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.
● KY-04: Donald Trump used Friday morning to issue a pair of tweets heaping vitriol against Rep. Thomas Massie for delaying the $2 trillion coronavirus economic bill that concluded with a call to "WIN BACK HOUSE, but throw Massie out of Republican Party!" Massie faces a June primary challenge against attorney Todd McMurtry in his safely red northern Kentucky seat, and the incumbent may have just opened the door to a world of pain by inflaming Trump, who used another tweet to accuse him of aiding "Radical Left Democrats."
Massie, a libertarian-leaning ultraconservative who once called himself too "crazy" to belong to the far-right House Freedom Caucus, has spent his nearly eight years in Congress pissing off the House GOP leadership and voting against major legislation from the right. At least until a few days ago, though, Massie still was working to appeal to the Trump White House in order to win renomination. In February Massie even ran TV ads on Fox in South Florida, which just happens to be the location of Trump's Mar-a-Lago lair, that castigated McMurtry as a "Trump hater." Massie hoped that Trump would see these commercials and endorse him, but that never happened.
And now it likely never will. While Massie has voted against legislation that Trump wanted, he went even further on Thursday than ever before when he indicated that he'd file a procedural objection that would prevent the House from quickly passing the coronavirus bill through a voice vote that wouldn't require members to return to Washington.
Massie's colleagues were especially pissed about the idea of increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19 by traveling, especially since several members of Congress have already tested positive. Massie was not remotely sympathetic, saying, "I'm having a really hard time with this. Because they're saying, well it's hard to travel, yadda yadda yadda," and he went ahead and insisted on an in-person roll call vote for the legislation.
Massie was greeted on Friday morning with tweets from Trump that said Massie was a "third rate Grandstander" who "wants to vote against the new Save Our Workers Bill in Congress." Trump continued by saying that Massie "just wants the publicity" and said that Massie's attempt to delay legislation he couldn't stop was "dangerous" and "costly." After whining about having to work with Democrats, Trump called for Massie to be thrown out of the party.
It's not clear what Trump meant by that, but Massie insisted afterwards that he wasn't going to become an independent and that he was "at least second rate." (We're still waiting for Massie's reaction to former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's tweet saying, "Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an asshole. He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity.")
Ultimately, a majority of the House ended up coming back on Friday. Massie still went ahead with his procedural objection even after Trump attacked him, but the assembled members quickly overruled him and passed the bill. Massie insisted afterwards that he'd done the right thing, saying of the House leaders, "The Constitution requires a quorum to pass a bill, and they were planning to subvert the Constitution."
Massie also insisted that several of his colleagues "quietly expressing their support to me," though he didn't name anyone. We're guessing that most of them felt more like Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, though. ABC reporter John Parkinson tweeted that when Massie requested his roll call vote, the Democratic congressman responded, "Shut the f-ck up." The good news for Massie is that, by choosing to go to war with Trump, he may have ensured that these people won't be his colleagues for much longer.
● Massachusetts: Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has signed a bill that gives 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 also allows all voters to request an absentee mail ballot (Massachusetts normally requires an excuse to vote absentee).
● Minnesota: Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon says that Minnesota is considering the possibility of conducting all voting by mail for its "2020 statewide elections," which presumably would include both the state's Aug. 11 downballot primaries and the November general election. As an alternative, Simon says officials may encourage voters to cast absentee ballots, a method that almost a quarter of the state used in 2018.
● Nebraska: Republican Secretary of State Bob Evnen now says that all Nebraska voters will be sent an absentee ballot application ahead of the state's May 12 presidential and downballot primaries; previously, only some counties were planning to do so.
● New Jersey: New Jersey officials are reportedly planning to conduct the state's June 2 presidential and downballot primaries entirely by mail, according to the New Jersey Globe. Unnamed officials tell the Globe that they think Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy would have to make a decision on the matter early next week. If not, one says, the election might need to be delayed.
● North Carolina: North Carolina's Board of Elections has asked Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-run legislature to make a number of changes that would make absentee voting easier. The board's recommendations include:
- allowing voters to request absentee ballots online, or to return applications via email or fax;
- relaxing the state's requirement that absentee ballots be witnessed by two people or a notary, either by reducing the requirement to one witness or eliminating it entirely;
- having the state provide postage-paid return envelopes for absentee ballots; and
- making Election Day in November a state holiday so that a wider part of the workforce would be able to serve as poll workers.
● North Dakota: Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has signed an executive order giving North Dakota counties the option to hold the state's June 9 downballot primaries entirely by mail. The order directs the secretary of state to send absentee ballot applications to all voters, with postage-paid return envelopes.
