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At the Races: (Democratic) Party like it’s 2018

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.

If there was any doubt about Democrats’ plans to make the 2020 elections all about health care, the leaders of each national Democratic organization cleared that up this week with an unusual joint memo.

“Voters know that Democrats are the party of health care. We’re going to keep reminding them of that through November,” the leaders of the five major party organizations, including the Democratic National Committee and the House and Senate campaign arms, said in a joint statement.

Democrats believe focusing on GOP efforts to dismantle the 2010 health care law led to success up and down the ballot in 2018. And their memo underscores how they’re doubling down on the issue amid a global health crisis. Republicans still believe they can pin vulnerable Democrats to more liberal policies like “Medicare for All,” but that may be more difficult with former Vice President Joe Biden at the top of the ticket, who instead supports adding a public health care option.

Democrats are already going on the attack on health care. Look no further than the hotly contested Montana Senate race where the state’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is challenging incumbent GOP Sen. Steve Daines.

The Democratic-aligned outside group Health Care Voter is launching a new, six-figure, three-week-long digital ad Thursday and plans a virtual town hall next week. Daines “is one of the Republican senators who voted to take away the Affordable Care Act, and even in the midst of a public health and economic crisis, he sided with corporations and not the Montanans,” Rosemary Enobakhare, the group’s campaign director, told At the Races.

Daines’ top aide, Jason Thielman, said the outside group “must be another out-of-state and out-of-touch dark money” organization. “Anyone with a lick of common sense knows Montanans oppose Obamacare,” he added.

Starting gate

‘A game-changer’: With the pandemic potentially limiting in-person voting in November, Democrats are shifting plans to turn out black voters, who are key to their success in November. But they face some challenges: Black voters traditionally haven’t voted by mail, and some don’t trust it.

On the ground (and online): The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is sending digital operatives to 30 House districts in a new effort to help campaigns ramp up their virtual programs amid the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, in the Beaver State: Yes, voters still voted this week! Oregon, one of the states that conducts elections entirely by mail, had its primaries, and there were a few House contests to watch. Catch up on the results here.

Meet the new commissioner, virtually: The Senate confirmation of Texas lawyer James “Trey” Trainor III to the Federal Election Commission gives the agency a quorum, but don’t expect a whirlwind of enforcement action.

Pandemic politics: Meet the 14 House Democrats (and one Republican) who bucked their party on last week’s coronavirus measure, offering Republicans an opportunity to pounce.   

Like Peapod, but for campaigns: A leading GOP candidate in the race for Rep. Justin Amash’s Michigan seat has turned to grocery deliveries, winning endorsements from House Republican leaders over a female hopeful.

Ratcliffe moves on: Senate Republicans confirmed Texas GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe today to be the next director of national intelligence, opening up a ruby-red House seat outside Dallas.


On the airwaves: Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of the Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC, announced it was reserving additional air time this summer to the tune of $3 million in Montana, $1.5 million Arizona and $4.2 million in North Carolina.

Yikes: Politico revealed more controversial social media posts from Ted Howze, the GOP nominee in California’s 10th District to take on freshman Democrat Josh Harder. The DCCC and House Majority PAC have called on Republicans to disavow their candidate. GOP leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer, told National Journal his posts were unacceptable and NJ reported that Howze is being removed from the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program. Harder sent a fundraising email late Wednesday with the subject line “Ted Howze demeans Muslims and compares Dreamers to pedophiles” and urged supporters to donate to the Democrat’s campaign to “make sure Josh has what it takes to fight back in November.”

Horsford in the headlines: Nevada Democratic Rep. Stephen Horsford, who the NRCC is targeting in November, admitted over the weekend to an extramarital affair, which began when he was a state senator and the woman involved was an intern for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. A spokeswoman told CQ Roll Call that Horsford is still running for reelection. “This former personal relationship has no bearing on the Congressman’s ability to fight for the people of Nevada and he fully intends to serve them in this Congress, and beyond,” she said.

At the ballot/mail box: In election news, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that the state’s July 7 primaries would be conducted mainly by mail. And in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order allowing all registered voters to vote by absentee ballot in the Aug. 11 primary.

Fake Fraud?: A two-year probe of voter fraud in Florida’s 2018 elections has ended with no charges. Politico Florida’s Gary Fineout and Matt Dixon point out that the announcement comes as “the rhetoric about voter fraud is already ramping up six months ahead of what could be another razor-thin election in Florida.” Election supervisors in the Sunshine State, meanwhile, are ignoring rhetoric from the right and urging voters to request mail-in ballots, which they say are safe

Back to business: Republicans in central Virginia scheduled a July 18 convention to name their nominee to challenge Rep. Abigail Spanberger in the purple 7th District.

Second opinion: Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall, who is also a doctor, defended President Donald Trump’s decision to take a malaria drug as protection against the coronavirus in spite of warnings from health officials. Marshall, who could use the president’s  endorsement as he seeks to overtake Trump ally Kris Kobach in a crowded Kansas GOP Senate primary, said he and his family are also taking the drug.

“Trump” change: Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s husband cut a $1 million check to a pro-Trump super PAC in April, Politico reported. The donation came as Loeffler, who is in a crowded race to keep her seat, sought to bounce back from criticism about her stock transactions at the onset of the coronavirus crisis.

