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

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

Leading Off

Wisconsin: A day of maximal chaos in Wisconsin ended with two conservative courts insisting Tuesday's election go forward and limiting absentee voting, moves that threaten to prevent countless voters from participating and render the results illegitimate.

On Monday afternoon, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order postponing the election—which includes a presidential primary and races for state and local office—to June 9. Republicans, however, have bitterly opposed such a delay and immediately challenged the order before the state Supreme Court. Hours later, the court's four conservatives who heard the case blocked Evers' order, with both liberal justices dissenting. As a result, the state was left with no choice but to proceed with in-person voting Tuesday, despite the serious risks to public health and a crippled elections infrastructure.

Not long thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an order made last Thursday by a lower court, which said that voters could cast absentee ballots so long as election officials received them by April 13, regardless of when they were postmarked. In a 5-4 ruling—which, like the Wisconsin high court's decision, fell along strictly ideological lines—the court's conservatives ruled that all ballots must be postmarked by April 7.

This means that those who have the misfortune to receive their ballots late—a distinct possibility for many, given the huge surge in requests—now face an impossible choice, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in a dissent: They must either risk their health by voting in person on Tuesday, or disenfranchise themselves by not voting at all. The same holds true for anyone who was unable to request a ballot, as well as the many groups of voters who cannot vote by mail, such as those who are without housing.

Campaign Action

And for those who do choose to head to the polls, they face an elections infrastructure in shambles. Due to a shortage of poll workers, Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, was set to open just five polling sites, down from its usual 180. The same problem has plagued jurisdictions across the state. Many voters will therefore be deprived of their right to vote, and efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus will be undermined.

But a deep cynicism motivates the right-wing hostility to letting voters participate in the election safely: With progressives mounting a competitive campaign to unseat an arch-conservative appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker on the state Supreme Court, Republicans appear to be counting on the pandemic to disproportionately suppress votes on the left.

In part that's because social distancing is more difficult in denser urban areas, which make up the bulk of the Democratic vote; voters in more sparsely populated rural areas are likely to be less deterred from voting in person, since they're apt to encounter fewer people at the polls or on their way there. In addition, polling shows Republicans are simply less concerned about the coronavirus in general, meaning they're more willing to ignore the danger to public health (and their own) that in-person voting poses.

And now, after decades of concerted effort, Republicans have succeeded in installing partisan ideologues on the bench—both federally and at the state level—who are only too happy to cloak the GOP's malevolent political goals in the language of legalese and bless them with the authority of the bench. In a searing irony, a message atop the Wisconsin Supreme Court's website explains that the courts are closed due to COVID-19—just above a link to the court's order saying Tuesday's election must take place despite COVID-19.

In his ruling last week delaying the deadline for absentee ballots to be received, Judge William Conley included a pregnant footnote. "The court will reserve," he wrote, "on the question as to whether the actual voter turnout, ability to vote on election day or overall conduct of the election and counting votes timely has undermined citizens' right to vote."

In other words, Conley suggested that he might entertain further challenges after the election if the all-important right to vote has been abridged in some way based on how the election is carried out. As things stand, it's impossible to see how those rights won't be sabotaged, but with the partisans in robes sitting above Conley, it's just as hard to see them permitting any remedy he might fashion to stand.

Election Changes

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

Iowa: Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate says that he's considering the option of conducting November's general election entirely by mail. Previously, Pate said he'd mail absentee ballot applications to every active registered voter ahead of Iowa's June 2 downballot primaries. Pate says he considered making the primary all-mail but opted not to after talking to officials in Washington and Oregon, who described the long timeframes that had been needed to convert their states to mail voting.

Montana: Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton says that all 56 Montana counties plan to conduct the state's June 2 presidential and downballot primaries by mail, an option that Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock recently made available.

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

Virginia: Republicans in Virginia's 7th Congressional District have indefinitely postponed their April 25 convention and have voted to sue the Board of Elections to seek an exemption from Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. Officials are also considering alternate methods of conducting their convention, such as online or by mail. The committee must pick a nominee by June 9. Republicans in the 5th District, who face the same situation, are meeting on Sunday to discuss their plans.

1Q Fundraising

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate

KY-Sen: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently went up with a commercial that praised him for the coronavirus economic bill, and Marine veteran Amy McGrath is now out with a response ad. The narrator declares that McConnell is "already taking a victory lap against the coronavirus in TV ads, even though medical experts say hundreds of thousands of Americans could die." The Democrat's ad also takes McConnell to task for blocking "emergency research until drug companies could overcharge for vaccines."

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

South Dakota: Candidate filing closed last week for South Dakota's June 2 primary, and the state has a list of contenders available here. A primary runoff will take place on Aug. 11 in races where no candidate took more than 35% of the vote.