Burgum's order also allows counties to eliminate all in-person voting sites, however, which could potentially cause serious problems on Native reservations where mail service is limited. In addition, it could run afoul of federal laws requiring that voting be accessible to persons with disabilities, though the order does specify that officials must make "at least one assistive ballot marking device" available at each county's courthouse from 40 days prior to the election through Election Day.
● Ohio: Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has signed a bill moving Ohio's presidential and downballot primaries to April 28 and all but eliminating in-person voting. Ballots would have to be postmarked by April 27 or dropped off by hand on Election Day. Only voters with disabilities or those who lack a home address would be allowed to vote in-person. Voting rights advocates have called the plan unworkable given how little time remains, and a lawsuit is likely. In-person voting had originally been set for March 17, but DeWine haphazardly canceled it hours before it was to begin.
● Pennsylvania: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has signed a bill moving Pennsylvania's April 28 presidential and downballot primaries to June 2.
● West Virginia: Republican Secretary of State Mac Warner says all voters will be sent an absentee ballot application with a postage-paid return envelope ahead of West Virginia's May 12 presidential and downballot primaries. Previously, Warner effectively waived the state's requirement that voters provide an excuse to vote absentee by allowing all voters to cite the coronavirus as their reason.
● Wisconsin: On Friday, just a week-and-a-half before Wisconsin's April 7 elections, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers asked the Republican-run legislature to pass a bill sending every voter an absentee ballot. The proposal was immediately rejected, however: State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald angrily accused Evers of "lying directly to Wisconsinites about this even being remotely possible."
● GA-Sen-B: The Club for Growth launched a $3 million campaign against GOP Rep. Doug Collins last month, but it's not clear when they plan to deploy more.
McClatchy wrote Friday that the anti-tax organization "signaled this week that it could hold off on making further investments" in the November all-party primary, where appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler is trying to fend off Collins and a few Democrats. The Club's spokesperson, Joe Kildea, didn't mention Loeffler's ongoing insider trading scandal when he spoke to McClatchy on Monday and instead just noted that his group had not actually endorsed anyone in this race and doesn't plan to. On Friday, though, Kildea said that the Club would be launching another ad buy in the future, but he didn't provide any other details.
While the Club isn't directly supporting Loeffler, she'd certainly be happy if they continued to target Collins. Loeffler's allies at the Senate Leadership Fund said right after the news of her scandal broke that it had "no plans" to go back on the air for her, though its leaders insisted that the decision was due to the coronavirus. SLF did air ads a few weeks ago against Collins, but McClatchy wrote that this campaign was largely an unsuccessful attempt to pressure him to drop out before the candidate deadline passed in early March.
● UT-Gov: Former Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman got some very bad news on Thursday when Utah Policy reported that over half of the signatures he'd submitted had been rejected by state election authorities. Huntsman has until April 13 (Update: This post initially had the wrong date) to turn in roughly another 11,500 valid petitions. If he fails, Huntsman can still make the June GOP primary ballot if he wins enough support at the April 25 party convention, but this process also poses plenty of challenges for the former governor.
As we've written before, Utah allows candidates for governor or for Congress to reach the primary ballot either by turning in the requisite number of signatures or by competing at their party convention, though Huntsman is one of a few candidates who is trying both methods. Republican candidates for governor need to turn in 28,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, and Huntsman turned in a total of 36,000 petitions. However, election authorities ruled that close to 20,000 of his signatures weren't acceptable, with about 13,000 of those petitions coming from people who weren't registered Republicans or registered to vote at all.
Huntsman has about two weeks to collect another 11,500 valid petitions, though as he's already learned the hard way, he's going to need a lot more because many signatures invariably will be rejected. Indeed, none other than Mitt Romney had to deal with this problem when he successfully ran for the Senate in 2018. Romney turned in 80,000 petitions, but his campaign wasn't sure that this would even be enough; an unnamed source told Utah Policy, "When we turned those 80,000 signatures in, I thought there was a chance we didn't make it. We were praying we would get 30% validated." Romney ultimately got about 60% of his petitions accepted, but he had significantly more time to collect them than Huntsman has now.
The coronavirus also makes signature gathering extra difficult. "We are collecting signatures from people who have either reached out to us and sought the opportunity to sign or that have responded to an offer from us to come and collect a signature," Huntsman's campaign emailed Utah Policy, "We put the packet by the door, knock, step back six feet, they answer and sign with their own pen then go back inside." Huntsman did get a little good news on Thursday, though, when retiring Gov. Gary Herbert allowed voters who wanted to fill out a petition to download and sign a form that they could then either mail or email to the campaign.
