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At the Races: Locked down, money up

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 Bridget Bowman, Kate Ackley and Stephanie Akin

Second quarter fundraising reports are due next week, but some campaigns have already started to release their totals. Democratic Senate challengers have been rolling out eye-popping figures, with some of the biggest hauls from candidates in red states that are further down the Senate target list. Kentucky’s Amy McGrath announced she raised $17.4 million, and South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison raised $13.9 million during the fundraising quarter from April through June. 

Challengers in some of Democrats’ top targets — including Sara Gideon in Maine, Cal Cunninham in North Carolina, Theresa Greenfield in Iowa and Steve Bullock in Montana — have also announced multimillion-dollar hauls. Several of these challengers outraised their GOP opponents in the first quarter, but many of the Republican incumbents still had advantages in cash on hand. When reports are released next week, we’ll have a better sense of whether these big fundraising numbers helped Democrats narrow that gap. 

These large fundraising hauls are also significant in competitive states because they could free up Democratic outside groups to spend elsewhere and further expand the Senate map. Outside groups pay more than candidates for TV ads, so candidate campaign money can go further on the airwaves. That’s especially important in battleground states, where Senate candidates will be competing with presidential campaigns for expensive TV time.

Starting gate

Trumped-up candidates: After three Trump-backed candidates were denied GOP nominations last month, next week’s runoffs in Texas and Alabama will be the next test for whether President Donald Trump’s endorsement can be a game-changer in GOP primaries. 

COVID campaigning: Coronavirus cases have continued to rise in Southern states, including Texas and Alabama. Candidates in those states who are running in next week’s runoffs have had to navigate whether to return to the campaign trail and how to nudge nervous voters to go to the polls. 

You down with PPP: Montana, Maine, North Carolina and Iowa are among the high-profile Senate contests where advertising and messaging have ramped up over a late March measure that established the so-called Paycheck Protection Program. That program specifically has been in the spotlight this week after new disclosures showed which firms, including some politically connected and advocacy outfits, received the forgivable loans.  

Old name, new face: Democrats in New Jersey’s 2nd District nominated former school teacher Amy Kennedy, the wife of former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, and therefore the daughter-in-law of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, to take on Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the freshman who turned the district blue in 2018 and then jumped to the GOP in December after opposing Trump’s impeachment.

Late pass: Virginia candidates who missed the deadline to file a required form to get on the November ballot — including Bob Good, who ousted GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman in the 5th District party convention — were granted extensions by the state’s Board of Elections. The DCCC had urged the board not to relax the rule. The extension could open the door for Riggleman to run as an independent. 

All eyes on Iowa: The Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC is upping its television ad reservation in Iowa, underscoring how the Hawkeye State is a top target for Democrats looking to flip the Senate. 

ICYMI

Posh fundraising: If you’re going to take the risk of in-person fundraising during the COVID-19 pandemic, you might as well go for full-on luxury. Republican Jim Hagedorn, who is seeking a second term in Minnesota’s 1st District, has scheduled a Sept. 28 dinner at the swanky, three-star Michelin restaurant The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, according to an invitation sent to would-be donors July 8. The suggested donation is $2,500 per person. The restaurant, which is open to in-person dining, placed mid-century mannequins at otherwise unused tables to provide sufficient social distance between actual breathing patrons. If only those mannequins could pony up some donations. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Hagedorn’s race Tilt Republican.  

Disinformation vacuums suck: Worries are already being voiced that social media companies need to be prepared for “hackers, enemy states and even domestic political forces” to spew false information during the time after Nov. 3 when counting mail-in ballots may mean there’s no clear presidential winner and lawsuits may be flying, CQ Roll Call’s Gopal Ratnam reported.

AFSCME no questions: A union representing state and local government workers is expanding an ad campaign intended to pressure GOP senators to include aid for their employers in the next coronavirus relief package. The campaign started in Kentucky and will now include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Missouri and North Carolina, CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reported.

