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.
● Texas: A state judge said on Wednesday afternoon that he'll issue an order allowing all Texans to vote absentee due to the coronavirus pandemic, less than an hour after the attorney general's office threatened criminal prosecution for groups recommending voters concerned about contracting the virus request absentee ballots.
Last month, because Texas is one of a number of states that requires voters to present an excuse in order to vote absentee, Democrats filed suit in state court asking that this requirement be relaxed. Specifically, plaintiffs said that a provision of law permitting mail voting if a voter has "a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter's health" should apply to anyone practicing social distancing.
Judge Tim Sulak agreed, though it is not yet clear whether his injunction will affect only the state's July 14 runoffs or extend through the November general election; conceivably, it could remain in effect for the duration of the pandemic. Whatever the case, Texas Republicans have shown a great deal of hostility toward expanding mail voting and are almost certain to appeal.
That hostility was on vivid display shortly before Sulak announced his plans, when Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton issued guidance to the legislature concluding that "fear of contracting COVID-19" does not constitute a valid reason for voters to ask for an absentee ballot. Paxton, who is currently facing an indictment for allegedly committing felony securities fraud, concluded his letter by warning that if voting rights advocates were to provide the opposite advice to voters, that "could subject those third parties to criminal sanctions."
Should Sulak's anticipated ruling stand, however, Paxton's threats will be moot. But even if it's overturned, Democrats could nevertheless obtain the relief they seek thanks to a similar lawsuit they filed in federal court.
Please bookmark our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, both of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.
● Alaska: Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has signed a multi-faceted bill addressing the coronavirus emergency that includes a provision allowing Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to order that Alaska's Aug. 18 primary and any special elections this year be conducted by mail. (In Alaska, the lieutenant governor is the state's top elections official.) Meyer has not yet said whether he'll issue such an order regarding the primary.
● Arizona: Republican Gov. Doug Ducey says he's opposed to conducting Arizona's Aug. 4 primary by mail, a move that both Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the state's local election officials support. Ducey said he did not want the state "to disenfranchise anyone from voting on Election Day," but every state that conducts all-mail elections still allows voters to cast ballots on Election Day.
● Louisiana: Louisiana's Republican-run legislature has rejected a proposal by Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to modestly expand the availability of mail voting for the state's July 11 presidential and municipal primaries. Ardoin's plan would have allowed certain groups of voters, such as those over 60, those at high risk for contracting COVID-19, or those who are self-quarantining to vote by mail. It also would have increased the number of days for early voting from seven to 13. Lawmakers have asked Ardoin to come up with an alternate plan by April 24.
● Wisconsin: Democrat Marina Dimitrijevic, who last week was elected to Milwaukee's city council, is promoting a new proposal to send absentee ballot applications to all 300,000 voters in the city for Wisconsin's Aug. 11 primary and the November general election. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and at least nine other members of the council, including the body's president, support the measure. Election officials in three large South Florida counties are also considering similar plans.
● Colorado: The deadline to turn in signatures to make Colorado's June 30 primary was March 17, and the state has a list of contenders who submitted enough petitions here. However, candidates can also reach the primary ballot by competing at their party conventions, also known as assemblies, and many of them chose to go with this route instead in large part because of the high cost of gathering signatures.
Democrats in CO-03 and Republicans in CO-06 recently held their virtual assemblies, and we'll be running down the results in our House section. The state Democratic Party will also hold their statewide convention on Saturday where they'll endorse a candidate to take on GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, which we'll talk about in our CO-Sen item below.
First, some notes about the convention rules. Contenders need to win the support of at least 30% of the delegates to advance to June, and whoever takes the most support will be listed first on the primary ballot. Candidates have the option to both turn in signatures and take part in the convention, but doing so still doesn't offer a guarantee: If a candidate takes less than 10% of the vote at the convention, then their campaign is over no matter how many signatures they turn in.
● CO-Sen: Colorado Democrats will hold their virtual state party convention on Saturday, but unlike in past years, there shouldn't be much suspense about how this gathering will go.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has the support of national Democrats in the contest to take on GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, announced in late March that he'd skip the convention after the state verified that he'd submitted enough petitions. That move left former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who overwhelmingly beat Hickenlooper at the pre-convention party caucuses earlier in March, as the only well-funded candidate competing at the assembly, so it would be a massive surprise if he doesn't win this weekend.
A few other Democrats are also competing at the convention including nonprofit director Lorena Garcia; Stephany Rose Spaulding, who was the 2018 nominee in the safely red 5th Congressional District; and businesswoman Michelle Ferrigno Warren. It's possible that some of them will do well enough at the party gathering to make it to the primary, but they've each raised very little money and would struggle to gain traction in June.
Another long-shot candidate, scientist Trish Zornio, announced Wednesday that she was suspending her campaign. Hickenlooper appears to be the only Democrat who made the ballot by turning in enough signatures.
