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.
● GA-Sen-B: Wealthy Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler is launching a $4 million TV ad buy with three different spots (here, here, and here) defending herself amid her scandal over her pandemic-related stock transactions. The spots may be the first-ever ads to find a politician defending themselves amid a scandal by touting the use of their own private jet instead of being attacked over owning one; Loeffler notes she used it to fly home stranded cruise passengers. Loeffler's ads denounce the accusations against her as "liberal lies" and claim it's part of a conspiracy to stop a strong conservative from serving in the Senate.
Loeffler's ads contend that she donated away her Senate salary and gave a couple million to charitable coronavirus relief efforts. However, the ads don't note how her net worth is at least several hundred millions of dollars, and tens of millions of dollars worth of her stocks were sold earlier this year after she had received briefings on the coronavirus threat but before the markets dropped.
By contrast, Loeffler's Senate salary is only $174,000, and she has pledged to spend at least $20 million of her own fortune on her election, making her charitable contributions pale in comparison to both her overall wealth and what she allegedly gained via pandemic profiteering.
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.
● Alabama: Civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, have filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to waive the requirement that absentee voters have their ballots notarized or signed by two witnesses, both for Alabama's July 14 primary runoffs and the November general election. The suit also asks that limitations on curbside voting be lifted.
● Connecticut: Democratic Secretary of State Denise Merrill has announced that she will send absentee ballot applications to all active voters for Connecticut's Aug. 11 primaries and the November general election, part of a comprehensive plan to ensure the state's elections can proceed safely this year. Merrill's office will also prepay postage for voters returning both applications and ballots.
In addition, the secretary of state will pay for any additional costs that Connecticut's 169 towns incur in order to safely run polling locations, as well as for extra staffers town clerks might need to handle the anticipated increase in absentee voting. However, Connecticut still requires an excuse to vote absentee, a requirement that Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has yet to waive.
● South Carolina: Several Democratic Party organizations and voters have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to ease a number of restrictions on absentee voting in South Carolina. In particular, plaintiffs argue that the state's policy of allowing citizens 65 and older to vote absentee without an excuse while requiring one from any voter below that age violates the Constitution. They also want the court to order the state to pay for postage on ballot return envelopes and to waive the requirement that absentee ballots be witnessed by another person.
In addition, the suit asks that absentee ballots be accepted so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within a minimum of 10 days; currently, South Carolina requires that ballots be received by 7 PM local time on Election day. In support of their argument, plaintiffs cite the Supreme Court's ruling in litigation last month over Wisconsin's elections.
While that 5-4 decision was handed down by the court's conservative majority and appeared to undermine voting access, it in fact enshrined the principle that ballots should be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day rather than received by Election Day. Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, one of the attorneys behind this latest lawsuit, has now relied on it in a number of cases seeking to extend ballot receipt deadlines.
Two related lawsuits are currently pending, one in federal court and one in state court.
● Tennessee: Voting rights organizations, including the NAACP, have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have Tennessee's excuse requirement to vote absentee waived both for the state's Aug. 6 primary and the November general election. The suit also asks that voters be given the opportunity to correct any issues with their signatures allegedly not matching those on file. In addition, plaintiffs want third-party organizations such as themselves to be allowed to distribute absentee ballot applications—an act that can be charged as a crime under state law.
● Texas: Despite a judge's recent ruling to the contrary, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton has again issued a letter to state officials saying that "fear of contracting COVID-19" does not constitute a valid reason for voters to ask for an absentee ballot under Texas law. As he did before, Paxton, who himself is currently under felony indictment for alleged securities fraud, also threatened "criminal sanctions" for third parties who provide contrary advice.
Paxton claimed that, "pursuant to Texas law," the judge's order is stayed because the attorney general has appealed it. He also said that the order, issued by Travis County District Court Judge Tim Sulak, does not apply outside of Travis County (home of Austin), even though Paxton's office intervened in the case on behalf of the state of Texas and several of Sulak's specific instructions were directed at the state. The ACLU responded by saying Paxton's letter "gets the law wrong."
● Wisconsin: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has now signed legislation that will send absentee ballot applications and postage-paid return envelopes to every voter in the city for the November general election. Officials in Racine, a city of 77,000 just to the south of Milwaukee, are also considering a similar plan.