However, another problem for Huntsman is that his pool of eligible GOP voters has shrunk. State law says that, if a voter signs petitions for multiple contenders seeking the same office, it only counts in favor of the first candidate to turn in their signatures (another 2,400 of Huntsman's petitions were rejected because the voter had already been counted for one of his rivals). The state has verified that both Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former state party chair Thomas Wright have submitted enough signatures to make the ballot, so anyone who signed for them can't help Huntsman.
The good news for Huntsman is, if the petition route fails, he can still get to the primary by competing at the April 25 party convention. (This gathering will be a virtual event this year because of the coronavirus.) State GOP rules say that, in races with three or more contenders, the convention may opt to either use multiple ballots or preference voting to gradually eliminate candidates from consideration. If one contender ends up taking more than 60% of the delegate vote, they will be the only candidate to reach the primary ballot. If, however, no one hits this threshold, then the two competitors left standing will advance to the primary. (Utah Democrats' rules work the same way.)
Indeed, Huntsman does have experience at these types of gatherings. When he first ran for governor in 2004, Huntsman took first place at the party convention with 51% of the vote on the final ballot, and he went on to decisively win both the primary and the general election. (Until the legislature changed the law in 2014, Utah candidates could only reach the primary by taking enough support at their party convention, and Gov. Olene Walker's campaign ended after she took just fourth place that year.)
The problem for Huntsman, though, is that a lot has changed since 2004, and Republican conventions have become even more dominated by activists who are far more ideologically extreme and anti-establishment than their party's electorate at large.
Unsurprisingly, establishment candidates haven't fared well in recent Utah gatherings: Herbert lost 55-44 in his 2016 re-election bid to conservative businessman Jonathan Johnson, while state Rep. Mike Kennedy pulled off a 51-49 convention upset two years later against none other than Romney. (Both Herbert and Romney decisively won their primaries months later.) These delegates may be particularly eager to vote down Huntsman, who ran for president in 2012 as a moderate, though his service as Trump's ambassador to Russia could sate them a little.
Huntsman will also be competing against several other Republicans who may be much more appealing to party delegates. Businessman Jeff Burningham, former state House Speaker Greg Hughes, and Salt Lake County Council chair Aimee Winder Newton are depending on the convention to advance, while Cox and Wright will also be taking part in the gathering. All of this means that the party convention could be a very unpredictable event, so Huntsman will really need to hope that he can collect enough petitions to render the delegates' judgment on him meaningless.
● CA-25: Politico reports that Republican Mike Garcia and the NRCC are launching a coordinated buy for $90,000 ahead of the May special election. We do not yet have a copy of their spot.
● SC-01: Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert announced Friday that he was dropping out of the June GOP primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham. Covert, who hadn't raised much money for his congressional bid, will instead run for a seat in the state House.
● WI State Senate: Democratic state Sen. Fred Risser, who is the longest serving state legislator in American history, announced Thursday that he would retire from his safely blue Madison seat. Risser, who will turn 93 in May, is also the last World War II veteran in any of the nation's 99 legislative chambers (none remain in Congress, either).
Risser, who is a fourth-generation member of the Wisconsin Legislature, was first elected to the state Assembly in 1956 at the same time that Dwight Eisenhower was winning his second term as president. Risser won a promotion to the upper house in 1962, and he's remained there ever since and says he's never missed a roll call.
● Baltimore, MD Mayor: Mason-Dixon is out with a poll of Baltimore's Democratic primary that shows something no other firm has found before. The survey gives former police spokesman T.J. Smith a 22-18 lead over former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who has posted at least a small edge in the last few polls we've seen, while City Council President Brandon Scott is in third with 15%.
Former state prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah and ex-Treasury official Mary Miller are further behind 12% and 9%, respectively, while Mayor Jack Young takes just 7%. GOP Gov. Larry Hogan moved Maryland's primary from April 28 to June 2 while this poll was in the field, and it's not clear how this will impact the likely electorate.
While this is the first poll we've seen showing Smith in the lead in this contest, Young has consistently been in bad shape. Young was elevated from City Council president to mayor in May after incumbent Catherine Pugh resigned in disgrace, and Mason-Dixon finds him in bad shape with a 28-39 favorable rating. This poll was taken March 16-18 during the early days of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, though, and Young's handling of the situation at home could help determine whether he can win the June primary. It only takes a simple plurality to take the Democratic nod in this heavily blue city.
● Portland, OR Mayor: Former Nike executive Piper Crowell announced Wednesday that she was dropping her campaign to take on Mayor Ted Wheeler and would instead "focus on COVID-19 response efforts."