A Democratic wave pickup of 10 Senate seats is a real possibility

Early in the cycle, the big question was wether Democrats could pick up the net-four seats they needed to get control of the U.S. Senate (assuming they won the presidency, and the tie-breaking vote). It was a tall order, given that only one top pickup opportunity (Colorado) was in a 2016 blue state. But Donald Trump’s disastrous and deadly presidency hasn’t just crushed his own reelection chances, but is now threatening Republican Senate seats no one would’ve ever thought would be at risk, even in some solidly red states. 

Welcome to my inaugural ranking of Senate races, by most likely to flip. 

TIER ONE (expected to switch)

1. AlabamaDoug Jones (D)

Our two-year Democratic rental, thanks to a narrowly won special election against a child predator, should come to an end this November as Alabama’s strong Republican lean and a run-of-the-mill Republican challenger ends Jones’ term. No regrets. It was great while it lasted. 

2. Colorado, Cory Gardner (R)

Joe Biden will win Colorado by double-digits. There’s no way Gardner overcomes that margin, and especially not against former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who remained popular throughout his two terms in office. In fact, Gardner has acted as someone vying for a spot on a second Trump term, reliably defending his president during the impeachment proceedings, rather than a blue-state senator trying to differentiate himself from the top of the ticket. 

3. Arizona, Marth McSally (R)

McSally narrowly lost in the Democratic wave in 2018, and since appointed to fill Sen. John McCain’s seat after his death, she is headed toward another defeat at the hands of Democrat Mark Kelly, an astronaut and husband to former congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabby Giffords. Polling is showing both Biden and Kelly pulling away, in a state in which resurgent Latino voters and suburban white women are heavily engaging. 

4. North Carolina, Thom Tillis (R) 

Democratic Iraq and Afghanistan war vet Cal Cunningham has proven a surprisingly strong challenger to first-term Republican Thom Tillis, handily leading him in all recent polling. It’s not even looking close, in a state in which Biden has also led (albeit more narrowly). Tillis runs weakly against Republicans, who see him as a traitor to Trump’s cause. And the double-whammy of Trump losing the state, and Tillis losing Trump voters, looks too much to overcome. 

5. Maine, Susan Collins (R)

Collins survived decades as a Republican in blue Maine by pretending to be a “moderate” independent-minded legislator. The Trump years have torn that facade away, as she’s sided with the wannabe despot in both his Supreme Court nominations, and in voting to acquit him during the impeachment proceedings. Democrat Sara Gideon, Speaker of the Maine House, is leading in all recent polling, and would be the first woman of color (Indian American) elected in Maine. 

These five races would net Democrats the +3 seats they need for a 50-50 Senate, with Biden’s vice-president casting the tie-breaking vote. But what a nightmare that would be, right? We’d have the nominal majority, but well-short of the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and without the Democratic votes needs to eliminate that stupid filibuster. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has already declared he’d vote against any such efforts. So it is imperative that Democrats pad their majority in order to have the votes to get rid of the filibuster and push through critical legislation like statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico (if its residents vote for it), voting right protections, economic stimulus, police reforms, measures to address climate change, and other Democratic priorities. 

TIER TWO (toss-ups)  

6. Montana, Steve Daines (R)

How can Democrats be competitive in a state which Trump won by over 20 points? First, convince popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to run, then watch Trump’s numbers collapse to the point that Biden is actually competitive. Recent polling in this hard-to-poll state show Republicans with the narrow edge, but it’s narrow. 

7. Iowa, Joni Ernst (R) 

This wasn’t a state that was supposed to be competitive, with Trump winning by nine points in 2016. Yet Trump disastrous trade wars decimated Iowa farmers, and the coronavirus pandemic has only added to anti-GOP sentiment. So this state of rural non-college whites—the core base of the modern Republican Party—is suddenly flirting with voting Democratic. Most recent polling shows Trump leading by a hair, the same as Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. 

8. Georgia, Kelly Loeffler (R)

Georgia has a racist Jim Crow-era election system, in which candidates require 50% in the first round, otherwise the race moves to a January runoff. This is a special election, thus features a “jungle primary” in which all candidates, of all parties, run on the same ballot. If none reaches 50% (and none will), this gets decided January next year. Democrats are running several candidates, and would be best served if they rallied around Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (where Dr. Rev, Martin Luther King preached). 

While Democrats have traditionally suffered turnout woes during the runoff elections, I doubt that’ll be an issue this cycle. January will be HOT in Georgia. 

9. Georgia, David Perdue (R)

Same as above, except that there’s no jungle primary. Democrats nominated Jon Ossoff to take on the incumbent. Polling has been mixed in this race, with some showing a tied race, and others showing Perdue close to 50%. But at the same time, almost all polling is showing a competitive presidential contest. If Biden can extend his lead in this coronavirus-stricken state, he could very well pull Democrats across the line with him, at least into January runoffs where defeated and demoralized Republicans might just sit things out. 

TIER THREE (lean Republican)

These solidly Republican states shouldn’t be competitive at the Senate level, yet amazingly, they are! 

10. Kansas, Open (R)

The conventional wisdom is that if Republican nominate crazed right-winger Kris Kobach, that this seat in this +20 2016 Trump state becomes far more competitive in November. That would make sense, since Kobach cost Republicans the governorship in 2018. Our own Civiqs polling, actually, found Democrat Barbara Bollier competitive no matter who Republicans nominate. A tough state, for sure but Kansas is one of the few remaining Republican states with high educational attainment (the other being Utah). Given the nation’s partisan stratification based on college education, we can expect Biden to narrow the gap from 2016, improving Bollier’s chances down the ballot. And if Republicans nominate Kobach? That can’t hurt, either. 

11. Alaska, Dan Sullivan (R)

Alaska is competitive at the presidential level (more here), despite the fact that Trump won it by 15 in 2016. No polling has shown the Senate race competitive, but that’s because 1) there is no Democratic nominee—an independent is filling that slot, and 2) that nominee, Al Gross, has a name ID of about zero percent. Gross is now up in the air, and that should boost that name ID in this cheap state. Also, Democrats will now learn that he is their guy, and will answer accordingly the next time they’re polled. 

Without strength at the presidential level, this seat isn’t in play, but Alaska has been trending Democratic for several cycles now, and this year may be the year when that vast swath of land is painted in glorious blue. 

12. South Carolina, Lindsey Graham (R)

Pinch me I must be dreaming. Infamous Trump bootlicker Lindsey is vulnerable? Yes. Yes he is. The polling has shown the state tightening at the presidential level, and the pandemic is hitting South Carolina hard, further weakening the state’s dominant Republican Party. Democrats have an awesome candidate in Jaime Harrison. His problem has been that while he’s running even with Graham, most undecideds in the race are conservative voters. It’s a tough hill to overcome. But this is happening: 

Every point Trump falls is a point that could cost him in the presidential election, and every point that presidential race narrows is one point less Harrison needs to overcome to win the Senate seat. The play here isn’t for Biden to win, he doesn’t need South Carolina (as nice as it would be!). We need it close enough to give ourselves a chance down ballot. 

This is a long-shot, by all means, but it’s a real shot. And Harrison has raised record amounts of cash and has the resources to wage a real campaign in this final three-month sprint to Election Day.  

13. Texas, John Cornyn (R)

The big question in Texas is whether it is competitive at the presidential level or not. It’s clear where the state is trending, and no doubt in a cycle or two it will be legitimately purple. But polling is mixed on whether this is the year. And that will inform whether the Senate race is flippable. On its merits, Cornyn should be cruising to reelection. He has none of the baggage Sen. Ted Cruz had in 2018, where he held on to his seat by just 2% of the vote. But if Texas Democrats can get the state’s chronically underperforming Latino vote to activate, then all bets are off—at both the presidential and senate levels. 

CONCLUSION

Of the 13 Senate seats currently in play, 12 of them are held by Republicans. The odds of Democrats picking up 10 or 11 seats are currently low, but the trends just keep getting worse and worse for the GOP. The toll of the pandemic isn’t just worsening nationwide, it’s currently disproportionately affecting some of the very states discussed above, like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, South Carolina, and Texas. 

Meanwhile, Trump is doing nothing to reverse his precipitous collapse in his national standing, while also refusing to allow Republicans to distance themselves from him. 

So can we get to a double-digit pickup in the Senate? Not today, we wouldn’t, but Republicans still have three months to fall. 

Voting Rights Roundup: Trump order to remove noncitizens from key census data sparks lawsuits

Leading Off

2020 Census: Donald Trump signed a new executive order on Tuesday directing the census to exclude undocumented immigrants from the data that determines how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state will get following the 2020 census.

Within days, civil rights advocates and Democratic officials filed separate federal lawsuits arguing both that Trump's order violates the Constitution because the 14th Amendment mandates counting the "whole number of persons" for reapportionment and that it intentionally discriminates against Latinos.

This order comes after Trump's failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census last year, a move that documents showed was motivated because GOP operatives believed it would be "advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites" in redistricting.

Campaign Action

​While that effort imploded, Republicans still aim to let states such as Texas draw districts based strictly on the adult citizen population instead of the more diverse traditional total population, which would shift representation away from Democrats and Latinos in states with large immigrant populations. To that end, Trump issued a separate executive order last year directing the Census Bureau to match existing administrative records with 2020 census responses in order to determine citizenship status, a step that prompted litigation of its own.

But while the Supreme Court could ultimately allow the use of citizenship data for redistricting, it's unlikely to do so for reapportionment: A unanimous 2016 ruling saw even arch-conservative Justice Samuel Alito acknowledge that the 14th Amendment required using the total population for reapportionment purposes. But even if the justices did overturn hundreds of years of precedent, excluding undocumented immigrants from reapportionment would likely have a far smaller partisan impact nationally than citizen-based redistricting would within states such as Texas.

However, Trump's continued push for this change shows that the GOP will not give up in its fight to exclude noncitizens from redistricting and representation, and further litigation is certain. Additionally, Trump asked Congress for $1 billion in the next pandemic spending bill to ensure a "timely census," which suggests Trump is backing away from a potential delay in the deadlines by which the administration must deliver apportionment and redistricting data to the states.

The Census Bureau has previously said it didn't expect to be able to meet its year-end deadline to give the White House its reapportionment data, or the March 31, 2021 deadline for sending redistricting data to the states. Any such delays mean that Joe Biden could block the release of citizenship data if he defeats Trump and takes office on Jan. 20. However, if the first batch of census data is released on time, that would mean Trump would still be in office, meaning opponents would have to rely on court challenges to block him.

Voter Registration and Voting Access

Deaths: Following the death of Democratic Rep. John Lewis, who was one of the nation's most prominent supporters of voting rights both during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and his long career in Congress, Senate Democrats introduced a bill named in Lewis' honor to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013, a bill that House Democrats already passed last year.

Should the bill become law, it would be a fitting way to enshrine Lewis' legacy in public life. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer aptly called Lewis “an American Founder” for his role in creating the modern American republic, which was no less than radically transformed by the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. These two landmark pieces of legislation ended the authoritarian one-party oligarchy that existed in the South under Jim Crow and finally established America as a liberal democracy nationwide—almost 200 years after the country's founding.

Lewis was one the leading figures in the civil rights movement for Black Americans from an early age. When he was just 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech. Two years later, he marched for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965. There, law enforcement reacted to the peaceful protest by brutally attacking the marchers and beat Lewis nearly to death, fracturing his skull. But even real and repeatedly threatened violence did not deter his activism.

