At the Races: Isn’t that special?

Posted May 14, 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.

Mike Garcia didn’t have to wait very long to be declared the winner of the special election in California’s 25th District. Less than 24 hours after the polls closed, The Associated Press called the race for the Navy veteran (which is fast by California standards), making him the first Republican in more than two decades to flip a Democratic House seat in the Golden State.

So what does it mean? That depends who you ask. Republicans touted Garcia’s victory as evidence they can win in the suburbs and ultimately flip the House. But Democrats cautioned not to read too much into one special election, especially when they expect their voters to turn out in much higher numbers in November when President Donald Trump will be facing former Vice President Joe Biden (special elections are special, remember?). Garcia and his vanquished Democratic opponent, state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, face each other again in November as well.

Partisan spin aside, both parties will also be digging into the race for clues about which virtual campaign tactics worked, and which ones didn’t. As the coronavirus pandemic led to stay-at-home orders in California in early March, both Garcia and Smith shifted to virtual campaigns and focused on reaching voters on TV, online and over the phone. Garcia noted on an election night call with supporters that his campaign had made 500,000 phone calls since the crisis hit. “I know a lot of you were complaining about how many times we were calling you,” he joked.

Starting gate

Live (on Zoom)!: In less than an hour, you can watch “At The Races: 6 Months Out,” our campaign team’s discussion about the 10 most vulnerable House and Senate members and why they got there. We’ll also discuss the landscape ahead for Trump and the majorities in the House and Senate. It’s happening at 3 p.m. on our Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels. Register here.

Takes! Get your takes, here!: Both parties had very different takes on Tuesday’s elections. But the contests did provide some clues about November and underscored that the fundamentals of campaigning still matter.

Garcia is golden: Before Garcia’s win, the GOP hadn’t flipped a House seat in California since 1998 when Republicans Doug Ose and Steven Kuykendall won open seats. Smith conceded to him Wednesday even before the AP had called the race.

In the red: Wisconsin state Sen. Tom Tiffany won Tuesday’s special election to fill the 7th District seat that’s been open since former GOP Rep. Sean P. Duffy resigned in September. Tiffany’s win over Democrat Tricia Zunker keeps the seat in GOP hands, not much of a surprise in a district Trump won by 20 points in 2016. But Democrats took heart in the narrower margin for Tiffany, saying his 14-point win could be a warning sign for Trump’s efforts to hold onto the battleground state in November.

See you (again) in November: Nonprofit business consultant Kara Eastman won the Democratic primary for Nebraska’s competitive 2nd District on Tuesday, setting up a rematch with GOP Rep. Don Bacon in November. She should have more help in the general than she did in 2018, when the DCCC endorsed her opponent in the primary.

Too soon?: After a monthslong hiatus, some lawmakers have begun inviting lobbyists and D.C. insiders to in-person fundraisers as soon as next month, and that isn’t going over so well on K Street.

The incumbent advantage: NRSC Chairman Todd Young said recently that incumbents may benefit politically from the pandemic (although the committee’s executive director reportedly expressed concern that GOP senators weren’t getting enough credit for Congress’ response to the crisis).

Task force, assemble!: The Joe Biden-Bernie Sanders unity task force features plenty of lawmakers, CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reports. 

Fine the faithless?: Warnings of blackmail by foreign hackers and nationwide chaos figured into the Supreme Court’s arguments this week over whether someone who votes differently in the Electoral College than the popular vote that chose the person as an elector can be fined by the state, or was just exercising free speech rights. A ruling is expected before November, CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger reported.

ICYMI

Stranded at the drive-in: The Republican Party in Virginia’s 5th District set a date — June 13 — for a drive-in convention to name the party’s 2020 nominee. The decision is bad news for incumbent GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman, whose campaign responded with an email blast decrying corruption on the committee and accusing his opponent, former Liberty University athletics director Bob Good, of paying for votes. Riggleman made our most vulnerable list because of a feud with local party leaders who have made no secret of their desire to replace him, especially after he officiated a gay wedding last summer. Riggleman has argued that the convention should be scrapped in favor of a primary because it’s safer for voters. A primary would also allow more voters to participate and improve Riggleman’s odds. Under the new plan, delegates would cast their ballots from the parking lot of the Tree of Life church, where Good worships.

