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At the Races: Pandemic politicking

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 country might still be shut down, but campaigns this week are finding it’s not so hard to message during a global pandemic after all.

After several weeks of relative quiet from both sides, our inboxes have been flooded lately with emails from Democrats calling for a special Affordable Care Act enrollment period, Medicaid expansion and increased access to prescription drugs. Democrats saw health care as a winning issue even before the coronavirus pandemic, and they appear to be doubling down.

In Illinois’ 13th District, for example, Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan said in a tweet last week that her opponent, GOP Rep. Rodney Davis, should ask the Trump administration to open special ACA enrollment periods so people won’t have to face the virus without insurance. Instead, she charged, Davis had refused “to prioritize people over politics.”

For his part, Davis said he hadn’t heard from anyone on the matter “except my opponent,” according to a report in the local Belleville News-Democrat.

And several vulnerable freshmen who flipped suburban seats in the 2018 midterms — including Kendra Horn, Lucy McBath, Tom Malinowski and Harley Rouda — where among the 11 Democrats to sign a letter Wednesday urging House leadership to make prescription drug access and affordability a top priority in the next COVID-19 relief package.

We haven’t seen as much from Republicans, but our prediction is they will take a cue from National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer and focus on the “liberal media” and perceived threats from China. Sometimes, they might even combine the two.

That’s what Emmer did in an opinion piece published on CQ Roll Call on Tuesday. “Liberal media reports talking points from Beijing,” he wrote, “and Democrats cite them as fact.”

Starting gate

Mailing it in: President Donald Trump has repeatedly slammed voting by mail as rife with fraud, but officials in states that vote entirely by mail say that’s not the case, and they have protections in place to combat potential fraud.

Hefty hauls: If fundraising dollars were votes, then Democrats in the first three months of this year would have captured the seats they need to take control of the Senate.

Gap grows: Democrats defending seats targeted by the GOP had a big cash advantage at the beginning of the year. It was even bigger at the end of March, with Democrats’ bankrolls now nine times the size of their GOP opponents’, on average.

Tar Heel receipts: Money rolls into the North Carolina Senate race, including more than $4 million for Cal Cunningham, the Democrat challenging Republican Sen. Thom Tillis. Wednesday’s disclosures showed Tillis raised less than $2.1 million.

Vino veritas?: As the nation debates when and how to reopen, Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, is planning a late-May fundraiser at Napa wineries.

Cutting those strings: The election assistance money allocated to states in the recent coronavirus response legislation came with some strings attached, but Democrats are trying to change that.

CLF in CA: The Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC, is launching a new digital and mail campaign for the special election in California’s 25th District, upping the ante in the race to replace former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill.


We’re waiting: Rep. Justin Amash, the former Republican-turned-independent from Michigan’s 3rd District, has been weighing a presidential run since mid-February when he “paused active campaigning” for his congressional seat, his campaign said Wednesday. “He has been discussing the potential campaign with his family, his friends, his team, and others, and a decision can be expected soon,” the statement noted. If he abandons his congressional reelection effort, it would be easier for the GOP to capture back what has been a party stronghold.

Endorsements roll in: Now the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden secured endorsements this week from his onetime rivals, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as from former President Barack Obama. Obama released a 12-minute video this week to announce his endorsement, and he also underscored the importance of taking control of Congress. Obama said Republicans in charge of the White House and the Senate are interested in power, not progress, referencing GOP efforts to undo much of the 2010 health care law. Obama also said, “I will see you on the campaign trail as soon as I can.”

Primaries, postponed: States are continuing to postpone elections amid the pandemic. Maine pushed its June 9 congressional primaries back until July 14. And Louisiana postponed its presidential primaries a second time, moving the June 20 contests to July 11.

No excuse necessary: Virginia no longer requires voters to provide an excuse to vote absentee, as part of a slew of election law changes to ease voting restrictions amid the pandemic.

What we’re reading

Map drawers face uncharted territory: CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports that the Census Bureau’s request to delay the population count due to the pandemic could throw states’ plans to redraw legislative and congressional maps into unprecedented uncertainty.

Stu says: Stu Rothenberg offers his take on what’s wrong with arguing that younger voters pose a problem for Biden.

Battles be brewing: The Washington Post has a roundup of where the next battles are looming over how to conduct elections in the middle of a pandemic.

Area political reporter resolves to figure out Reddit: Politico reported that Reddit plans to launch a new channel where it will list political ads on its site.

Post-pandemic: Lobbyist Bruce Mehlman takes a data-heavy look at politics and policy after COVID-19.

The count: $42,971

That’s how much money Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King brought in during the first quarter of the year, new FEC disclosures show. That’s on par with recent quarters for the lawmaker, who was pulled off his committee assignments last year amid controversy over his racist statements such as defending the term “white supremacist” by asking, “How did that language become offensive?”

Nathan’s notes

You probably don’t know too many people who are wishy-washy about Trump, and neither does Nathan L. Gonzales of Inside Elections. Since he took office, the president has been stoking and drawing fuel from his base, while the people against him showed no sign of coming over to his side, even in a pandemic crisis. That means when it comes to winning individual states to build an Electoral College majority, Biden’s chances look better in several states than they did last year. But Trump could still follow a narrow path to a second term.

Candidate confessions

John Eaves, a Democrat running in a crowded primary in Georgia’s 7th District, admits it has been hard to focus on the nuts and bolts of campaigning as potential donors and voters are consumed with questions about their health and economic well-being.

“It’s a malaise that is affecting all of us,” he said. “It’s a little difficult to be enthusiastic about a campaign when you look at the sober statistics on CNN, and it’s really hard.” One donor who promised a big check called in late March to say he lost half a million on the stock market. “The person said he believes in me and would be a person of his word and is going to give but it hasn’t happened yet,” Eaves said. “I haven’t pressured him. I talked to him twice and said, ‘I’m not going to call anymore.’”

Reader’s race: CA-45

California Democratic Rep. Katie Porter’s staggering fundraising numbers may help take her race off the 2020 map. She raised a whopping $2.1 million in the first fundraising quarter of 2020, and had nearly $4.6 million in her campaign account. Those are numbers that would make a Senate candidate envious. Her GOP opponent, Greg Raths, a Mission Viejo councilman and Marine veteran, raised $112,000 in the first quarter and had just $151,000 on hand.

Porter, a former lawyer and law professor, has developed a national profile with viral videos of her pointed questioning at hearings and as a campaign surrogate for Warren, her mentor. Republicans tried to tie Porter to Warren in 2018, when she unseated GOP Rep. Mimi Walters by 4 points as part of the Democrats’ Golden State sweep. That year, Democrats flipped all seven Republican-held seats that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. (Clinton carried the 45th District by 5 points after GOP presidential nominees had won it in 2012 and 2008).

Orange County, where the 45th District is based, is a former GOP stronghold, and some Republicans believe they can still appeal to traditional GOP voters there. But Trump has proved to be unpopular in the area, and some voters (like Deborah and Wyatt Carr) decided in 2018 that the GOP was no longer for them. Republicans have also historically struggled to win back seats in California. As Nathan previously reported, the GOP hasn’t taken over a Democratic seat there since 1998. Inside Elections rates the 45th District race Likely Democratic.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about Minnesota’s 7th District or the Michigan Senate race. Email us at

Coming up

Candidates in Michigan have until Tuesday to file to run for elective office. Paging Amash.

Photo finish

Biden was happy that night in 2012, but he was probably happier with the endorsement he got this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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