The events in Selma became known as Bloody Sunday, and TV news audiences around the country were so shocked by images of police brutality against the marchers that it galvanized the ultimately successful effort to pass the Voting Rights Act, which became law on Aug. 6, 1965. Civil rights leaders like Lewis and King deemed the Voting Rights Act the most important achievement of their movement because it protected the right that helped secure all the others that they were fighting for.

Lewis' career of activism for the cause of civil rights did not end with the 1960s, nor did his role as a protest figure end with his election to Congress in the 1980s: Even in his final decade, he led a sit-in on the House floor to protest the GOP's refusal to pass gun safety measures after a horrific mass shooting in Orlando left 49 dead and 53 wounded in 2016. Lewis would steadfastly make the case that the struggle for civil rights was an unending one, and his leadership inspired countless people who came after him. You can read more about Lewis' lifetime of activism in The New York Times and The Atlanta Constitution.

New York: Both chambers of New York's Democratic-run legislature have passed a bill to enact automatic voter registration, sending the measure to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his likely signature. Senate Democrats had approved similar measures both this year and last, but Assembly Democrats refused to sign off until changes were made.

Part of the compromise between the chambers means the law wouldn't go into effect until 2023. However, automatic registration would involve a number of state agencies beyond just the DMV, which is critical since New York has one of the lowest proportions of residents who drive of any state.

Separately, Senate Democrats also passed a constitutional amendment that would let 17-year-olds vote in primaries if they will turn 18 by the general election, a policy that many other states have already adopted. The amendment would have to pass both chambers before and after the 2020 elections before needing the approval of voters in a referendum.

Felony Disenfranchisement

District of Columbia: Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed a bill into law that immediately restores voting rights for several thousand citizens and will require officials to provide incarcerated citizens with registration forms and absentee ballots starting next year. However, because the bill was passed as emergency legislation, it must be reauthorized after 90 days, though Council members plan to make it permanent soon.

With this law's passage, D.C. becomes only the third jurisdiction in the country after Maine and Vermont to maintain the right to vote for incarcerated citizens. It is also the first place to do so with a large community of color: The District is 46% African American, and more than 90% of D.C. residents currently disenfranchised are Black.

Voter Suppression

Alabama: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1 to uphold a lower court ruling dismissing the NAACP's challenge to Alabama Republicans' voter ID law. The two judges in the majority, who were both appointed by Republicans, ruled that "no reasonable factfinder could find that Alabama’s voter ID law is unconstitutionally discriminatory," even though Judge Darrin Gayles, an Obama appointee, noted in dissent that one white GOP lawmaker who supported passing the law said that the lack of an ID requirement was "very beneficial to the Black power structure and the rest of the Democrats."

Republicans passed this law in 2011 to require a photo voter ID in nearly all circumstances, with the only exception being if two election officials sign an affidavit that they know the voter. However, the law didn't go into effect until 2014, after the Supreme Court's conservative majority gutted a key protection of the Voting Rights Act that had required states such as Alabama with a history of discriminatory voting laws to "pre-clear" all changes to voting laws and procedures with the Justice Department before implementing them.

The plaintiffs sued in 2015 by arguing that the law violated the Voting Rights Act and Constitution and presented evidence that Black voters were less likely to possess acceptable forms of ID than white voters. That year, Republicans sparked a backlash by trying to close 31 of the state's 75 driver's licensing offices, which subsequent reporting revealed was an effort by GOP Gov. Robert Bentley, who later resigned in disgrace, to pressure his legislative opponents, but Republicans ultimately reversed course amid litigation.

Election expert Rick Hasen called this latest decision "very troubling" because it ruled unequivocally for GOP officials without letting the case proceed to trial, despite the plaintiffs' evidence of both the intent and effect of racial discrimination against Black voters. The plaintiffs could seek to request that all judges on the 11th Circuit reconsider the ruling, or they could appeal directly to the Supreme Court. However, with Republican appointees holding majorities on both courts, their chance of success appears small.

Michigan: A panel of three judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1 along ideological lines to uphold Republican-backed voting restrictions that Democrats were challenging. The ruling maintains a limitation on what counts as proof of residency for voter registration. It also rejects Democrats' demand that the state start automatically pre-registering all citizens under age 18 who conduct business with the state's driver's licensing agency so that they will be automatically added to the rolls when they turn 18. Currently, only citizens aged 17-and-a-half or older are automatically registered.

Democrats have not yet indicated whether they will appeal to Michigan's Supreme Court. The high court has a 4-3 Republican majority, though one of the GOP justices has been a swing vote when similar issues have come before the court.

Tennessee: Voting rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in state court to require Tennessee officials to comply with a 1981 law that restores voting rights to people convicted of a felony in another state if they have had their rights restored in that state. The plaintiffs argue that the state's Republican-run government has failed to educate affected voters of the ability to regain their rights. They also charge that the state is requiring the payment of any legal fines or fees, even though such repayment isn't required under the law.

Texas: A federal district court has rejected a Republican motion to dismiss a Democratic-backed lawsuit seeking to require that Texas allow voters to register online via a third-party website. The case concerns the website Vote.org, which allows applicants to fill out a registration form and then (on its end) automatically prints it and mails it to local election officials. However, the GOP-run secretary of state's office rejected thousands of such applications shortly before the registration deadline in 2018 on the grounds that the signatures were transmitted electronically rather than signed with pen on paper.

Democrats argue that these rejections violate both state and federal law. They note that the secretary of state already allows electronic signatures if they're part of applications when voters register in-person through the state's driver's licensing agency. Texas Republicans have long resisted online registration, making it one of just a handful of states that doesn't offer it to most voters. As a result, the Lone Star State is home to a majority of the Americans who live in states without full online registration.

Electoral Reform

Massachusetts: Massachusetts officials have approved an initiative for the November ballot that would enact a statute implementing instant-runoff voting in elections for Congress and state office. It would also apply to a limited number of local contests such as countywide posts for district attorney and sheriff, but not those at the municipal level, which is the primary unit of local government in New England. If adopted, the new system would come into effect in time for the 2022 elections and would make Massachusetts the second state after Maine to adopt this reform.

Redistricting

New York: Democratic legislators in New York swiftly passed a constitutional amendment with little debate that would increase the likelihood that they could exercise full control over redistricting after 2020 and gerrymander the state's congressional and legislative maps. However, the amendment's provisions are more complicated than an attempt to just seek partisan advantage, and it still has a ways to go before becoming law.

New York has a bipartisan redistricting commission that proposes maps to legislators for their approval. Legislative leaders from both parties choose the members, and the 2014 amendment that enshrined it in the state constitution requires two-thirds supermajorities for legislators to disregard the commission's proposals and enact their own if one party controls both legislative chambers, as Democrats currently do. The biggest partisan impact this new amendment would have involves lowering that threshold to three-fifths.

Democrats hold a two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly but currently lack that in the state Senate. However, they exceed three-fifths in the upper chamber, meaning they would gain control over redistricting if the amendment were law today. However, there's a good chance the lowered threshold would be irrelevant for the next round of redistricting.

That's because Democrats have a strong opportunity to gain a Senate supermajority in November, thanks to a large number of Republican retirements in swing districts and an overall political climate that favors Democrats. Still, lowering the supermajority requirement to three-fifths could still prove decisive in the future, especially if Democrats fall short of their hopes this fall, so it's therefore fair to describe the move as an attempt by Democrats to gain greater control over redistricting.

Nevertheless, several other provisions in this amendment promote nonpartisan goals that would strengthen redistricting protections regardless of who draws the lines, complicating the case for whether or not New York would be better off in the short term if the amendment were to become law. Most importantly, the amendment would let New York conduct its own census for redistricting purposes if the federal census does not count undocumented immigrants, as Trump has ordered.

It also enshrines an existing statute that bans prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people for redistricting purposes at their last address instead of in prisons that are largely located in whiter rural upstate communities, restoring representation to urban communities of color. In addition, it freezes the number of senators at the current 63; in the past, lawmakers have expanded the size of the body in an attempt to gain a partisan advantage. Finally, it sharply limits the splitting of cities between Senate districts, something the GOP used extensively in their successful bid to win power (supported by several renegade Democrats) after the last round of redistricting.

Democrats would need to pass this same amendment again in 2021 before putting it on the ballot as a referendum that year, meaning it could pass without GOP support, but it would still require voter approval. If enacted, it would immediately take effect.

North Carolina: Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill passed almost unanimously by North Carolina's Republican legislature to undo one of the GOP's many gerrymandering schemes, specifically one involving gerrymandering along racial lines in district court elections in Mecklenburg County. The GOP's about-face came as Republicans were facing a near-certain loss in state court for infringing on Black voters' rights in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Mecklenburg County is a Democratic stronghold that's home to Charlotte and more than one million residents. In 2018, Republican lawmakers changed Mecklenburg's procedures for judicial elections from a countywide system to one in which the county is split into separate judicial districts, even though all of the elected judges still retain countywide jurisdiction. The GOP's 2018 law gerrymandered the districts in an attempt to elect more white Republicans in place of multiple Black Democratic incumbents—precisely what came to pass that November.

Republicans had already agreed to revert back to countywide elections for 2020 while their case proceeded, but the lawsuit is moot now that Republicans have repealed the law in question. This GOP defeat means Republican legislators this past decade have lost lawsuits over their gerrymandering once or even multiple times at virtually every level of government in North Carolina, including for Congress, state legislature, county commission, city council, local school board, and, as here, judicial districts.

Ballot Access

West Virginia: A federal district court has denied the GOP's motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit in which Democrats are challenging a law that gives the party that won the last presidential election in the state—which has voted Republican in every race since 2000—the top spot on the ballot in every partisan contest. Barring a settlement, the case will now proceed to trial, which was previously set for July 27.

The plaintiffs argue that this system violates the First and 14th Amendments because candidates listed first can enjoy a boost in support that can prove decisive in close elections, particularly in downballot races where voters have much less information about the candidates than they do for the top of the ticket.

Court Cases

Maine: Maine Republicans have filed yet another lawsuit in federal court arguing that instant-runoff voting violates the U.S. Constitution and should be blocked in November, when it will be used in all federal races. Democratic Secretary of State Matt Dunlap recently determined that Republicans were roughly 2,000 voter signatures shy of the 63,000 signatures needed to put a veto referendum on the ballot in November that would suspend the use of IRV for the Electoral College until voters weigh in, but the GOP will separately challenge his decision in state court.

The federal suit is just the latest in the GOP's long running campaign against IRV after voters approved it in a 2016 ballot initiative for state and congressional races (a state court later blocked it for state-level general elections). However, they may not have much more success than former Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin did when he argued that IRV was unconstitutional after he lost the 2018 election to Democratic Rep. Jared Golden once all instant-runoff calculations were completed. In that case, a federal court thoroughly rejected Poliquin's arguments that IRV violated voters' First and 14th Amendment rights.

ELECTION CHANGES

Please bookmark our litigation tracker for a complete summary of the latest developments in every lawsuit regarding changes to elections and voting procedures as a result of the coronavirus.

Arkansas: A panel of three GOP-appointed judges on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously overturned a district court ruling that made it easier for redistricting reformers to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting commission. The lower court's ruling, which the 8th Circuit had already temporarily blocked while the appeal proceeded, had suspended a requirement that voter petition signatures be witnessed in-person, enabling supporters to sign the forms at home and mail them in.

Republican Secretary of State John Thurston had recently thrown out all signatures gathered for the redistricting reform initiative and a separate initiative to adopt a variant of instant-runoff voting, and initiative supporters are separately challenging that decision in state court. Organizers have not announced whether they will appeal this latest federal court ruling.

New Hampshire: Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a law passed by New Hampshire's Democratic-run legislature that will allow voters to use a single application to receive absentee ballots for both the Sept. 8 state primary and Nov. 3 general election.