However, both the primary and the general election should be quiet this year in this very red state. GOP Sen. Mike Rounds faces an intra-party challenge from state Rep. Scyller Borglum, who raised very little cash in 2019. Rep. Dusty Johnson also drew a challenge from former state Rep. Liz Marty May, who narrowly lost re-election last cycle.

Gubernatorial

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

WV-Gov: Democratic state Sen. Ron Stollings is out with a spot ahead of the June primary focused on the coronavirus. Stollings, who works as a physician, appears in his lab coat and tells the audience, "Regarding the coronavirus, I'm so glad we were able to get $2 million in the budget to help fight that. That was my amendment."

Stollings spends the rest of the ad telling the audience to use "good common sense" during the pandemic. He says to "assume everyone has the coronavirus. They don't, but that way, you will socially distance yourself and you'll use hand washing techniques." He also urges the viewer, "Do not go around your loved ones, your older loved ones, if you're sick."

House

CA-25: The DCCC has launched a $1 million ad campaign against Republican Mike Garcia that the Los Angeles Times reports will run until the May 12 special election. Politico reports that $930,000 of this is going to cable TV and another $42,000 will be for Spanish-language commercials, while the balance will be for digital advertising.

The DCCC's opening spot alludes to the coronavirus without mentioning it directly: The narrator says, "More than ever we need a leader who will put our health and safety first." The commercial goes on to say, "But Mike Garcia would let insurance companies deny coverage for pre-existing conditions … and hike up costs for life-saving drugs." The commercial then praises Democrat Christy Smith for refusing to "take a dime from pharmaceutical companies."

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

FL-19: Physician William Figlesthaler uses his first ad ahead of the August GOP primary to tell the audience that "career politicians from both parties have failed" to handle the coronavirus. The candidate uses an image of Bernie Sanders to represent Democrats who "want socialized medicine," while the late John McCain stands in for the establishment Republicans Figlesthaler says "failed to implement President Trump's aggressive free market health care solutions."

KY-04: GOP Rep. Thomas Massie is up with an ad portraying him as a loyal Donald Trump ally while ignoring that Trump called him "a disaster for America, and for the Great State of Kentucky" less than two weeks ago. Massie also doesn't mention Todd McMurtry, who is his opponent in the June primary.

MI-13: Target-Insyght is out with a survey of the August Democratic primary conducted from March 31 to April 2 that gives Rep. Rashida Tlaib a 43-34 advantage in her rematch against Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. Back in July, well before Jones kicked off her campaign, the same firm found Tlaib with a far larger 56-19 lead. Jones, who entered the race on March 25, announced on Thursday that she had tested positive for COVID-19 but added she was "not experiencing any of the horrific symptoms associated with the coronavirus."

NM-02: A recently formed super PAC called Citizens United for NM is spending at least $47,000 on a commercial attacking 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell ahead of the June GOP primary to take on Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. This group was created by Butch Mathews, who owns a trucking company that works in the state's oil and gas industry, and it donated to Herrell's main intra-party foe, oil businesswoman Claire Chase.

The commercial says that in 2016, Herrell sent out emails "to undermine Trump's campaign for president" and also "used taxpayer funds to attend an anti-Trump soiree at a San Diego hotel where they hung a Trump piñata from the ceiling." The commercial comes several months after Chase ran into problems when her old 2016 social media posts attacking Trump surfaced.

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

Virginia allows parties to nominate candidates through party conventions or through a party-run firehouse primary, so not every November matchup will be decided in June. Both parties are holding primaries for Senate, but the situation varies in House seats: The GOP is hosting primaries in only five of the 11 congressional districts, while Democrats are doing primaries everywhere except for the safely red 9th Congressional District.

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

Taylor initially decided to launch a longshot challenge to Sen. Mark Warner, but he announced in January that he would instead seek a rematch against Luria. Navy veteran and 2010 candidate Ben Loyola was already running, though, and he decided to remain in the contest. Loyola has the support of former Rep. Scott Rigell, who defeated him 40-27 in the primary for an open seat in 2010 and retired in 2016. Navy veteran Jarome Bell is also running, but he didn’t report raising any money during the final months of 2019.

Taylor is the frontrunner to win the GOP nod, but Team Red may still benefit from a different nominee. Taylor’s staff was exposed during the 2018 campaign for forging signatures on behalf of Democrat-turned-independent Shaun Brown (who was booted off the ballot by a judge), and Democrats ran ads slamming Taylor's campaign for its skullduggery.

The story has not gone away since Taylor's defeat. Last month, a former Taylor staffer pleaded guilty for her part in the scheme, and the local prosecutor said the "investigation is still ongoing" and that we're "likely to see more" indictments to come. Taylor himself has consistently denied any knowledge of the scheme, but his staff had previously claimed the congressman was indeed aware of their plans.

VA-05: While the GOP opted to select its nominee through a convention, Democrats decided to hold a primary here instead. This seat, which includes Charlottesville and the south-central part of the state, moved from 53-46 Romney to 53-42 Trump, but Democrats are hoping that the ugly GOP nomination battle between freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman and Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good will give them an opening.

