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At the Races: Pandemic hits airwaves

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.

The novel coronavirus has upended campaigns across the country, from the national parties down to local races. Thursday afternoon, the Democratic National Committee announced it is postponing its convention in Milwaukee until the week of Aug. 17, one week before the GOP convention in North Carolina.

The pandemic is also hitting the airwaves, with super PACs engaged in the presidential race launching new spots to criticize, or defend, President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis. Congressional campaigns are starting to do the same. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his potential challenger, Democrat Amy McGrath, have been talking about the crisis in recent ads in the Kentucky Senate race.

One new ad drew attention to a competitive open-seat race in Texas’ 22nd District. Republican Kathaleen Wall, who is in a primary runoff there, just launched an ad that her potential Democratic opponent slammed as “race-baiting.” The spot begins with a narrator saying, “China poisoned our people. President Trump has the courage to call it what it is.” The ad shows red arrows labeled “Chinese virus” traveling from China to the U.S. and features footage of Trump saying “the Chinese virus.”

Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni, who avoided a runoff by winning his March 3 primary outright, said the ad was “unacceptable and dangerous to TX-22’s large Asian American and Pacific Islander population, who are intimately aware of the FBI warning about the recent surge of hate crimes against their community.” The district is among the diversifying suburban seats in Texas that Democrats are targeting this cycle and nearly 20 percent of the district’s population is Asian, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Starting gate

Messing with Massie: Trump recently called on the GOP to throw Rep. Thomas Massie out of the party after the Kentucky Republican pushed for a recorded vote on the sweeping stimulus bill. Trump’s comments put a spotlight on Massie’s primary race, raising questions about whether the libertarian congressman is in trouble.

Staying in: Many longer-shot Democratic candidates say the pandemic isn’t pushing them out of their primary races, even as they lack support from national party insiders such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Unlucky 13: House Republicans only have 13 women in their conference, and that number might not improve after 2020, writes Inside Elections’ Nathan L. Gonzales. He digs into the race to replace retiring Indiana GOP Rep. Susan Brooks and looks at whether other races for GOP-leaning open districts feature female candidates.

The battlefield: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is adding two more House seats to its target list, and a new candidate to its Red to Blue program.

No contest: Mississippi GOP Rep. Steven M. Palazzo’s campaign treasurer brushed off a complaint this week from the Campaign Legal Center that seeks a House ethics investigation over his campaign’s spending for rent and accounting services. The charges were “dirty attacks by desperate political opponents” in the recent primary, treasurer Paul Breazeale said. Palazzo won that primary on March 10 with 67 percent of the vote, while Democrats did not run anyone in the district.


Green flowing through WinRed: The GOP fundraising platform WinRed announced Wednesday that Republican campaigns raised $130 million using the website in the first fundraising quarter of 2020. According to WinRed, on average, 1 million donors gave three times. The average donation was $40. WinRed said 787 campaigns are using the platform

Election update: Elections continue to be altered in the midst of the pandemic. Here’s a rundown:
New York: Presidential primaries and a special election in the 27th District were moved from April 28 to June 23.
Hawaii: Democratic primary ballots will be counted on May 23.
Kansas: No in-person voting in the June 2 Democratic presidential primary.
Montana: June 2 presidential and congressional primaries will be conducted by mail.
West Virginia: May 12 presidential and congressional primaries moved to June 9.

Dems on offense: Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, announced its initial round of TV ad reservations for the fall (its GOP counterpart Senate Leadership Fund announced its initial buys last week). SMP’s reservations underscore where Democrats are on offense this cycle. Both SMP and SLF are spending the most in North Carolina, with the Democratic group reserving $25.6 million in air time. SMP also reserved $15.7 million in Arizona, $5.2 million in Colorado, $13.1 million in Iowa and $9.6 million in Maine.

Active duty = inactive campaign: New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose, one of the most vulnerable House members, said in an Instagram video this week that his campaign would “cease any major operations” as he deploys with the National Guard to help with the coronavirus response effort on Staten Island. For more on campaigning on active duty, check out this story from the Roll Call archives.

Hidden figures: Almost half of all lobbyists’ disclosure reports last year failed to include political contributions, an increase over previous years. That’s the takeaway from a new Government Accountability Office report, which found that 45 percent of lobbying disclosure reports missed at least one reportable donation. That’s an all-time high since GAO started tracking compliance in 2010, when the rate was just 4 percent of reports that omitted a donation. “Going forward, these results suggest we examine further the extent to which lobbyists fully report political contributions,” the report concluded.

Staffing up: The group End Citizens United, which backs Democrats and keeps tabs on which lawmakers and candidates reject donations from the PACs of corporations, announced some new hires including Chintan Patel, previously with the direct mail consultancy Moore Campaigns, as vice president for political. Porsha White, who worked on former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s brief 2020 presidential campaign, will serve as vice president for voting rights and state organizing. Dorien Paul Blythers signs on as political director after working for the presidential effort of California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Party pass: The Massachusetts Democratic Party is scrapping plans to hold a late-May convention because of the coronavirus pandemic and instead worked out a deal with the campaigns of Sen. Edward J. Markey and his primary challenger, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III. Markey gets the party’s endorsement, as the two will face each other in a Sept. 1 primary. The two campaigns agreed that Markey would have won the convention and that Kennedy would have gotten at least the 15 percent needed to be on the primary ballot, according to a press statement from the state party.

