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At the Races: What’s in a slogan?

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.

Corrected, June 17, 5:50 p.m. | After thousands poured onto the streets of D.C. to protest police brutality and racial injustice, Democrats this week introduced policing legislation to address the national outrage following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Senate Republicans are working on their own proposal, but the House is moving quickly. Democrats are expected to bring their bill to the floor later this month.

Vulnerable House Democrats will be key lawmakers to watch as the proposal moves forward. Of the 30 Democrats in races Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as competitive, just five are co-sponsoring the Democratic bill, known as the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. They include three black lawmakers, Colin Allred of Texas,  Lauren Underwood of Illinois and Lucy McBath of Georgia, whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed by a man who complained about his loud music. Florida’s Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Pennsylvania’s Matt Cartwright have also signed on as co-sponsors. 

Republicans meanwhile have tried to tie vulnerable Democrats to the call from activists to “defund the police.” The National Republican Congressional Committee tagged Democrats on social media asking where they stood on the issue, calling it “the new litmus test for the Democrat Party.” Activists say the slogan is a reference to more nuanced demands to shift resources to social programs, housing and education. 

The protests and calls for overhauls come as more Americans are acknowledging systemic racism. Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray tweeted last week that data showed “a cultural sea change on public attitudes about race.” Seventy-six percent of those surveyed in a recent Monmouth poll said racial and ethnic discrimination in the U.S. is a “big problem.” In January 2015, 51 percent said such discrimination was a large problem (that was a few months after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri). The live telephone survey was conducted from May 28 to June 1 using a mix of landlines and cell phones, and surveyed 807 adults.

Starting gate

Peachy keen: As Jon Ossoff waited to see whether he would avoid a runoff in the Georgia Democratic Senate primary, he called Tuesday’s primaries “an embarrassment,” “a catastrophe” and “an affront to basic constitutional principles.” And he wasn’t alone after the elections were mired by long lines and mass confusion. The debacle also had voting rights advocates calling on Congress to send more election funds to states ahead of November.

A pandemic, protests and a primary collide: New York Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel is facing a tough primary challenge on June 23 from former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman. The race is an early test of whether an insurgent challenger can find success while a pandemic and nationwide protests roil the country.

About those primaries: Primary day was a nail-biter for Ossoff, who didn’t find out until his race was called Wednesday night that he had narrowly avoided a runoff against former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. We were also watching two competitive districts in the Atlanta suburbs. Former GOP Rep. Karen Handel won a chance for a rematch against McBath in the 6th District. In the 7th, emergency room doctor Rich McCormick comfortably won the GOP nod for Republican Rob Woodall’s open seat, while 2018 nominee Carolyn Bourdeaux and state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero are headed for a runoff on the Democratic side. And in the 14th District, a QAnon conspiracy theorist is headed for a runoff in the GOP primary to replace Republican Rep. Tom Graves.

The other Nancy:  In spite of some last-minute ads attacking her Trump loyalty and her position on abortion, South Carolina state Rep. Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of The Citadel military college, won the GOP nomination to challenge vulnerable Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham in a coastal suburban district Republicans are itching to flip. The pro-science group 314 Action Fund, which is supporting Cunningham, was already out with an ad, launched Thursday morning, questioning whether Mace would try to open South Carolina coastal waters to oil drilling. That’s a signature issue for Cunningham, who has introduced legislation that would provide federal protections.

And in West Virginia: Progressive activist Paula Jean Swearengin, who was featured in the Netflix documentary “Knock Down the House,” won the Democratic nomination to take on Sen. Shelley Moore Capito in deep-red West Virginia.

Drama in the Bluegrass State: The Democratic primary to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky is heating up, with state Rep. Charles Booker gaining some momentum in his race against Amy McGrath, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s pick. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Booker this week, which could mean a boost in fundraising

#COSEN: Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission ruled late last week that former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, the DSCC’s pick to take on GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, violated the state’s gift ban for public officials while he was in office. During a debate Tuesday night, Hickenlooper’s main opponent in the June 30 primary, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, called on the former governor to drop out of the Senate race, arguing he’s jeopardizing the Democrats’ opportunity to defeat Gardner. 

Special delivery: CQ Roll Call politics editor Herb Jackson will join Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice and Stanford professor Adam Bonica on Tuesday at a National Press Foundation webinar on voting by mail.


Feel the Bern: Sanders endorsed six Democratic candidates this week, including Kentucky’s Booker and New York’s Bowman. In Missouri, he backed Cori Bush, who’s once again challenging Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay. In two open-seat races near New York City, Sanders backed Samelys López in the 15th District and Mondaire Jones in the 17th. And he endorsed Mike Siegel, who is in a primary runoff in Texas’ 10th District.

But wait!: Three Democratic campaigns in Georgia’s 7th District told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they didn’t agree with The Associated Press’ decision to call the primary race because only 51,000 of the projected 80,000 votes had been counted. That means Bourdeaux, who had around 46 percent of the vote at press time, could win outright, or progressive Nabilah Islam, who was within 800 votes of Lopez Romero, could have a shot at the runoff. The AP also changed its call that Democratic Rep. David Scott was headed for a runoff with a challenger from his left in the 13th District after a surge of absentee ballots in the Atlanta metro area were counted, potentially lifting him to an outright win at 51 percent.

RT ≠ endorsement: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday that he had not endorsed Engel in his New York primary, telling reporters, “I’m busy with Senate races.” But Engel listed Schumer as an endorsement on his website, and his campaign pointed to a New York Daily News article from last year where Schumer praised Engel as evidence of the endorsement. But by Wednesday, Schumer’s name was removed from Engel’s website. 