Peach State polls: An internal poll conducted for a group backing Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia shows tight races for both Senate seats on the ballot this cycle and a deadlocked presidential contest.

Pete’s picks: Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s PAC, Win the Era, has endorsed several congressional and state legislative candidates. He backed two Senate challengers — Cal Cunningham in North Carolina and Jaime Harrison in South Carolina — and three House challengers — Gina Ortiz Jones in Texas’ 23rd District, Michelle de la Isla in Kansas’ 2nd and Kate Schroder in Ohio’s 1st. The group endorsed a handful of vulnerable House Democrats, including Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood and Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath. The PAC endorsed three other House Democrats who aren’t facing competitive races, but who endorsed Buttigieg for president: Maryland Rep. Anthony G. Brown, New Hampshire Rep. Ann McLane Kuster and Virginia Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. 

Seth’s picks: Another former presidential hopeful endorsed down-ballot candidates this week. Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton’s Serve America PAC backed five House Democratic candidates: Christina Hale in Indiana’s 5th District, Hillary Scholten in Michigan’s 3rd, Evelyn Farkas in New York’s 17th, Francis Conole in New York’s 24th and Pritesh Gandhi in Texas’ 10th.

Help that guy: Biden was trying to raise money for his own race against Trump when he and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker spoke to about 115 people Wednesday on Zoom, according to a pool report. But Biden apparently couldn’t help adding a pitch for the most vulnerable senator in 2020, Alabama Democrat Doug Jones. Biden told donors, “It’s a stupid thing for me to say, if you’re gonna give me a little extra money, don’t. Send it to Doug Jones. I really mean it. … He’s a good, decent man, he’s the kind of person we’re talking about. I didn’t plan on saying that.” Booker encouraged attendees to donate to both campaigns. Jones once worked with Biden on the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and both Biden and Booker campaigned for Jones when he won a special election in 2017.

Pandemic polls: The South Carolina Legislature voted to expand access to absentee ballots to protect voters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sunflower Senate: A poll conducted for GOP Rep. Roger Marshall showed him in the lead in the Kansas Senate race and besting former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup.

On the airwaves: House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC aligned with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, announced an additional $18 million in ad reservations this week across 28 different media markets, in a mix of offensive targets and seats where vulnerable incumbents are up for reelection. The group’s largest reservation included $3.25 million in Los Angeles, followed by $3.1 million in New York City and $1 million in Las Vegas. HMP reserved between $750,000 and $1 million in Binghamton, N.Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Atlanta; and Detroit. Between $500,000 and $750,000 in air time was reserved in Syracuse, N.Y.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Fresno, Calif.; Charleston, S.C.; and Champaign, Ill. The group reserved $100,000 to $500,000 in Savannah, Ga.; Bakersfield, Calif.; El Paso, Texas; Utica, N.Y.; Pittsburgh; Miami; Odessa, Texas; Philadelphia; St. Louis; La Crosse, Wis.; Lansing, Mich.; and Phoenix. The group also reserved $257,000 across three different media markets in Maine.

What we’re reading

Pre-mortem?: Stu Rothenberg looks back on the “autopsy” the GOP performed after its 2012 losses and concludes that the recommendation for the party to find a way to appeal to a more diverse electorate “is as relevant as it was seven years ago. If anything, the party is less willing to compromise and less appealing to young Americans and voters of color.”

Have you heard? Heard on the Hill caught up with Jackie Gordon, a Democrat running to replace retiring New York GOP Rep. Peter T. King. They discussed Mother’s Day, Gordon’s military service, and campaigning during a pandemic.

#IASEN: HuffPost dove into the Iowa Senate race and how top Democrat Theresa Greenfield is emphasizing protecting Social Security.

Down ballot: The PBS NewsHour digs into the potential down-ballot impact of Trump’s pandemic response.

Eyeballs emoji: Michigan GOP Senate challenger John James disagrees with Trump on so many issues that he said, according to Politico: “I mean, where do you want to start?”