North Carolina: North Carolina's Board of Elections has issued a rule that every county this fall must have at least one early voting location for every 20,000 registered voters and that smaller counties only operating one location must provide for a backup location and extra staff as a precaution.

Oregon: A panel of three judges on the 9th Circuit Circuit Court of appeals has ruled 2-1 against Democratic officials' request to block a lower court ruling that resulted in officials having to lower the number of signatures and extend the deadline to collect them for a ballot initiative to establish an independent redistricting commission. It's possible that the Supreme Court could block the district court's ruling if Oregon Democrats appeal, but they have yet to indicate whether they will do so.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to effectively short-circuit a federal lawsuit that the Trump campaign and several GOP Congress members recently filed to restrict voting access, which the federal district court recently agreed to expedite.

Democrats are asking the appellate-level Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to guarantee that counties can set up drop boxes for returning mail ballots; count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days afterward; give voters a chance to fix problems with mail ballot signatures; count mail ballots lacking an inner secrecy envelope; and prohibit voters from serving as poll watchers in a county where they aren't a resident. The GOP's federal lawsuit is trying to block drop boxes and allow out-of-county poll watchers, which is likely intended to facilitate voter intimidation.

Rhode Island: Voting rights groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Rhode Island's requirement that mail voters have their ballots signed by two witnesses or a notary, something that very few other states require. The plaintiffs argue that this requirement violates the Constitution during the pandemic, and they're asking the court to waive it for the Sept. 1 primary and November general election.

Tennessee: A federal district court judge has sided against civil right groups seeking to ease access to absentee voting ahead of the state's Aug. 6 primary, ruling that the plaintiffs waited too long to bring their challenge, but the court allowed the case to proceed for November. The plaintiffs wanted the court to require that voters be notified and given a chance to correct any problems with their mail ballots and also allow third-party groups to collect and submit absentee ballots on behalf of voters.

Texas: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with state Democrats' request to expedite consideration of the GOP's appeal of a lower court ruling that had ordered that all voters be allowed to vote absentee without needing an excuse instead of only voters aged 65 and up. The expedited timeline means there's a chance of a resolution in time for November.

Morning Digest: Virginia GOP congressman who officiated same-sex wedding gets denied renomination

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

VA-05: Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good won the Republican nomination on Saturday by defeating freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman at the party convention by 58-42, a result that ends Riggleman’s brief career in Congress. While Riggleman had Donald Trump’s endorsement, Good and his allies portrayed the congressman as insufficiently conservative. Riggleman notably pissed off the base last summer when he officiated a same-sex wedding between two of his former campaign volunteers, a move that quickly led to a homophobic backlash at home.

Good will now be Team Red’s standard bearer in a district which includes Charlottesville and south-central Virginia, and that moved from 53-46 Romney to 53-42 Trump. Riggleman, though, only won 53-47 in 2018, and Good could be vulnerable in the fall. Democrats, who opted to hold a traditional party primary, will choose their nominee to take on Good on June 23 in a contest that features several well-funded contenders. Daily Kos Elections currently rates this contest as Likely Republican.

Campaign Action

Riggleman’s loss comes after a short and at times bizarre career in politics that began with a 2017 run for governor. Riggleman, a distillery owner and former Air Force intelligence officer, pitched himself as an aggravated outsider and focused his anger at the utility giant Dominion Energy, which had tried to route a natural gas pipeline through his property. However, Riggleman dropped out of the contest after a few months of weak fundraising, declaring that he'd sadly learned that "money seems to be the most important part of a campaign."

Riggleman surprisingly got another chance to run for office the following year, though, after first-term GOP Rep. Tom Garrett unexpectedly dropped out in bizarre fashion after winning renomination. The 5th District Republican Committee was tasked with picking a new nominee, and Riggleman ended up defeating Republican National Committee member Cynthia Dunbar, who had lost a convention for the neighboring 6th District just weeks prior, on the fourth and final ballot.

This race always looked like a longshot for Democrats, but the contest attracted national attention. Riggleman’s opponent was journalist Leslie Cockburn, the mother of actress Olivia Wilde, and Cockburn ended up raising a credible amount of money. And perhaps more importantly, Riggleman himself turned out to be an aficionado of Bigfoot erotica.

National Republicans ended up spending $600,000 in the final weeks of the campaign to aid Riggleman, which was a costly rescue mission at a time when the GOP was on the defensive in numerous other House seats. Riggleman won, though, and he showed up to his first day in Congress wearing … Bigfoot socks.

Riggleman soon had a more human political concern, though. After the congressman officiated a same-sex wedding over the summer, local Republican Parties in three small 5th District counties each passed anti-Riggleman motions. Good, who worked as an athletics official at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University, soon launched his campaign against Riggleman, whom he'd describe as “out of step with the base of the party on life. He's out of step on marriage. He's out of step on immigration. He's out of step on health care.”

Falwell himself backed Riggleman, but local party leaders weren’t so supportive. The 5th District Committee voted to decide its nominee through a convention, a gathering that tends to be dominated by conservative activists, rather than a primary. It also didn’t escape Riggleman’s attention that the convention was taking place at Good’s own church.

Riggleman himself publicly bashed the 5th District Committee’s handling of the nominating contest, especially after the coronavirus pandemic indefinitely delayed the convention. Chairman Melvin Adams also didn’t hide his frustration with the congressman, telling Roll Call, “I know the congressman and some of his staff and other people have been putting out false information, or at least implying this committee is trying to rig things. This committee is not trying to rig things.”

The party ended up holding its convention in the parking lot of Good’s church, an event that allowed 2,537 delegates to eject Riggleman from Congress from the comfort of their cars. Riggleman claimed that “[v]oting irregularities and ballot stuffing” took place, insinuating that it decided the outcome, and he said his campaign is evaluating its options, which could include legal action.

Election Changes

Please bookmark our litigation tracker for a complete compilation of the latest developments in every lawsuit regarding changes to election and voting procedures.

Iowa: Iowa's Republican-run state House has almost unanimously approved a bipartisan compromise that would require Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate to seek approval from a special panel of lawmakers to send unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters. A day earlier, the state Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans, passed a bill that would forbid Pate from sending out applications altogether, as he did before the state's June 2 primary.

Under the House measure, Pate would have to get the sign-off of Iowa's Legislative Council, which describes itself as a "steering committee" that, explains the Quad-City Times, is empowered to act on behalf of the full legislature when it's not in session. The 20-member panel includes 11 Republicans and nine Democrats. It would have to approve any emergency changes Pate might propose, including mailing applications or altering the absentee voting period (something Pate also did before the primary, increasing it from 29 days to 40).

It's not clear whether the Senate will concur with the House, though, and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has not expressed a view on either bill.

North Carolina: Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has signed a bill that will make mail voting easier by reducing the requirement that voters have two witnesses or a notary sign their ballots, instead requiring just a single witness. However, the legislation also prevents local election officials from conducting all-mail elections, and it contains a provision that could help Republicans revive their voter ID law, which two separate courts have blocked from taking effect.

Tennessee: A state court judge warned Tennessee officials that they could be held in criminal contempt for their refusal to follow an order she recently issued instructing them to provide absentee ballots to all voters during the pendency of the coronavirus pandemic. "Shame on you for not following that procedure and just taking matters into your own hands," Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle told the defendants, who emailed local officials after Hobbs' initial ruling and told them to "hold off" on sending out absentee applications.

A spokesperson for Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett said the office was "working on complying" with Lyle's latest instructions, according to Courthouse News Service.

Vermont: Vermont's Democratic-run legislature has passed a bill that would remove Republican Gov. Phil Scott's power to block Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos from ordering that the November general election be conducted by mail. Scott has said that he doesn't oppose the measure, which passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities. Condos has for months promoted a plan for holding nearly all-mail elections this year.

Senate

NH-Sen, NH-01: Donald Trump has waded into two Republican primaries in New Hampshire, which doesn't hold nominating contests until Sept. 8. In the race to take on Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Trump's given his backing to wealthy attorney Corky Messner, despite the fact that retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc has claimed the NRSC supports his candidacy (the committee has, however, declined to confirm).

Meanwhile, in the 1st Congressional District, where the GOP is trying to unseat freshman Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, Trump has endorsed Matt Mowers—an unsurprising move, given that Mowers previously worked as a Trump aide. Mowers faces former state party vice chair Matt Mayberry in the primary. Republicans are underdogs in both contests: Daily Kos Elections rates the Senate race as Likely Democratic and the 1st District as Lean Democratic.

House

GA-13: The Associated Press has now called the Democratic primary in Georgia's 13th District for Rep. David Scott outright, after first saying that Scott had been forced into an Aug. 11 runoff but then later retracting that call. Scott was leading former state Rep. Keisha Waites 51-27 on Friday afternoon, just over the 50% mark needed to avoid a second round. Waites entered the race late and spent virtually nothing, suggesting that the veteran Scott could be very vulnerable to a more aggressive challenger if he seeks another term in 2022.

NY-01: A Global Strategy Group poll for chemistry professor Nancy Goroff finds her trailing businessman Perry Gershon by a small 29-27 margin ahead of the June 23 Democratic primary in New York's 1st Congressional District, with Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming at 17. GSG says that the numbers represent a substantial shift from a previously unreleased early April survey that gave Gershon, who was the party's 2018 nominee against GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, a 33-16 lead over Fleming, with Goroff at just 11.

Thanks to a $1 million personal loan, Goroff was able to outspend Gershon $1.1 million to $453,000 during April and May (Gershon self-funded extensively last time but hasn't materially done so this cycle). Fleming was not far behind, spending $405,000 in the same timeframe. Goroff had a large $758,000 to $190,000 cash edge over Gershon for the final three weeks of the race, with Fleming sitting on $112,000, though presumably the wealthy Gershon could once again dip into his own bank account if he wanted to.

NY-16: Former principal Jamaal Bowman outraised Rep. Eliot Engel during April and May in new reports filed with the FEC, though Engel held a cash edge as of June 3, the close of the "pre-primary" filing period. Bowman brought in $431,000 versus $389,000 for Engel, but Engel had $826,000 left to spend in the final weeks compared to $345,000 for his challenger. However, Bowman finished the period strong, thanks to Engel's viral "If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care" blunder on June 2, and that surge appears to have continued past the FEC's reporting deadline, as the Bowman campaign says it raised $345,000 in the week following the gaffe.

Bowman has sought to further capitalize on Engel's misstep. A few days ago, Bowman released his first TV ad, which features a clip of Engel's now-infamous gaffe. The second half is more positive and shows images of Bowman alongside his would-be constituents, while a voiceover of the candidate himself proclaims, "We need a representative that cares about our communities year-round, not just during election season."

NY-17: End Citizens United, which has a track record of both spending and fundraising for its endorsees, has backed attorney Mondaire Jones in the June 23 Democratic primary for New York's open 17th Congressional District. Candidates also just filed so-called "pre-primary" fundraising reports with the FEC on Thursday, covering the period of April 1 through June 3. During that timeframe, Jones reported raising $295,000 and spending $500,000, leaving him with $339,000 for the stretch run.

In terms of spending, which is probably the most important metric at this late stage of the campaign, that puts Jones in the middle of the pack among notable contenders:

  • Adam Schleifer: $62,000 raised (plus $2.1 million loan), $3.3 million spent, $369,000 cash-on-hand
  • Evelyn Farkas: $340,000 raised, $787,000 spent, $242,000 cash-on-hand
  • David Buchwald: $47,000 raised (plus $300,000 loan), $329,000 spent, $514,000 cash-on-hand
  • Allison Fine: $53,000 raised, $100,000 spent, $29,000 cash-on-hand
  • David Carlucci: $89,000 raised, $86,000 spent, $101,000 cash-on-hand

UT-01: A poll of the GOP primary from Dan Jones & Associates on behalf of former U.S. Foreign Service officer Blake Moore in Utah's open 1st Congressional District finds an unsettled race, with Moore tying Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson at 16 apiece, former state Agriculture Commissioner Kerry Gibson taking 13, and Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt bringing up the rear with 7. That leaves a giant 48% undecided ahead of the June 30 primary.

