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.
● NC-Sen, CA-Sen, GA-Sen-B: On Wednesday evening, the FBI seized Sen. Richard Burr’s phone as part of its investigation into the large stock transactions the North Carolina Republican made just before the markets tanked in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic worsened. Burr announced the following day that he would temporarily step aside as chair of the Senate intelligence committee, though he declared he’d “absolutely” serve until his term ends in early 2023, when he had already been planning to retire from the Senate.
Another senator, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, also acknowledged on Thursday that she’d turned in documents to the FBI and spoken to investigators over large biotech stock trades made by her husband in January. A spokesperson for Feinstein, who is not up for re-election until 2024, said her cooperation with law enforcement was offered “voluntarily” and that the senator “provided additional documents to show she had no involvement in her husband’s transactions.”
A third senator, Georgia Republican Kelly Loeffler, has also received scrutiny about her own large trades right before the markets collapsed. The wealthy Loeffler refused to say anything when reporters asked her on Thursday if she’d had any communication with the FBI, and a spokesperson evaded the question, saying only that "[n]o search warrant has been served" on the senator. Loeffler has maintained that her investment decisions are made by "third-party advisors" acting without her knowledge.
Loeffler faces tough competition from both parties in November’s special election, but Burr’s legal situation looks to be the most serious right now. As chair of the intelligence committee, Burr received briefings on the threat posed by the virus well before Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in mid-March. Burr sold a large portion of his stock portfolio in more than 30 separate transactions, including shares in hospitality companies that later saw their prices plummet. On Feb. 13, the same day that the senator made a number of his trades, Burr’s brother-in-law also shed at least $98,000 in stocks.
No matter what happens next, though, GOP leaders are likely to pressure Burr to remain in office through Sept. 4. If Burr were to depart before then, it would set off a special election this November for the final two years of his term, a contest that his party could very well lose. However, if Burr hangs on past that date, both the special election (for just the final few weeks of his term) and the contest for a regular six-year term would take place in November of 2022.
If Burr does bail before his term is over, he would, however, be succeeded by a fellow Republican, despite the fact that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is a Democrat. As WSOC TV's Joe Bruno explains, the state GOP would submit a list of three names to the governor, who would then be required to appoint one of them under North Carolina's same-party replacement law.
That appointee would enjoy just a few months of incumbency before facing voters if Burr were to leave before early September, and there would be no primary. Instead, the executive committees of each state party organization would choose a nominee directly. However, if Burr waits to resign until within 60 days of the general election, which falls on Sept. 4, a replacement appointee would have two years in office before the 2022 general election.
Given what we know of the various cases involved, it's not clear why Burr has received much greater legal scrutiny than other senators. However, some commentators, like former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, have charged that Trump is using the federal law enforcement apparatus to punish Burr; others have argued that it's more notable that Loeffler, a Trump stalwart, seems to be receiving less scrutiny from the FBI.
Burr has been a reliable Trump vote in the Senate, but his committee has been working on the final volume of a report that will conclude that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump. It’s not clear what will happen to the report now that Burr has stepped aside, though a spokesperson for the intelligence committee says it will still be released.
● Minnesota: A group of voters backed by the National Redistricting Foundation has filed a lawsuit asking a state court to relax two Minnesota laws related to absentee voting. Plaintiffs want the court to strike down the state's requirement that absentee ballots be witnessed or notarized, and they also want the deadline for ballots to be received extended from Election Day to "a reasonable period of time after Election Day."
The suit does not suggest a specific preferred deadline but it does point to recent litigation out of Wisconsin where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ballots postmarked by Election Day would count as long as they arrived within six days.
● Texas: A Texas appeals court has upheld an injunction issued last month by a lower court allowing voters to cite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic as a valid reason to request an absentee ballot. A day earlier, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is fighting the injunction, filed a request with the Texas Supreme Court asking the justices to bar election officials in five large urban counties, all of which lean toward Democrats, from providing absentee ballots due to the pandemic.
● Vermont: A committee in Vermont's Democratic-run state Senate is preparing legislation that would eliminate Republican Gov. Phil Scott's ability to block Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos from mailing ballots to all voters for the state's Aug. 11 primaries and the November general election.
Scott previously said he has "concerns" about the state's ability to print ballots quickly enough, but Democrats and their allies in the the left-wing Vermont Progressive Party could override a Scott veto of any bill that would cut him out of the loop. That may not be necessary, however. Scott more recently said, "I’m not comfortable making this decision right now" regarding Condos' plan, "but if the Legislature wants to take other action, I’m not going to stand in their way."
● KS-Sen: Kansas' June 1 filing deadline is coming up quickly, and national Republicans are making one last shot to convince U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to run for this open seat. However, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged to Politico, "There's not been a development yet." Pompeo himself hasn't said anything publicly, but Politico writes that he "has been firm thus far that he will not reconsider and recently told the White House that he is not running."
McConnell and his allies are dreading the possibility that former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach could win the August primary and jeopardize the party's chances in the general election, and they believe Pompeo would give them their best chance to stop Kobach. Rep. Roger Marshall, who unlike Pompeo actually is running, has been portraying himself as the strongest alternative to Kobach, but Politico reports that the congressman's underwhelming fundraising has national Republicans worried.
Still, unless Pompeo surprises everyone in the next few weeks and gets in, Kobach's detractors may have no choice but to get behind Marshall. One powerful establishment group that sounds likely to support him is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has backed Marshall in the past. Scott Reed, who is the Chamber's senior political strategist, said his group has been "impressed" with Marshall, though it would wait until after the filing deadline to decide what it would do in this race.
