At the Races: Badger State bungle

Posted April 9, 2020 at 2:30pm

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

Wisconsin’s election on Tuesday, with scenes of frightened voters waiting for hours to cast ballots and poll workers dressed in personal protective equipment, was a primer on how not to hold an election during a pandemic. But the verdict is still out on the right way to do it.

Wisconsin officials persisted in holding the state’s presidential primary and several down-ballot contests in spite of rising death rates, closed polling locations and a statewide stay-at-home order. In the following days, Georgia and New Jersey officials delayed their primaries (Georgia’s had already been rescheduled once). In Florida, where two poll workers may have contracted COVID-19 during the state’s March 17 presidential primary, election officials asked the state’s Republican governor to allow for more early and absentee voting before more primaries are held on Aug. 18.

But in just a few weeks, some people in Wisconsin must vote again. Voters in the state’s 7th District are expected to return to the polls for a special election to fill the solidly red House seat, open since the September resignation of former GOP Rep. Sean P. Duffy.

The Democrat in that race, Tricia Zunker, a lawyer and Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court associate justice, is calling on the state’s Republican-led Legislature to make it a mail-in contest only. She points out that the May 12 election falls within some estimates of the state’s peak for the virus.

“People shouldn’t have to risk their lives to vote,” she told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday.

Republican strategists in the state told us such measures shouldn’t be necessary. They said the 7th District is not densely populated, the infection rate in that part of the state has been relatively low, and the polling places open there on Tuesday did not report problems.

The Republican candidate, Tom Tiffany, is a state senator who won an expensive February primary. He called for the state to seek federal election grant funding recently approved by Congress but not to run the election entirely by mail.

“We must have safe and orderly elections, including in-person voting,” Tiffany said in a statement.

Starting gate

On the front lines: A handful of congressional candidates are currently balancing campaigning while working in jobs that put them on the front lines of a pandemic.

Sanders, out: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ended his presidential campaign Wednesday, making former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The Senate map: Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales released a new round of Senate race ratings, shifting a few competitive races toward the Democrats.

Warning in Wisconsin: Long lines, closed polling locations and 11th hour legal chaos plagued Wisconsin’s elections on Tuesday. Some voting rights advocates said the contests were a warning for other states if they don’t prepare for November.

Full court press: The Supreme Court issued its first election-related ruling amid the pandemic, allowing ballots in Wisconsin to be postmarked on Election Day. CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger reports that the legal back-and-forth offered a preview of more litigation to come.

Cha-ching: Democrat Amy McGrath once again outraised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and she is also closing in on the Kentucky Republican’s cash-on-hand advantage.

High-stakes fight: Under pressure from big business lobbies such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering new rules that could thwart shareholder resolutions targeting everything from companies’ political disclosures to environmental and corporate governance policies.

Michigan money: The Wolverine State’s Senate race is a magnet for political cash. Democratic incumbent Gary Peters said his campaign raised the most ever in a single quarter, brining in $4 million from January through March. His GOP opponent, Iraq War veteran John James, hauled in even more — $4.8 million — according to James’ campaign. And this is not the first time James has outraised Peters. Inside Elections rates the race Lean Democratic.

Wash your hands, or not: What are the chances that amid a pandemic where personal hygiene has been touted as a front-line defense against COVID-19, a Senate incumbent had previously made comments questioning requirements for hand-washing by restaurant workers? Well, look no further than North Carolina’s Senate race where the state’s Democratic Party has launched a small four-figure Facebook digital ad against GOP Sen. Thom Tillis for his 2015 statements. Tillis, who has a tough race against Democrat Cal Cunningham, said then that restaurants should be able to opt out of hand-washing regulations so long as they posted signs letting customers know. Tillis’ point was that patrons would choose to go elsewhere, to restaurants that comply with clean hands. “The market will take care of that,” he said back then.

“The North Carolina Democratic Party should be ashamed for peddling lies divorced from any context in order to mislead voters during a pandemic,” North Carolina GOP spokeswoman Sasha Duncan told a local news station.