Oddly, Moore is an employee of the consulting firm Cicero Group, which just so happens to be the parent company of Dan Jones. A memo from Dan Jones says that Moore was not involved "in poll gathering," but unsurprisingly, rival campaigns took shots at Moore over his connection to the pollster and questioned the results, though none offered alternate numbers.

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Journalism 101 fail: NYT article lets Republicans lie and attack, but can’t find Democrat to respond

What the hell is going on at The New York Times? This question has arisen far too often in the past few years, most recently last week after James Bennet, the paper’s now-former editorial page editor, pitched and then published—without reading it first, allegedly—a fascist op-ed by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. They were rightly reamed for it, with their own 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner and "The 1619 Project" creator Nikole Hannah-Jones leading the way, saying, “As a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this.".

So that was a poor decision by the opinion department, but surely the folks in the Times’ news department are doing their level best and practicing solid journalism, right? They’ve learned the hard and necessary lessons from the absurdly irresponsible, obsessive way they covered “her emails” in 2016, while downplaying investigations and actual wrongdoing by The Man Who Ended Up Losing The Popular Vote, right?

Well, from what I saw in a recent Sunday edition, not so much.

Like so many New York stories, we must begin in Central Park. I was sitting on the Great Lawn—appropriately distanced from a few friends, of course—and reading the Sunday Times news section when I started muttering. Then I humphed. Then I just slapped the newspaper with the back of my hand and said, “Sorry to interrupt, guys, but you gotta hear this.”

The article that prompted my outburst was one that I initially figured would be pretty dull. “Trump Wanted a Pre-Virus Convention Crowd, or None At All,” was the print headline (it’s slightly different online). The piece focused on Trump’s threat to move the Republican National Convention from Charlotte, North Carolina (we now know that most of the convention activities, including the nomination acceptance speech, will take place in Jacksonville, Florida). The story focused on the impeached president’s dismay with the Tar Heel State’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who wouldn’t guarantee that Republicans could pack people together on the convention floor and party like it was 2019.

The article’s first quote came from Ada Fisher, a national committeewoman for North Carolina’s Republican Party. Unsurprisingly, she blamed Democrats. “There are a lot of liberal, establishment people here who just don’t like the Republican Party. People didn’t want it to happen just because Republicans were involved. But Charlotte can’t stand to lose $200 million in revenue right now.” Standard Republican boilerplate: The Democrats are a bunch of meanies. She even managed to work in both “liberal” and “establishment” as slurs. Well played, Ms. Fisher.

The next quote was from Orange Julius Caesar himself, who’d informed Cooper how stupendously North Carolina had been treated by the White House; he’d sent lots of tests and ventilators, see, as well as the National Guard. “I think we’ve done a good job!” and “We gave you a lot!” and more of the same. About what you’d expect from Trump.

Republican National Committee chair Ronna (don’t call me Romney) McDaniel’s letter to the convention’s host committee was next; essentially, she blamed the Democrats. If you’re wondering if, at any point in this journey so far, the Times offered any response from North Carolina Democrats, you already know the answer to that.

Two more Republicans weighed in before the final quotes came from the Republican state chair from Connecticut, J.R. Romano, who criticized Gov. Cooper’s supposedly over-aggressive requirements regarding wearing masks and social distancing: “We’re adults,” Romano said. “We all know the risks. If someone wants to wear a face mask, they can. If someone doesn’t, they’re taking a risk. I don’t think they had to make this mandatory.”

It is worth noting that Thursday was the fourth day in a row that coronavirus hospitalizations in North Carolina hit a new high.

I couldn’t believe that Romano’s nonsense was the end of the article. I kept waiting for the pushback, a quote from Cooper, or one his aides or allies, about the need to be careful because of the virus, or how decisions on the convention would be governed by science, or how they’d have to see how the outbreak looks in the coming weeks, or that they’d love to host the Republicans, but social distancing rules will still probably be necessary. Anything along those lines would’ve worked. Anything.

Could the authors really not find a Democrat in the entire state or country to go on record here? How did they submit this piece without making sure they at least found one? Did they even notice the imbalance? Where were their editors? There are multiple layers of editorial oversight, one would imagine, for an article on national politics that runs in the main print section of the Sunday New York Times. Did nobody ask, “Hey, can you find a quote from a frickin’ Democrat?” I’ve never worked as an editor at the Gray Lady, but that question came to mind before I was halfway through the piece.

The article did summarize the respective positions of Cooper and Trump, as well as their conversations, yet only Trump and Republicans were given space to defend their positions. Republicans’ assertions about the motivations of North Carolina Democrats also went unchallenged by the authors, other than a brief mention—far from any Republican statements—that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended mask-wearing and social distancing.

The article was written by Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman. While Karni has not faced significant criticism over her work in the past, Haberman has been called out before for pro-Trump, pro-Republican reporting. Trump has also attacked Haberman, but given that he has attacked the entire journalism profession, such attacks are a badge of honor and don’t mean anyone’s actually been unfair to him or his administration. Haberman’s critics maintain the opposite.

In May 2019, Haberman wrote an article for the Times about Hope Hicks, who had left her position as White House communications director a year earlier, then received a subpoena to testify before the House regarding her former boss and obstruction of justice (remember the Mueller report?). Haberman’s article explored whether Hicks would, you know, actually comply with the law. Yet some folks were concerned that the decision to commit a crime was framed, by Haberman, as “an existential question.”

What gets me is news breaks that this woman is weighing committing a crime before Congress &it�s getting framed by the NYT as some Lifetime drama called �Hope�s Choice.� This is a fmr admin official considering participating in a coverup led by the President. Treat her equally. https://t.co/XcNbSuU4QB

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 26, 2019

Anyway: Here's a dare for @maggieNYT, since she wants to write about what happens when women defy a subpoena. Write a similar story about @xychelsea, who is in jail for defying a subpoena.

— emptywheel (@emptywheel) May 26, 2019

There is nothing for Hope Hicks to �decide.� She got a subpoena from Congress. Were she not white, wealthy, and connected, we wouldn�t be having this conversation. She would appear, or she would face the threat of prison like the rest of us. As she should. https://t.co/giDCcvIxvf

— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) May 26, 2019

One Vanity Fair headline referred to Haberman as a “Trump Whisperer,” citing her “closeness—and fairness—to the president.” Fairness is a subjective term, but I have a hard time seeing it as fair to Roy Cooper or North Carolina Democrats that Haberman and Karni’s article quoted five angry Republicans, but not one Democrat.

Beyond the problems with Haberman’s reporting specifically, one of the biggest problems with the so-called mainstream media writ large is something called “bothsidesism,” also known as false equivalency. Bothsidesism occurs when reporters cover an issue simply by presenting the opposing views of Democrats and Republicans as equivalent, irrespective of which side is telling the truth.

Laila Lalami, writing in in The Nation, describes bothsidesism as when journalists “give space to both sides of any story, no matter what the facts show, leaving them open to manipulation by surrogates acting in bad faith and, more worrying, making it harder for ordinary citizens to remain informed and engaged.” Nancy LeTourneau, writing for Washington Monthly, notes that “For those of us who are trying to keep the door to being open-minded cracked at least a little bit, this both-siderism has a kind of gaslighting effect. You begin to question whether what you are witnessing with your own two eyes is real.”

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jon Allsop went in-depth on bothsidesism and the Times during the impeachment of Donald Trump.

As impeachment has progressed, attacks on the “both sides” approach—and the Times, in particular—have intensified. Over the weekend, critics trained their ire on an article in the paper, headlined “The Breach Widens as Congress Nears a Partisan Impeachment,” about a debate in the Judiciary Committee. Nate Silver, of FiveThirtyEight, noted that the actual words “both sides” appeared four times in the piece. (One of these was in a quotation.) Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, listed 12 more snippets from the article as evidence of the Times’s inability to handle what he calls “asymmetrical polarization.” They included “the different impeachment realities that the two parties are living in,” “both sides engaged in a kind of mutually assured destruction,” and “the two parties could not even agree on a basic set of facts in front of them.”

Rosen is right that this sort of language is inadequate: Democrats, for the most part, are engaging with the factual record; Republicans, for the most part, are not. These positions are manifestly not equivalent. Treating them as such does not serve any useful concept of fairness; instead, it rebounds clearly to the advantage of the one side (Republicans) for whom nonsense being taken seriously is a victory in itself. The Times is far from the only culprit.

The Times also blew it when covering Trump’s remarks after back-to-back mass shootings in August 2019—one of which was carried out by a racist who specifically targeted Latinx Americans. The initial headline—in all caps (something done relatively rarely, as it indicates special importance)—read “TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM.” Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, among many others, pushed back hard on that framing.

Lives literally depend on you doing better, NYT. Please do. https://t.co/L4CpCb8zLi

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 6, 2019

After facing a lot of heat, the headline was changed to “ASSAILING HATE BUT NOT GUNS.” A spokesperson for the Times admitted that “The headline was bad and has been changed for the second edition.” Executive editor Dean Baquet also called it a “bad headline.” The final headline, at least online, reads: “Trump Condemns White Supremacy but Stops Short of Major Gun Controls.” The Confederacy’s Biggest Fan, of course, still liked the original headline best, calling it “the correct description” of what he’d said.

What mattered, in the context of the mass shootings, was that Trump had declared a refusal to support any significant new gun control measures, such as universal background checks, or bans on high capacity ammunition magazines. However, the Times’  first instinct was to praise Trump as an anti-racist unifier. Let that choice sink in.

It’s bad enough when reporters at mainstream media outlets are so afraid of being accused of showing “liberal bias” that they engage in bothsidesism and false equivalency. Regarding the Sunday Times article about the RNC, presenting both sides would have been an improvement, as the authors literally only gave us one side of a political story in which Democrats and Republicans disagreed. Yet what the article on the battle over the RNC convention shares with other New York Times pieces that are guilty of bothsidesism is the willingness to bend over backward to help Republicans. And they call that paper the liberal media.

There are no quick fixes here for The Times. As for constructive criticism, journalists at The Times could do a lot worse than to listen to the aforementioned Professor Rosen. Rosen diagnosed the crux of the paper’s problem a couple of years ago (and is as good a media critic as there is), in a long analysis that’s worth reading. One quote in particular hits the nail on the head.

“Remember when the Washington Post came out with its new motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness?” It put Post journalism on the side of keeping democracy alive. Dean Baquet, executive editor of the Times, made fun of it. ‘Sounds like the next Batman movie,’ he said.”

You know what they say about the fish rotting from the head down? Perhaps the entire staff, top to bottom, could undergo the kind of training they did at The Telegraph (UK), which Rosen also cited as a way to help mainstream media journalists unlearn some of their worst habits.

