leads state Rep. Chris Pringle 21-13 for the second place spot. This is the first poll we've seen here since just before Thanksgiving when Hightower's allies at the anti-tax Club for Growth released a survey showing him ahead with 35% as Pringle edged Carl 16-13 for second.

P.S. Strategy Research also polled the Democratic primary in this 63-34 Trump seat along the Gulf Coast.

MN-07: While Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson previously insisted that he'd decide by the end of this month whether to seek re-election in his 62-31 Trump seat, he recently told Agri-Pulse that he still hadn't made up his mind. Peterson said that he might make his choice after the March 3 primaries, but he also noted that candidate filing doesn't begin until May; the deadline to file is June 2.

Peterson has flirted with retirement for years, and he said he wasn't sure he wanted to stick around much longer. The congressman argued, "I know I can win. That's not the issue. That's the problem. I'm not sure that I want to win." Peterson didn't give a good indication about which way he was leaning, though he said, "I tell people I'm running until I'm not."

Peterson is almost certainly the only Democrat who could hold this very red seat in western Minnesota, but Team Red will make a strong push for it even if he seeks another term. Former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, who has House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's endorsement, is the most prominent Republican who has run here in years, and she outraised Peterson $261,000 to $158,000 during the fourth quarter of 2019. Peterson, who does not traditionally raise much money during odd-numbered years, still ended December with a large $1 million to $204,000 cash-on-hand lead over Fischbach, though.

Fischbach also doesn't quite have a clear path through the August GOP primary. Physician Noel Collis, who has been self-funding most of his campaign, had $272,000 to spend at the end of last quarter, which was actually a bit more than what Fischbach had available. Dave Hughes, who held Peterson to unexpectedly close wins in 2016 and 2018, is also trying again, but he had just $19,000 to spend.

NY-01: Perry Gershon, who was the 2018 Democratic nominee against GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, is out with a new poll that finds him well ahead in the June primary in this eastern Long Island seat. GBAO gives Gershon a 42-21 lead over Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, while Stony Brook University professor Nancy Goroff takes 9%.

It's quite possible that Gershon is benefiting from name recognition from his last campaign, which ended in a surprisingly close 51-47 loss against Zeldin. However, his opponents will have the resources to get their names out closer to primary day: Goroff outraised the field during the fourth quarter by bringing in $348,000, while Fleming outpaced Gershon $239,000 to $200,000 during her opening quarter.

Goroff ended 2019 with a $636,000 to $549,000 cash-on-hand edge against Gershon, while Fleming had $202,000 to spend. However, Gershon did plenty of self-funding during his last campaign, and he might be able to throw down more if he feels like he needs to.

Whoever wins in June will be a tough race against Zeldin in a seat that has shifted sharply to the right in recent years. While Barack Obama carried the 1st District by a narrow 50-49 margin, Trump won it 55-42 just four years later, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo prevailed there by just a 49.1 to 48.6 spread in 2018 despite winning a 23-point blowout statewide. Zeldin himself raised $713,000 during the last quarter and had a hefty $1.5 million on-hand.

TX-13: Wealthy businessman Chris Ekstrom is out with a new TV spot ahead of next week's GOP primary promoting himself as a political outside opposing "the creatures of the swamp."

TX-17: Rocket scientist George Hindman is going up with a negative TV spot against businesswoman Renee Swann, who has the endorsement of retiring Rep. Bill Flores, ahead of next week's GOP primary. The narrator declares that Swann is "actually a Democrat primary voter" and that she refused to answer whether she'd support additional restrictions on gun owners. The ad goes on to charge that Swanson is "the handpicked candidate of the Washington establishment."

While this ad doesn't actually mention Flores, who is Swanson's most prominent supporter, there's no love lost between the retiring congressman and Hindman. Back in 2012, Hindman challenged Flores for renomination and lost by a lopsided 83-17 margin; Hindman went down in flames in subsequent races for the Austin City Council and for state Senate in 2014 and 2018, respectively. However, Hindman has poured $600,000 of his own money into his newest campaign, and his heavy spending could help him at least advance to a May runoff in this very crowded contest.

Legislative

Special Elections: There are three special elections on tap for Tuesday.