● IA-Sen: The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling is out with the first general election survey we've seen all year of the Iowa Senate race, and it shows GOP Sen. Joni Ernst leading businesswoman Theresa Greenfield just 43-42 in a hypothetical contest; this same sample finds Donald Trump leading 48-46 in a state he carried 51-42 four years ago. The release did not test any of the other candidates who are competing with Greenfield, who has the backing of national Democrats, in the June 2 primary.
We haven't seen any polls here since December when a PPP survey for Greenfield's allies at End Citizens United that gave Ernst a 47-41 edge. However, while you should never let one poll determine your view of a race (even when there is literally one poll to go off of), we have seen other indications that Ernst, who won by a surprisingly large 52-44 margin during the 2014 GOP wave, is more vulnerable than she looked at the start of the cycle.
Perhaps most importantly, all four major Senate outside groups—the NRSC and Senate Leadership Fund on the Republican side and the DSCC and Senate Majority PAC on the Democratic one—have booked millions in TV ad time here. The NRSC has reserved $2.6 million for a buy starting in June, while SLF has booked $12.6 million in ads that will start after Labor Day. The DSCC, meanwhile, has reserved $7.3 million in TV and digital ads for the fall, while its allies at SMP have booked a hefty $13.1 million in TV spots for around that same period.
Greenfield has also proven to be a good fundraiser. Ernst outraised her by a modest $2.7 million to $2.2 million during the first quarter of 2020, though the incumbent ended March with a clear $6.5 million to $3.8 million cash-on-hand lead.
Greenfield, as we noted above, does face primary opposition next month, but none of her opponents have her resources and outside support. 2018 House candidate Eddie Mauro, who has almost been entirely self-funding his new campaign, had $1 million on-hand, while retired Navy Vice Adm. Michael Franken had only $225,000 to spend.
● KS-Sen: The anti-tax Club for Growth has gone up with a new TV ad attacking Rep. Roger Marshall in the Republican primary, resorting to what has become a common subject of GOP ads: bashing China to distract from Trump's failures on the coronavirus pandemic. Their ad accuses the World Health Organization of becoming "China's puppet" and blasts Marshall for voting to fund it, an attack that is particularly noteworthy in the context of experts widely criticizing Trump for freezing U.S. funding to the WHO last month as detrimental to public health both domestically and abroad.
● ME-Sen: Tax March, a Democratic group that's part of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, is spending $400,000 on a TV and digital ad buy against Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Their TV commercial attacks Collins for favoring her corporate donors over regular Mainers by joining Mitch McConnell to give them a "$500 billion bailout" after having already showered them with billions in tax breaks.
● TX-Sen: The University of Texas at Tyler has conducted a poll on behalf of The Dallas Morning News, and they find an unusually high proportion of undecided voters in the Senate contest. In the Democratic primary runoff taking place on July 14, 2018 House nominee MJ Hegar leads state Sen. Royce West by 32-16. Looking at hypothetical general election matchups, Republican Sen. John Cornyn holds a 37-24 lead over Hegar and a similar 35-24 lead over West.
● MO-Gov: Remington Research (R) for the Missouri Scout: Mike Parson (R-inc): 52, Nichole Galloway (D): 39 (March: 52-39 Parson)
● UT-Gov: The June 30 GOP primary field was finally solidified over the weekend after two candidates, businessman Jeff Burningham and businesswoman Jan Garbett, discontinued their lawsuits to try to get on the ballot. Burningham had filed a lawsuit in federal court asking Judge Richard Shelby to dramatically lower the number of signatures he needed to make the ballot, but Shelby rejected it on Friday. Burningham announced soon afterward that he would not appeal the decision.
Shelby had ruled in Garbett's favor last week when he lowered the number of signatures she needed from 28,000 to just over 19,000, a decision that applied only to her. The state, though, soon said she didn't have nearly enough, and Shelby denied Garbett's request to once again reduce the number of petitions required. Garbett appealed his decision on Friday, but she ended her lawsuit the following day. Altogether, state election officials announced that just over 8,700 of the 21,000 petitions Garbett turned in were valid.
