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At the Races: Uncharted territory

Corrected March 26, 2020 | Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

This week’s At the Races newsletter came together a little differently. Instead of being in our newsroom, your ATR team, like many of you, has moved to remote work. Our tireless colleagues have been keeping their social distance at the Capitol and elsewhere, bringing you the latest on how Congress is responding to the coronavirus pandemic. You can keep track of the latest developments on Roll Call’s website, which has a page dedicated to coronavirus coverage. Our CQ Roll Call team is also providing regular updates through the CQ on Congress podcast.

As for us, we’re working to see what paths campaigns are taking through this uncharted territory. We’re digging into how elections will be administered, how campaigns are adjusting and trying to connect with voters, and how candidates are talking about the pandemic. If you have any questions or tips, don’t hesitate to email We don’t know what will happen over the next few days, weeks and months, but we hope this newsletter and our coverage can help you make sense of it (and still bring you a laugh every once in a while).

Starting gate

A new normal: Congressional candidates have had to quickly adjust to a new world of campaigning now that they’re cut off from in-person interactions with voters. Some are getting creative and working to provide information about the pandemic.

Gabbard, out: Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard ended her long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday and endorsed Joe Biden.

First incumbent to lose: Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski, a Blue Dog Democrat opposed to abortion rights, lost his bid for a ninth term Tuesday to challenger Marie Newman in a primary rematch that drew more than $1.5 million in outside money, mostly from abortion rights groups. He became the first incumbent lawmaker to lose a primary this cycle.

Concession stand: Lipinski conceded about 15 hours after The Associated Press called the race for Newman, an interesting development given that his campaign had recently released a video criticizing Newman for not conceding on primary night two years ago.

Primaries (mostly) happened on Tuesday: Tuesday’s primaries were an early test of what elections could look like in the midst of a global health crisis — and the different paths states can take. Most of the drama leading up to Tuesday was in Ohio, where state officials postponed their primaries at the last minute to June 2, raising questions about whether their actions were legal.

More delays: In addition to Ohio, five other states have postponed elections in the wake of the crisis. Georgia postponed its presidential primary from March 24 to June 19, the same day as its congressional primaries. Alabama delayed its March 31 primary runoff until July 14, prolonging the GOP Senate battle between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville. Louisiana rescheduled its presidential primary from April 4 to June 20, citing a shortage of supplies to sanitize polling places. Maryland also postponed its presidential and congressional primaries from April 28 until June 2, although the special election to replace the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings will still happen on April 28 via mail-in ballots. And Kentucky has delayed its May 19 primaries until June 23.


Joe has the mo’: Former Vice President Joe Biden continued to rack up wins in the presidential primary, winning Illinois, Arizona and Florida on Tuesday. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is still in the race, but his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said in a Wednesday statement, “The next primary is three weeks away. Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign.” Sanders was back in Washington this week and voting for a House-crafted bill to fund virus testing and benefits for affected workers.

Badgering for election changes: On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee and the Wisconsin Democratic Party filed a lawsuit ahead of the Badger State’s presidential primary on April 7. The lawsuit seeks to extend registration for mail-in ballots to April 3, suspend certain requirements for absentee ballot requests and extend the deadline for mail-in ballots to be received, according to a press release.

Fundraising confusion: The primaries postponed out of fear of spreading the coronavirus at the polls are causing concerns among campaigns and compliance lawyers about whether their campaign finance deadlines still stand. The Federal Election Commission is issuing new guidance. The delayed elections affect preelection reports, among other filings, the FEC noted. Campaigns affected by the changes “may continue to accept primary contributions until the date of their rescheduled elections,” the agency said.

Coming to a halt: Scores of campaigns suspended in-person fundraisers and door-to-door canvassing in response to the crisis, but some are going further. Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally said Wednesday her campaign would not air political TV ads for at least the next 30 days (although outside groups are on the air). Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign will stop asking for campaign donations. Cornyn’s fellow Texas Republican, Rep. Chip Roy, also said he would stop fundraising. But it appears they’re still accepting donations, even if they’re not proactively soliciting them. Both candidates still had prominent donation buttons at the top of their campaign sites that direct supporters to a donation page.

Candidates affected: Some members of Congress have started to test positive for the virus, including one of the most vulnerable House members running for reelection, Utah Democrat Ben McAdams. Others have been forced to self-quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tested positive, such as Colorado Republican Cory Gardner, who is one of the most vulnerable senators. Some candidates have also tested positive, including New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who is running in the open 15th District race.

Hunter sentenced: Former California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison for misusing campaign funds.

Election meltdown?: Election law professor Richard L. Hasen, author of the recent book “Election Meltdown,” criticized the process Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, took to delay his state’s primary just hours before voters were to head to the polls. Hasen said he worried that President Donald Trump could do something near the general election that could keep some voters from the polls, even though he could not move Election Day. “How do we keep people safe and healthy as possible without causing people to be disenfranchised?” Hasen told At the Races this week. He said legislation, such as a measure from Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Ron Wyden of Oregon, that would allow voting by mail in all states should be part of other coronavirus legislation, but so far Republicans have not signed on. “We need to be proactive now,” Hasen said, “and in time before Congress might actually have to disperse.”