KY-HD-67: This is a Democratic district located in Campbell County in the suburbs of Cincinnati. This seat became vacant after Gov. Andy Beshear tapped former Rep. Dennis Keene to be commissioner of the state Department of Local Government.

Candidates were selected by the parties rather than through primary elections, and businesswoman Rachel Roberts is the Democratic candidate while businesswoman Mary Jo Wedding is the GOP standard bearer. Roberts ran for a state Senate seat in this area in 2018 and lost to Will Schroder 57-43, though she still overperformed in a 62-32 Trump seat. Wedding, by contrast, faced legal questions about her residency in this district but was ultimately ruled eligible to seek this seat.

This district is swingy turf that went for Trump 49-44 and Mitt Romney by a narrow 49-48. According to analyst Drew Savicki, Beshear dominated here last year by winning 61-36.

KY-HD-99: This is a Democratic district in rural eastern Kentucky that became vacant when Beshear selected former State House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, whom he defeated in the primary last year, to be a senior advisor to his administration.

Democrats picked former Rowan County Board of Education chair Bill Redwine, who was also endorsed by Adkins, to be their nominee, while Republicans chose former Rowan County party co-chair Richard White as their candidate.

At the presidential level, this is a strongly Republican district that backed Trump 68-28 and Romney 57-40. However, this district has been much more favorable to Democrats down the ballot. Adkins had served in this seat since 1987 and, according to analyst Matthew Isbell, Beshear prevailed 50-48 here last year.

Republicans have a 61-37 advantage in this chamber with these two seats vacant.

PA-HD-190: This is a Democratic district in west Philadelphia that became vacant when former Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell resigned after being charged with stealing funds from a charity she ran. Johnson-Harrell had just won a special election last year to replace Vanessa Lowery Brown, who was convicted of bribery.

Just like in Kentucky, the candidates were chosen by the parties: The Democrat is SEIU business agent Roni Green, while the Republican is businesswoman Wanda Logan. This is Logan's fifth run for this seat, though it is her first as a Republican after primarying Lowery Brown in each election from 2012 to 2018.

This district is assured to remain in the Democrats' column, as it backed Hillary Clinton 96-3 and Barack Obama 97-2. Republicans have control of this chamber 107-92 with this and three other seats vacant.

Morning Digest: Progressives can flip a key seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court this April

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

WI Supreme Court: The battle lines for a crucial race for Wisconsin's Supreme Court have now been set following the results of Tuesday's primary, with incumbent Justice Dan Kelly facing off against Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky on April 7.

The officially nonpartisan election featured three candidates running on the same ballot: Kelly, a conservative appointed to his post by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2016, as well two progressives, Karofsky and law professor Ed Fallone. Kelly took 50.1% of the vote and Karofsky 37.2%, advancing both of them to the general election; Fallone, who was badly outspent, finished a distant third with just 12.7%. Combined, however, Karofsky and Fallone were less than 2,000 votes behind Kelly.

Campaign Action

That tight outcome suggests another very close contest in April. Last year, in a race for a Supreme Court seat held by a retiring liberal justice, conservative Brian Hagedorn slipped past progressive Lisa Neubauer by just 6,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast overall. It was a painful loss for the left, as Hagedorn's win shifted the court from a 4-3 majority in favor of conservatives to a 5-2 advantage.

Karofsky now has the chance to slim that back down to a one-vote edge for conservatives and put liberals in a position to flip the court in 2023, when Chief Justice Patience Roggensack's current term ends. April's vote will coincide with the Democratic primary for president, which could give Karofsky a boost. In fact, Republicans had sought to move the presidential primary during the lame-duck session of the legislature after Walker lost to Democrat Tony Evers in 2018, precisely to help Kelly, though they ultimately abandoned the idea despite passing legislation to grab power from Evers before he took office.

But by no means will the GOP give up on Kelly, who so far has outraised Karofsky $988,000 to $414,000. In last year's race, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which aids candidates in state races at all levels of the ballot, parachuted in at the last minute with a seven-figure expenditure on behalf of Hagedorn that may have proved critical to his victory. While some progressive groups stepped up for Neubauer, Democrats lack an equivalent "DSLC"—there's no formal party organization devoted to winning state supreme court elections—so they'll need to find a way to match resources with the right if Karofsky is to win.