To paraphrase Ted “Theodore” Logan, strange things are afoot at The New York Times, and not at all in the cool, “I just met George Carlin outside the Circle K” kind of way. In all seriousness, what The Times did here is reflective of what’s been going on for generations. In 1969, Vice President Spiro Agnew drew up the playbook for Republican liars attacking the media in order to intimidate them into providing more favorable coverage; the Koch brothers have kept that tradition alive. In sports, this is called “working the refs,” and Paul Krugman rightly applied the term to the imbalance in how the media covered Trump as compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

To the detriment of American politics, the American people, and our democracy, we’ve had four more years of this media malpractice since then. If mainstream media outlets keep this up, and we end up with four more of Trump as a result, there may not be much of a free media left to cover his second term. It’s on all of us to do our part between now and November to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of  The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Trump’s polling collapse puts Ohio back on the map

Once upon a time, Ohio was the ultimate swing state. President Barack Obama won it as recently as 2012! But then, non-college whites turned sharply in favor of bunker-hiding Donald Trump, and Ohio was both (82% non-Hispanic white, and ranked 35th in college graduates). Trump won it easily by over 8 points.

So Ohio wasn’t included in the early tally of 2020 battleground states. Early polling wasn’t encouraging for Democrats, and there were seven other states that would clearly decide the November contest: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

But, you can now officially add Ohio to that list.

As I wrote in my last story, we’re seeing clear correlation between Trump’s personal ratings, and his head-to-head matchups. In other words, whatever his favorability rating is, that’s what he’s pretty much getting against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Here are the four last Civiqs state polls:

STATE TRUMP FAVORABLES TRUMP vs. BIDEN GEORGIAKANSASNORTH CAROLINASOUTH CAROLINA
47-51 47-48
51-47 52-40
45-53 46-49
51-47 52-42

Also, in the last story, I wrote about Trump’s overall collapse in his personal approval ratings. Well, Ohio has had a more exaggerated collapse compared to the country at large. 

During impeachment, Trump had a +4 favorability rating in Ohio, or 51-47. That’s important because it meant he was likely over 50% in head-to-heads against Biden. We were right to keep the state off the battleground map. 

However, those approvals have dropped a net total of 12 points, to an anemic 45-53. So what other states have approval ratings in that -8 range? 

APPROVALS NET APPROVAL Iowa Florida Ohio Georgia North Carolina Wisconsin Pennsylvania MICHIGAN Arizona
45-52 -7
45-52 -7
45-53 -8
44-53 -9
43-54 -11
43-54 -11
42-54 -12
42-56 -14
40-57 -17

We know Florida is tied because not only the polling says so, but, you know, it’s Florida. (Actually, the polling gives Biden a small lead in Florida, but it’s Florida. So it’s tied.) 

Trump’s ratings in Ohio are a hint worse. Trump’s Ohio ratings are still better than they are in Georgia and North Carolina, two states we know that he is narrowly losing. But they’re all in the same range, with Trump getting roughly 45-46% of the Trump versus Biden vote. He’s slipped away from that 50% mark. The state is in play. And it makes that Fox News poll last week showing Biden leading in Ohio 45-43 make plenty of sense. 

Now Ohio won’t be deciding this election. If Biden wins the state, it’s because he already won the other seven battlegrounds. There is no scenario imaginable in which Ohio casts any deciding Electoral College votes. (Iowa and Texas are in a similar situation, as well as Minnesota and Nevada for Trump. If he wins those last two states, he’s already won the election.) 

What it means is that a panicking Trump campaign is already spending money trying to shore up the state. 

Over the past few weeks, the president’s operation has spent about $1.7 million on advertising in just three states he carried in 2016 — Ohio, Iowa and Arizona — that it had hoped would not be competitive at all this year. Much of that sum went to a concentrated two-week barrage in Ohio [...]

As I wrote last week, this spending is proof that Trump’s campaign is either being driven by Trump’s whims—he likely hates the idea that he’s losing Ohio, or his campaign manager Brad Parscale is utterly incompetent. Again, if they lose Ohio, they already lost the election, so why waste money there when Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have all fallen seemingly out of reach?

(To spare you the math, picking up just those four states—Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is a 289-249 Biden victory. Including North Carolina, which also has a Trump double-digit approval deficit, makes it 304-234 Biden.)

But whatever the motivation to piss away millions in Ohio, it again proves that the state is in serious play. And that is, quite simply, remarkable. There’s nothing about the state that suggests it should be competitive. It seemed headed into Missouri territory—a once competitive state relegated by demographics to solid red status. And yet, here we are. 

Ohio, welcome back to swing-state status!

Democrats will win the Senate (only question is by how much)

No one should count their chickens before they hatch. This is not what I’m doing. What I’m saying is that if we keep doing what we’re doing, and that guy cowering in the bunker in the White House keeps doing what he’s doing, and Senate Republicans keep carrying water for the guy in the bunker … then yeah, Democrats will pick up the Senate. And I’m not going out on a limb in saying so. 

The big picture: Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. Trump is going to lose. Therefore, Democrats need to pick up a net three seats to get to 50 seats, with the vice presidential tiebreaker putting the chamber in Democratic hands. 

We are probably going to lose the Senate seat in Alabama. That was a temporary gift won in a special election against a child molester. And we still barely won. In a normal year, against a normal Republican, with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket? If Democratic Sen. Doug Jones wins reelection, we’ve got a 60-seat majority landslide. So we assume he loses. 

The Daily Kos Elections crew just moved Arizona into “lean Democratic,” but that is probably still too kind.  

McSally (R) Kelly (D) Fox News (5/30-6/2) Highground (5/18-5/22) OH Predictive Insights (5/9-11)
37 50
41 51
38 51

Appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally already lost in 2018, and the whole state of Arizona seems to be moving strongly against Republicans. In that Fox News poll, Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden is leading 46-42. 

In Colorado, no one is pretending that Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has any chance. Even he realizes it—he spent his impeachment time aggressively defending Trump in a state in which Trump will lose by double digits. And so will Gardner. Two polls in early March had former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper leading by 17 and 18 points. No one has wasted time polling there ever since. 

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins saw her “moderate” veneer shorn off after voting both to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial, and voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. A poll last month had Democratic candidate Sarah Gideon with a 51-42 lead. The race has been underpolled, but Collins ranks amongst the most unpopular senators in the country in a state that will solidly go blue this fall. She can’t count on ticket splitters anymore. 

And in North Carolina, incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis is looking weak, weak, weak:

Tillis (R) Cunningham (D) PPP (6/2-3) Meeting Street Insights (5/9-13) Civiqs (5/2-4) Meredith College (4/27-28)
41 43
44 46
41 50
34 44

Any incumbent below 45% is generally considered to be toast. People are looking for an alternative. 

Losing Alabama but winning Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina gets us to a 50-50 Senate. At this stage of the cycle, given current trends, this is the most likely outcome. 

TIER TWO RACES

These are races in which Republicans currently have the edge, but are in play. 

Georgia has two Senate seats in play: a regular election and a special one. The only recent polling is courtesy of Civiqs, which found both Senate seats effectively tied. The reason the GOP has the edge is that Georgia has a Jim Crow-era law that requires candidates to win with 50% of the vote. If none get it in November, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election in January. 

Historically, the GOP has done much better in those runoff elections. I suspect this time will be different, but gut feelings don’t trump history. This is a true tossup for both seats. 

Montana pits an incumbent Republicans against the current popular Democratic governor. Montana is notoriously difficult to poll, but the only one to try recently—a sketchy-looking Montana State University effort—had Democrat Steve Bullock ahead 46-39. Trump will win the state, so we’re relying on ticket splitters to carry the day. Luckily, 1) Montana has a long history of split tickets—it currently has a Democratic governor and Democratic U.S. Senator despite being solidly red at the presidential level, and 2) Trump’s approvals in Montana have been in a steady decline over the last 12 months, from a net +12, to +4 today. And the worse Trump does in the state, even if he wins it, the fewer crossover votes Bullock needs to win. 

Depending on how these two states shake out, the Democrats can end up anywhere from the barest 50-50 majority to a better-looking 53-47 one. 

TIER THREE RACES

Incumbent Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst had appeared relatively safe earlier this year. Lily-white Iowa looked like another 10-point Trump win, and Ernst seemed to be doing whatever it was that was necessary to cruise to reelection. But the coronavirus has hit Iowa hard, and the trade wars with China have hammered its farmers. And now, any hope of a positive resolution has evaporated as Trump has decided to blame China for his own failures. In fact, Trump’s approvals are underwater in Iowa 47-50, according to Civiqs’ daily tracker. 

Polling has been scant, but just yesterday Public Policy Polling released a poll showing the Democratic challenger up 45-43. Civiqs has a poll in the field right now and we’ll have results next Tuesday or Wednesday. This one may be soon graduating to the second tier. 

Kansas. Kansas! Yes, Kansas. I explain Kansas here. Botton line: It’s tough, but given Kansas’ high education levels and an ongoing civil war between the state Republican Party’s moderate and crazy wings, we have a shot. 

Texas also gets included in this tier. Incumbent Republican John Cornyn isn't as hated as Ted Cruz, who was almost defeated in 2018. And there is no public polling to give us a sense of the state of this race. But the state is trending blue, and a Public Policy Polling poll released today showed the state a 48-48 tie in the presidential election. Honestly, not sure I buy it, not without additional confirmation. But the demographic trends are certainly in our favor. Have they moved enough to put this Senate seat in contention? I’m hopeful but skeptical.  

TIER FOUR RACES

These are races in which we have great candidates who are raising buttloads of cash, but they are in tough Republican states. 

In Kentucky, odious Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unpopular, but 1) he delivers more bacon than anyone else in the Senate—Kentucky is the ultimate mooch state, and 2) Kentucky gives Trump some of his highest approval ratings in the country (a rough count says seventh highest). 

Those are some pretty strong headwinds to fight no matter how good your candidate is and how much money she has. 

And in the same vein, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is protected by the partisanship of his state—the only one on both coasts that gives Trump a positive approval rating. Civiqs has the race tied 42-42, but undecideds are heavily Republican and the state suffers from extreme racial polarization. Southern whites, in general, just don’t vote Democratic. 

The Senate will be at least 50-50. Our job is to drag as many of these races across the finish line as we can. Can we make it 55-45? Or even more than that? 

Donate to our slate of Senate races. And if you live in any of these states, fight hard! 

Trump keeps screwing everything up and it’s killing him in the battleground states

This is the current national state of play with Donald Trump as he faces his worst job ratings in two years: 

It’s a legit roadmap of the 2020 presidential election.

Here's the current electoral map picture: 

It’s a little confusing, since the color blue in the first map “approves of Trump,” while in the second map it means the exact opposite. But it’s still not too hard to sort out: Blue states really don’t like Trump. Red states like Trump. There are the edge-case states—states that are evenly divided on the question, but aren’t current battlegrounds (Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah). And then there are the seven battlegrounds—all states that voted for Trump in 2016, and all states in which his numbers are currently net-negative. 

Approve DisapproVe net Arizona Florida Georgia Michigan North Carolina Pennsylvania Wisconsin
42 56 -14
46 51 -5
45 51 -6
42 55 -13
45 53 -8
44 52 -8
45 53 -8

Arizona continues to surprise. Who would’ve thought it looks better for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden than Pennsylvania does? And worse for Trump, his numbers are trending even lower. For example, let’s look at Arizona: 

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Trump has gone from -10 net favorables in Arizona, to -14. Arizona has around 4 million registered voter. Going from -10 to -14 net favorability means that around 160,000 Arizona voters changed their mind about Trump. 

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won the state by just 56,000 votes in 2018. Democrats picked up the secretary of state office by 20,000 votes. These shifts in public opinion may seem small, but in a tight battleground state, every point matters. And it should be noted, the shift in job approvals in Arizona started during the impeachment hearings. They really did set the stage. 