Four candidates will be on the ballot to succeed retiring Gov. Gary Herbert, and early polls show former Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, who preceded Herbert as governor, and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox as the frontrunners. Also in the mix are former state party chair Thomas Wright and former state House Speaker Greg Hughes.
● WV-Gov: Former state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher has debuted a new TV ad for the GOP primary that bashes Gov. Jim Justice for having "sided with the ACLU and released 70 criminals," claiming that one of the offenders released to stop the spread of coronavirus included a convicted murderer.
Meanwhile in the Democratic primary, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango is airing a positive ad touting how his county passed paid family leave and is providing relief aid to those in need amid the ongoing pandemic.
● CA-11: Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier's family has released a statement saying that the congressman has been released from the hospital, where he had been for nearly two months after suffering a fractured rib in a fall in March and developing pneumonia.
● GA-07: State Sen. Renee Unterman is spending at least $20,000 on cable for an ad opposing physician Rich McCormick in the GOP primary. The ad says McCormick "refused to vote for Trump" in 2016 and claims he's "bankrolled by Never Trumpers" who've also been opposing Senate candidate Doug Collins' bid against appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Unterman's spot then hits several common GOP talking points about being conservative, a "pro-life champion," and having "protected gun rights."
● IA-02: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has endorsed state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who is the heavy frontrunner for the GOP nomination.
● MN-02: Republicans held their virtual convention on Saturday in this competitive suburban Twin Cities seat, and Marine veteran Tyler Kistner decisively beat four other candidates to win the party endorsement. Winning the party endorsement isn't the same thing as winning the party's nomination, but many candidates take it seriously and drop out of the race if they lose the convention. However, it remains to be seen whether any of the defeated contenders will keep campaigning into the August primary, or if Kistner will have the GOP side to himself. Minnesota's filing deadline is June 2, so we'll know soon enough.
Whoever emerges with the GOP nod will take on freshman Democratic Rep. Angie Craig in a seat that both Barack Obama and Donald Trump narrowly carried. Both parties spent millions here in 2016 and 2018, but the money race looks very lopsided right now: Craig ended March with $2 million in the bank, while Kistner had just shy of $100,000 to spend.
● MT-AL: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is backing state Auditor Matt Rosendale in the Republican primary.
● TN-01: Pharmacist Diana Harshbarger is running a new TV ad in the GOP primary where she resorts to the GOP's favorite punching bag in the coronavirus era, using anti-China xenophobia and calling the pandemic the "Wuhan crisis" to shift blame for Trump's failures. Harshbarger calls for "controlling our borders" and bringing pharmaceutical manufacturing back from overseas.
● TX-17: Former Rep. Pete Sessions is well-positioned to win July's GOP primary runoff, but the Texas Tribune reports that he has spent over $80,000 in campaign funds on legal fees for an undisclosed purpose. The Tribune notes that most of the money has gone to a criminal defense attorney and began in October around the time that Sessions' name came up in the Ukraine scandal that Trump was impeached over. While spending campaign money on legal fees is typically allowed, the Tribune emphasizes that it's generally only okay for expenses related to holding office or running for it, and it's unclear whether Sessions' activities fall under that criteria without further investigation.
Back in October, a federal grand jury had issued a subpoena to Sessions as part of their investigation into Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who had been charged with conspiring to funnel foreign donations to GOP candidates. The indictment said that Parnas met in 2018 with someone identified only as "Congressman-1" to get his "assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine." Prosecutors had also alleged that, during this time, Parnas and Fruman were working to give more money to this congressman than was legally allowed.
Multiple media organizations had soon thereafter reported that this congressman was Sessions, and he responded, "If I am 'Congressman One', I could not have had any knowledge of the scheme described in the indictment or have involvement or coordination of it." Sessions had acknowledged that he'd sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was unfairly biased against Donald Trump. However, he had argued, "At no time did I take any official action" after his meeting with Parnas and Fruman, and he said he wrote to Pompeo after he heard complaints from "several congressional colleagues" about Yovanovitch.
There's been very little news since then on what Sessions' involvement with that affair was. However, this disclosure of significant spending on legal fees suggests Sessions might not be completely in the clear.