Senate

AZ-Sen: The GOP pollster HighGround Public Affairs is out with a poll of their home state that gives Democrat Mark Kelly a 46-39 lead over appointed GOP Sen. Martha McSally. The only other poll we've seen of this race this year was a January survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that had Kelly ahead by a smaller 46-42 margin. HighGround did not identify a client for this poll.

McSally recently began running TV ads ahead Kelly, and she's now up with another spot. The commercial is titled "Bernie Bro," which pretty much tells you all you need to know about its content.

KY-Sen: Retired Marine pilot Amy McGrath launched her first TV ads of the year last week well ahead of the May Democratic primary to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the Democratic firm Amplify Media reports that she's spending another $418,000 from Feb. 18 through Feb. 24.

ME-Sen: On behalf of Colby College, SocialSphere is out with the first poll we've seen here in months, and they give Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon a narrow 43-42 edge over GOP Sen. Susan Collins. SocialSphere also takes a look at the June primary and finds Gideon, who has the support of the DSCC and other national Democratic groups, leading 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet by a 60-8 margin.

The last poll we saw testing Collins against Gideon was a July survey for the AARP from the GOP firm Fabrizio Ward that had the incumbent up 52-35, but no one is acting like Collins is well ahead. Both the Collins and Gideon campaigns, as well as outside groups from both sides, have already spent heavily on ads, and they don't show any sign of stopping. Indeed, Majority Forward has launched a new three-week $550,000 TV ad campaign, and they're out with another commercial hitting Collins for refusing to vote for legislation to lower prescription drug costs.

Collins herself also didn't dispute the idea that her once mighty approval rating has taken a dive back in July, and more recent polls have continued to show her struggling. Morning Consult gave Collins an underwater 42-52 approval rating for the final quarter of 2019, which was worse than any senator in the country but Mitch McConnell himself, while SocialSphere put her favorable rating at 42-54.

NC-Sen: On behalf of WRAL-TV, SurveyUSA is out with a poll off the March 3 Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, and they give former state Sen. Cal Cunningham a 42-17 lead over state Sen. Erica Smith. This result is considerably better for Cunningham than the 29-10 lead he posted in separate February surveys by High Point University and from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

The poll comes as the GOP-connected super PAC Faith and Power has been running a $2.9 million ad campaign praising Smith, who doesn't have much money to get her name out. National Democrats, who are supporting Cunningham, very much believe that Faith and Power is getting involved because they think Smith will be much easier for Tillis to beat, and they're devoting more money towards helping Cunningham.

Carolina Blue, a super PAC that was only recently created, has reserved over $3 million in ads, and Advertising Analytics reports that its first commercials began airing on Wednesday. Politico reports that VoteVets is also spending an additional $1.5 million on pro-Cunningham ads: The group's new commercial praises Cunningham's record in the legislature and progressive agenda and declares he "won't let anyone repeal Obamacare."

TX-Sen: The newly-formed Lone Star Forward PAC has launched a TV spot in support of nonprofit head Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez ahead of the March 3 Democratic primary to face GOP Sen. John Cornyn, and the group says that the initial buy is in the "low six figures." The ad tells the audience that Tzintzún Ramirez is "running to be our first Latina senator" and will be a progressive voice on healthcare and gun safety issues.

Gubernatorial

AK-Gov: Stand Tall With Mike, the main group fighting to prevent GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy from being removed from office, announced on Tuesday that it would drop its legal opposition to the recall campaign. However, the Alaska Division of Elections is still challenging a lower court ruling that allowed the recall to proceed, and the state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 25.

Dunleavy's allies, though, say that they very much expect the justices to allow the recall campaign to reach the ballot. Stand Tall With Mike put out a Trumpy statement declaring that "it is clear that the Court is determined to let the recall effort go forward before it has even reviewed the parties' legal briefings."

While the Alaska Supreme Court has yet to rule on the legality of the recall, it has allowed Recall Dunleavy to collect the petitions they need to get a recall measure on the ballot. If Recall Dunleavy prevails in court, it will have to collect more than 71,000 signatures, which is 25% of the votes cast in 2018, to advance to the ballot. There's no time limit for gathering petitions, and a recall election would take place 60 to 90 days after the Division of Elections verified that enough valid signatures have been turned in.