● IA-Sen, MI-Sen: Politico reports that the conservative Americas PAC, which is funded by megadonor Richard Uihlein, has booked TV time for mid-May in two Midwestern Senate contests. The group will reportedly spend $1.3 million to aid Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst and $894,000 to help Republican John James in Michigan.
Meanwhile in Iowa, retired Navy Vice Adm. Mike Franken is up with his first TV spot ahead of the June Democratic primary to face Ernst, and The Courier reports that it's part of a six-figure buy. Franken declares that, while Donald Trump and Ernst are dividing America, "I've brought people together to take on terrorists, Ebola, and hurricanes from Hugo to Katrina."
● NC-Sen, NC-Gov: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling is out with a new look at its home state of North Carolina, and it has overall good news for Team Blue.
Democrat Cal Cunningham holds a 47-40 lead over GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, which is up from Cunningham's 46-41 edge in late February. PPP also shows Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper defeating Republican Dan Forest by a wide 50-36 margin, which is a big change from the 45-41 lead Cooper posted the last time the pollster surveyed this race in June. This sample shows Joe Biden leading Donald Trump by a narrow 48-47 margin.
This is the second poll we've seen from North Carolina since the early March primaries. Earlier this week, the conservative Civitas Institute released numbers from the GOP firm Harper Polling that showed Tillis ahead 38-34 while Trump was winning by a wide 49-42 margin. Harper, though, found Cooper up 50-33, which is very similar to PPP's numbers.
● TN-Sen: Former Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty is the latest Republican to run a commercial echoing Donald Trump's racist attacks on China. The narrator declares, "Communist China covered up the Wuhan virus, putting America at risk. Conservative Bill Hagerty says we must hold China accountable."
● MO-Gov: Democratic state Auditor Nichole Galloway outraised GOP Gov. Mike Parson $640,000 to $332,000 during the first quarter of 2020, and Parson ended March with only a modest $1.4 million to $1 million cash-on-hand lead.
However, Parson's allied PAC holds a large financial edge over its Democratic counterpart. Uniting Missouri PAC took in $830,000 while Keep Government Accountable hauled in $230,000, and the GOP group held a large $3.8 million to $939,000 cash-on-hand advantage. In April, after the reporting deadline, Uniting Missouri PAC received $500,000 from the Republican Governors Association.
● CA-25: The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund has announced that it will spend $600,000 on mail and digital ads for the May 12 special election.
● CO-03: All three Democrats running to take on GOP Rep. Scott Tipton chose to compete at Tuesday's virtual party convention rather than collect signatures, and two of them advanced to the June primary.
Businessman James Iacino won the top spot on the ballot by winning the support of 49% of the delegates, while 2018 nominee Diane Mitsch Bush was just behind with 48%. The third candidate, climate activist Root Routledge was far back with just 3%. Whoever wins the nomination this summer will be in for a difficult race in this seat in the western part of the state. The district moved from 52-46 Romney to 52-40 Trump, and Tipton beat Mitsch Bush 52-44 last cycle.
Tipton himself does face an intra-party primary challenge from Lauren Boebert, who runs a restaurant called Shooters Grill in Rifle where staffers openly carry firearms, but she doesn't look like much of a threat. Tipton ended March with a huge $626,000 to $26,000 cash-on-hand lead, and because he successfully turned in enough signatures to reach the ballot, he can survive all but the worst performance at Friday's party assembly. Tipton also received Donald Trump's endorsement in December.
The money gap isn't as stark on the Democratic side. Mitsch Bush ended March with a $478,000 to $361,000 cash-on-hand lead over Iacino, who has done some self-funding.
● CO-06: Former state party CEO Steve House won last week's GOP party assembly by easily defeating an unheralded opponent, and because no one gathered signatures, this result means that House will be Team Red's nominee against freshman Democratic Rep. Jason Crow.
However, House is in for a very uphill battle in a suburban Denver seat that has been rapidly moving to the left. This district went from 52-47 Obama to 50-41 Clinton, and Crow unseated GOP incumbent Mike Coffman last cycle by a wide 54-43 margin. House doesn't seem interested in winning over the voters who have turned against the GOP in recent years, though, since he recently held a virtual event with a doctor who has a long track record of circulating conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, Crow ended March with a $1.7 million to $409,000 cash-on-hand lead over House.
● FL-19: Wealthy businessman Casey Askar is out with his first TV spot ahead of the August GOP primary for this open seat. As a clip plays of Saddam Hussein, Askar narrates, "On my seventh birthday, we fled our homes for America. Christians like us were being persecuted." The candidate goes on to say, "I worked hard. Joined the Marines. Built a business. I lived the American dream." Askar pledges he'll be a Donald Trump ally and concludes, "I'll defend America with everything I have because I owe everything I have to America."
● GA-06: The NRCC has released a month-old survey from North Star Opinion Research that gives former GOP Rep. Karen Handel a 49-47 edge in her rematch campaign against freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath. This is the first poll we've seen from this year's race for this competitive suburban Atlanta seat.
