USA

Morning Digest: Republicans book eight figures in TV time as Senate race escalates in red Montana

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D)

Leading Off

MT-Sen: David Drucker of the conservative Washington Examiner reported on Monday that the Senate Leadership Fund had reserved a hefty $10.1 million in fall TV time to defend Republican Sen. Steve Daines. That's considerably more than the $2.8 million that SLF spent here against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018, marking the most dramatic sign to date that both parties are expecting a very competitive race between Daines and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, despite the fact that Donald Trump carried Montana by 20 points four years ago.

SLF's allies at the NRSC announced last month that they were booking $2.8 million on the airwaves for the stretch run, while on the Democratic side, the DSCC also recently reserved $5.2 million for fall ads. The Senate Majority PAC, the other big outside player for Democrats, has not reported booking fall TV time, though it launched a $700,000 ad campaign against Daines early this month.

Campaign Action

Thought it may look like Democrats are getting outgunned, Bullock outraised Daines by a considerable margin in the first quarter of the year, $3.3 million to $1.3 million. While Daines still has more cash in the bank ($5.6 million versus $3.2 million), if these trends continue, Bullock will soon outstrip his rival. And because campaigns can buy advertising time more cheaply than third-party groups, that could help Bullock make up the gap if he can extend his fundraising dominance.

Election Changes

Alaska: Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who administers Alaska's elections, says the state will carry out its Aug. 18 primaries using traditional voting procedures and will likely do the same for the November general election. In March, the state legislature passed a law allowing Meyer to conduct the primary by mail, but Meyer rejected the idea, saying, "That's 600,000 unsecured ballots that are either sitting in the post office, sitting on your kitchen table, or in the garbage can. And that's very concerning to us."

Florida: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has rescheduled local elections in Pasco County, a mid-size county on Florida's Gulf Coast, for June 30. The elections had originally been scheduled for April 14. DeSantis delayed them in early April at the request of local officials but did not choose a new date until now.

Missouri: Missouri's Republican-run legislature has passed a bill to expand access to absentee voting, which would allow those who are 65 and over, live in a nursing home, or have certain medical conditions to request a mail-in ballot without an excuse. Voters under 65 would also be allowed to obtain mail-in ballots, but they would be required to have their ballots notarized.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson has yet to sign the bill, which would only apply to the state's Aug. 4 primaries and the November general election. Election law expert Joshua Douglas also warns that the law's disparate treatment of voters based on age could violate the 26th Amendment, which says that the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age."

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit brought by voting rights advocates asking that absentee ballots be counted in the state's June 2 primaries and November general election so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within seven days. The court did not explain its ruling, but in a concurring opinion, one justice wrote that concerns about possible disruptions to mail service were too speculative to warrant relief at the present time.

A separate lawsuit that also seeks an extension to the absentee receipt deadline as well as several other measures that would make mail voting easier remains pending before a state appeals court.

Texas: The Texas Supreme Court has stayed a lower court's order allowing all voters to request an absentee ballot, just a day after an appeals court had upheld it. The high court, whose nine members are all Republicans, did not provide any explanation for its ruling. At least two other cases challenging Texas' absentee ballot access laws are still pending, both in federal court.

Wisconsin: Voting rights and disability rights advocates have filed a new federal lawsuit asking for a wide range of changes to Wisconsin's Aug. 11 primary and the November general election. The plaintiffs also include a trio of voters who faced serious hurdles to voting in the state's April 7 elections or could not vote at all, including two women who requested absentee ballots but never received them and one immunocompromised woman who lives alone and was unable to have her absentee ballot notarized.

Among other things, plaintiffs are asking that election officials:

Senate

CO-Sen: GOP Sen. Cory Gardner's campaign has announced that it is spending at least $100,000 on its opening TV buy. The spot features clips of news reporters talking about Gardner's work during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as footage of Democratic Gov. Jared Polis saying that the senator "has done everything I've asked to help in our response."

IA-Sen: Businesswoman Theresa Greenfield is now out with her first TV spot ahead of the June 2 Democratic primary, though her allies at Senate Majority PAC have been running ads promoting her for months. Greenfield tells the audience, "I was 24 and pregnant, at home with a 13-month-old, when I got a knock at the door. It was the priest." She goes on to say that her husband had just died at work but explains that "Social Security survivor benefits helped save our family." Greenfield concludes, "So when I see Washington politicians take millions from Wall Street and then threaten to privatize and cut Social Security, I say no way."

Gubernatorial

WA-Gov: Candidate filing closed Friday for Washington's Aug. 4 top-two primary, and the state has a list of contenders available here. Below we'll sum up the state of play for all of the key races, including governor, lieutenant governor, and three House contests (WA-03, WA-08, and WA-10).