To the left: The Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC announced this week it was placing its first-ever ad buy through its independent expenditure arm. The group is spending to boost lawyer Mondaire Jones in the open-seat race to replace Democrat Nita M. Lowey in New York’s 17th District.

Key(stone) race: Since last week’s edition of At the Races, the AP made another call in a Pennsylvania primary, declaring state Auditor Eugene DePasqulae the winner of the Democratic primary in the 10th District. DePasquale will take on GOP Rep. Scott Perry, who is on our list of the most vulnerable incumbents

What we’re reading

Apply pressure: Two political groups focused on health care launched a six-figure ad buy urging the Senate to take up a House-passed $3.5 trillion coronavirus response bill, CQ Roll Call’s Mary Ellen McIntire reported. The ads will air in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina, which happen to be where the four most vulnerable GOP senators are up for reelection.

Getting a ‘W’: Two vulnerable GOP senators could soon notch a much-needed legislative victory. CQ Roll Call’s Elvina Nawaguna details the conservation bill from Colorado’s Gardner and Montana Sen. Steve Daines, which the Senate is considering this week.

View from the GOP: National Journal caught up with Wesley Hunt and Kendall Qualls, two black Republicans running for the House, to see how they are navigating the recent unrest. Retiring Rep. Will Hurd, the only black Republican in the House, also discussed why he attended a Black Lives Matter protest, and how the GOP needs to diversify to survive. 

Trackers gonna track: Morning Consult looks at how campaign trackers are keeping tabs on candidates online with in-person campaigning at a standstill amid the pandemic. 

#SCSEN: The New York Times dives into the South Carolina Senate race, where Democrat Jaime Harrison is taking on GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham. The Times also notes how Harrison and South Carolina Democrats are trying to capture the “Cunningham voter,” who backed Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham in the 1st District, which President Donald Trump carried by double digits. 

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by …: Politico reports that recent unrest is creating a “new fault line in Republican politics,” raising questions about whether there’s a future for “law and order” politicians. The debate is already dividing potential 2024 contenders.

Spotlight on voting rights: Basketball superstar LeBron James and other prominent black athletes and entertainers are starting a new voting rights group, according to The New York Times.

We’re going to Jacksonville? Republicans voted for a stripped-down convention and may move Trump’s acceptance speech to Florida amid coronavirus-related restrictions in North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer reports.

The count: 84

That’s the number of Georgia’s 158 counties that reported complete results on primary night. Election officials and voting advocates say slow primary returns in Georgia and other states are early warning signs that we may not have results on election night in November.

Nathan’s notes

With the Kansas filing deadline behind us, Nathan explains why he isn’t changing the rating for the state’s potentially competitive Senate race (yet).

Candidate confessions

Kathleen Williams, who recently won the Democratic nomination for Montana’s at-large House seat, says she’s not into political pledges. But like a growing number of Demcratic candidates and incumbents, she’s sworn off contributions from the political action committees of corporations. 

“I don’t sign pledges, but we did decide to do that,” Williams told At the Races. “There is such a history here of elections being bought, and frankly it’s not over.”

For a nonincumbent like Williams, rejecting such PAC money is mostly symbolic. Most business PACs give to those already in office; and the donations, which come from the personal money of company executives, are disclosed to the public. 

Still, taking such a stance on corporate PAC dollars offers a way to signal support for other political money measures. “I’m concerned about campaign finance in general,” Williams said, noting that when she ran for the seat last cycle she supported the tenets of what became the House Democrats’ signature campaign overhaul measure, known as HR 1.

Reader’s race

North Carolina’s Senate race, between first-term Republican incumbent Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, will be among the handful of contests to determine control of the chamber next year. And it’ll be a costly fight.

The Tillis campaign launched its second ad of the general election this week, focused on the economy and helping constituents get back to work amid record unemployment because of the coronavirus. “My job is fighting for your job,” the senator says in the 30-second spot

Cunningham, a former state senator and Army veteran, outraised Tillis in political money during the year’s first quarter and held about $3 million on hand as of March 31. Tillis reported $6.5 million in the bank. But the messages in the campaigns won’t be limited to their own treasure chests. Outside groups have already been investing in the race, including recent spending from the conservative Americans for Prosperity Action in support of Tillis, who is among our most vulnerable incumbents. The Lincoln Project, a new group started by longtime GOP strategists who oppose Trump and GOP senators they say have enabled him, disclosed a digital ad buy worth $30,000 against Tillis recently. Even so, Tillis does not have strong support among Trump’s hard-line base, and the incumbent has mostly struck a moderate message when it comes to the coronavirus restrictions implemented by the state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper.

Cunningham has vowed to reject corporate PAC money and has criticized Tillis for filling his campaign coffers with such donations as well as voting for a tax overhaul that included a reduced corporate rate. RealClearPolitics’ average of public polls has it essentially tied with Cunningham up by 0.2 points. Inside Elections rates the race a Toss-up.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for New York’s 11th District or Colorado’s 3rd. Email us at

Coming up

On Saturday, GOP delegates in Virginia’s 5th District will participate in a drive-through convention to decide whether Rep. Denver Riggleman or former Liberty University athletics director Bob Good will be their party’s nominee in November. The decision to select a nominee via a convention rather than a primary landed Riggleman on our most recent list of vulnerable incumbents. For more on the race, check out Stephanie’s story on why Riggleman was facing pushback from conservatives in his district.

Photo finish

This picture is from Democrat Jon Ossoff’s unsuccessful House run in 2017, but the message could be even more important this year after Tuesday’s primary in Georgia, where Ossoff won the nomination to challenge Republican Sen. David Perdue. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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Correction: This report was revised to accurately reflect the Georgia district where a QAnon conspiracy supporter advanced to a runoff.

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