If Dunleavy is removed from office, he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, a fellow Republican. No matter what, though, Alaska's regularly-scheduled gubernatorial election will take place in 2022.

NC-Gov: SurveyUSA is out with a poll of the March 3 GOP primary on behalf of WRAL-TV, and it gives Lt. Gov. Dan Forest a hefty 60-8 lead over state Rep. Holly Grange. High Point University also recently found Forest ahead by a similar 54-10 spread in the contest to take on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

House

IA-02: State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks picked up an endorsement this week from Sen. Joni Ernst ahead of the June GOP primary for this open southeastern Iowa seat. Miller-Meeks also recently earned the support of a number of state legislators including fellow state Sen. Chris Cournoyer, who talked about running here in April, and Roby Smith, who was also once mentioned as a prospective candidate.

Miller-Meeks announced in early October that she would run to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, who beat her in 2008, 2010, and 2014. Her main opponent in the primary is Bobby Schilling, a former one-term congressman from across the Mississippi River in Illinois who has struggled to raise money for his first Iowa race. Miller-Meeks outpaced Schilling $250,000 to $26,000 during her opening quarter, and she ended December with a $215,000 to $50,000 cash-on-hand lead.

National Democrats are backing former state Sen. Rita Hart, who doesn't face any serious intra-party opposition, in the race to hold this 49-45 Trump seat. Hart raised $336,000 during the last quarter, and she closed the year with $648,000 in the bank.

NY-02: Suffolk County Director of Health Education Nancy Hemendinger announced on Wednesday that she was dropping out of the June GOP primary and endorsing Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino.

NY-27: On Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted out his "Complete Endorsement" for state Sen. Chris Jacobs for the April 28 special election. Normally it wouldn't be remotely newsy that Trump is supporting the GOP nominee in an election, but this is an odd case.

That's because Jacobs, whose detractors fault him for refusing to back Trump in the 2016 general election, faces opposition in the June primary from both attorney Beth Parlato and Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw. While Trump's tweet explicitly referred to the April special, his message will allow Jacobs to tell voters he's the White House's pick from now until late June.

Pennsylvania: Candidate filing closed Tuesday for Pennsylvania's April 28 primaries, and the state has a list of contenders available here. However, challenges to nominating petitions are common in the Keystone State, and candidates are sometimes knocked off the ballot, so expect some changes.

PA-01: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick prevailed last cycle 51-49 in a Bucks County seat that Hillary Clinton had carried 49-47 in 2016, and he's now just one of two Republicans seeking re-election in a Clinton district (the other is New York Rep. John Katko). Fitzpatrick is a strong fundraiser, and he ended December with $1.4 million in the bank.

Three Democrats filed to take him on, but Pennsbury school board member Debbie Wachspress was the only one who had brought in a credible amount of money at the end of 2019. Wachspress had $355,000 on-hand while her intra-party opponents, Bucks County housing department official Christina Finello and businessman Skylar Hurwitz, each had less than $12,000 in the bank.

Fitzpatrick does face a primary challenge of his own from businessman Andrew Meehan, but Meehan had a tiny $6,000 war chest at the end of last year. Fitzpatrick's allies at EDF Action also released a poll on Wednesday from the GOP firm WPA Intelligence that showed the incumbent beating Meehan 59-19.

PA-06: Democrat Chrissy Houlahan easily flipped this 53-43 Clinton seat last cycle after GOP incumbent Ryan Costello dropped out after the filing deadline, and the GOP doesn't seem to be making much of an effort to take it back. The only Republican who ended up filing is businessman John Emmons, who has been self-funding almost his entire campaign but still trailed Houlahan in cash-on-hand by a wide $2.1 million to $221,000 at the end of 2019.

PA-07: Democrat Susan Wild decisively won an open seat race last cycle after national Republicans abandoned their nominee, but 2020 could be a more difficult year for her. This Lehigh Valley seat shifted from 53-46 Obama to just 49-48 Clinton, and this time, national Republicans have a candidate they're more excited about.

