The party picked a new candidate just three days after Lewis’ death because of fears that, if quick action was not taken, there might not be a Democratic candidate on the November ballot at all. Georgia law required the party to inform the state by Monday afternoon if it would choose a new nominee or leave Lewis' name on the ballot. The law did not explicitly say the party needed to designate its new candidate at the same time, but Democratic leaders were concerned that if they hesitated, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger could block the eventual choice.
Peach State Democrats allowed candidates to apply for the nomination through Sunday afternoon, and over 130 people turned in questionnaires. A nominating committee, which included prominent Democrats such as 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, then chose five finalists and submitted them to the party’s executive committee. Ultimately, Williams earned the nomination by winning 37 of 41 votes on the first and only ballot.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein called Williams the frontrunner a day before the vote, citing her “national profile as one of the state’s foremost female Black political leaders.” Following her selection, Bluestein said Williams, who is married to a former Lewis aide, "framed herself as a protégé of the civil rights giant.”
But while Williams will fill Lewis' seat, no one will ever fill his shoes. Lewis was one of the nation's most prominent supporters of voting rights, both during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and during his nearly 34 years in Congress. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer aptly called him “an American Founder” for his role in creating the modern American republic, which was no less than radically transformed by the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. These two landmark pieces of legislation ended the authoritarian one-party oligarchy that existed in the South under Jim Crow and finally established America as a liberal democracy nationwide—almost 200 years after the country's founding.
Lewis was one the leading figures in the civil rights movement for Black Americans from an early age. When he was just 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech. Two years later, he marched for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965. There, law enforcement reacted to the peaceful protest by brutally attacking the marchers and beat Lewis nearly to death, fracturing his skull. But even real and repeatedly threatened violence did not deter his activism.
The events in Selma became known as Bloody Sunday, and TV news audiences around the country were so shocked by images of police brutality against the marchers that it galvanized the ultimately successful effort to pass the Voting Rights Act, which became law on Aug. 6, 1965. Civil rights leaders like Lewis and King deemed the Voting Rights Act the most important achievement of their movement because it protected the right that helped secure all the others that they were fighting for.
Lewis' career of activism for the cause of civil rights did not end with the 1960s, nor did his role as a protest figure end with his election to Congress in the 1980s: Even in his final decade, he led a sit-in on the House floor to protest the GOP's refusal to pass gun safety measures after a horrific mass shooting in Orlando left 49 dead and 53 wounded in 2016. Lewis would steadfastly make the case that the struggle for civil rights was an unending one, and his leadership inspired countless people who came after him. You can read more about Lewis' lifetime of activism in The New York Times and The Atlanta Constitution.
It also behooves us to take stock of Lewis’ early career in electoral politics, especially his upset win in his 1986 race for the House. Lewis first ran for Congress almost a decade before that famous victory, though, when he entered the 1977 special election for the 5th District to succeed Andrew Young, a civil rights luminary in his own right who had resigned to become Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Lewis, who had the support of his old ally Young, reached an all-Democratic runoff with Wyche Fowler, the white president of Atlanta's City Council, but there he faced a difficult campaign. At the time, white residents in the 5th District outnumbered African Americans 57-43, and while race was not a prominent issue in the campaign, Fowler ended up doing very well in predominantly white areas while Lewis scored big wins with Black voters. Ultimately, Fowler prevailed by a wide 62-38 margin.
Things went far better for Lewis in 1981, though, when he won a citywide seat on the Atlanta City Council by unseating a longtime incumbent 68-32. Lewis got another chance to run for Congress in 1986 when Fowler left to run against Republican Sen. Mack Mattingly (whom he beat), but Lewis once again found himself the underdog against a fellow Democrat.
This time, Lewis’ chief opponent was state Sen. Julian Bond, who was also an old friend of Lewis’ from the civil rights movement. Bond was one of the most prominent state legislators in the whole country and had even hosted an episode of “Saturday Night Live” (though he rued one of the jokes he made during a skit).
However, as the AJC’s Jim Galloway explained in a 2015 retrospective after Bond's death, Bond struggled with the perception that he was out of touch with his constituents and not interested in doing his job. In 1984, Bond’s primary opponent had even gone door-to-door playing a recording of the state senator's answering machine tape for voters, which told callers not to leave messages. Bond won renomination that year, but only with 54% of the vote.
Despite that showing, though, Bond very much looked like the man to beat throughout the 1986 campaign. He took 47% of the vote in the first round of the primary—just a few points short of the majority he needed to win outright—while Lewis finished well behind with 35%.
Unlike the contest a decade earlier, 1986's runoff featured two Black men, and in the interim, the district had become majority African American—in part because Bond, from his perch in the legislature, had tweaked the lines in anticipation of his own bid for Congress.
Though Lewis and Bond had once been allies, the faceoff soon became heated. Lewis recounted in his 1988 memoir, “I could not believe he was questioning my integrity, of all things. And he knew, he knew, this was not true.” Lewis also argued that, unlike Bond, he’d work hard for the district, memorably asking voters during one debate, “I want you to think about sending a tugboat and not a showboat.”