Ad attack in Kansas: A political action committee backed by billionaire Peter Thiel launched an attack ad on Friday against Rep. Roger Marshall, who is vying for the GOP Senate nomination in Kansas, The Kansas City Star reported. The $70,000 ad buy questions Marshall’s loyalty to Trump. That could be a big deal in Marshall’s race against conservative firebrand Kris Kobach, who national Republicans fear could win the primary, but lose in November. GOP incumbent Pat Roberts is retiring.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Stu Rothernberg’s latest analysis looks at how the presidential race is shifting in Democrats’ favor.

District work (from home) period: CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson details how House members are faring during their recess, also known as a district work period. Like scores of other Americans, lawmakers are staying home.

Looking ahead: Do postponed primaries foreshadow a delayed November election? And how would that even work? The Congressional Research Service dug into that question back in 2004 and found that Congress, not the executive branch, has the power to reschedule federal elections.

Mailing it in?: The Houston Chronicle reports that Texas election officials have been discussing the possibility of voting in the May 26 runoff to be done entirely by mail.

Not-so-distant future: Politico’s Alex Isenstadt takes a look at advertising by GOP Sens. Rick Scott and Tom Cotton in Iowa and Ohio, far from their respective home states of Florida and Arkansas, in apparent attempts to position themselves for the 2024 presidential election. At the Races readers will remember that Cotton doesn’t have an opponent in his reelection race this fall but has nevertheless raised almost $4 million since the January 2019.

The count: 9

Louisiana has postponed its April primaries, as has Maryland, save for the one House special election. But nine other states are still scheduled to hold primaries next month, most of them presidential contests. Those states are: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii (which votes by mail), New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Wyoming, which has stopped in-person voting for its Democratic caucuses. Also, on April 28, Pennsylvania has congressional primaries and New York is supposed to hold a special election in the 27th District. Several states have reportedly been considering postponing those contests.

Nathan’s notes

There is a lot we don’t know about how COVID-19 will affect the 2020 election. Nathan L. Gonzales details seven questions to keep in mind to help us understand the fallout.

Candidate confessions

Voting during the coronavirus pandemic took on especially strange circumstances for one House candidate in Illinois. Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, who won her party’s nomination for the 13th District on Tuesday, was under self-quarantine at home because of exposure to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. But she still needed to vote.

Dirksen Londrigan arranged a way to do it with Sangamon County election and public health officials. She voted from her home with a ballot delivered by a proxy, who then returned the ballot to the county clerk’s office.

“Exercising one’s right to vote is of the utmost importance and that’s why I am so grateful to the Sangamon County Clerk’s office for making arrangements for those under self-quarantine to still exercise that right,” Dirksen Londrigan said in a statement.

Dirksen Londrigan will face GOP Rep. Rodney Davis in November, a rematch of 2018 when he narrowly won by less than a percentage point. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

Reader’s race: Utah’s 4th District

Utah Rep. Ben McAdams’ announcement Wednesday that he was among the first members of Congress to test positive for the new coronavirus put an additional spotlight on a race that was already one of the most closely watched of 2020.

McAdams, the former Salt Lake County mayor, became the only Democrat representing heavily Republican Utah in Congress when he unseated GOP Rep. Mia Love in 2018 by less than half a percentage point. He was No. 5 on Roll Call’s list of most vulnerable House members and is a prime GOP target.

The race has attracted a crowded field, with six Republicans and one Libertarian already qualifying for the ballot. That list includes former NFL player Burgess Owens, former radio host Jay McFarland, former state Rep. Kim Coleman, former state GOP communications director Kathleen Anderson, and Chris Biesinger, a nurse practitioner and National Guard officer. The Libertarian is John Molnar, a military veteran in his 20s.

But no one has managed to elicit as much excitement from national Republicans as state Sen. Dan Hemmert, who dropped out in December.

That could change with the news two weeks ago that Trent Christensen, a regional finance director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, had started the process of trying to get on the June primary ballot. But as of press time, Christensen had not filed his nominating petition, which requires 7,000 signatures by Apr. 20. That’s a potentially tough bar amid the spread of the coronavirus.

The Salt Lake County Elections Division, which oversees a large part of the district, tweeted Wednesday that it would be open and collecting petitions on Thursday, even as other parts of the county government shut down.

McAdams’ job approval rating dipped by 11 points among voters in the district between October and January, a period that encompassed his vote for impeachment, according to polling by and KUTV 2News. That might seem to be ancient history to voters, though, by November.

And regardless of who enters the race, McAdams will be a formidable opponent. By the end of 2019, he had raised over $2.2 million, more than all the other candidates combined.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Pennsylvania’s 17th District or the Georgia Senate special election for the remainder of Johnny Isakson’s term. Email us at

Coming up

See “uncharted territory” above.

Photo finish

Says it all. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly described the health status of Maine Senate candidate Ross LaJeunesse.

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