Let’s look at Florida: 

Florida is Florida, balanced on a razor’s edge, but once again, impeachment took a bite out of Trump, and the pandemic is further widening the split. Looking at Michigan, however, and impeachment didn’t leave any mark, but the pandemic is: 

Click around and see for yourself, but the virus is having an impact in every one of these battleground states. (In every state, actually, but only the battlegrounds are close enough for it to matter.) This is the reason much of the battleground polling lately has been so gaudy-good for Joe Biden and Democratic down-ballot candidates (like the recent Civiqs surveys out of North Carolina and Georgia. Even South Carolina looked better than 2016 numbers).

Will it stay that way? We can’t assume that, of course. It helps us that Trump isn’t trying to actually win new voters. The a-hole is running ads mocking Biden for wearing a mask, when 72% of Americans support wearing masks. He's playing to his peanut gallery. He’s certainly not trying to minimize the continued death toll, having given up entirely on the matter. He’d rather pretend everything is fine so states open up as quickly and as fully as possible. And while some renewed economic activity is inevitable as restrictions loosen up, that still won’t save tens of millions of jobs before November. 

So will Trump be able to recapture that support he’s recently lost? It’s possible! The charts obviously do show their up-and-down fluctuations over the last four years. A skilled, capable, compassionate, and focused leader could certainly manage to parlay this crisis into broad popular support. President George W. Bush hit 90% approvals after 9/11, despite having ignored a report that literally warned that al-Qaida was about to strike the nation. The public wants to rally around their leader in a crisis. 

Trump isn’t skilled or compassionate or capable. He’s a barely functioning adult. And this crisis has made it harder and harder for people to cling to the notion that Trump is actually a good president. 

It’s hard for people to admit that their sincerely held beliefs were wrong. And politics is now akin to religion—part of one’s self-identity. Leaving the Republican Party is like leaving a cult. Not everyone can manage it. And yet, it’s happening. It happened in 2018, with suburban white women testing the waters, and the water was fine! Newly re-minted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn’t the boogeyman! She ended up being nothing like that asshole in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. 

And now it’s time to leave the Cult of MAGA, and it’s happening, little by little, inch by inch. It’s been enough to spot Biden a clear lead in the Electoral College, it has been enough to deprive Trump of an expanded map, it has been enough to create two new battleground states in previously red (and solidly red!) Arizona and Georgia. 

Can Trump reverse that trend? Sure, it’s within the realm of possibility, but no, he won’t. He can’t. He probably doesn’t even want to. 

Morning Digest: Nevada Democrats won big in 2018. Our new data shows they may again in 2020

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

Senate-by-LD, Governor-by-LD: Nevada was a huge success story for Team Blue in 2018, with Democrats making big gains in both houses of the legislature at the same time that the party was flipping the U.S. Senate seat and governor's office. And as our new data, which was crunched for us by elections analyst Bill Coningsby, illustrates, Democrats have opportunities to pick up more seats this fall.

Democrats currently hold a 13-8 majority in the Senate, which is just one seat shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass certain revenue-related measures that the GOP blocked in the previous sessions of the legislature without any GOP votes. In the state Assembly, though, Team Blue has a 29-13 supermajority.

We'll start with a look at the Senate, where half the chamber was up in 2018 while the rest of the seats will be on the ballot this fall. Democrat Jacky Rosen carried 15 of the 21 seats while she was unseating GOP Sen. Dean Heller 50-45, while Democrat Steve Sisolak took those very same districts while he was being elected governor 49-45 over Adam Laxalt. The median district backed Rosen by 53-43 and Sisolak by 52-44, placing it somewhat to the left of the state overall.

Two Republicans sit in Rosen/Sisolak seats, while no Democrats hold Heller/Laxalt districts. The only one of that pair of Republicans up this year is Heidi Gansert, who holds Senate District 15 in the Reno area. This constituency supported Rosen 51-45, while Sisolak took it 50-45; four years ago, the district also backed Hillary Clinton 47-44 while Gansert was winning by a convincing 53-42. This cycle, the Democrats are fielding Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, who lost a close primary for Washoe County assessor last cycle.

The other Republican on unfriendly turf is Keith Pickard, who won a four-year term in 2018 by 24 votes. That year, Rosen and Sisolak carried his SD-20 50-47 and 50-46, respectively.

Democrats do have a few potentially competitive seats to defend this year. Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro won SD-06 51-49 as Clinton was pulling off a 50-45 victory. Last cycle, though, the seat backed Rosen 53-44, while Sisolak took it by a similar 52-44 spread. Democrats will also be looking to keep the open SD-05, which supported Clinton just 48-46 but went for Rosen and Sisolak 53-43 and 52-44.

We'll turn to the 42-person Assembly, where members are elected to 2-year terms. Both Rosen and Sisolak carried the same 29 districts, while Heller and Laxalt took the remaining 13 districts. The two median districts backed Rosen by 54-42 and Sisolak by 53-41, placing them several points to the left of Nevada overall.

One assemblymember from each party holds a seat that was carried by the other side's statewide nominee. On the Democratic side, incumbent Skip Daly won 52-48 in a seat Heller and Laxalt took 49-47 and 49-45; Trump won by a larger 49-43 margin here in 2016. Meanwhile, Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick is termed-out of a seat that backed both Rosen and Sisolak 49-48 but where Trump prevailed 49-46.

We'll also take a quick look at the state's four congressional seats. The 3rd District, which is located in Las Vegas' southern suburbs, backed both Rosen and Sisolak 50-46, which was a shift to the left from Trump's 48-47 win. The 4th District supported Rosen 51-44, while Sisolak took it 50-44; the seat went for Clinton by a similar 50-45 margin in 2016. The 1st District went overwhelmingly for the Democratic ticket, while Republicans had no trouble carrying the 2nd District.

P.S. You can find our master list of statewide election results by congressional and legislative district here, which we'll be updating as we add new states. Additionally, you can find all our data from 2018 and past cycles here.

Election Changes

Please bookmark our litigation tracker spreadsheet for a compilation of the latest developments in major lawsuits over changes to election and voting procedures, along with our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, all of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.

Alabama: Civil rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to loosen Alabama's restrictions on mail voting during the pendency of the pandemic. The plaintiffs want the court to order the state to suspend requirements that voters present an excuse to request an absentee ballot, have their ballot envelope notarized, and include a photocopy of their ID with their ballot. Additionally, the plaintiffs want 14 days of in-person early voting, which Alabama currently offers none of, along with drive-through voting and other measures to make voting safe for those not voting by mail.

Florida: Officials in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, which are home to the greater Tampa area and one in every nine registered voters in Florida, have announced that both counties will pay for postage on mail-in ballots. Officials in the southeastern Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach, which are home to around a quarter of Florida voters, had previously announced measures to implement prepaid postage and also mail out applications for mail ballots to voters or households who had yet to request one.

Montana: Montana's Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that had allowed absentee mail ballots to count if they were postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days afterward. As a result, voters in the June 2 primary, which is taking place almost entirely by mail, will have to make sure election officials receive their ballots by Election Day.

The Supreme Court, however, did not rule on the merits of the plaintiffs' request but rather explained that it was reinstating the original deadline to avoid voter confusion and disruption to election administration. Plaintiffs will still have a chance to make their case that the ballot receipt deadline should be extended for the November general election.

New Jersey: Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that he has no further plans to alter procedures for the July 7 primary. Murphy recently ordered the election to take place largely by mail with active registered voters belonging to a party being sent ballots and inactive or unaffiliated voters getting sent applications, while municipalities operate at least one in-person voting each.

New Mexico: Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for Senate in New Mexico, is urging Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to delay the deadline to return absentee mail ballots, saying he has heard reports of voters failing to receive a mail ballot in time even though the primary is taking place just days away on June 2.

A spokesperson for Toulouse Oliver says that extending the deadline, which currently requires ballots to be received by Election Day rather than simply postmarked by that date, would require legislative action. However, the state legislature isn't in session, and there's no indication yet whether Luján or anyone else will file a last-minute lawsuit instead.

North Carolina: North Carolina's Republican-run state House has almost unanimously passed a bill that would make it easier to vote absentee by mail. In particular, the bill would ease—though not eliminate—the atypical requirement that absentee voters have a notary or two witnesses sign their ballot envelope by allowing only one witness instead.

However, the bill also makes it a felony for election officials to mail actual ballots to voters who haven't requested one, which would prevent Democratic officials in charge of running elections from conducting elections by mail. Activists had also called on lawmakers to make other changes such as prepaying the postage on mail ballots or making Election Day a state holiday, but Republican legislators refused.

Even if it becomes law, this bill is not likely to be the final word on voting changes in North Carolina. Two separate lawsuits at the federal and state levels are partially or wholly challenging the witness requirement, lack of prepaid postage, and other absentee voting procedures.

South Carolina: South Carolina's all-Republican state Supreme Court has rejected a Democratic lawsuit seeking to waive the requirement that voters under age 65 provide a specific excuse to vote absentee by mail in June's primary. The court ruled that the issue was moot after the Republican-run state legislature recently passed a law waiving the excuse requirement for the June 9 primary and June 23 runoffs. However, that waiver will expire in July, so Democrats are likely to continue pressing their claim in either state court or a separate federal lawsuit for November.

Texas: Texas' all-Republican Supreme Court has sided with Republican state Attorney General Ken Paxton in determining that lack of coronavirus immunity doesn't qualify as an excuse for requesting a mail ballot under the state's definition of "disability." Consequently, all voters must present an excuse to vote by mail except for those age 65 or older, a demographic that favors Republicans.

While the ruling did note that it's up to voters to decide whether or not to "apply to vote by mail based on a disability," that may not be much of a silver lining, because Paxton has repeatedly threatened activists with criminal prosecution for advising voters to request mail ballots. If campaigns and civic groups limit their outreach as a result of Paxton's threats, then even voters still entitled to mail ballots may not learn about the option.

However, in one positive development for voting access, the court ruled that Paxton couldn't tell officials in five counties not to send absentee ballots to voters citing disability even for coronavirus, since Texas' absentee application doesn't ask what a voter's disability is. In addition, separate federal litigation remains ongoing after a lower court blocked the absentee excuse requirement. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to rule soon on whether to in turn block that ruling for the state's July 14 primary runoff.

Virginia: Conservatives filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month seeking to block Virginia from implementing its absentee voting plan for the state's June 23 primary, specifically targeting instructions that voters "may choose reason '2A My disability or illness' for absentee voting." Although a new law was passed this year to permanently remove the excuse requirement, it doesn't go into effect until July. Consequently, the plaintiffs argue that the current law is being impermissibly interpreted to let those concerned about coronavirus cite it as an excuse to obtain an absentee ballot when they aren't physically ill themselves and don't otherwise qualify.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin's bipartisan Elections Commission has unanimously voted to send applications for absentee mail ballots to all registered voters, which requires a photo ID. However, the commissioners still must decide on the wording of the letter sent to voters, and a deadlock over the language could prevent the commission from sending anything at all. Notably, the Republican commissioners' votes to mail applications comes after the major Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee and some other Democratic-leaning cities had already moved to do so, so the GOP may face pressure to extend the practice statewide.

Senate

GA-Sen-A: Investigative filmmaker Jon Ossoff talks about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in his new ad for the June 9 Democratic primary. Ossoff tells the audience that his business involves investigating corruption, "And when a young black man in Georgia is shot dead in the street, but police and prosecutors look the other way? That's the worst kind of corruption." He continues by pledging to "work to reform our criminal justice system" in the Senate.

KS-Sen: On Thursday, just days ahead of the June 1 filing deadline, state Senate President Susan Wagle announced that she was dropping out of the August GOP primary. Wagle's move is good news for state and national party leaders, who are afraid that a crowded field will make it easier for former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to win the primary.