What we’re reading

Cha-ching: The Trump campaign, which is breaking fundraising records left and right, is enlisting a few House Republicans to help bring in campaign money. As NBC News reports, that isn’t sitting well with some in the GOP.

Biden his time: Politico reports that Biden has been slow to reach out to Democrats in Congress. And according to The Hill, these Democrats have plenty of opinions about who should be his VP.

New York state of mind: The New York primaries are coming up on June 23, and there are some interesting races in the Big Apple. The Atlantic reported that it’s unclear when New York Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel, who is facing a spirited primary challenge, was last in his district. And Newsweek dove into the primary to replace retiring Democratic Rep. José E. Serrano, and how the pandemic is benefitting one “Trump-friendly” Democrat known for making homophobic comments.

With friends like these: North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis is in a tough political fight, and it probably can’t help that his fellow home-state Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr faces a federal probe of his pre-pandemic stock sales, The Charlotte Observer reports.

Pennsylvania Avenue Freeze Out: That the Boss didn’t want the Donald to be president should have been clear when Bruce Springsteen played a get-out-the-vote rally for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia the weekend before Election Day in 2016. In his new podcast, he lays into the president’s management of the coronavirus pandemic, using terms such as “weak” and “cowardly,” the Asbury Park Press reported.   

The Senate map: CNN delves into how vulnerable GOP senators are betting their reelections on Trump’s response to the pandemic. 

Confronting racism: National Journal reports on how Asian American House members and candidates are confronting racism amid the coronavirus pandemic. Asked about terms such as “China virus or “Wuhan virus,” Republican Young Kim, who is running in California’s 39th District, said, “Let’s call it by the scientific name.”

The count: $141 million

That’s how much money donors gave through ActBlue in April, the company said, making it the fifth largest month for the Democratic-aligned fundraising platform. Donors made 4.4 million contributions last month, with an average donation of $32 a pop.

Contributions to House candidates went up by 24 percent between March and April, while contributions to Senate candidates was up by 5 percent, contradicting a prediction that political donations would fall amid the pandemic, ActBlue noted. 

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales explains in his latest column that while a campaign ad for Montana GOP House hopeful Matt Rosendale might appear to feature voters social distancing as the candidate pledges to get “the wall” built, it’s actually recycled footage from his unsuccessful Senate campaign in 2018. Nathan writes, “Rosendale’s ad demonstrates that while the country and world have changed dramatically with COVID-19, some things stay the same, including, literally, some of his campaign messaging.”

Candidate confessions

GOP candidate Peter Meijer and his campaign aides in Michigan’s 3rd District have been buying groceries and dropping them off to people who were homebound in quarantine or had trouble covering the cost of food. Meijer’s family owns the Meijer supermarket chain, and the purchases, at retail prices, were made with campaign funds at Meijer stores as well as Aldi, Walmart and other grocers, according to the campaign. So far, they’ve delivered more than 34,000 meals.

“Sadly, the first call I had to make when we had that idea was our legal and compliance team,” said Meijer, who faces an August primary for the seat currently held by Justin Amash, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian who said he would not seek reelection (and briefly explored a presidential run).

Brett Kappel, a Democratic campaign finance lawyer, said that while the uncommon campaign activity raises potential questions, as long as the grocery stores aren’t cutting the campaign a deal, then it would seem it’s not prohibited by federal election law.

Reader’s race: MN-01

Minnesota’s 1st District, a mostly rural stretch from the plains bordering South Dakota to the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, is Trump country. The president carried this district by nearly 15 points in 2016, and that bodes well for the GOP incumbent, freshman Jim Hagedorn. But Hagedorn, who announced earlier this year that he’d been diagnosed in 2019 with advanced kidney cancer, has posted relatively lackluster fundraising numbers.

His most likely opponent, Army veteran and former Obama-era Pentagon official Dan Feehan, has outraised him and had more cash on hand as of March 31, according to campaign reports. Should Feehan win the Democractic nomination in an Aug. 11 primary, as expected, it would set up a rematch of 2018 when Hagedorn edged out Feehan by about 1,300 votes. In this year’s first quarter, Feehan hauled in more than $625,000 and reported just shy of $1.1 million in the bank at the end of March, while Hagedorn disclosed raising $292,000 and had about $787,000 on hand. Feehan, who has pledged to reject donations from the PACs of corporations, outraised Hagedorn in 2018, too, by a wide margin: $4.1 million to $1.6 million. Hagedorn, whose father was a congressman, does accept donations from company PACs and has reported contributions from such PACs as Koch Industries, John Deere and Intel Corp. this cycle. 

Hagadorn, who has received cancer treatment from the Rochester-based Mayo Clinic in his district, said earlier this month that he was feeling well and that “immunotherapy is boosting my body’s immune system and enabling it to identify and kill the cancer cells,” according to a press statement

Inside Elections gives the incumbent the edge, rating the race Tilt Republican

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Pennsylvania’s 8th District or North Carolina’s 2nd? Email us at

Coming up

No primaries during the week of Memorial Day, but two states have filing deadlines: Vermont’s is on May 28, while Wyoming’s is May 29.

Photo finish

Red, white and newest members of the House Republican Conference: California Rep. Mike Garcia gestures as he and Wisconsin Rep. Tom Tiffany talk to reporters after being sworn in on Tuesday. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy touted their victories as a preview of GOP success in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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