New York’s never-ending primaries: This week, New York City’s Board of Elections began to count absentee ballots from the June 23 primary, which were due to election officials last week. Jamaal Bowman, who currently leads Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel in the 16th District, said in a press release Wednesday that ballot counting in the Bronx could continue into August. Bowman is building up his own legal team since Engel and other candidates have filed lawsuits allowing them to challenge the final count. 

Meddling with Texas: GOP Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign is messing with the Democratic Senate runoff between Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and state Sen. Royce West. His campaign is behind a six-figure radio ad knocking Hegar and describing West as “one of Texas’ most liberal state senators,” according to The Texas Tribune.

Big Sky quarantine: Montana Republicans Matt Rosendale, the nominee for the state’s at-large House seat, and Rep. Greg Gianforte, who is running for governor, are isolating after contact with Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, who tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, Rosendale’s Democratic opponent, Kathleen Williams, will report bringing in more than $750,000 in the second quarter fundraising period, and internal polling shows a tightening race in November. Williams is part of the DCCC’s Red to Blue program. 

Taking sides: A new political action committee headed by CJ Grover, a onetime spokesman and campaign manager to former Kansas GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, launched a $3 million ad campaign attacking hard-line conservative Senate candidate Kris Kobach for paying a white nationalist $500 from his campaign account last year.

Spread the wealth: A week after she won the Kentucky Democratic Senate primary, McGrath announced that her staff had unionized

Ad wars: Georgia Senate candidate Jon Ossoff, who is challenging GOP incumbent David Perdue, launched his first TV ad of the general election Thursday morning. The six-figure cable and broadcast ad, which focuses on Ossoff’s work as the CEO of a company that produces documentary films investigating corruption, will run over the next week in Atlanta, an Ossoff spokesperson said. The launch comes on the heels of news that national party and aligned outside groups are planning to spend a combined $24 million, with the NRSC recently announcing a $2 million buy and outside groups pledging to spend $22 million to defend Perdue.

Eyes on the ball: Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, asked the WNBA to scrap plans for players to wear Black Lives Matter warmup jerseys and instead try something with the American flag. The request was likely an attempt to insulate Loeffler, who is also on the ballot this year, from attacks from the right. As CQ Roll Call’s Clyde McGrady pointed out, conservative groups have been going after her for the league’s liberal political positions since she was appointed to the Senate last year. But it could fall flat in Georgia — where Black votes are driving a shift to the left.

What we’re reading

Stu says: In 1996, Republican congressional candidates deployed a ‘no blank check’ strategy to distance themselves from their presidential nominee, but they might not have that option in 2020.

Donald who?: The Washington Post dives into how Senate Republicans are avoiding talking about the president in their TV ads. One interesting nugget in the story: Republicans were advised at their party lunch last week to “put some daylight between themselves and Trump.”

The base: The New York Times looks at how the GOP base is defining races featuring appointed Republican senators in Arizona and Georgia.

GOP women are running, but can they win? Republicans have touted the record number of women running for the House this cycle, but CNN’s Simone Pathé, our former At the Races scribe, explores how a number of them are in very tough races. Politico took a similar look at the Senate, where GOP female senators could see their numbers diminish after 2020.

Field of Democratic dreams: The Atlantic has a deep dive into the Iowa Senate race and why Democrats think they have a shot at unseating GOP Sen. Joni Ernst.

In Trouble-ville? The New York Times dug into Alabama GOP Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s time as a co-owner of a hedge fund, which ended in accusations of fraud and a legal settlement. Tuberville has denied any wrongdoing. But his opponent, Jeff Sessions, has seized on the report ahead of next week’s primary runoff, questioning in a statement “what other skeletons are hiding in Tommy Tuberville’s closet.” 

Cruzin’: GOP Sen. Ted Cruz launched a new joint fundraising committee to bolster conservative House members, the Washington Examiner reported. The Examiner notes the effort comes as Cruz may be eyeing another run for president in 2024.

