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.
Illinois held its downballot primaries on Tuesday, and you can find the results here. We’ll have a rundown in our next Morning Digest.
● IL-03: In a huge win for progressives, businesswoman Marie Newman defeated eight term Rep. Dan Lipinski, who has long been one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus. With 99% of precincts in, Newman’s lead stands at 47-45 in their expensive primary rematch in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District. While Newman had to fight hard to beat the powerful incumbent on Tuesday after narrowly losing to him two years ago, she shouldn’t have any trouble prevailing in the general election in this 55-40 Clinton seat in the Chicago area.
Lipinski made a name for himself during his nearly 16 years in Congress as a loud opponent of abortion rights and same sex-marriage, but he proved to be very tough to dislodge. Lipinski’s father, Bill Lipinski, represented this area from 1983 until 2005, and plenty of primary voters still supported the family and shared their conservative views. The younger Lipinski received the Democratic nomination in 2004 from party leaders after his father dropped his re-election campaign after winning the primary, and much of the old Chicago machine remained loyal to him throughout the years.
Lipinski turned back a well-funded primary challenge in 2008 by a 54-25 margin, and he didn’t face another serious threat for the next decade. During that time the congressman repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood, opposed the Affordable Care Act, and refused to endorse Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012—despite the fact that his district is solidly blue.
Newman challenged Lipinski from the left in 2018, and while she looked very much like a longshot against the well-funded and entrenched incumbent for most of the race, she ended up holding him to a 51-49 win. Lipinski, though, quickly proved that he wasn’t going to change his conservative ways after that near-loss by headlining the anti-abortion “March for Life” in early 2019, an event he’d skipped the previous year when he was fighting to win renomination. Lipinski also signed onto an amicus brief alongside more than two hundred Republican Congress members asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Newman launched her second bid for this seat in May of 2019, and this time, it was clear to everyone from the beginning that she was a serious threat to Lipinski. While the incumbent enjoyed a massive financial advantage during his last campaign, the two candidates ended up spending a comparable amount this time. EMILY’s List also deployed $1 million on Newman’s behalf, while major outside groups didn’t do much to help Lipinski this time. Newman also picked up a high-profile endorsement in February from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who memorably took Lipinski to task by declaring, “[I]f it were up to Dan Lipinski, I wouldn't be able to marry my wife.”
Still, Lipinski had some strong advantages for his second campaign. The congressman still enjoyed the support of much of the Chicago Democratic establishment, including powerful state House Speaker Mike Madigan, and many labor unions. Two other candidates, activist Rush Darwish and underfunded perennial candidate Charles Hughes, were also on the ballot, and there was a real possibility that they could take enough support from Newman to allow Lipinski to win with just a plurality of the vote. However, this time it was Newman who ended the primary night as the victor.
● Alaska: Alaska Democrats had already switched to mail balloting for their April 4 presidential primary before the coronavirus outbreak, so the election is proceeding as planned. Party officials say they haven't yet changed their plans to offer in-person voting at a limited number of sites, but they're exhorting voters to postmark their ballots by the March 27 deadline in case that changes.
● Connecticut: Democratic Secretary of State Denise Merrill says discussions are underway about delaying the state's April 28 presidential primary, which the CT Mirror says Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has the power to unilaterally move. Merrill says she will issue a recommendation to Lamont but added, "We don’t need to make that decision now." In addition, because Connecticut's constitution requires voters to have an excuse to vote absentee, Merrill has asked Lamont to declare that all voters may request an absentee ballot due to the pandemic. While lawmakers have passed an amendment to change this provision, they need to do so a second time after 2020 before it can come into an effect.
● Delaware: Elections Commissioner Anthony Albence, an appointee of Democratic Gov. John Carney, says there's no provision in state law allowing Delaware to postpone its April 28 presidential primary, though presumably the legislature could pass a bill changing the date. Delaware's constitution also currently requires an excuse to vote absentee. While lawmakers have passed an amendment to change this provision, they need to do so a second time after 2020 before it can come into effect like in Connecticut.
● Florida: A federal judge rejected a last-minute request filed late on Monday night to extend the absentee deadline for Florida's presidential primary, which took place on Tuesday, until March 27. However, the judge did not rule on the underlying merits of the lawsuit but rather on plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order, so it's possible absentee balloting could be re-opened when a final ruling is issued.
