At the Races: 2020 becomes Amash pit

Posted April 30, 2020 at 2:30pm

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The liberal group Justice Democrats now has a losing record in the 2020 cycle when it comes to taking on sitting Democratic lawmakers. The latest loss came Tuesday in Ohio’s 3rd District, where Rep. Joyce Beatty easily fended off a primary challenge from Morgan Harper, a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau senior adviser. Beatty, who enlisted the aid of fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, won 68 percent to 32 percent, and party leaders in Ohio believed she was in good shape before the coronavirus pandemic effectively shut down traditional campaigning.

Progressives suffered another loss in March when Jessica Cisneros failed to defeat Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar. Justice Democrats and other progressive groups did find success two weeks later in Illinois, when Marie Newman ousted anti-abortion Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinski.

The group is backing three challengers in upcoming Democratic primaries. On June 23, middle school principal Jamaal Bowman is challenging House Foreign Affairs Chairman Elliot L. Engel in New York’s 16th District. On Aug. 4, nurse and activist Cori Bush is taking on Rep. William Lacy Clay in Missouri’s 1st District (she unsuccessfully challenged Clay in 2018). And on Sept. 1, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is challenging Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal in Massachusetts’ 1st District.

But these challengers face uphill battles against incumbents with established name recognition and sizable financial advantages. As Nathan L. Gonzales reminded us after Lipinski’s loss, it’s rare that incumbents lose their primaries. For Bowman, it’s also unclear whether the cancellation of New York’s presidential primary adds an additional hurdle if liberal Bernie Sanders supporters are less inclined to turn out. Still, lower turnout could benefit an insurgent challenger. In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat New York Rep. Joseph Crowley, the No. 4 Democrat in House leadership, by winning a total of 17,000 votes.

Starting gate

Spoiler alert: It’ll be months before we know how Rep. Justin Amash’s long-shot presidential bid may influence the outcome of the 2020 White House race, but it’s already clear that his congressional seat is not as vulnerable for the GOP.

Ratings change alert: Speaking of Amash, Nathan’s Inside Elections shifted the rating for the race to succeed him in Michigan’s 3rd District.

Pandemic at the Polls: Maryland and Ohio held the first almost exclusively mail-in elections of the coronavirus pandemic this week. The special election in Maryland’s Democratic-leaning 7th District went smoothly, with only a few hundred people showing up to cast in-person ballots and election officials reporting few problems. Voters sent former Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume back to his old House seat after a two-decade hiatus. Ohio voters encountered more hiccups in the statewide primary, which was beset by postal delays. But in the end, Beatty beat back her primary challenge, and in the Cincinnati-area 1st District, health care advocate and cancer survivor Kate Schroder won the Democratic nomination to challenge Rep. Steve Chabot, one of the few potentially vulnerable GOP incumbents in the state.

Give it time: Stu Rothenberg analyzes the premise that President Donald Trump has a secret stash of voters, since his overall approval rating is a bit higher than his share of the vote in a head-to-head matchups with Joe Biden. He didn’t seem convinced.

When’s the vote?: Now you can keep track of updated congressional primary dates on the coronavirus response portal created by our colleagues at FiscalNote.

ICYMI

On the airwaves: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm announced its first round of fall TV and digital ad reservations in states where Democrats are on offense. Like other outside groups, the DSCC reserved the most, $11.7 million, in North Carolina. The committee reserved $7.3 million in Iowa, $6.3 million in Arizona and $5.2 million in Montana.

‘Safe Republican’ defined: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart will almost certainly return to Congress in 2021 after Democrats failed to field a challenger in Florida’s 25th District before candidate filing ended last week, Daily Kos Elections noted. The South Florida district voted for Trump by just 2 points in 2016, but Diaz-Balart beat well-funded Democratic challenger Mary Barzee Flores, by 21 points in 2018.

Signed, sealed, delivered: Kentucky, which had already delayed its primaries, is taking new steps to expand voting by mail. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order late last week ordering the creation of an online portal where voters can request an absentee ballot and directing election officials to mail information on how to request a ballot to every registered voter.

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman: As lawmakers negotiate the next coronavirus relief package, some election officials are warning that Congress needs to help the postal service safeguard the 2020 elections. The United States Postal Service could run out of money in the late summer or early fall, and its services are vital to delivering absentee ballots (especially with an expected surge in voting by mail due to the pandemic). Asked on a press call Wednesday what an election would look like without the postal service, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, said, “It would be disastrous.”

New York state of mind: Democrats on the New York State Board of Elections decided this week to effectively cancel the state’s presidential primary, which was already postponed from April 28 to June 23. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders slammed the move as an outrage and undemocratic, and called on the DNC to strip New York of its national convention delegates.