The state's top-two primary rules require all the candidates running for Congress and for state office to compete on one ballot rather than in separate party primaries. The two contenders with the most votes, regardless of party, will then advance to the Nov. 3 general election but note that candidates cannot win outright in August by taking a majority of the vote.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is the first Evergreen State governor to seek a third term since Republican Dan Evans successfully did so in 1972, and he's the heavy favorite to win re-election this fall. A grand total of 35 other candidates have filed to run against him, but none of them look very strong.

The best-funded GOP candidate at the end of April was developer Joshua Freed, a former mayor of the Seattle suburb of Bothell. However, while Freed has been doing some self-funding, he trailed Inslee in cash-on-hand $1.3 million to $151,000. Republicans may just have to hope that Freed can pour more of his money into the race, though, because the rest of the field is even worse off. Loren Culp, a police chief in the tiny town of Republic, and conservative activist Tim Eyman each had around $70,000 to spend, while state Sen. Phil Fortunato had just $26,000 on-hand.

Democrats have controlled the governor's office since winning it in the 1984 elections, and some polls taken during the winter showed Inslee with only a modest approval rating, suggesting possible voter fatigue. However, more recent surveys have found strong majorities of voters approving of the governor's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. With Inslee's newfound popularity and the weakness of his opponents, Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Likely Democratic, and it may fall off the radar entirely before Election Day.

WA-LG: Democratic Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib surprised everyone in March when he revealed that he wouldn't be seeking re-election and would instead leave politics to become a Jesuit priest. While that created an opportunity for ambitious Washington Democrats, it also set up the possibility of a top-two disaster that would leave Team Blue locked out of the general election—which is exactly what happened in the 2016 race for state treasurer.

Fortunately for Democrats, their math improved considerably on Monday when Democratic state Sen. Steve Hobbs announced that he was dropping out of the contest. With Hobbs out, there are four Democrats, six Republicans, and one Libertarian in the running, but only two of those Democrats are serious contenders: Rep. Denny Heck and state Sen. Marko Liias.

Heck, who was already retiring from Congress when Habib announced his departure earlier this year, represents a considerably larger constituency than Liias—Washington has 10 U.S. House members compared to 49 state senators—but Habib is supporting the state senator. (Liias, incidentally, came up just short in that misbegotten treasurer's race.) The most prominent Republican, meanwhile, is former state Rep. Dick Muri, who lost re-election in 2018. Six years before that, Heck defeated Muri 59-41 in an open seat race for Congress.

House

KS-02: End Citizens United has endorsed Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, who doesn't face any serious opposition in the August Democratic primary for Kansas' 2nd Congressional District.

MI-03: On Saturday, Rep. Justin Amash ended his 19-day campaign for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, which lasted almost three times as long as Carly Fiorina's 2016 vice presidential bid. However, Amash did not address whether or not he's interested in seeking re-election to his Grand Rapids-area House seat.

The deadline to file to run as a major party candidate passed earlier this month, though the Detroit Free Press notes that it's still possible for Amash to run for Congress as a Libertarian or an independent. Michigan law allows minor parties, including the Libertarians, to nominate U.S. House candidates at a convention as long as the gathering is held by Aug. 4, which is the date of the state's primary. If Amash wanted to run as an independent instead, he'd need to turn in signatures by July 16.

NM-03: Attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez recently picked up an endorsement from Rep. Deb Haaland, who represents the neighboring 1st Congressional District, ahead of the June 2 Democratic primary for New Mexico's 2nd District. Meanwhile, VoteVets has thrown its support behind former CIA agent Valerie Plame.

NV-04: Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford has acknowledged that he had an affair with a woman named Gabriela Linder, who recently went public about the relationship. According to Linder, the two met in 2009 when Linder was a 21-year-old intern for then-Sen. Harry Reid and Horsford was majority leader of the Nevada state Senate.

Linder said she believes Horsford, who has been married since 2000, should drop his bid for re-election this fall, arguing, "He obtained this position under false pretenses that he was a family man and man of God. He should take a step back, atone, and if people are satisfied, then he can come back into politics." In a statement, Horsford's campaign said that "this former personal relationship has no bearing on the Congressman's ability to fight for the people of Nevada and he fully intends to serve them in this Congress, and beyond."

While Nevada's 4th Congressional District, located in the Las Vegas suburbs, leans only slightly in Democrats' direction, Republicans have not put up a serious challenge to Horsford this year, prompting Daily Kos Elections to rate this race as Likely Democratic.

VA-05: Two Democrats competing in the June 23 primary for Virginia's 5th Congressional District, Marine veterans Roger Dean Huffstetler and Claire Russo, are each out with TV spots.

Huffstetler's first ad spot features several local elected officials describing how the candidate grew up "in a rural blue-collar family" and went on to earn a scholarship to attend college. Huffstetler supporters also praise his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, his work as a "veteran for Obama" in 2008 and 2012, and his pledge to "take on corporate special interests and lower prescription drug prices."