Wagle's decision came weeks after Kansas GOP chair Mike Kuckelman asked her to leave the race in order "to allow our Party to coalesce behind a candidate who will not only win, but will help Republicans down the ballot this November." Wagle's campaign responded to Kuckelman's appeal at the time by saying she wasn't going anywhere and adding, "Others can speculate on his motives, but it may be as simple as he doesn't support strong, pro-life conservative women."

On Thursday, though, Wagle herself cited the party's need to avoid a "primary fight that will divide our party or hurts my colleagues in the state legislature" as one of her main reasons for dropping out. Wagle also argued that a competitive nomination fight would help Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier in the fall.

Wagle's departure came hours after Rep. Roger Marshall, who looks like Kobach's main rival, picked up an endorsement from Kansans For Life, a development the Kansas City Star's Bryan Lowry characterized as a major setback for Wagle.

The organization, which Lowry called the state's "leading anti-abortion group," notably backed both Kobach and then-Gov. Jeff Colyer in the 2018 gubernatorial primary. Kobach won that contest by less than 350 votes before losing the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly, and Lowry says that plenty of state Republican operatives believe things would have turned out very differently if KFL had only supported Colyer.

Meanwhile, Bollier's second TV ad touts her as a "sensible centrist" and a "leading moderate voice."

ME-Sen: A progressive group led by former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling is out with a survey from Victory Geek that shows Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon leading GOP Sen. Susan Collins 51-42. The poll also tested 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betty Sweet, who is a longshot candidate in the July Democratic primary, and found her edging Collins 44-43; Strimling disclosed that he was close to Sweet and had contributed to her campaign.

This is the first poll we've ever seen from Victory Geek, a firm Strimling characterized as "a non-partisan data and telecom provider with mostly conservative clients." Strimling called this survey a "joint left/right partnership" between Victory Geek and his progressive organization, "Swing Hard. Run Fast. Turn Left!"

The is also the first poll we've seen here in close to three months, so we don't have a good sense if Collins really is badly trailing. Indeed, the only other numbers we've seen from Maine all year were a February SocialSphere poll that had Gideon up 43-42 and an early March survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that had her ahead 47-43. While it's very clear that Collins is in for the fight of her career, we need more data before we can call her an underdog.

Gubernatorial

MO-Gov: The conservative pollster We Ask America finds GOP Gov. Mike Parson leading Democrat Nicole Galloway 47-39, while Donald Trump edges Joe Biden 48-44. The only other poll we've seen here in the last month was a late April survey from the GOP firm Remington Research for the Missouri Scout tipsheet that showed Parson ahead 52-39.

VT-Gov: On Thursday, which was the candidate filing deadline, GOP Gov. Phil Scott confirmed that he'd seek a third two-year term. While Scott waited until now to make his plans official, there was never any serious talk about him stepping aside. Scott also pledged that he wouldn't bring on "a campaign staff or office, be raising money, or participating in normal campaign events" until the current state of emergency is over.

House

HI-02: On Thursday, VoteVets endorsed state Sen. Kai Kahele in the August Democratic primary. Kahele currently faces no serious intra-party opposition for this safely blue open seat, though it's always possible someone could launch a last-minute campaign before the filing deadline passes on Tuesday.

IA-04: Politico reports that Iowa Four PAC, a group run by former GOP state House Speaker Christopher Rants, has launched a $20,000 TV buy against white supremacist Rep. Steve King ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary. The commercial declares that it's "sad that Steve King lost his committee assignments in Congress and embarrassed Iowa." The narrator also says that "President Trump stopped allowing Steve King to fly on Air Force One." The rest of the ad touts state Sen. Randy Feenstra as a reliable Trump ally.

Meanwhile, 2018 Democratic nominee J.D. Scholten, who doesn't face any intra-party opposition next week, has launched what Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin reports is a $50,000 TV buy. The 60-second ad, which is narrated by "Field of Dreams" star Kevin Costner, is a shorter version of Scholten's launch video. The spot features images of western Iowa and its people and declares that the area is "rooted within us. Within him."

IN-01: Former Sen. Joe Donnelly endorsed Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott on Monday ahead of next week's Democratic primary. Meanwhile, the Voter Protection Project has announced that it will spend "six figures" on mailers supporting state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon.

IN-05: The anti-tax Club for Growth began targeting former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi a little while ago, and it recently went up with a commercial targeting businesswoman Beth Henderson, who is another candidate in next week's GOP primary. Roll Call's Jessica Wehrman writes that the Club, which backs state Sen. Victoria Spartz, has spent $400,000 on ads for this contest.

The ad shows an old clip of Henderson from just before the 2016 Indiana presidential primary saying of Donald Trump, "I don't like his outbursts and his inappropriateness with the public and … his scruples." The narrator goes on to argue that Henderson "even went on Facebook to support a liberal group that called for Trump's impeachment."

Spartz, who has self-funded most of her campaign, has decisively outspent her many opponents in this competitive open seat. A recent poll for the Club also showed her leading Brizzi 32-14 as Henderson took 13%, and no one has released any contradictory numbers.

Henderson is also acting like Spartz is the one to beat here. Henderson made sure to inform voters in a recent ad that she was born in the United States in what appears to be a not-very subtle shot at Spartz, who has discussed leaving her native Ukraine in her own commercials.

NY-24: 2018 nominee Dana Balter is out with her second TV spot ahead of the June 23 Democratic primary to face GOP Rep. John Katko.

Balter tells the audience that she has a pre-existing condition and continues, "I know the fear of living without insurance, so it's personal when John Katko repeatedly votes to sabotage Obamacare and put coverage for pre-existing conditions at risk." Balter declares that she came closer to defeating Katko last cycle than anyone ever has, and pledges "we'll finish the job so everyone has good healthcare."

NV-03: The conservative super PAC Ending Spending recently launched an ad against former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz ahead of the June 9 GOP primary, and Politico reports that the size of the buy for the TV and digital campaign is $300,000.

UT-04: Former Rep. Mia Love has endorsed state Rep. Kim Coleman in the June 30 GOP primary to take on freshman Rep. Ben McAdams.

DCCC: The DCCC has added another six contenders to its program for top candidates:

  • AK-AL: Alyse Galvin
  • AR-02: Joyce Elliott
  • MT-AL: Kathleen Williams
  • NC-08: Pat Timmons-Goodson
  • NE-02: Kara Eastman
  • OH-01: Kate Schroder

Kathleen Williams, who was the 2018 nominee for Montana’s only House seat, does face a primary on Tuesday against state Rep. Tom Winter. However, Winter has struggled with fundraising during the contest.

Judicial

MI Supreme Court: On Tuesday, the Michigan Democratic Party announced its endorsements for the two state Supreme Court seats on the ballot in November, backing Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and attorney Elizabeth Welch. Both Democratic-backed candidates will face off against two Republican-supported candidates in elections this fall that are nominally nonpartisan and let voters select up to two candidates elected by plurality winner. If McCormack is re-elected and Welch wins office to succeed a retiring GOP justice, Democrats would gain a 4-3 majority on the bench.

A Democratic majority would have major implications for battles over redistricting and voting access, two topics that are currently the subject of active lawsuits at both the state and federal levels in Michigan. While Michigan has a new independent redistricting commission, Republicans are currently suing in federal court to strike it down, something that isn't outside the realm of possibility given the conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority, but a Democratic state court could serve as a bulwark against unfair maps in such a scenario.

Grab Bag

Deaths: Former Rep. Sam Johnson, a Texas Republican who represented Dallas' northern suburbs from 1991 to 2019, died Wednesday at the age of 89. Johnson was the last Korean War veteran to serve in Congress, as well as a founding member of what later became the influential Republican Study Committee.

Johnson was serving as a fighter pilot in Vietnam in 1966 when his plane was shot down and he was captured by North Vietnamese forces. Johnson spent almost seven years as a prisoner of war, a period that included physical and mental torture. Johnson and another future Republican politician, John McCain, also shared a tiny cell for 18 months.

Johnson was released in 1973, and he went on to become a homebuilder back in Texas. Johnson was elected to the state House in 1984, and he sought an open U.S. House seat in a 1991 special election after Republican Steve Bartlett resigned to become mayor of Dallas. Johnson took second in the all-party primary against a fellow Vietnam veteran, former Reagan White House aide Tom Pauken, and the two met in an all-Republican general election. Johnson emphasized his military service and won 53-47, and he never had trouble winning re-election for the rest of his career.

In 2000, Johnson notably endorsed George W. Bush over McCain, saying of his former cellmate, "I know him pretty well … and I can tell you, he cannot hold a candle to George Bush." Three years later, though, McCain would say of the Texan, "I wasn't really as courageous as Sam Johnson." Johnson would ultimately back McCain in the 2008 primaries, arguing it was "time to get behind the front-runner."

Senator’s cellphone seized amid federal investigation of stock trades made ahead of COVID-19 spread

Months after it was revealed that he had made dozens of questionable stock trades ahead of a global pandemic—and advised wealthy constituents to do the same—Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina had his cellphone seized by federal agents Wednesday night. The agents were at the senator’s Washington, D.C., residence.

Burr, who is a member of the “Gang of Eight” and the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sparked scrutiny in mid-March after making 33 transactions in February, that rid him of a significant chunk of his stock portfolio and netted him anywhere between $628,000 and $1.72 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. The transactions came after briefings on the potential impact of the novel coronavirus from the U.S. Department of Health.

While NPR broke the story about the private warnings to rich Tar Heels, ProPublica was the first to report on the selloff. 

ProPublica’s analysis indicated that the Feb. 13 selling spree was Burr’s “largest selling day of at least the past 14 months.”

As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time, according to a Reuters story.

A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline.

[...]

Burr is not a particularly wealthy member of the Senate: Roll Call estimated his net worth at $1.7 million in 2018, indicating that the February sales significantly shaped his financial fortunes and spared him from some of the pain that many Americans are now facing.

The newest and wealthiest member of the Senate, Georgia’s Kelly Loeffler, also got in on the secret selloff, making 29 transactions that add up to millions.  It’s worth noting that Burr is just one of three senators (and the only one still in office) who voted against the 2012 STOCK Act, which, as McClatchy puts it, “explicitly prevents members of Congress and their staffs from using nonpublic information for insider trading.”  Both the FBI and the DOJ have refused comment, as has Burr’s team; however, as the LA Times notes, the search warrant indicates “a significant escalation” in the investigation into Burr’s possible violation of the STOCK Act.

Morning Digest: GOP primary for swingy New Mexico House seat reaches new low in nastiness

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

NM-02: The June 2 GOP contest to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico's 2nd District turned negative a long time ago, and it may now be the ugliest primary anywhere in the country.

The Associated Press' Russell Contreras reported Tuesday that 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell had texted with a conservative cartoonist named Roger Rael about a meme Rael was creating that suggested that Herrell's main rival, businesswoman Claire Chase, had been unfaithful to her first husband. Herrell showed a close interest in Rael's illustration, going so far as to inform him about multiple spelling errors: "It should say gold digging, not good digging," she wrote, adding, "Let me send them in the morning. There are a couple of more."

Campaign Action

Herrell's campaign did acknowledge that she had communicated with Rael, who it just so happens is currently under indictment for what Contreras describes as "disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property charges in connection with an alleged attack on a Republican state House candidate." However, Herrell's spokesperson claimed that Rael had incessantly messaged Herrell, saying that her texts only came in response to his. (What better way to fend off unwelcome texting than to turn into the grammar police?) Herrell also put out a statement saying, "I have never attempted to use personal rumors about Claire in this race, and will never do so. Neither has my campaign."