Former Lehigh County Commissioner Lisa Scheller entered the race in October and quickly earned an endorsement from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Scheller has already begun self-funding. Wild outraised Scheller $516,000 to $250,000 during the final three months of 2019, but Scheller poured in an additional $300,000 of her own money. Wild ended the year with a $1.06 million to $432,000 cash-on-hand lead over Scheller.

Two other Republicans who have previously run for Congress are also campaigning here. Former Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning narrowly lost the 2018 primary despite being badly outspent, and he had $225,000 available at the end of December after self-funding a little more than half of his campaign. Race car driver Matt Connolly, a perennial candidate who most recently lost a 2016 contest to Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in the old 17th District by a 54-46 margin, had only $4,000 to spend.

PA-08: This seat in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area swung from 55-43 Obama to 53-44 Trump, but Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright turned back a self-funding opponent last cycle by a convincing 55-45 margin. Republicans are hoping that Cartwright will be in much more danger with Trump on the ballot, though, and six candidates have filed to take him on.

Earl Granville, an Army veteran who lost part of his left leg in Afghanistan, entered the race in mid-December and earned an endorsement the following month from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Granville only had $5,000 on-hand at the end of 2019, though his other rivals weren't exactly drowning in cash either. Former police officer Teddy Daniels had $65,000 to spend, while Luzerne County Councilor Harry Haas had just $8,000 available. Cartwright, by contrast, had $1.3 million on-hand to defend his seat.

Jim Bognet, who served in the Trump administration as a senior vice president for communications for the Export-Import Bank, entered the GOP primary in January after the new fundraising quarter ended. Two other Republicans, 24-year-old businessman Mike Cammisa and former Hazelton Mayor Mike Marsicano, are also in. Marsicano is a former Democrat who lost re-election all the way back in 1999 and has unsuccessfully run for office as a Democrat several times since then.

PA-10: This Harrisburg-based seat backed Trump 52-43, but GOP Rep. Scott Perry only won re-election last cycle 51-49 in an unexpectedly expensive contest. Democrats are talking Perry, who is a prominent member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, and the DCCC is supporting state Auditor Eugene DePasquale.

The other Democrat running here is attorney Tom Brier, who trailed DePasquale $468,000 to $203,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of December. DePasquale recently released a primary poll that showed him beating Brier 68-16, while Brier has not yet responded with better numbers. Perry had $622,000 available at the close of 2019 to defend his seat.

PA-16: GOP Rep. Mike Kelly won re-election last cycle just 52-47 even though Donald Trump carried this Erie-area seat by a strong 58-39 margin two years before, and he's repeatedly been busted by the local media since then for selling used cars that were subject to safety recalls. However, the only Democrat who ended up filing to run here, teacher Kristy Gnibus, only had a mere $15,000 available at the end of 2019, so it's not clear if Team Blue can take advantage of Kelly's weaknesses. Two other Democrats who previously announced bids, customer service supervisor Daniel Smith and auto salesman Edward DeSantis, did not end up filing.

PA-17: Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb decisively beat Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus 56-44 after court-ordered redistricting threw the two incumbents into the same suburban Pittsburgh seat, but Republicans are hoping to target Lamb this year in this 49-47 Trump district.

Trump has endorsed Army veteran Sean Parnell, an author who frequently appears on Fox News, and Parnell brought in a credible $255,000 during his opening quarter. Lamb still raised a considerably larger $585,000, though, and he ended 2019 with a $979,000 to $219,000 cash-on-hand lead.

Only one other Republican, businessman Jesse Vodvarka, is running, and he's unlikely to put up much of a fight. Vodvarka has served as campaign manager for his father, Joe Vodvarka, during his four forgettable Senate bids as both a Republican and a Democrat. Another Republican, Green Beret veteran Brian Thomsen, announced he was running last year but didn't end up filing.

TX-07: Army veteran Wesley Hunt is up with a new TV spot telling GOP voters that he has Donald Trump's endorsement (true), and that socialists "have a Green New Deal that would ban Texas oil and gas" (a lie). Politico reports that this is part of a new $100,000 buy from Hunt ahead of the March 3 primary to face Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher.

