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At the Races: The election’s in the mail

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.

By Kate Ackley, Stephanie Akin and Bridget Bowman

We got yet another reminder of the unpredictability of the 2020 campaign cycle in this week’s Democratic primaries, with the decisive victory of Cameron Webb in a House race in Virginia and the possibility that House candidate Jamaal Bowman in New York and Senate hopeful Charles Booker in Kentucky could win races that were still too close to call. 

All three are Black men whose competitors had formidable advantages, leading to much speculation about whether backlash against President Donald Trump’s antagonism of recent protesters, combined with the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Black communities and the mainstreaming of the Black Lives Matter movement, could result in a sea change for Black Democrats similar to the wave of women elected in 2018. 

Bowman, a former middle school principal, appeared to embrace that narrative when he declared victory Wednesday over House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel in New York’s 16th District. “I’m a Black man who was raised by a single mother in a housing project. That story doesn’t usually end in Congress,” Bowman said. “But today, that 11-year old boy who was beaten by police is about to be your next representative.”

Webb, a 37-year-old doctor who trounced three well-connected retired Marines in the Democratic primary in Virginia’s 5th District, told CQ Roll Call it would be too simplistic to chalk up his success to the rejection of racial inequality across the country. 

“We were running a strong race before George Floyd was murdered, and a long time before COVID-19,” he said.  

Webb stressed his role as a healer whose profession required him to show empathy and connect with people at difficult times — a task he said that could be more challenging with patients who are skeptical of Black doctors. “There is a moment now for authenticity, for authentic candidates, wherever they may be,” he said.

Starting gate

Another progressive win ahead? Next week, former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and former Gov. John Hickenlooper will compete in the state’s Democratic primary to take on Republican incumbent Cory Gardner. Colorado has been turning blue in recent elections, but will that help Romanoff, who lost a similar race 10 years ago?

Waiting game: The number of uncalled primaries this week was another reminder that Election Day in November may turn into “election weeks” if scores of voters continue to opt to vote by mail. And one former election official said the notion that it may take weeks to count ballots “could potentially be generous,” CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reports.

Meadows’ legacy: GOP voters in North Carolina’s 11th District nominated 24-year-old motivational speaker Madison Cawthorn in a runoff Tuesday, rejecting Lynda Bennett, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump for the seat previously held by Mark Meadows, his current chief of staff. Bennett’s defeat makes it harder for the GOP to boost its roster of women in the House, which currently stands at 13, since their best chances to do that are in open seats in safely red districts like North Carolina’s 11th.

#NY27: Republican state Sen. Chris Jacobs won the special election to replace former GOP Rep. Chris Collins, who is heading to prison for insider trading. Initial results had Jacobs handily carrying the ruby-red 27th District in Western New York. Jacobs and McMurray will face off again for the full term in November. 

Vote of confidence: Rep. Thomas Massie easily won the GOP primary in Kentucky’s 4th District, even as Trump previously called for him to be ousted from the party after Massie forced House members back to the Capitol in March for an in-person, pandemic-related vote.

And in Virginia: Former GOP Rep. Scott Taylor won a chance at a rematch against freshman Democrat Elaine Luria in the 2nd District, while Cameron Webb, a physician and health policy professor, won the 5th District Democratic nomination to face Republican Bob Good, who beat incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman at a party convention earlier this month.

In flux: Lobbyists from K Street’s biggest firms and associations may end up skipping this year’s political conventions, as they grapple with fears of the coronavirus and fallout from related location and date changes.


Going virtual: The Democratic National Committee announced changes to its convention this week. The convention will be “anchored” in Milwaukee, where Biden will still accept the nomination, and will include four nights of programming from Aug. 17-20. State delegations will not travel to Wisconsin, however, and will conduct convention business remotely. The committee is still waiting for guidance from public health officials to figure out how many people can gather in person. And in other convention news, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, was named the convention’s permanent chair. 

Small steps: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, some candidates and organizers are starting to take steps back to the campaign trail. Progressive Turnout Project announced Thursday morning it will be “the first national progressive organization to launch in-person, door-to-door canvassing for the 2020 election.” Field programs are planned in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin, launching Saturday. 

Bipartisan antibodies: South Carolina GOP state Rep. Nancy Mace announced this week that she tested positive for the coronavirus after her campaign staff was exposed. She has asked her campaign staff and volunteers to self-quarantine and work remotely. This appears to be one of the first instances where both candidates in a critical House race have battled the virus. Mace is running in the 1st District against freshman Democrat and top GOP target Joe Cunningham, who had COVID-19 in late March. Cunningham offered support for Mace over Twitter, writing, “This virus is rough but my family and team are here if you need anything at all.”

Porter’s got a PAC: California Democratic Rep. Katie Porter launched Truth to Power PAC this week to support liberal candidates, including some in competitive races. She told The Daily Beast she wants to push back on the assumption that lawmakers in competitive districts are moderates. As a reminder, Porter has built a massive campaign war chest of her own, and even some Republicans acknowledge she may not be vulnerable until the 2022 midterms.

Stamp of approval: Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that makes California an all vote-by-mail state, where all active registered voters will be mailed a ballot for the November elections. Many Californians already regularly vote by mail. In 2016, 59 percent of ballots cast were by mail, while mailed ballots made up 68 percent of votes cast in 2018.

Loosening up?: Reading the back-and-forth on Twitter between Democratic former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley about the federal judiciary just seemed like a rehearsal for a presidential race to come.