Huffstetler's other spot features the candidate talking about his wife's work as an OB-GYN, saying her patients shouldn't need to be worrying about how to pay their medical bills. Huffstetler pledges to "work to improve Obamacare, protect coverage for pre-existing conditions, and reduce prescription drug prices."

Russo, meanwhile, begins her ad by declaring, "Daughter. Marine. Sexual assault survivor. Mom. Democrat. Throughout my life, I've been called many things." She continues, "And whether I was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for justice in the military when I was sexually assaulted, or now, running for Congress, to stand up to Donald Trump and fight for universal healthcare, I have always run toward the fight."

Huffstetler and Russo, along with Rappahannock County Supervisor John Lesinski and physician Cameron Webb, are competing for the Democratic nod in this 53-42 Trump seat. The GOP is choosing its nominee at a June 13 convention, where Rep. Denver Riggleman will face a tough challenge from Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good.

WA-03: GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler defeated Democrat Carolyn Long 53-47 in 2018, and Long is back for a rematch in Washington's 3rd Congressional District. Two other Democrats and one independent are running, but none of them reported having any money at the end of the last quarter. Another Democrat we'd previously mentioned, legal mediator Peter Khalil, dropped out earlier this month.

Herrera Beutler ended March with a modest $1.3 million to $1.1 million cash-on-hand lead over Long. However, as the incumbent victory during last cycle's Democratic wave demonstrates, this southwestern Washington seat is friendly for Republicans. The district moved from 50-48 Romney to 50-43 Trump, and Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Likely Republican.

WA-08: Democrat Kim Schrier flipped Washington's competitive 8th District after a very expensive race two years ago, but the new incumbent doesn't look like she's in any danger of seeing that gain rolled back. Schrier ended March with a huge $1.9 million to $37,000 cash-on-hand lead over Republican Jesse Jensen, who worked as an Amazon program manager. A pair of other Republicans are in an even weaker position. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Safe Democratic.

WA-10: A total of 19 candidates are campaigning to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Denny Heck in Washington's 1st Congressional District, a 51-40 Clinton seat located in the Olympia area and Tacoma suburbs. There are eight Democrats and eight Republicans, as well as three independents (including Richard Boyce, who identifies his party preference as "Congress Sucks"), making it possible that only one party will be represented in the general election. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Likely Democratic because of the small chance of a Democratic lockout.

While unlikely, that nightmare scenario is mathematically possible simply because there are four notable Democratic contenders but no clear frontrunner. State Rep. Beth Doglio ended March with a $219,000 to $200,000 cash-on-hand lead over former state Rep. Kristine Reeves, while former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland had $149,000 to spend. Another Democrat, former Heck district director Phil Gardner, was further behind with $66,000, while none of the Republicans had so much as $5,000 in the bank. If Reeves or Strickland were to win, either would be the first African American to represent Washington in Congress.

WI-07: Wausau School Board President Tricia Zunker announced Monday that she'd seek the Democratic nod for a full term in Wisconsin's 7th Congressional District in the northwest corner of the state. Zunker lost last week's special election to Republican Tom Tiffany 57-43 in a district that Donald Trump carried 58-37.

Legislative

Special Elections: There are two special elections in Massachusetts on tap for Tuesday. Both were originally scheduled for March 31 but were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Officials expect a large number of ballots to be cast by mail. Note that in the Bay State, state legislative seats are named for the counties that they include, somewhat like constituencies in the U.K. or Canada, rather than being identified by just a number.

MA-SD-2nd Hampden and Hampshire: This Republican district in southwestern Massachusetts, which includes the towns of Westfield and Holyoke, became vacant in January when former state Sen. Donald Humason was elected mayor of Westfield. State Rep. John Velis is the Democratic nominee, while the Republicans are fielding businessman John Cain.

At the federal level, this seat is decidedly blue, having backed Hillary Clinton 52-41 and Barack Obama 59-39. However, this area has historically been much friendlier to Team Red in downballot contests: According to reporter Jeanette DeForge, this seat has been in GOP hands for the last 25 years. Additionally, Velis' uncle, Peter Velis, represented this area as a Republican in the state House in the 1970s.

MA-SD-Plymouth and Barnstable: This Republican district in the Plymouth area became vacant last year when former state Sen. Vinny deMacedo resigned to take a position at Bridgewater State University. The Democratic candidate is Susan Moran, a member of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen, and the Republican is attorney Jay McMahon. McMahon was the GOP's 2018 nominee for state attorney general, a race he lost 70-30 to Democratic incumbent Maura Healey.

This district is not quite as blue as the 2nd Hampden & Hampshire, but it still leans Democratic at the presidential level, moving slightly from 50-48 Obama to 50-44 Clinton. Democrats have a commanding 34-4 advantage in this chamber, with just these two seats vacant.

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