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.
● Senate: Politico reported on Monday that the conservative Senate Leadership Fund, a deep-pocketed super PAC run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had reserved a total of $67.1 million in TV ad time from just after Labor Day through Election Day, in concert with its affiliates. The reservations are aimed at defending the six Republican Senate seats listed below:
- Arizona (Martha McSally): $9.2 million
- Colorado (Cory Gardner) $5.5 million
- Iowa (Joni Ernst) $12.6 million
- Kentucky (Mitch McConnell) $10.8 million
- Maine (Susan Collins): $7.2 million
- North Carolina (Thom Tillis): $21.8 million
These reservations also give us an early window into what SLF expects the major battlegrounds to be in the contest to control the Senate. It's especially notable, though not surprising, that North Carolina makes up almost a third of this initial ad reservation: The state voted for both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump by just small margins, and if Democrat Cal Cunningham unseats GOP incumbent Thom Tillis, that means there's a good chance Team Blue will have won enough seats elsewhere—likely in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine—to flip the Senate.
A bit more surprising, though, is the site of SLF's second-largest purchase, Iowa, where Trump romped to victory in 2016. However, the state did move back towards Democrats last cycle, and businesswoman Theresa Greenfield is waging a well-funded campaign against GOP Sen. Joni Ernst.
It's also interesting that almost $11 million is going to defend McConnell in deep red Kentucky. The GOP's majority leader does face an aggressive challenge from retired Marine pilot Amy McGrath, who is one of the strongest Democratic fundraisers in the country, but McConnell himself also has plenty of money at his disposal—almost $12 million as of Dec. 31 (McGrath had $9 million).
At the same time, there are a few competitive Senate races that aren't on this list, though it's very possible that SLF or another GOP group will home in on them later. Neither of the two contests in Georgia is included, for instance, even though SLF recently spent $1 million on ads attacking Rep. Doug Collins, who is challenging fellow Republican and McConnell ally Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the November all-party primary. SLF said on Friday that it had "no plans" to go back on the air for Loeffler, though its leaders insisted that the decision was due to the coronavirus rather than Loeffler's emerging insider trading scandal.
Conversely, SLF hasn't yet targeted the two most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, Alabama's Doug Jones and Michigan's Gary Peters. However, these are only SLF's preliminary bookings, and we can be sure the PAC will put down much more money as Election Day draws closer.
Major outside groups like SLF can also always reduce or completely cancel reservations if a race looks like it's already won or is too far gone to be salvaged. That might cheese off station managers, but usually the only downside to cancelling airtime is that if you do so mistakenly, you'll pay a big premium for any last-minute ad buys to get back on TV.
● Arkansas: Officials in Arkansas have announced that they will not postpone the state's March 31 runoffs, making it the only state in the nation still set to conduct primary elections in the month of March. While no congressional or statewide elections will host runoffs, 12 counties that make up about 30% of the state's population will do so for local races. Administrators say they have reduced the number of polling locations and are encouraging voters to cast ballots absentee. While Arkansas normally requires an excuse to vote absentee, the state's Board of Elections Commissioners has said all voters may request absentee ballots for the runoffs due to the coronavirus.
● California: Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered that all voters be sent mail-in ballots for the May 12 special election taking place in California's 25th Congressional District. A small number of in-person polling sites will remain open to assist voters who need help in casting ballots.
● Hawaii: Hawaii Democrats have canceled the in-person portion of their April 4 presidential primary, which was set to be conducted mostly by mail to begin with. To compensate, the party will mail out a third round of ballots to voters.
● Massachusetts: Massachusetts lawmakers have postponed four legislative special elections that were set for March 31. Two races for the state Senate will now take place on May 19, while two for the state House will happen on June 2. In addition, the legislature passed a new bill on Monday that would give towns the ability to reschedule any local election that was set to take place by May 30 to as late as June 30. The measure would also allow all voters to request a mail ballot (Massachusetts normally requires an excuse to vote absentee). The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.
● New Mexico: Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reportedly plans to call a special session of the legislature (which is run by Democrats) to address emergency responses to the coronavirus, including the possibility of moving to all-mail elections this year. Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says that she and other election officials are also looking into the matter, though she says she believes it would take an act of the legislature to switch to a fully vote-by-mail system.
● New York: Democratic Attorney General Tish James has asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, to issue an executive order mandating that all New Yorkers be sent mail-in ballots so that they can vote from home in New York's April 28 presidential primary. A special election for the state's vacant 27th Congressional District is also set for the date.
● Ohio: Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose says he will propose legislation to mail every Ohio voter who has not yet cast a ballot in the state's canceled March 17 primaries a postage-paid application for an absentee ballot which they could then return to receive an actual mail-in ballot that would also be postage-paid.