Meanwhile, Manhattan Mayor Usha Reddi announced on Thursday that she was dropping out of the Democratic primary. Reddi's departure leaves state Sen. Barbara Bollier as the only notable Democratic candidate.
● CA-25: Republican Mike Garcia flipped this seat in Tuesday's special election, but the DCCC is out with a poll from its targeting and analytics team arguing that they can take it back in November when turnout will look very different. The survey, which was taken in the days just before the special, found Democrat Christy Smith leading Garcia 48-46 in the fall contest for a full two-year term. (We're told the sample size for this survey was 675.)
● IN-01: A group called Democratic Progress has launched a $100,000 cable TV buy supporting Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott in the June 2 Democratic primary.
We hadn't heard of this super PAC before, though Dan Carden of The Times of Northwest Indiana writes that FEC records show it "is based at a mailbox inside a UPS Store that's adjacent to a Cheesecake Factory restaurant in downtown Denver, about a mile from the Colorado State Capitol building." Carden also notes that its treasurer works for Unite America, which supported independent candidates for governor and Senate in 2018.
● NC-11: Protect Freedom PAC, which is run by allies of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, has launched what it says is a "six-figure" TV buy in support of businessman Madison Cawthorn in the June 23 GOP runoff. The spot touts Cawthorn as "an outsider who supports term limits and a balanced budget amendment," and vows he'll stand with Donald Trump on immigration and against "out of control government."
● NJ-03: Businessman David Richter is up with his first TV spot for the July GOP primary to take on Democratic Rep. Andy Kim. Richter touts his business background and declares, "Like President Trump, I'm a political outsider and I'll bring my experience to Washington to help rebuild our economy, helping small businesses and struggling families bounce back from this crisis." The ad also shows a picture of Richter and Trump together.
● NM-02: Citizens for a United New Mexico, a super PAC created by an ally of businesswoman Claire Chase, is out with another TV spot attacking 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell, who is Chase's main rival in the June 2 GOP primary.
The commercial declares that Herrell has been running "fake" ads attacking "Trump's ally, Claire Chase." The narrator continues, "Paid actors, hired to imitate Claire's voice. Yvette Herrell's trying to lie her way into Congress." The spot goes on to once again accuse Herrell of trying to undermine Trump and says she "used taxpayer money to pal around with Trump-haters in California."
This is the latest commercial in what has been a truly ugly primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. The Herrell ad that Citizens for a United New Mexico is referring to here featured a narrator reading past anti-Trump social media posts written by Chase in what Inside Elections' Nathan Gonzalez described as a "ditzy tone." That spot was extremely sexist (Gonzalez called it, "The campaign attack ad no man could get away with"), though it was quite clear that Herrell was employing an actress rather than pretending this was actual audio from Chase.
● NM-03: Advertising Analytics reports that a newly-formed group called Avacy Initiatives Inc. is spending at least $213,000 on a TV campaign in support of attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez in the June 2 Democratic primary. The commercial touts Leger Fernandez's local roots and professional background, including her work representing Native American tribes and fighting for "water rights and health clinics." There is no word on who is behind Avacy, and Politico's attempts to contact the group were unsuccessful.
Leger Fernandez also recently released a spot featuring the candidate with her family. Leger Fernandez pledges to protect Social Security and Medicare and "keep fighting to bring down the cost of healthcare for everyone."
● OR-02: The GOP primary for this safely red seat in eastern Oregon is on Tuesday, and there has been plenty of outside advertising here.
2018 gubernatorial nominee Knute Buehler has benefited from what OpenSecrets reports is $336,000 in spending from Republican Leadership for Oregon, a group financed by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who was the biggest financial backer of Buehler's 2018 run. However, the anti-tax Club for Growth, which has a long history of going after relatively moderate Republicans like Buehler, has also dropped $213,000 against him. Oregon Right To Life, which is also no fan of the self-described pro-choice Republican, has also spent about $200,000 to oppose Buehler.
The Club's commercial, which began airing last month, features an old clip of Buehler saying, "I have spoken out frequently against the Trump administration's policies." The narrator goes on to excoriate Buehler for calling "for a special prosecutor to investigate Trump, cheering on the witch hunt. Buehler even opposed the Kavanaugh nomination, siding with Democrat [sic] character assassins."
Another group called Defending Main Street, which was set up years ago to stop anti-establishment candidates from winning GOP primaries, has also spent $225,000 to support another candidate, state Sen. Cliff Bentz. The super PAC's ad praises Bentz as someone who will "stand with President Trump to take on the liberals who put our future in China's hands."
There has been no public polling of the crowded contest to succeed retiring Rep. Greg Walden, but Buehler has spent considerably more than his opponents in recent weeks. Buehler outspent Bentz $426,000 to $215,000 from April 1 to April 29 (the time the FEC defines as the pre-primary period), while former state Sen. Jason Atkinson was far behind with just $78,000 spent. Another candidate, wealthy businessman Jimmy Crumpacker, deployed only $33,000 during this time.
● VA-05: Physician Cameron Webb is out with his first TV spot ahead of the June 23 Democratic primary. Webb declares, "As a doctor, a lawyer, and an advisor in the Obama White House, I've seen some tough fights. From the frontlines, I know that this crisis is as tough as they come." He continues, "But when we beat this, people will still have to battle with insurance companies and choose between groceries and medicine. We have to do better.
Webb is one of four Democrats running for this 53-42 Trump seat, and none of the candidates will know the identity of their would-be GOP foe until 10 days before the primary. Republicans are choosing their nominee at a June 13 convention, and Rep. Denver Riggleman faces a tough challenge from Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good.