McBath narrowly unseated Handel in a 2018 upset, and this time, the Democrat is the one who has the clear cash advantage. McBath outraised Handel $1.07 million to $283,000 during the first quarter of the year, and the incumbent ended March with a $2.61 million to $966,000 cash-on-hand lead.
● IL-14: National Republicans badly want to beat freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood, but they're stuck with a nominee they actively tried to defeat in last month's Illinois primary. Politico reported on Thursday that the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is the largest spender on House races among outside groups on the Republican side, financed a group called Illinois Conservatives PAC that ran ads against state Sen. Jim Oberweis in the 14th Congressional District.
The CLF spent $911,000 to fund commercials that declared, "Higher taxes, personally attacking President Donald Trump, and comparing pro-lifers to terrorists, that's the real Jim Oberweis." This expensive effort fell just short: Oberweis defeated fellow state Sen. Sue Rezin 26-23, a margin of just under 1,500 votes.
While the CLF has gotten involved in GOP primaries to protect incumbents, it's very unusual to see it intervene in an intra-party battle. However, if there's one Republican that national Republicans rightly should want far away from a general election ballot, it's Jim Oberweis. The wealthy dairy magnate has unsuccessfully run for the House or statewide office a grand total of six times beginning with his 2002 primary defeat to take on Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, but his most high-profile defeat came in 2008 for a previous version of this seat.
Oberweis lost the special election to succeed former House Speaker Dennis Hastert in a historically red distinct by a 52.5-47.5 margin against Democrat Bill Foster, and it took no time at all for Republicans to place the blame on him. Oberweis and Foster had won their primaries for the regular November contest months before the special was decided, but Republicans reportedly tried to convince their nominee to drop out.
Then-state Rep. Aaron Schock, who was the GOP nominee for a congressional seat to the south, loudly threw Oberweis under the ice cream truck following his defeat, declaring, "Anybody in Illinois who knows Jim Oberweis knows that was not a referendum on the Republican Party; it was a referendum on Jim Oberweis." Schock, whose own congressional career would self-destruct the next decade, also volunteered that when it came to Oberweis, "The people that knew him best, liked him least." Oberweis didn't listen, and he lost to Foster again 58-42.
The CLF's staff should know Oberweis quite well at this point, and like him they don't. But while it's too late to deny Oberweis the GOP nod (or convince him to run for Congress in Florida), they don't need to spend to prop him up. Indeed, the CLF announced last week that it had reserved $43 million for fall TV ads in House races across the nation, but its first wave of bookings did not include this exurban Chicago district. Still, this 49-45 Trump seat may just be too tempting a target for Team Red even with an unwelcome nominee, and it's very possible that CLF or its allies will end up airing ads against Underwood.
And for all of Oberweis' considerable flaws, he may have the personal resources to fend for himself. Oberweis has invested millions into his past failed campaigns, and he self-funded a total of $1.1 million for this race through the end of March. However, he's raised a grand total of $558,000 from people who aren't named Jim Oberweis during his more than 13 months of campaigning, so he may need to throw down a lot more of his money if he's to compete with Underwood: At the end of March, the incumbent held a $2.26 million to $222,000 cash-on-hand lead.
● Oklahoma: Candidate filing closed last week for Oklahoma's June 30 primary, and the state has a list of contenders available here. A runoff will take place Aug. 25 in contests where no one takes a majority of the vote.
● OK-02: GOP Rep. Markwayne Mullin picked up a primary challenge from the right in October from state Sen. Joseph Silk, but so far, the incumbent looks safe in this safely red seat in the eastern part of the state. Mullin, who has Donald Trump’s endorsement, ended March with a $637,000 war chest, while Silk only set up his fundraising committee on Monday. One other Republican filed, so it’s possible this could go to a runoff if this primary turns out to be more competitive than it currently looks.
● OK-05: Democrat Kendra Horn unseated GOP Rep. Steve Russell in one of the most shocking upsets of 2018, and she’ll be a top Republican target as she defends an Oklahoma City seat that favored Donald Trump 53-40. Nine Republicans filed to take on Horn, and so far, there’s no obvious frontrunner. Only four of the Republicans, though, appear to have the resources needed to run a credible campaign.
Businesswoman Terry Neese, who has self-funded just over half of her campaign so far, had $651,000 to spend at the end of March, while state Sen. Stephanie Bice had $406,000 available. Former state School Superintendent Janet Barresi, who has financed almost her entire race so far, had $367,000 on-hand, while businessman David Hill had $180,000 in the bank.
Horn didn’t attract much attention from donors during most of her 2018 campaign, but the incumbent ended March with a hefty $2.23 million on-hand.
● WI-07: In his first general election TV spot ahead of the May 12 special, Republican Tom Tiffany tells the audience that "while I'd prefer to shake your hand and ask for your vote, that'll have to wait." After laying out his background Tiffany says, "In Congress I'll stand with President Trump to get people back to work and America up on her feet."