The most indelible moment of that campaign also came at a debate, where Lewis alluded to rumors that Bond had used drugs. As Lewis wrote 12 years later:
"Mr. Bond," I said. "My friend. My brother. We were asked to take a drug test not long ago, and five of us went and took that test. Why don't we step out and go to the men's room and take another test?"
The room was dead silent. You could have cut the tension with a knife.
"It seems," I went on, "like you're the one doing the ducking."
Julian was flabbergasted. He gathered himself and responded with a nervous joke about "Star Wars" and "Jar Wars." But no one was laughing.
Ultimately, while Lewis was badly outspent, he pulled off a surprise 52-48 victory. This time, Lewis did very well in predominantly white areas, which Galloway attributed in part to his citywide name recognition from his time on the City Council. The district was about 58% Black by this point, but while Bond won a majority of the Black vote, Lewis performed well among working-class Black voters. A large part of Lewis’ appeal to poorer voters was due to the two candidates’ very different backgrounds: While Bond hailed from a prominent local family, Lewis was the son of a sharecropper.
Lewis had no trouble in the general election that fall, easily defeating a Republican opponent by 50 points, and he never had trouble at the ballot box during the rest of his long career. Lewis and Bond, who went on to become head of the NAACP, later reconciled, and the two went on a high-profile tour of civil rights landmarks months before Bond died in 2015.
Please bookmark our litigation tracker for a complete summary of the latest developments in every lawsuit regarding changes to elections and voting procedures as a result of the coronavirus.
● Alabama: Republican Secretary of State John Merrill has issued an order allowing all voters concerned about the coronavirus to vote absentee in the state's Aug. 25 municipal elections and the November general election. Alabama requires voters to have an excuse in order to request an absentee ballot; during the pendency of the pandemic, voters may check a box when applying for a ballot that reads, "I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls." However, mail voters will still need a copy of their ID and the signatures of two witnesses or a notary.
● Alaska: Civic advocacy organizations and two Alaska voters have filed a lawsuit in state court challenging Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer's plan to send absentee ballot applications to voters age 65 and older while excluding all other voters from his mailing. Plaintiffs argue that Meyer's approach would violate the 26th Amendment, which says that the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age."
The suit further observes that Meyer's decision would disproportionately favor white voters, as one Democratic state representative previously pointed out : 77% of the state's 65+ population is white, but just 67% of those under 65 are white. The litigation is backed by a group called Equal Citizens, which recently lost a case before the Supreme Court arguing that bans against so-called "faithless electors" should be struck down.
● Connecticut: Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has called a special session of the legislature that will convene on Tuesday, in part to address expanding absentee ballot access for the November general election. Connecticut requires an excuse to vote absentee, but Lamont waived that requirement for the state's Aug. 11 primary in May. Leaders such as Democratic Secretary of State Denise Merrill have called on lawmakers to make a similar allowance for November.
● Florida: Just before trial was set to begin, voting rights advocates and Democrats who had been pushing for a wide array of changes to Florida's voting procedures reached a settlement with election officials. Under the agreement, state officials would be required to "encourage" their local counterparts to increase early voting options and offer prepaid postage on mail ballots. Most notably, the state would send an informational mailing to unregistered but eligible voters.
Plaintiffs had, among other things, originally sought to have the state pre-pay postage on all ballots and applications; allow all ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days to count; establish curbside voting; and extend the deadline for voters to fix any issues with mail ballots, such as signatures not matching. One group of plaintiffs representing blind voters, who want to ensure they can safely vote a secret ballot, was not part of the settlement. Their case will head to trial on July 27.
● Iowa: Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate says he will send absentee ballot applications to all Iowa voters ahead of the November general election after a Republican-run panel of state legislators granted him permission to do so. Pate had issued a similar mailing before the state's June 2 primaries, but Republican lawmakers subsequently passed a law requiring Pate to obtain their approval first.
In the interim, officials in Iowa's seven largest counties, which collectively lean to the left of the state as a whole, began making preparations to send applications to their own voters. That may have prompted Republicans to act, lest right-leaning counties fail to follow suit.
However, GOP lawmakers also voted against allowing counties to send applications that are partially pre-filled, which two large counties had already said they wanted to do. Democrats called that a voter suppression move because the GOP recently passed a separate law prohibiting county officials from using the state's voter database to fill in missing info on an application form such as the PIN for voter ID if the voter's identity was otherwise knowable. The law requiring officials to contact voters instead, particularly when done by mail, will add delays that risk some voters not getting their ballots in time if at all.
● KS-Sen: Free Forever PAC, which is funded by far-right billionaire Peter Thiel, is spending at least $365,000 on a media buy (or as they spell it on their FEC form, "Meida") in support of former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach ahead of the Aug. 4 Republican primary.
The commercial, which shows footage of Democratic House members kneeling in protest of police brutality, features a clip of Kobach at a rally imploring his audience, "We must reject the political correctness that the progressives and the left are constantly putting on us, and stand up for the time tested values of hard work, faith in God, and the United States Constitution."