Wanted — pandemic poll workers: Fearing a dearth of poll workers, North Carolina elections officials are seeking “democracy heroes” to staff voting precincts on Election Day and at early voting locations this fall. The coronavirus pandemic has hit older Americans the hardest, and they’re often the ones who work the polls. “Not all heroes wear capes,” state board executive director Karen Brinson Bell said in a news statement. But in 2020, all poll workers may want to wear masks and (face) shields.  

What we’re reading

Stu says: Stu Rothenberg takes another look at the Colorado Senate race with Hickenlooper facing new GOP attacks and a primary next week. But Stu writes that Gardner is still the most vulnerable Republican senator.

Under the hood: Before The New York Times released a series of polls this week showing Trump trailing Democrat Joe Biden nationally and in battleground states and pulling down several GOP senators, including Arizona’s Martha McSally and North Carolina’s Thom Tills, it published a lengthy Q&A about the polling methodology and invited attacks on the process. “If you have a problem with how we did the poll, say so now,” the story read. “We will have little sympathy if you criticize the poll only after you find out you don’t like the results.”

Seizing the moment: The Washington Post dives into how initial primary results show how Black and gay candidates are tapping into renewed calls for racial justice and equality. 

What’s keeping Marc Elias up at night: The Democratic lawyer who’s leading lawsuits in 18 states told New York magazine that his nightmare election scenario doesn’t include Trump canceling or moving the election (which he can’t do). He’s focused on expanding voting by mail and is concerned about delayed results and voter suppression. For more on Elias, check out this profile on “the Democrats’ super lawyer” from the CQ Roll Call archives.

Speaking of voting by mail … : Trump told Politico in an interview last week that the “biggest risk” to his reelection is if Republicans don’t win lawsuits that are challenging efforts to expand voting by mail in November.

Tar Heel targets: Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun safety group of Mike Bloomberg, is bankrolling a $5 million ad campaign in North Carolina, opposing GOP candidates from Trump to Tillis to state legislators, reports The (Raleigh) News & Observer. 

The count: 5

That’s the number of incumbents with primaries this past Tuesday whose races have still not been called. All are Democratic House members who represent New York City. Engel is the only one currently trailing his opponent, but Carolyn B. Maloney leads challenger Suraj Patel by just under 2 points. Three incumbents — Tom Suozzi, Yvette D. Clarke and Jerrold Nadler — had double-digit leads over their primary opponents in the initial results, which did not include absentee ballots. Ballots could be postmarked by Tuesday and will be counted if they are received by June 30.

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales digs into how both parties actually publish hundreds of pages of their own opposition research online. Doing so, Nathan writes, “is just one example of how both parties publicly share information to avoid illegal coordination with outside groups and running afoul of campaign finance laws.”

Candidate confessions

Hickenlooper is growing frustrated on the virtual campaign trail, the Colorado Democrat revealed this week. He said during a Monday event with End Citizens United over Zoom that he’s an extrovert and underscored his outgoing personality by saying, “If the scale is one to 10, I’m an 11.” As he spoke into the screen, Hickenlooper said, “To be in home isolation for so long has been truly, truly frustrating.”

Reader’s race

Democrat Kendra Horn has been at the top of CQ Roll Call’s most vulnerable House members list since her surprise 2018 victory in deep-red Oklahoma. But the race for her 5th District seat won’t truly shape up until after the winner is announced in Tuesday’s GOP primary. 

Four of the nine candidates on the ballot are spending enough money to keep the race competitive, and potentially to push it to an Aug. 25 runoff. While local analysts tell us any of those four could come away the winner, the best odds are on the top two fundraisers, Stephanie Bice and Terry Neese.

Bice, a state senator who worked to loosen Oklahoma’s restrictions on alcohol sales, had raised $1 million and had $200,000 on hand as of June 10. She has positioned herself as a moderate who could capture the independent voters and suburban women who helped Horn pull off her surprise 2018 victory over GOP Rep. Steve Russell by less than 2 points. 

Neese, a businesswoman who was the state’s first female candidate for lieutenant governor, self-funded $450,000 of the $982,000 she has raised for her campaign. She has stressed her unswerving allegiance to Trump, saying in a recent debate that he was “the best president we have ever had,” defending his response to the coronavirus pandemic and echoing his repudiation of “mob rule” when she was asked if she supported the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The other top fundraisers are Janet Barresi, a former dentist who served one term as the state school superintendent, and David Hill, a businessman who co-founded the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Both have spent a little under $400,000 on their campaigns. Barresi, whose family owns an oil and gas business, self-funded $500,000 of the $600,000 she has raised. 

Most of the spending from outside groups has gone to support Neese and oppose Bice. The anti-tax Club for Growth, which has spent $216,000 opposing Bice, put out an ad last week attacking her for “handing out” Oklahoma tax dollars to “Hollywood liberals” like “convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein.” Bice called the spot an insult to Oklahoma women and put out her own ad in response, saying it was made by “Never Trumper DC swamp lobbyists” attacking her because she “stands with Trump.”

Republicans hope the winner will have an advantage in November with Trump, who carried the district by 14 points in 2016, at the top of the ticket. Democrats say demographic changes in the Oklahoma City area will play in their favor, and Horn, who is expected to easily dispatch primary opponent Tom Guild on Tuesday, already has $2.4 million in the bank for her general election campaign. 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 Texas’ 10th District or for New Jersey’s 2nd. Email us at

Coming up

Colorado, Oklahoma and Utah are holding primaries next Tuesday. Colorado hosts a hotly contested Senate race in November, and each state also has targeted House races.

Photo finish

No, they’re not ballots: Officials of the American Postal Workers Union carry a mock “Priority Mail” box toward the Capitol on Tuesday to urge Congress to provide $25 billion to help the public Postal Service “weather the pandemic and the deep recession.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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