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At the Races: Pivoting to protests

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.

Incumbents and House and Senate challengers, like the rest of America, struggled this week with how to respond to nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations, all happening amid the coronavirus pandemic. The protests, sparked by the police killing of African American George Floyd in Minnesota, are transforming the messaging of campaigns that more recently had Democrats focusing almost exclusively on health care and Republicans trying to focus on rebuilding the beleaguered economy. On top of all that, primary voters will head to the polls next week as they did this week. 

Vulnerable senators were all over the place in their assessment of President Donald Trump, who has called for the military to restore order, as some protests turned to looting and vandalism. “To me, at a time like this, the president ought to be trying to calm the nation,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican in a Toss-up race. Sen. Steve Daines, the Montana Republican who easily won his primary Tuesday in seeking a second term, meanwhile endorsed the president’s leadership

Some incumbent lawmakers joined the protests, as our colleague Clyde McGrady examined. In the case of New York Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel, who has a June 23 primary, those appearances didn’t always go as designed. He was caught on a hot mic asking for time to speak at a news conference, explaining, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”

“We need systemic change in this country when it comes to treating others with respect, and African Americans should be free, a black man should be free to jog down the street or be free to be in a park,” said Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who leads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “We have to make change, we have to make positive change.” 

Some candidates, including Texas Democrat M.J. Hegar, called for a criminal justice overhaul. Hegar is seeking her party’s nomination to take on GOP Sen. John Cornyn. Others, like Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey, who faces a Democratic primary challenge from Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, used their fundraising lists to seek money for racial justice organizations. 

Starting gate

So long, Steve: After years of racist and controversial comments, Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King is headed for the exits. He lost his primary Tuesday to state Sen. Randy Feenstra. King’s opponents emphasized his loss of  committee assignments rather than his racist comments. King’s loss will make it harder for Democrats to flip the deep-red, rural 4th District, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales changed the race rating to Solid Republican. So what’s next for King? Not a job on K Street

Elsewhere in Iowa … The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s endorsement of Theresa Greenfield paid off with her win in the primary to take on GOP Sen. Joni Ernst. And Tuesday’s primaries also set the matchups in Iowa’s other three House districts, all of which will be competitive in November.

And in New Mexico: Former state Rep. Yvette Herrell will have a second chance against Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who narrowly defeated her in 2018, after winning a nasty GOP primary. A local celebrity — television weatherman Mark Ronchetti — won the Republican bid to take on Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján for the state’s open Senate seat, while national celebrity Valerie Plame fell in the Democratic primary for the open 3rd District to lawyer and activist Teresa Leger Fernandez, who is likely headed to Congress given the partisan lean of the district.

Competition set: Indiana picked nominees for two open seats being given up by Republican Rep. Susan W. Brooks and Democratic Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, CQ Roll Call’s Jessica Wehrman reported. Brooks had been working to recruit more women to run when she announced a year ago she would retire, and this much is clear after the primary: Whoever wins, a woman will replace her.

Mountains of political money:  Montana, which will host one of the nation’s hottest Senate contests this fall between Daines and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, officially moved into general election mode after its Tuesday primaries. Democrat Kathleen Williams is taking another shot at the state’s at-large House seat, this time against Republican Matt Rosendale, who lost a Senate bid two years ago to Jon Tester.

A sign of things to come? The Associated Press took a while to call races in Pennsylvania, which will play host to a handful of competitive House races in November, due to a surge of mail-in ballots and a vote counting extension

Who says Kansas is boring?: We’re going to miss all the speculation about whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will enter the Kansas Senate contest after he punted and the filing deadline passed on Monday. But that makes the race a lot more interesting, with the growing possibility of a primary win by hard-right figure Kris Kobach putting the seat in play in November.

Double overtime: If you’ve been paying attention, you know by now that counting the votes on election night in November is going to take some time. But what if that still doesn’t settle things? Something new to lose sleep over is the debate among legal experts about what happens if there’s a dispute over which state electors are admitted to the Electoral College, CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger explains.


All-female delegation: And after Tuesday’s primaries, women are favored to win in all three of New Mexico’s congressional districts, a first for the state. Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes won a three-way matchup to challenge Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland in the solid blue 1st District. The three-way GOP primary in the deep blue 3rd District had not been called as of press time, but a woman, Alexis Johnson, was leading there too.

Late in PA-08: Political consultant Jim Bognet won the GOP primary in Pennsylvania’s 8th District, according to the AP. Bognet, who also served in the Trump administration at the Export-Import bank, won a crowded race to take on Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s pick in the primary, Pennsylvania Army National Guard veteran Earl Granville, came in third.

On the airwaves and in the headlines: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper launched his first television ad this week in the race to take on GOP Sen. Cory Gardner. But he was in the headlines for different reasons. On Thursday, Hickenlooper defied a subpoena and refused to appear at an Independent Ethics Commission hearing on whether he violated state law as governor by accepting trips on private jets. Hickenlooper’s campaign issued a press release highlighting criticisms of the technical issues with the remote hearing. One of Hickenlooper’s lawyers in the case is Marc Elias, who is being paid by the DSCC, according to The Denver Post. The DSCC has endorsed Hickenlooper, and the primary is coming up soon on June 30. The Colorado Sun also has a helpful explainer on the ethics complaint.

Fight for the Senate: One Nation, the dark money group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced this week that it plans to spend $27.3 million in radio and television ads in top Senate battlegrounds over the summer. The group will be spending $10.2 million in North Carolina, $5.3 million in both Iowa and Arizona, $3.9 million in Montana, $2.6 million in Colorado, and $1.9 million in Maine.