Ommmm my bottom line: The campaign of Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat, has invited supporters to a virtual meditation fundraiser scheduled for May 15, according to an invitation obtained by At the Races. The online event seeks donations of $250 from individuals and $1,000 from political action committees, or $5,000 from PACs that want to chair the session. “In this time of social distancing, please join Congressman Cárdenas in learning mindful best practices,” the invite read.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Stu Rothenberg breaks down the importance of Arizona’s Maricopa County as a bellwether for Trump’s reelection. (Put another way: Maricopa incoming!)

She’s back: Former California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill is weighing in on the race for her old House seat (that special election is set for May 12). Politico reported that Hill’s super PAC is launching a new turnout effort, featuring an ad that shows her wearing a face mask in front of the White House. 

Eyeballs emoji: You might have seen some of the drama over a memo the National Republican Senatorial Committee circulated to GOP candidates that contained the advice, “Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China.” Politico reports that the Trump team was not happy about this and threatened to pull support from candidates who followed that advice.

At-home ads: Bloomberg Government dives into how campaigns are embracing DIY campaign ads.

K Street connections: Richard Wilkerson, a former supporter of South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, has switched allegiance to Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, whom Wilkerson got to know when Harrison lobbied for his company.

Pass the letter opener: Election officials are expecting more voters to want to cast their ballots by mail in November, but FiveThirtyEight reports that few states are prepared to handle more mail-in ballots.

Battle for the Senate: CNN looked at how Democratic Senate challengers were navigating campaigning in a pandemic. The Washington Post reported that NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin told donors that he’s concerned GOP senators aren’t receiving enough credit for responding to the pandemic. The Post also dug into how Democrats believe the Senate is within their grasp (featuring Doug Jones saying it’s a relief to not have Sanders at the top of the ticket and some knowledge from the one and only Nathan L. Gonzales). And The New York Times reports on how Republicans are nervous that Trump’s erratic response to the coronavirus pandemic could affect Senate races.

The count: 896

That’s how many additional people — a 29 percent increase — tested positive for the coronavirus in the District of Columbia in the seven days before House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced that, after consulting with the Capitol physician, plans for the chamber to come back into session next week were canceled.

Nathan’s notes

Nathan details one of the most sexist ads he’s seen recently and (plot twist) the ad comes from a female candidate.

Candidate confessions

Rep. Justin Amash, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian from Michigan, may no longer plan to be a candidate for Congress, but now he’s a challenger in an unlikely effort for the White House, potentially on the Libertarian ticket.

Amash, a pariah among Republicans for backing House Democrats’ impeachment efforts, is running as an outsider. Right now, “what we have in Washington is two parties that are always fighting each other, that aren’t representing the American people,” he said in an interview Wednesday on MSNBC. “We saw that with the most recent relief packages where most of the aid was directed to helping those at the top and very little got through to the people who need it most.”

Amash confided that he had not lined up any major political donors for his fledgling candidacy: “I haven’t asked major financial donors because that’s not the point of this race. The point of this race is to represent the people. And there are millions of people who want another option. And I’m very confident we can raise the money.”

Reader’s race: IA-02

House Republicans’ path to the majority runs through the 30 Democratic-held districts that Trump won in 2016. Only one of those races features an open seat — Iowa’s 2nd District in the state’s southeast corner. Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack announced a year ago that he would not run for reelection. He survived GOP waves in 2010 and 2014, and easily won reelection in 2016 despite Trump carrying his seat by 4 points. Democrats quickly coalesced around former state Sen. Rita Hart, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018, as their preferred candidate. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added her to its initial “Red to Blue” list for formidable contenders.

GOP voters will pick Hart’s opponent in the June 2 primary. Their top candidate appears to be state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who is making her fourth run for Congress after three unsuccessful runs against Loebsack. She ended the first fundraising quarter of 2020 with $397,000 on hand, while her primary opponent, former Illinois GOP Rep. Bobby Schilling, had $55,000 in the bank. Miller-Meeks was also recently elevated to the second tier of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program for strong candidates. But Hart has a financial advantage, ending the quarter with $899,000, and she doesn’t have a primary.

Like campaigns across the country, the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the 2nd District race. Election officials are encouraging Iowans to vote by mail in the June primary, and each active registered voter is receiving an absentee ballot request. Miller-Meeks, a former ophthalmologist and director of Iowa’s Department of Public Health, has been emphasizing her health care experience on the campaign trail. She recently grabbed headlines for touting a malaria drug to treat the virus, even though that drug has not been proved to help. Inside Elections rates the race Tilt Democratic.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for California’s 48th District or for Georgia’s 7th. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Tuesday marks six months until Election Day (yes, you read that right). So which lawmakers are in trouble in November? Stay tuned to RollCall.com next week for our updated lists of the 10 most vulnerable incumbents in the House and Senate.

Photo finish

The new look everyone will be sporting at the polls this year. Election worker Jocelyn Bush waits for voters in Baltimore on Tuesday during during the special election to fill the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings’ seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.