● Georgia: Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says his office is contemplating a plan to mail absentee ballot applications to the 2 million Georgia voters over the age of 60, and possibly to all 7.2 million registered voters regardless of age. Voting rights advocates, however, want Raffensperger to skip the application step and instead simply mail out ballots to all voters, but the secretary of state's office claims it cannot afford to administer an all-mail election.
● Hawaii: Like their counterparts in Alaska, Hawaii Democrats are conducting their April 4 presidential primary largely by mail, but party officials say the fate of 21 in-person polling locations remains uncertain at this time.
● Maryland: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has moved the date of Maryland's presidential and downballot primaries from April 28 to June 2. The special election for the state's vacant 7th Congressional District will still go forward on April 28, but it will be conducted entirely by mail.
● Minnesota: Democrats in Minnesota have canceled their upcoming local and congressional district-level conventions, which had been scheduled throughout April and May, and will instead issue endorsements by online vote. No decision has yet been made about the party's statewide convention, which is set for May 30-31. Republicans, meanwhile, have postponed their local and district-level conventions through April 15.
Minnesota's primary for downballot offices is not until Aug. 11, and party conventions don't impact ballot access. However, candidates who fail to win their party's official endorsement during convention season often drop out rather than continue on to the primary.
● New Mexico: Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says she plans to conduct "a heavy push toward absentee balloting" ahead of New Mexico's June 2 primary for the presidential race and downballot offices. She also says that any adjustments to in-person polling sites are "still under consideration," but it doesn't sound like a discussion of changing the date of the election is underway.
● Texas: According to the Houston Chronicle, election officials in Texas are exploring a move to all-mail balloting for the state's May 26 runoffs, though the secretary of state's office would not confirm whether it's considering the idea.
● AZ-Sen: Politico reports that the conservative group One Nation is spending $700,000 on a TV, radio, and digital ad campaign that commends GOP Sen. Martha McSally's work to expand mental health care for veterans.
● GA-Sen-A: On behalf of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the University of Georgia is out with the first poll we've seen of the May Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue. 2017 House nominee Jon Ossoff is in first with 31%, while former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson edges out 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico 16-15 for the second spot in a likely July runoff.
● Maine: Candidate filing closed Tuesday for Maine's June 9 party primaries, and the state has a list of contenders that can be downloaded on this page. Both the primary and general elections for downballot offices will be held using instant-runoff voting.
● ME-Sen: GOP Sen. Susan Collins easily won re-election in 2014, but her bid for a fifth term has already turned into a very expensive affair. The Bangor Daily News reports that, in the past week alone, Senate Majority PAC spent $600,000 against Collins, while the conservative 1820 PAC deployed $1 million against Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon.
Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will also benefit from about $4 million that several organizations, including Daily Kos, raised after Collins became the decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.
Four Democrats filed to take on Collins, who does not face an intra-party challenger. Gideon has the support of prominent national Democratic groups, including the DSCC, and she's raised far more money than any of her primary rivals. Former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse has been doing some self-funding, though, and he launched a $200,000 ad buy at the start of March. The other two candidates are 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet and attorney Bre Kidman.
This will almost certainly be the most competitive re-election contest of Collins' career, and even the senator didn't dispute the idea that her once mighty approval rating had taken a dive when she was asked about it back in July. Polling has been infrequent, though, so we don't fully know the extent to which Collins has damaged her reputation with swing voters. Maine also moved sharply to the right in 2016 thanks to its large population of white voters without college degrees. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Lean Republican, but this is one we'll be watching closely.
● NJ-Gov: Assemblyman Jamel Holley said on Friday that he'd been approached about challenging Gov. Phil Murphy in next year's Democratic primary by unnamed "[e]lected officials, community-based people, clergy." Holley continued, "I have no immediate plans. I haven't considered it. I haven't given any thought to it. But there are conversations."
Holley has been a prominent opponent of an unsuccessful bill to remove religious exemptions for school vaccinations. This attracted the attention of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is notorious for spreading misinformation about vaccines, and he headlined a fundraiser for the assemblyman in January. While scientists overwhelmingly agree that vaccines are safe, Holley argued in February that he'd seen children who had been "injured from vaccines."
● WV-Gov: On Tuesday, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango received an endorsement from Sen. Joe Manchin, who is the most prominent Democrat in West Virginia politics. Salango is competing in the May primary to take on GOP Gov. Jim Justice.