Primary problems: As we mentioned earlier, Engel made clear this week that he knows he’s facing a tough Democratic primary challenge from former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th District. Engel’s hot mic moment came the day after one of his other primary opponents dropped out and backed Bowman. And Wednesday night, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced she was endorsing Bowman, marking the third time this cycle she has endorsed a primary challenger against an incumbent.

Big Sky debates: Speaking of Montana’s Senate race, Daines dispatched an invitation to the Bullock campaign this week inviting him to four debates ahead of Election Day. “The 2020 election will be the most pivotal election of our lifetime and it’s absolutely critical that voters understand where each candidate stands on the most pressing issues facing Montanans and how we can best protect our Montana way of life,” Daines campaign manager Shane Scanlon wrote in a Wednesday letter.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Stu Rothenberg looks at whether the fight for the House is already over, and concludes that the GOP’s problems start at the top. 

Is AOC going to be AOC’d? The Washington Post dives into Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary coming up on June 23. She faces a well-funded opponent, but WaPo explains that this is a different race than her 2018 upset of Rep. Joseph Crowley.

Ad battle: Politico reports on the NRSC’s early ad spending, which starts this week, as a response to outside Democratic group spending in top Senate races.

Game changer?: The New Yorker looked at how violent protests change politics, and notes that a focus on law and order helped Richard Nixon in 1968. Of course, he was challenging the party in power.

McSally memoir: The Arizona Republic has five takeaways from Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally’s memoir, “Dare to Fly.”

No, I’m not, you are: The Fox News poll showing Joe Biden up by 9 notwithstanding, Wisconsin is going to be a battleground in November and perhaps nothing emphasized that as much as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s survey that found the state “has two large partisan voting blocs that are equally big and appear equally motivated.” How else to explain a state that sends both Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson to the Senate?

The count: 52 percent

That’s the share of registered voters nationally who said they support the Democratic candidate for Congress in their district, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday. The Republican share was 43 percent. Two years ago in June, the split was 48 percent Democrat and 41 percent Republican.

Nathan’s notes

Paging @ratemyskyperoom: Nathan breaks down the battle for the House in a new video, unpacking why Republicans are facing headwinds in their quest for the majority.

Candidate confessions

Theresa Greenfield has been touting her rural roots in her race against Ernst, but those roots are actually in neighboring Minnesota. She grew up in the small town of Bricelyn, just over the Iowa border. ATR caught up with Greenfield back in August at an event in Greenfield, Iowa, and she described how a gravel road divides the two states, and people regularly attend church in one state and then go to dinner in another. Greenfield went to Iowa Lakes Community College and then Iowa State, where she met her first husband. Greenfield recalled phoning her mother after they eloped, noting, “My mother knows there’s definitely a little independent streak in me.” Her husband, a phone company lineman, was killed on the job shortly after they were married. Greenfield talks about the tragedy in her campaign, noting union benefits and Social Security helped her family survive.

Reader’s race

Millions of dollars are already flowing into the race for South Carolina’s 1st District, which Republicans have pegged as a prime pickup opportunity ever since Democrat Joe Cunningham flipped the Charleston-area seat in 2018. 

Cunningham, who is considered one of the strongest members of the freshman class, is unopposed in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. He has already collected a massive war chest, with $3.7 million raised and $2.6 million on hand through May 20. 

On the GOP side, there are four candidates on the ballot, but Republicans are consolidating around top fundraisers Nancy Mace and Kathy Landing. 

Mace, a state representative and the first female graduate of the Citadel military college, has the endorsement of the anti-tax Club for Growth, which had her leading by 29 points with 42 percent of the vote in an April poll of likely GOP primary voters in the district. Club for Growth Action, its independent expenditure arm, has spent $570,000 on Mace, and Club for Growth has bundled $175,000 in contributions for her, president David McIntosh told CQ Roll Call.  Mace lost a primary challenge to Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2014. 

The House Freedom Fund and Right Women PAC — both connected to the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus and its founder Mark Meadows — are supporting Landing, a financial planner and municipal council member. 

So far, Landing and Mace have focused on who is the most loyal to Trump. But Landing has taken swipes at Mace for her position on abortion, an attack that House Freedom Action took up on her behalf in an ad released Thursday morning. Mace responded with a video on Twitter saying the attacks from “DC special interests” were paid for with “dirty money.” Mace, who opposes abortion rights, advocated rape and incest exclusions to a 2019 bill that banned most abortions in the state, revealing in a state House floor speech that she had been raped at age 16. When Mace didn’t join state Republican legislators who signed a May amicus brief to the Supreme Court arguing for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, Landing put out a press release saying there was no difference between Mace and Nancy Pelosi. Landing, who is in her late 50s, has also cast herself as the more mature choice in the race in ads that focus mostly on Cunningham, who is 38. Mace is 42. 

Mace, in turn, has accused Landing of trying to buy the seat. Landing self-funded $329,000 of the $627,000 she had raised through May 20, when she had $129,000 left in the bank. Mace has raised $1.3 million — making her the top fundraiser in the Republican pack. She had $560,000 on hand. But her opponents have attacked her for her out-of-state contributions and her support from establishment Republicans in Washington. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers go to a June 23 runoff. 

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race in Colorado’s 3rd District or the North Carolina Senate contest. Email us

Coming up

Five states are holding primaries on Tuesday, including Georgia, West Virginia, South Carolina, Nevada and North Dakota.

Photo finish

Philomena Wannenge holds up a fist outside the Capitol on Wednesday as she and more than a thousand demonstrators protested the killing of George Floyd. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

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