Clogged up in Kansas: The race for the open Kansas Senate seat got even more crowded this week with the entry of Republican Bob Hamilton, the retired owner of a plumbing business. Hamilton told local media he was inspired by the coronavirus crisis to launch a campaign at a time when candidates across the country have been forced to massively scale back their operations. Hamilton’s entry could fragment a Republican primary field that is shaping up to be a battle between conservative firebrand Kris Kobach and everybody else, including Rep. Roger Marshall, state Senate President Susan Wagle and businessman Dave Lindstrom, a retired Kansas City Chiefs player.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Stu Rothenberg writes that presidents in times of crisis typically see a bump in their approval ratings known as the “rally around the flag” effect. But that isn’t happening yet with Trump.

Buckeye unity: In 2006, Republican Sen. Mike DeWine and his Democratic challenger, then-Rep. Sherrod Brown, clashed in a heated debate. Fast forward 14 years, and now-Sen. Brown and other Ohio Democrats are largely backing now-Gov. DeWine’s handling of the coronavirus response, as reported by CQ Roll Call’s Jessica Wehrman, the former Washington correspondent for The Columbus Dispatch.

Entry level: They just took the oath to become American citizens, and before they left their ceremonies, filled out registration forms to become voters. But will they turn out in November? As CQ Roll Call colleagues Michael Macagnone and Tanvi Misra report, some advocates believe naturalized Americans could be a “sleeping political giant” that awakens this year.

Meltdown coming?: The unique challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic add special stress to what was already going to be a rough 2020, writes election law professor Rick Hasen in Slate.

In limbo: Politico has a new report on the scores of presidential campaign staffers who are trying to navigate finding new jobs amid a pandemic that is upending campaigns.

The count: 8

That’s how many weeks ago the morning headlines were about Trump being acquitted by the Senate in the impeachment trial. It seemed like eight years ago — until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday that the coronavirus outbreak in China during the impeachment trial “diverted the attention of the government.” On Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi retorted on CNN: “I think that’s an admission that perhaps the president and the majority leader cannot handle the job.”

Nathan’s notes

Going into this election, the one thing Nathan was sure of was that turnout would set a record. Now he could see how that might not happen, especially if people see voting as more confusing or even dangerous. But it still might happen, especially if the way the pandemic plays out motivates people to reward or punish officials with their votes.

Candidate confessions

Andrew Romanoff, a Democratic Senate contender in Colorado who is, like most everyone, holed up at home, has continued on with his campaign, including raising money.

“We’re trying to temper the pitch by recognizing that people have other priorities, to put it mildly,” said Romanoff, who faces a June primary against the state’s former governor, John Hickenlooper.

Hickenlooper, who briefly ran for the White House, had already outraised the former Colorado House speaker in 2019, $4.9 million to $1.8 million.

“Any contribution, you value it,” Romanoff told At the Races this week. “When you get one now, people are writing to say, ‘I’m on a fixed income,’ and … I don’t know how to convey this over the phone, but it is overwhelming — and profoundly inspiring to me.”

“Somebody’s deciding in the middle of this horrific experience that they want me to carry on and represent them in the U.S. Senate,” he added.

Romanoff said he’s abiding by his state’s “stay at home” order: “As much as candidates might like to think otherwise, we are not essential workers.”

Reader’s race: NY-19

Before he was swept out of office by the blue wave in 2018, GOP Rep. John Faso described New York’s 19th District as “a microcosm of the division in the country.” Voters in the expansive Hudson Valley district, which is larger than the state of Connecticut, twice supported Barack Obama before they swung to Trump, who carried the seat by 7 points in 2016.

Despite Trump’s appeal there, Democratic lawyer Antonio Delgado defeated Faso by 5 points in 2018. That race, like House contests across the country, was dominated by a debate over health care. As one of 30 Democrats in a Trump district, Delgado is a Republican target this year, but one GOP operative involved in House races noted that the seat has fallen further down their target list. Republicans have struggled to recruit a top-tier candidate, and the operative is not expecting any new candidates to jump in at the last minute (the filing deadline is today). Republicans tried to recruit Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, but he opted not to run.

Three Republicans have filed with the Federal Election Commission to take on Delgado. Kyle Van De Water, a lawyer and Army Reserve officer, filed with the FEC after the start of the first 2020 fundraising quarter, so he has not yet submitted any fundraising reports. Ola Hawatmeh, a fashion designer, had only raised $5,500 as of Dec. 31. And a third candidate, Mike Roth, filed with the FEC back in July but has not submitted any fundraising reports, signaling he had not raised enough to require filing one. Delgado, meanwhile, has built up a massive campaign war chest with nearly $2.1 million on hand as of Dec. 31. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Democratic.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for New Jersey’s 2nd District or Arizona’s 6th. Email us at

Coming up

Barring federal court intervention, Wisconsin voters will cast primary ballots for president and general election ballots for two court positions and a state constitutional amendment Tuesday, in spite of a statewide stay-at-home order. The battleground state’s Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders have refused to bow to mounting pressure to postpone the election, making it the only state with primaries scheduled in late March and April that has not rescheduled or moved to voting by mail.

Photo finish

Demonstrating distancing: Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts outside the Capitol last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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