Is this thing on?: National Journal dives into how candidates are embracing virtual town halls, and the technical difficulties that come with them.

The youth vote: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University is out with a new report on the states and congressional districts where the youth vote could have the biggest impact in 2020. The list includes some of the most competitive races this cycle.

Mailing it in: Despite the rhetoric, voting by mail doesn’t provide any clear partisan advantage, Lee Drutman writes on FiveThiryEight.com.

The count: 471,434

That’s how many voters cast ballots in Nebraska’s presidential and congressional primaries on Tuesday. The 39 percent turnout shattered state records for primary turnout. That could be because 80 percent of ballots were cast by mail. State Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb had a different interpretation. “It is clear that Democrats in this ‘red’ state are ready to get that ‘blue’ dot again and also to finally send the first Democratic woman to Congress,” she told CQ Roll Call, referring to Kara Eastman in the 2nd District.

Voting rights advocates argued that the high turnout should convince state officials to mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in future elections, but the state’s GOP executive director told KETV news that would create more potential for fraud, and most people prefer to vote in person.

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales didn’t wait for the polls to close in California before dousing GOP hopes that a special election win would mean better fortunes in November. “Win or lose in California’s 25th, Republicans remain long shots to regain control of the House this year,” he wrote on Tuesday.

Candidate confessions

Adair Boroughs grew up in a double-wide trailer in Williston, South Carolina, with her father, a cabinet maker, her mother, a school teacher, and her twin brother. As she seeks to flip the 2nd District as a Democratic candidate for Congress, she wants people to know that she’s a “hometown girl” and says it’s time for the district to “Ma’am up” after almost 20 years of representation by Republican Joe Wilson. But her heavy Southern accent hasn’t always been an asset. When she was interviewing for the scholarship program that helped pay her way through Stanford Law School, she said her adviser suggested she spend some time away from home first to soften the twang in her voice.

Reader’s race: NY-24

It may be surprising that New York GOP Rep. John Katko is not on our list of the 10 most vulnerable House members since he’s one of two Republicans running for reelection in a district Hillary Clinton won in 2016. But Katko has shown he has support in the district, and he’s worked to foster a reputation as a bipartisan lawmaker. The 24th District, based in Syracuse, had changed parties for four straight elections until Katko won a second term in 2016. That year Katko won reelection by 20 points while Clinton carried the district by 4 points. The former federal prosecutor won a third term in 2018 by 5 points even as most of his fellow Republicans in so-called Clinton districts were swept out of office.

Katko defeated professor and activist Dana Balter in 2018, and Balter is looking for a rematch this year. But first she has to win the June 23 primary, where she faces Navy veteran Francis Conole. Balter, who has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, is likely to have higher name ID due to her 2018 run. Her campaign released a poll in late March showing her 43 points ahead of Conole. This week, Balter launched her first TV ad, which is running on broadcast and cable, and highlights virtual town halls she has held over Zoom. Conole has support from two county Democratic parties, and this week nabbed an endorsement from Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton and his Serve America PAC. 

Conole had more cash on hand than Balter at the end of the first fundraising quarter on March 31, with $313,000 to Balter’s $268,000. Katko still has a financial advantage, ending the first quarter with $1.2 million on hand. Watch for outside groups to play here as well since the Syracuse media market is not as expensive as other cities. Both parties’ super PACs, House Majority PAC and the Congressional Leadership Fund, have reserved air time in Syracuse (the market also covers the 22nd District, where Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi is running for reelection to a Trump seat). Inside Elections rates the 24th District race Lean Republican.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Minnesota’s 1st District or Illinois’ 14th? Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Voting continues! Oregon’s congressional primaries are Tuesday. In the deep red 2nd District, Republicans will choose a replacement for retiring GOP Rep. Greg Walden. And in the 4th District, Republicans will pick a challenger to take on Democratic Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, who is an NRCC target.

Photo finish

As senators including Alabama’s Richard C. Shelby, left, and Louisiana’s John Kennedy were still getting the hang of donning face masks, CQ Roll Call’s Thomas McKinless took at look at what social distancing at the Capitol looks like.

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