Unexpected hurdles: Despite news reports this week that Sen. Edward J. Markey is running short on signatures to get on the ballot, the Massachusetts Democrat’s campaign manager, John Walsh, said in a statement that “we expect to complete the requirement by May 5th for ballot access through an active, person-to-person organizing program.” He added: “Because we can no longer organize in the traditional face-to-face venues, our campaign is utilizing all the virtual tools available such as phone calls, Twitter, Facebook and other social media, and email to collect signatures, with delivery of the physical pieces of paper by good old fashioned mail through the USPS.” Markey is to face Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III in a September Democratic primary.

ICYMI

Democrats on the airwaves: House Majority PAC, the Democratic super PAC aligned with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, announced its first round of fall advertising reservations, reserving $51 million worth of time in 29 different media markets that reflect a mix of districts where Democrats are on defense and offense. The group is spending the most, $9.6 million, in Pennsylvania (the Philadelphia market also touches a handful of New Jersey seats as well). HMP reserved more than $7.4 million in Minnesota; more than $5 million in Michigan and Texas; roughly $4.5 million in Iowa and Georgia; more than $3 million in Nevada and Florida; more than $2 million in Maine and Virginia; $2 million in Manchester/Boston; $1.1 million in Arizona; and $900,000 in Nebraska. HMP also reserved $200,000 worth of airtime in North Dakota even though Democrats are not targeting the state’s at-large House seat. According to a media market breakdown from Daily Kos Elections, part of the Fargo market covers Minnesota’s 7th District, where Democratic Rep. Collin C. Peterson is defending a seat President Donald Trump carried by 31 points in 2016.

Republicans on the airwaves: Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, announced its first round of ad reservations Thursday, reserving $43 million on television and digital platforms across 33 media markets. The bookings largely reflect where Republicans are on offense. CLF is also spending the most, $7.3 million, in Pennsylvania, with the bulk of the reservations in Philadelphia. CLF reserved $5.7 million in New York, including upstate and in New York City, which also covers parts of New Jersey. The group reserved $4.6 million in California, where Republicans lost seven seats in 2018. CLF also reserved $3.9 million in Iowa and more than $3 million in Georgia, Minnesota and Texas. The group booked between $1 million and $2 million in Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia. CLF reserved less than $1 million in Illinois, Nebraska, Nevada and Utah.

A new trend? Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who is running in the May 12 special election to replace former California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, released a new television ad this week with a unique disclaimer at the end. Small type at the bottom of the screen read, “All footage filmed prior to stay at home order.”

Unbarring the Florida ballot: A federal judge said Tuesday that when he decides later this month whether people with prior felony convictions will be allowed to vote without first paying fines and fees, it will apply to hundreds of thousands of people across the state, not just the 17 who filed the lawsuit. The decision could have profound implications for the 2020 election in a battleground state. Florida voters approved a 2018 ballot measure extending the right to vote to those with past felony convictions: an estimated 1.4 million people. But the state’s Republican lawmakers have sought to introduce new restrictions.

Going green: The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund announced Thursday it was endorsing Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. The endorsement stands out because the environmental group has so far only endorsed Democrats this cycle. The group said Fitzpatrick has a “strong record addressing climate change, fighting PFAS pollution, advocating for public lands and so much more.” As one of two House Republicans running for reelection in a district Hillary Clinton carried, Fitzpatrick is a top Democratic target this year.

What we’re reading

Pollsters gonna poll: The pandemic is upending every aspect of campaigning, including polling. CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone looks at how pollsters are adjusting.

Deployed at home: New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose announced last week that he was deploying with the National Guard to fight the pandemic in his home district. CQ Roll Call’s Paul V. Fontelo digs into what that means for Rose’s official duties and his campaign, noting that Rose is not the only lawmaker deploying at home.

Hitting (campaign) pocketbooks: Politico dives into how the pandemic could affect fundraising for congressional campaigns.