Meanwhile, Sunflower State PAC, a newly formed group with Democratic ties, is airing another ad against Rep. Roger Marshall, who appears to be Kobach's main intra-party rival. This spot argues that Marshall took donations from opioid manufacturers and also "voted to give drug companies $76 billion in tax breaks."
Marshall himself is hoping to turn the situation to his advantage, and he's running a spot featuring reporters talking about how Democrats are attacking him and helping Kobach. It then shows a clip of Marshall saying, "I guess it's a badge of a hunter. They want to face Kris Kobach. They have the recipe to beat Kris Kobach."
● MI-Sen: Public Policy Polling (D) for Giffords Courage: Gary Peters (D-inc): 49, John James (R): 42 (Biden 51-44) (June: 47-39 Peters).
● MT-Sen: Politico reports that the Democratic organization Duty and Honor, which is aligned with Majority Forward, will spend $2.5 million on TV and radio ads in August.
● NC-Sen, NC-Gov: The Republican pollster Cardinal Point Analytics has released a survey that gives Democrat Cal Cunningham a 47-44 lead over Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, while Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper outpaces Republican Dan Forest 49-46; the sample also backs Donald Trump 49-48. This is by far the closest Forest has been in any poll that has been released all year, aside from a June survey from the unreliable Gravis Marketing. Cardinal Point has been around for some time, but this is the first survey we've seen publicly from them.
● NH-Sen: Wealthy attorney Corky Messner has released a poll of the September Republican primary from the Tarrance Group, and it gives him a 39-27 lead over retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc.
● KS-02: Republican Rep. Steve Watkins' recent felony indictment for voter fraud has quickly become the focus of TV ads with just two weeks to go until the Aug. 4 GOP primary. State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, who is Watkins' main challenger, has debuted an ad featuring several news clips of Watkins' indictment while the narrator contends he lied to cops. The last third of the ad promotes LaTurner as an honest alternative.
Watkins, meanwhile, uses his own commercial to declare that he's the subject of the same sort of "witch hunt" that "swamp creatures like Jake LaTurner did to President Trump." The spot tries to portray the investigation against Watkins as corrupt by noting that Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay, who indicted the congressman last week, and LaTurner "paid their shared consultant thousands."
As the Associated Press explains, both LaTurner and Kagay, who is not up for re-election until next year, each have used the same direct mail consulting firm, which LaTurner's campaign says has worked for hundreds of Republican campaigns.
● MN-05: Attorney Antone Melton-Meaux is running a commercial emphasizing his record on trans rights. The ad does not mention Rep. Ilhan Omar, who is Melton-Meaux’s opponent in the Aug. 11 Democratic primary.
● VA-02: The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is the biggest super PAC playing for the House GOP, has released a poll by the Tarrance Group that shows first-term Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria tied 48-48 with former Republican Rep. Scott Taylor, whom she defeated by 51-49 in 2018. This is the first poll we've seen of this race from anyone this cycle.
Although this GOP poll finds the race tied, the money race most decidedly is not: Luria outraised Taylor by $926,000 to $338,000 in the second quarter, and she held a large cash-on-hand lead of $2.8 million to $310,000.
● VA-07: Del. Nick Freitas has won the GOP nomination to face Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger after Republicans held their nominating convention over the weekend, beating fellow Del. John McGuire 56-44 on the third ballot. Freitas' nomination potentially complicates the GOP's chances of regaining this district in the fall, since Democrats are suing to keep his name off the ballot for failing to turn in his paperwork before the deadline. Democrats are contesting a recent state Board of Elections decision, which gave an extension to Freitas and several other candidates from both parties who had failed to file on time.
If Freitas is barred from having his name appear on the ballot, it would mark the second time in a row for the Republican: Freitas also screwed up his paperwork in his 2019 re-election campaign, leading him to have to run, and win, as a write-in candidate. That election, however, was for a deeply conservative district where a write-in candidacy presented little threat to Freitas' success, but having to potentially run another such campaign in a blue-trending swing district against a Democratic incumbent is another matter entirely.
Even if Freitas does get onto the ballot, he'll still be facing a formidable foe. Spanberger raised a hefty $1.2 million in the third quarter and had a huge $4.1 million in cash-on-hand at the end of June. By contrast, Freitas raised a smaller $403,000 and had only $350,000 in the bank after spending most of the $1 million in total that he has raised this cycle just to win the nomination. Outside groups have reserved more than $1 million in ads for the fall here on both sides of the contest, and Republicans would almost certainly need to be winning districts like this one if they have any hope of reclaiming the House in November. Daily Kos Elections currently rates this district as a Tossup.
● Where Are They Now?: Former Florida Rep. Allen West unseated Texas Republican Party chair James Dickey at a convention that lasted until 3:30 AM on Monday morning.
West, who was a favorite of the far-right, won a South Florida House seat in the 2010 GOP wave, but he lost re-election two years later even as Mitt Romney was carrying his district, one of only two GOP incumbents nationally to earn that distinction that year (the other was TX-23's Rep. Quico Canseco). West moved to Texas shortly after his defeat and expressed interest last year in either challenging Republican Sen. John Cornyn or running for the competitive 32nd Congressional District, but he opted instead to go after Dickey.