Chase, unsurprisingly, was not appeased, and she called for Herrell to drop out of the primary. Chase's former husband, Ben Gray, issued his own statement slamming Herrell: "I can't believe Yvette Herrell would try to use me in this false, disgusting attack," he wrote. Gray, who said he was still friends with Chase and is a member of a group called Veterans for Claire, added, "What kind of person would smear a Veteran to win a political campaign?"

But even before these latest developments, this was a messy campaign. Both candidates launched ads last month that accused the other of trying to undermine Donald Trump in 2016; Herrell's commercial even employed a narrator who used what Nathan Gonzalez described as a "ditzy tone" to impersonate Chase. Gonzalez, who titled his article, "The campaign attack ad no man could get away with," also characterized the spot as "one of the most sexist campaign ads in recent memory."

Whoever makes it out of next month's primary will emerge bruised, but the winner will still have a chance to beat Torres Small simply because of the district's conservative demographics: This southern New Mexico seat supported Donald Trump 50-40, and Daily Kos Elections rates the general election a Tossup.

But Torres Small, who defeated Herrell 51-49 last cycle, had nearly $3 million in the bank to defend herself at the end of March, while her prospective opponents didn't have anywhere close to that much. Herrell enjoyed a $378,000 to $264,000 cash-on-hand lead over Chase while a third candidate, self-funder Chris Mathys, had $200,000 to spend.

Election Changes

Florida: The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, along with two other organizations and several voters, has filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to relax a number of Florida laws related to absentee voting for the state's Aug. 18 primaries and the November general election. In particular, the plaintiffs want absentee ballots to count so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days; currently, ballots must be received by 7 PM local time on Election Day. They're also asking that the state pay the postage on return envelopes for mail-in ballots, and that Florida's ban on paid organizers assisting with ballot collection be lifted.

Nevada: Nevada Democrats and their national counterparts have withdrawn their legal challenge seeking a number of changes to the state's June 2 primary after officials in Clark County acceded to two of their biggest demands. According to a court filing, plaintiffs say that Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria has agreed to mail ballots to all voters, not just those listed as "active," and will add two in-person voting sites, for a total of three.

Officials in other parts of the state have made more limited concessions, per the filing, but Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, is home to 71% of Nevada voters and 81% of all "inactive" voters in the state. Democrats also say they plan to continue pressing their claims for the general election.

North Carolina: Several North Carolina voters, backed by voting rights organizations, have brought a lawsuit asking a state court to relax a number of laws related to absentee voting for the November general election. In particular, the plaintiffs want absentee ballots to count so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within nine days, which is the same deadline for military voters; currently, ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received within just three days.

They're also asking for an expanded definition of the term "postmark" to include modern imprints like barcodes, and in the event a postmark does not include a date, they want officials "to presume that the ballot was mailed on or before Election Day unless the preponderance of the evidence demonstrates it was mailed after Election Day."

In addition, plaintiffs want the state to pay for postage for both absentee ballot applications and ballots, and they want the court to waive the requirement that absentee voters have their ballots either notarized or signed by two witnesses. Finally, plaintiffs are requesting that voters be given the opportunity to correct any issues if their signatures allegedly do not match those on file.

Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down a requirement that absentee ballots be notarized and issued an order prohibiting officials from sending out ballots or other voting materials suggesting that notarization is still mandatory. Last month, the League of Women Voters challenged the notary requirement, calling it antithetical to stemming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The court's decision, however, was not grounded in public health but rather a state law that allows a signed statement made under penalty of perjury to suffice in lieu of a notarization in most cases where an affidavit is called for.

Senate

CO-Sen: Businesswoman Michelle Ferrigno Warren's campaign came to an end on Monday when the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously reversed a lower-court ruling that had placed her on the June 23 Democratic primary ballot. Denver District Court Judge Christopher Baumann had ordered Warren onto the ballot last month even though she didn't have enough signatures after deciding that, in light of disruptions caused by social distancing, she had collected enough to justify her place in the primary. However, the state's highest court ultimately ruled that only the legislature has the authority to change how many petitions are needed.

This could spell very bad news for another candidate, nonprofit head Lorena Garcia. Baumann had also ordered Garcia onto the primary ballot for the same reason he had applied to Warren, but Secretary of State Jena Griswold's office announced Monday evening that she was appealing his decision to the state Supreme Court.

GA-Sen-A: 2017 House nominee Jon Ossoff is out with a new statewide ad ahead of the June 9 Democratic primary that prominently features Rep. John Lewis and touts his endorsement. Lewis speaks positively of Ossoff, imploring voters to support him and "send Donald Trump a message he will never forget", while clips of the pair appearing together are shown.

Lewis and Ossoff have a relationship that dates back several years. Ossoff previously interned for the civil rights icon and Atlanta-area congressman, while Lewis was one of Ossoff's earliest supporters in his 2017 special election bid for the 6th Congressional District.

ME-Sen: The Democratic group Senate Majority PAC is out with a health care-themed spot, supported with a six-figure buy, attacking Republican Sen. Susan Collins. The ad ties Collins to the pharmaceutical industry and also states that she "voted against Mainers with pre-existing conditions and for corporate special interests." The commercial, which also shows images of Collins seated alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, closes by saying, "Money changes everything, even Susan Collins."

NC-Sen, NC-Gov: A new poll conducted by Democratic pollster Civiqs on behalf of Daily Kos shows Democrats well ahead in North Carolina's Senate and gubernatorial contests. (Civiqs and Daily Kos are owned by the same parent company.) Cal Cunningham leads GOP Sen. Thom Tillis 50-41, while Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper posts a similar 53-44 edge against Republican Dan Forest; this sample also finds Joe Biden ahead 49-46.

This is the largest lead we've seen for Cunningham since he won the primary in early March, though we still don't have too many other polls to work with. The conservative Civitas Institute released numbers in mid-April from the GOP firm Harper Polling that showed Tillis ahead 38-34, while the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Cunningham ahead 47-40 around that same time. A SurveyUSA poll released last week also had Cunningham ahead just 41-39.

Civiqs does find Cooper taking about the same percentage of the vote as other firms do, but it finds Forest in better shape. While Cooper has consistently posted very strong approval ratings since the coronavirus pandemic began, it seems unlikely that Forest will end up in the mid-30s when all is said and done in this polarized state. Indeed, the last time a major party gubernatorial nominee failed to take at least 42% of the vote was 1980.

TX-Sen: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar picked up an endorsement this week from Rep. Veronica Escobar ahead of the July Democratic primary runoff.

Gubernatorial

MT-Gov: Businesswoman Whitney Williams picked up an endorsement on Tuesday from Hillary Clinton for the June 2 Democratic primary.

Meanwhile, Williams is also out with a commercial where she declares that, while trailblazing women built Montana, Rep. Greg Gianforte and Donald Trump are threatening women now. Williams declares that Trump and the GOP primary frontrunner "want to take away our right to choose. Even restrict birth control. I won't let that happen."

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who is Williams' primary opponent, is also out with a TV spot. The narrators say that Cooney worked with outgoing Gov. Steve Bullock to expand healthcare access, protect rural hospitals, and create the jobs "that will steer our economy through this crisis." The ad ends by reminding voters that Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester are backing Cooney.

While the primary is almost a month away, voters will have the chance to cast their ballots very soon. Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton announced in March that all 56 Montana counties plan to conduct the state's primary by mail, and that ballots will be mailed out to registered voters on May 8.

House

IA-04: This week, the deep-pocketed U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed state Sen. Randy Feenstra over white supremacist Rep. Steve King in the June 2 GOP primary.

PA-10: Attorney Tom Brier is up with his first TV spot ahead of the June 2 Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Scott Perry.

The commercial shows several images of Brier's volunteers as the candidate explains his campaign "has always been about bringing progressive Democrats together. Lots of Democrats who are now volunteering from home." Brier's supporters then say what they believe in, including taking money out of politics, dealing with the opioid crisis, and healthcare for all. Brier ends by telling the viewer, "Apply for your mail-in ballot today."

Brier faces state Auditor Eugene DePasquale, who has the support of the DCCC, in next month's primary, and DePasquale ended March with a large $657,000 to $145,000 cash-on-hand lead. Perry, who narrowly won re-election last cycle, had $816,000 available to defend himself in a seat in the Harrisburg and York area that backed Trump 52-43.

Mayoral

Baltimore, MD Mayor: On behalf of The Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC, a group supporting former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller, the Democratic firm Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group is out with a mid-April poll showing a tight June 2 Democratic primary.

The first survey we’ve seen since mid-March finds that Miller, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, and City Council President Brandon Scott are in a three-way tie with 16% each, while incumbent Jack Young is at 13%. Two other contenders, former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith and former state prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah, are at 11% and 10%, respectively, while 18% are undecided. It only takes a simple plurality to win, and the Democratic nominee should have no trouble in November in this very blue city.

The primary, which was delayed from April 28 to early June because of the coronavirus pandemic, has also turned into a very expensive contest. The Baltimore Sun reports that Miller has raised $800,000 and self-funded an additional $1.5 million this year, which has allowed her to outspend her many opponents; Miller had only $150,000 left in late April, but she may have the resources to self-fund more.

Miller is also the only one of the many major candidates who is white in a city that’s 63% African American and 32% white: The other notable candidates are Black except for Vignarajah, who is the son of Sri Lankan immigrants. Baltimore’s last white mayor was Martin O’Malley, who was elected in 1999 and resigned in early 2007 to become governor of Maryland.

Vignarajah has also been a strong fundraiser, and he had the largest war chest in the field last month with $700,000 in the bank. Scott, who has the backing of several unions, led Dixon in cash-on-hand $415,000 to $300,000, while Young had $202,000 to spend; Young’s campaign said that he’s all but stopped fundraising as he deals with the coronavirus. Smith, meanwhile, was far behind with just $22,000 available.

It would ordinarily be quite surprising to see a crowded race where the incumbent trailing in both the polls and the money contest, but Young has only been in office for about a year. He was elevated from City Council president to mayor when incumbent Catherine Pugh resigned in disgrace (she later was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges related to her self-published children's books), and a number of candidates quickly made it clear that they’d challenge Young.

Young’s critics have argued that the veteran local politician isn’t the right person to help Baltimore deal with its long-term problems, and they’ve also taken him to task for his many gaffes. To take one example, Young said of the city’s high homicide rate last year, “I’m not committing the murders, and that’s what people need to understand," and, "How can you fault leadership? This has been five years of 300-plus murders. I don't see it as a lack of leadership."

Several polls taken during the winter showed Young badly trailing, and Mason-Dixon gave him a 28-39 favorable rating in mid-March. However, that was during the early days of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, and we don’t have enough data to indicate if Young's handling of the situation at home has given him a better shot to win a full term this year.

Miller began airing commercials months ago, and she’s largely had the airwaves to herself. Miller also has a new commercial where she tells viewers that Barack Obama brought her on at the Treasury Department during the Great Recession, and argues she has the experience to help Baltimore “come back stronger” from the current pandemic.

Dixon, meanwhile, went up with her first spot last week, which featured several people praising her accomplishments as mayor. Dixon resigned that post in 2010 after she was convicted of stealing gift cards that were supposed to help needy families, but she’s maintained a base of support since then. Dixon ran for mayor again in 2016 and narrowly lost the primary to then-state Sen. Pugh 37-35. Dixon launched a write-in campaign just a month ahead of the competitive general election and took second place with 52,000 votes, which was good for a 58-22 loss.

Vignarajah also recently went up with a new ad that features several locals praising him as a responsive leader. Vignarajah’s supporters say he got them jobs, stopped their water from being shut off, and halted illegal trash dumping. One woman also praises Vignarajah for convicting the men who murdered her young son.