Donors’ cure: Conservative nonprofit groups have been pushing the Trump administration on an unproven antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Getting on the ballot: The coronavirus pandemic poses a potentially crippling threat to many campaigns for ballot measures, writes Sara Swann in The Fulcrum.

The count: 222

That’s how many days the Federal Election Commission has been without a quorum to conduct meetings and to take enforcement actions. The agency is currently down to just three commissioners out of what should be six. Four are required for a quorum. The FEC is continuing its mission to collect and make public campaign disclosures.

Senate Republicans moved in early March, before the coronavirus pandemic had fully upended the congressional calendar, on the nomination of James “Trey” Trainor III, a Texas lawyer who represented Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign. The Senate Rules and Administration panel held his confirmation hearing March 10, but no votes have occurred yet. Democrats said they opposed his nomination.

Nathan’s notes

Nathan ponders the question of how the coronavirus pandemic might have changed the way impeachment played out on the Hill if, as Trump contends, he saw it coming.

Candidate confessions

Cameron Webb, a hospitalist at UVA, is treating patients at his hospital’s COVID-19 clinic. But even when he isn’t on duty, Webb, 36, has a frenetic daily routine.

A Democrat running in a crowded primary in Virginia’s 5th District, Webb is also the director of health policy and equity at the UVA School of Medicine. He runs a health policy research lab with 10 graduate students. And he has two children, aged 8 and 4.

In recent weeks, he has been doing all his non-hospital jobs online, while he and his wife, an emergency room physician, take turns home-schooling their children.

On the days he isn’t working at the hospital, he said, he wakes up around 7 a.m. for some exercise. Then he gets his kids out of bed around 8:30 for breakfast and a morning walk. While he helps them with their homework, he responds to emails and does conference calls. After lunch, he touches base with his campaign team and reaches out to people in his district. Then he moves on to preparing the curriculum for his UVA classes and working on research projects. He tries to do some kind of social media engagement with his district every evening. Then he takes an hour to help with the kids’ bedtime and eat dinner.

Then it’s back to UVA work, taking calls and responding to emails until past midnight.

He said changing tasks multiple times during the day makes him feel “refreshed.”

Reader’s race: AZ-06

Democrats are hopeful an ongoing ethics investigation, recent gains in the suburbs and a well-funded, experienced candidate will lead to a victory in Arizona’s 6th District near Phoenix. GOP Rep. David Schweikert is vying for a sixth term while facing a House Ethics Committee probe into whether he misused office funds to pay a staff member for unofficial activities and reimburse an employee for gifts or loans. Schweikert is also alleged to have pressured his official staff to engage in political activities.

Schweikert fended off Democrat Anita Malik in 2018, defeating her by 10 points in a district Trump carried by the same margin in 2016. Malik is running again, but she faces stiff competition in the state’s Aug. 4 primary. Former emergency room doctor and cancer research advocate Hiral Tipirneni is running in the 6th District after two unsuccessful runs in the neighboring 8th District. In 2018, Tipirneni lost a special election by 5 points to Republican Debbie Lesko and she lost to Lesko by 11 points in the general election. But the 8th District leans further to the right than Schweikert’s — Trump carried it by 21 points in 2016.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has signaled that Tipirneni is its preferred candidate, adding her to its Red to Blue program for strong contenders. Tipirneni has continued her impressive fundraising since 2018. The first quarter fundraising reports for 2020 are due next week, but as of the end of 2019, her campaign had $912,000 on hand, more than three times as much as Schweikert’s campaign, which had $278,000 in the bank. Malik had $46,000. In December, Inside Elections shifted the race from Solid to Likely Republican.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for California’s 45th District or Michigan’s 8th. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

The deadline to file fundraising reports for the first quarter of 2020 is Wednesday. Some strategists in both parties expect the reports could show a dip in fundraising due to the pandemic hitting in March, the final month of the quarter.

Photo finish

A scene from our photo team's project on how the Capitol looks these days versus normal days also gives us a little religious touch for Easter weekend. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Subscribe now using this link so you don’t miss out on the best news and analysis from our team, plus key stories and data that will keep you informed about 2020 races.