Four Democrats filed to compete in the primary. EMILY’s List is backing Claire Russo, while VoteVets is supporting fellow Marine veteran Roger Dean Huffstetler, who unsuccessfully ran here in 2018. Physician Cameron Webb and Rappahannock County Supervisor John Lesinski are also running.

House: House Majority PAC, which is the second-largest spender on House races among outside groups on the Democratic side, has announced that it's reserved a total of $51 million in fall TV time in 29 different media markets. We've assembled this new data into a spreadsheet, but as you'll see, it's organized by market rather than district, so we've also included our best guesses as to which House seats HMP is specifically targeting or defending.

The reason these buys are organized this way is because advertising can only be booked market by market. The geographic regions served by particular TV stations rarely correspond with political boundaries, and the reverse is true as well.

About half of the nation's 435 congressional districts are contained within a single media market, while the other half cross two or more (sprawling Montana's lone House district reaches into nine different markets, the most in the country). Conversely, all but a couple dozen of the 900-plus media markets in the U.S. overlap with two or more congressional districts; jumbo-sized New York City, for instance, covers all or part of 34 different House seats in four different states. Inevitably, this mismatch means that many TV watchers will wind up seeing ads for districts they don't live in.

Most importantly, these reservations give us an early window into which races HMP expects to be competitive, but they don't tell us everything. As Politico notes, most of these media markets will likely attract hordes of ad money from presidential and Senate campaigns, so HMP is reserving now to lock in cheaper rates before high demand for TV time brings prices up. HMP can afford to wait, though, to book ads in competitive House seats located in markets like Los Angeles and Salt Lake City since there won't be nearly as much competition for airtime there.

As we alluded to just above, HMP included several markets in this first wave of reservations that contain at least a portion of several different competitive House seats, most notably Philadelphia. If you're interested in knowing exactly which media markets cover which congressional districts across the country, naturally we've got all that data for you. It's what we used, in fact, to hone our guesses as to which seats HMP cares about.

However, it's still too early to know how much money the PAC will direct towards each race. Often, major outside groups will change their planning based on how individual contests seem to be shaping up.

In 2018, for instance, the NRCC reserved a large chunk of TV time in the pricey Miami media market but, initially, it only used those bookings to air ads defending Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida's 26th District. Late in the cycle, though, the NRCC put some of that reserved airtime to work in an effort to save the open 27th District, which it had previously appeared to give up on.

Around that same time, the committee made the opposite move in the Las Vegas market. The NRCC reserved millions there well before Election Day, and it initially seemed that it would spend to try to flip both Nevada's 3rd and 4th Districts. In October, though, the NRCC decided to direct all its money towards helping former Rep. Cresent Hardy in the 4th District, and it didn't end up spending in the 3rd District at all.

None of these deck chair rearrangements wound up mattering, though: Republicans ultimately lost all four of these races in what was a terrible year for the GOP. But they're a good reminder that TV reservations often do not reveal the entire House battlefield.

Other Races

WA-LG: Retiring Rep. Denny Heck recently filed paperwork with the state to run for lieutenant governor, though the Democrat has not said he’s in yet. The filing deadline for Washington’s August top-two primary is May 15.

Heck surprised political observers in December when he announced that he would not seek a fifth term in his reliably blue seat. In an unusually candid letter, Heck described both the many things he'd loved about serving in Congress but also admitted he'd grown "discouraged," explaining that "countless hours I have spent in the investigation of Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry have rendered my soul weary." Last month, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib made an unexpected decision of his own when he revealed that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election and would instead leave politics to become a Jesuit.

If Heck goes forward with a campaign to succeed Habib, he’ll be the second retiring House member this cycle to run for a lieutenant governor’s post. Utah Rep. Rob Bishop confirmed back in July that he’d leave the House, and the Republican later announced in January that he’d serve as former state party chair Thomas Wright’s running mate.

However, both Heck and Bishop would be running for office under very different rules. In Utah, Wright and Bishop will either win or lose the June primary together as a ticket; if they clear the primary, they’d also both be elected or defeated together in the general election. In Washington, though, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor compete separately in both the top-two primary and the general election.

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

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

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Leading Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate

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

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

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

Gubernatorial

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

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

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

House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading Off

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

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

Campaign Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gubernatorial

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

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

House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading Off

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

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

Campaign Action

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

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

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

Senate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gubernatorial

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

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

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

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

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

House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOP conventions tend to be dominated by delegates who prize ideology above all else, and Riggleman infuriated plenty of social conservatives at home in July when he officiated a same-sex wedding between two of his former campaign volunteers. This quickly resulted in a homophobic backlash against the congressman, and local Republican Parties in three small 5th District counties each passed anti-Riggleman motions.

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

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

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

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

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

Mayoral

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

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

Other Races

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

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

Grab Bag

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