● CA-50: Former GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison on Tuesday, and he was ordered to surrender to the authorities by May 29. Hunter pleaded guilty last year to a single charge of conspiracy to convert campaign funds to personal use, and he resigned from Congress in January. Hunter's wife and former campaign manager, Margaret Hunter, pleaded guilty to her role in the scandal several months before as part of a deal with prosecutors, and she is set to be sentenced in April.
When prosecutors first indicted the Hunters, they alleged the couple had spent a total of $250,000 in campaign money on tuition to their children's private school, oral surgery, and vacations in Italy and Hawaii. In a later filing, however, they also said the congressman had used campaign cash to "pursue a series of intimate personal relationships" with at least five different women, including lobbyists and congressional aides. Margaret Hunter also admitted in her guilty plea that over $500 in campaign funds had been used to fly a pet rabbit on a plane.
● FL-15: On Monday, Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin filed paperwork with the FEC for a potential campaign against freshman Rep. Ross Spano in the August GOP primary. Spano is under federal investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly violating campaign finance laws during his 2018 primary.
● ME-02: Three Republicans are competing to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in a northern Maine seat that swung from 53-44 Obama to 51-41 Trump.
The Republican with the most money at the end of 2019 was 2018 Senate nominee Eric Brakey, a former state senator who has the endorsement of the anti-tax Club for Growth. Also in the contest are former state Rep. Dale Crafts, who has the support of former Gov. Paul LePage, and real estate agent Adrienne Bennett. A fourth Republican, Penobscot County Treasurer John Hiatt, entered and exited the race in December.
Brakey ended 2019 with a $252,000 to $134,000 cash-on-hand lead over Crafts, while Bennett had just $37,000 to spend. Golden had $1.3 million available to defend this seat.
● San Diego, CA Mayor: On Monday evening, Democrat Barbara Bry took a 9-vote lead over Republican Scott Sherman, a fellow member of the City Council, for the second-place spot in the November general election. More ballots were counted the following night, and Bry’s advantage widened to 169 votes. Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria secured first place in the March 3 nonpartisan primary, so if Bry maintains her edge over Sherman, Team Blue would be guaranteed to pick up this mayor's office.
● Deaths: Former GOP Rep. Richard Hanna, who represented a seat in upstate New York from 2011 until 2017, died Sunday at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer. Hanna was one of the few relatively moderate Republicans in the caucus during his tenure, and he famously endorsed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.
Hanna, who had become wealthy in the construction business, sought elected office for the first time when he challenged freshman Democratic Rep. Michael Arcuri in 2008 in what was then numbered the 24th District. While Barack Obama only ended up carrying the historically red seat 51-48, it was still a surprise when Hanna held Arcuri to a surprisingly small 52-48 win in what was a terrible year for the GOP.
Hanna sought a rematch the following cycle and unseated Arcuri 53-47. However, the new congressman quickly proved to be very different than his many tea party-aligned fellow freshman. At a 2012 rally supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, Hanna notably advised women to donate to Democrats, saying, "Contribute your money to people who speak out on your behalf, because the other side—my side—has a lot of it." Hanna was also the rare congressional Republican to support same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Hanna had no trouble winning in 2012 in the redrawn 22nd District, but he faced a serious primary challenge from the right two years later from Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney. Hanna decisively outspent Tenney and received air support from a group dedicated to electing pro-same-sex marriage Republicans, but he only turned her back by a modest 54-46 margin.
Hanna announced in December of 2015 that he would not run for a fourth term, a move he insisted had nothing to do with Tenney's decision to seek a rematch a few weeks earlier. Tenney won the GOP nod this time against a candidate backed by Hanna, and the outgoing congressman never supported her for the general election. Hanna later mulled a 2018 run for governor or an independent bid for his old seat, but he ended up endorsing Democrat Anthony Brindisi's successful bid to oust Tenney.
● Voter Registration: As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc with the administration of U.S. elections, experts are exhorting states to switch to voting by mail to keep the public and poll workers safe—and to ensure democracy carries on.
For safety’s sake, it’s also critical that every state offers residents the opportunity to register to vote online, or to update their existing registration records. However, as the map seen here shows, 10 states currently do not allow online registration for the November general election:
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- Oklahoma (passed by lawmakers but still not fully implemented)
- South Dakota
Collectively, these 10 states account for 17% of the U.S. population, or one in six Americans. Americans must have the option to register safely and securely online when in-person opportunities will be limited for the foreseeable future. Each of these states must immediately enact online voter registration. If they do not, Congress has the power to mandate and fund the shift to online voter registration to ensure the November general elections can still proceed amid this historic global crisis.