It's not clear by exactly what date voters would have to return their ballots, though in a letter to lawmakers, LaRose says he believes the election has "effectively" been "extend[ed]" through June 2. In addition, LaRose is asking for the "discretion" to hold in-person voting on that day, meaning he might envision cancelling in-person voting altogether. LaRose has asked members of the legislature, who are reconvening this week, to pass his bill, though a copy does not appear to be available yet.
● Pennsylvania: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican leaders in Pennsylvania's legislature have reportedly reached an agreement to move the state's presidential and downballot primaries from April 28 to June 2. WPXI reporter Aaron Martin says lawmakers expect the measure to pass Tuesday or Wednesday.
● Puerto Rico: Gov. Wanda Vázquez has signed a bill postponing Puerto Rico's presidential primary from March 29 to April 26.
● Rhode Island: Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has signed an executive order delaying Rhode Island's presidential primary from April 28 to June 2, following a recommendation by the state's Board of Elections. The order also directs the board to conduct a "predominantly mail ballot" election, which Democratic Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea had previously advised.
● Texas: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has postponed Texas' May 26 runoffs until July 14, when voters will pick nominees in a number of high-profile congressional races, among others. Abbott's order did not address the question of expanding voting by mail, which Democrats in the legislature are pushing for but which Republicans oppose. The state Democratic Party has gone to court seeking that all voters be allowed to cast absentee ballots due to the coronavirus; currently, Texas law requires an excuse to vote absentee.
● Wisconsin: A federal judge granted a request by state and national Democrats on Friday to extend Wisconsin's online registration deadline from March 18 to March 30 ahead of the state's April 7 elections. The judge denied the plaintiffs' other requests but said he might reconsider the possibility of allowing absentee ballots to count so long as they're postmarked by Election Day, the deadline currently set by state law, even if they are received afterward.
● KY-Sen: Retired Marine pilot Amy McGrath launched a radio spot last week hitting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for leaving D.C. as the coronavirus crisis got worse in order to attend a judge's swearing-in back in Kentucky, and McConnell is using his first TV spot of the race to respond. The narrator declares that the McConnell is "at the center of the battle to rush aid to Americans" and claims that McGrath "uses this crisis, spending millions on false, partisan attacks."
● AK-Gov: Recall Dunleavy announced last week that, because of the coronavirus, it would collect signatures by mail instead of in person in order to get a recall measure against GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the ballot. The group needs to collect more than 71,000 signatures, which is 25% of the votes cast in 2018: There's no time limit for gathering petitions, and a recall election would take place 60 to 90 days after the Alaska Division of Elections verified that enough valid signatures have been turned in. If Dunleavy is removed from office, he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, a fellow Republican.
The Alaska Supreme Court still needs to rule on the legality of the recall, though it has allowed Recall Dunleavy to collect signatures. The court said last week that oral arguments would begin on Wednesday as originally scheduled, though attorneys would now be participating by phone. Stand Tall With Mike, the main group fighting to prevent Dunleavy from being removed from office, announced last month that it was dropping its legal opposition to the recall campaign, but the state Division of Elections is still challenging a lower court ruling that allowed it to proceed.
● MT-Gov: Candidate fundraising reports are in covering the first two-and-a-half months of 2020, and GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte continues to have a massive cash advantage over all of his rivals in this open seat race. Gianforte raised $390,000 from donors, and he self-funded an additional $500,000. Gianforte had $368,000 on-hand that he could use to win the June primary, as well as an additional $520,000 he could only spend if he made it to the general election.
Attorney General Tim Fox, who looks like Gianforte's main intra-party rival, brought in $114,000 during this time, but he had just $33,000 to spend for the primary. The third Republican in the race, state Sen. Al Olszewski, raised $25,000 and self-funded another $17,000, and he had $50,000 on-hand for the primary.
On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney outraised businesswoman Whitney Williams $245,000 to $186,000. Cooney held a $204,000 to $66,000 cash-on-hand edge for the primary, though Williams had another $190,000 she could spend in a general election.
● CA-11: Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier's office said on Saturday evening that the congressman's condition had "deteriorated" since he was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday for pneumonia, and that he was now "in critical condition." The statement said that DeSaulnier was hospitalized after developing pneumonia as the result of "a traumatic rib fracture that occurred after falling during a run," and that "the hospital later advised he was COVID-19 negative."
● MI-13: On Wednesday, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones quietly filed paperwork with the FEC for a potential rematch against freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib in the August Democratic primary.
Tlaib narrowly beat Jones 31-30 last cycle in the six-way primary for the full term in this safely blue seat. However, there were only four candidates on the ballot in the special election primary held on that same day to succeed former Rep. John Conyers, and in that race, it was Jones who beat Tlaib 38-36. Jones ended up serving in the House during the final months of the GOP-controlled 115th Congress before returning to her job as leader of the Detroit City Council.