VA-05: Republican officials decided last year to nominate their candidate through a party convention rather than through a primary, and we now know that the gathering will take place on April 25. Freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman faces a notable intra-party challenge from Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good, and he could end up having trouble winning.

GOP conventions tend to be dominated by delegates who prize ideology above all else, and Riggleman 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 the congressman, and local Republican Parties in three small 5th District counties each passed anti-Riggleman motions.

This seat, which includes Charlottesville and south-central Virginia, backed Trump 52-41, and Riggleman defeated a well-funded Democrat 53-47 last cycle. A few Democrats are campaigning here already, though, and a messy GOP fight could give the eventual nominee more of an opening. While Team Blue also held a convention to pick its nominee last year, this time around, Democrats have opted to hold a traditional primary in June.

WI-07: On Tuesday, state Sen. Tom Tiffany defeated Army veteran Jason Church 57-43 to win the GOP nod for the May 12 special election for this conservative northwestern Wisconsin seat. On the Democratic side, Wausau School Board president Tricia Zunker, who would be the state's first Native American member of Congress, defeated underfunded businessman Lawrence Dale 89-11.

Tiffany had the support of former Rep. Sean Duffy, who resigned from this seat last year, as well as former Gov. Scott Walker. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Club for Growth, two groups that often end up on opposite sides in GOP primaries, also both spent plenty of money to back Tiffany. Church raised a comparable amount of money as Tiffany and benefited from heavy spending from With Honor Fund and newly formed Americans 4 Security PAC, but the first-time candidate still fell short.

This seat was competitive turf a decade ago, but it's been moving sharply to the right ever since thanks to a high proportion of white voters without a college degree. Barack Obama actually carried the 7th (adjusting for redistricting) in 2008 by a 53-45 margin, but four years later, Mitt Romney won it 51-48. The bottom did not truly fall out until 2016, though, when Donald Trump prevailed by a giant 58-37 margin.

Things didn't get much better for Democrats in 2018 despite the blue wave: Walker carried the 7th 57-41 despite narrowly losing statewide, and even Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin lost it 52-48 while cruising to a 55-45 re-election victory. Given the trends in the 7th District, Tiffany will be favored in May, but as Nathan Gonzales put it after Duffy announced his resignation in August, it's "another potential special election for Republicans to mess up."

Mayoral

Milwaukee, WI Mayor: Wisconsin's largest city held its nonpartisan primary on Tuesday, and incumbent Tom Barrett and Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor advanced to the April 7 general election. Barrett, who has served as mayor since 2004 and was Team Blue's nominee for governor in 2010 and 2012, took first with 50%, while Taylor beat self-funding Alderman Anthony Zielinski 31-16 for second.

Barrett has argued that the city has made progress during his tenure and that he can continue to improve things. But Taylor, who would be the city's first woman or African American mayor, is insisting that Barrett is "disconnected" from issues like race and jobs. Barrett held a massive $896,000 to $7,000 cash-on-hand lead over Taylor on Feb. 3.

Other Races

Milwaukee County, WI Executive: Milwaukee County also held its nonpartisan primary on Tuesday for the race to succeed retiring incumbent Chris Abele, and two Democratic state legislators advanced to the April 7 general election. State Sen. Chris Larson took first with 37%, and state Rep. David Crowley led Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb Sr., who doesn't affiliate with either major party, 34-17 for second place. The balance went to businesswoman Purnima Nath, a self-described conservative.

Both general election candidates have very different relationships with Abel, a Democrat who has often worked with the GOP legislature. Abel is supporting Crowley, who would be Milwaukee County's first black executive, and the incumbent's Leadership MKE group has spent $240,000 on ads for him. Larson, by contrast, challenged Abel in 2016 and lost 56-44. Larson held a $56,000 to $30,000 cash-on-hand lead over Crowley on Feb. 3.

Grab Bag

Demographics: We're about to enter a vexing new stage in the Democratic presidential primary: a whole lot of states having elections where we have little or no polling data. Knowing which states are demographically similar to each other can help fill in some of those data gaps, though, and David Jarman has put together a state similarity index using "nearest neighbor" analysis to guide that conversation. (In case you were wondering whether this year's candidates will play in Peoria, that's actually a good question, because Illinois is the nation's most demographically average state!