The count: $13.7 million

That’s at least how much Paycheck Protection Program money went to companies that are owned by or employ members of Congress or their families, according to an analysis by CQ Roll Call’s Paul V. Fontelo. Another $28,600 went to the campaign of Christine Mann, a Democratic House candidate in Texas, Austin NBC affiliate KXAN first reported.

Nathan’s notes

Four-day political conventions and being able to vote only during set hours on a particular day in a particular place are two things that were hastily scrapped during the coronavirus pandemic and probably won’t be back, Nathan writes.

Candidate confessions

Gun rights activist Lauren Boebert, who defeated Trump-backed GOP Rep. Scott Tipton in last week’s Colorado primary in the 3rd District, told At the Races this week that she now has the president’s support. She met with Trump, along with first lady Melania Trump, on Friday at his Mount Rushmore speech. While backstage, she said Trump introduced her to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the president told McCarthy, “Here’s your new girl.”

Boebert has been associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory, which centers on the belief that Trump is fighting a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state.” Boebert said in a May interview with a QAnon supporter, “Everything that I’ve heard of Q, I hope that this is real.” Democrats were quick to highlight those comments, which Boebert said were “a fake attack by the DCCC” and “a distraction.” 

When asked about that May interview, Boebert repeated a statement circulated by her campaign after she won, noting that she is “not a follower” and that Attorney General William Barr was “looking into what appears to be people who are actively undermining the president.” Reminded that she was asked about the conspiracy theory, not Barr’s investigations, and that she directly referenced “Q,” the anonymous figure believed to be leaking top-secret information, in her answer, Boebert said, “QAnon is a lot of things to a lot of different people. This is what I was speaking to. And it was taken out of context.” 

Asked several times to clarify and explain her comments, or how exactly those comments were taken out of context, Boebert declined. She did say, “I’m not into conspiracies. I’m into fighting for freedom and upholding the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Reader’s race: TX-02

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Texas’ 2nd District in the Houston suburbs to its target list back in January. CityLab classifies the district as “dense suburban,” and Democrats flipped 12 House seats in 2018 with the same classification. Like other suburban Texas districts, the 2nd is also increasingly diverse. Thirty-one percent of the population is Hispanic and 13 percent is Black.

Trump carried the 2nd District by 9 points in 2016, but two years later, Cruz carried the seat by just 1 point over Democrat Beto O’Rourke. In 2018, Republican Daniel Crenshaw won a first term by 7 points with 53 percent of the vote. Crenshaw, a retired Navy SEAL, shot into the national spotlight shortly after he was elected by appearing on Saturday Night Live after comedian Pete Davidson had mocked the eye patch he wears due to an injury sustained in Afghanistan. GOP leaders have praised Crenshaw as a rising star in the party, and he’s proved to be a prolific fundraiser. Crenshaw had raised $6.6 million as of March 31, and his campaign had $3.1 million on hand.

His Democratic opponent, Sima Ladjevardian, has already raised $1.1 million. Ladjevardian jumped in the race shortly before the filing deadline and spent much of that haul in the run-up to the March 3 primary. Her campaign ended March with $202,000 on hand. She and Navy veteran Elisa Cardnell advanced to a Democratic primary runoff, but Cardnell dropped out of the race and backed Ladjevardian. 

The Houston lawyer is an experienced political activist. She served as a senior adviser and finance chair on O’Rourke’s Senate campaign, where he raised a record $80 million and nearly defeated Cruz. Ladjevardian is also a breast cancer survivor and, like other Democrats across the country, she has made health care and addressing prescription drug costs central to her campaign. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race in Massachusetts’ 1st District or in Minnesota’s 5th. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

More primaries are ahead next week, with congressional contests in Maine and primary runoffs in Alabama and Texas. And second-quarter reports are due to the FEC by midnight Wednesday.

Photo finish

trump sessions
In 2016, Jeff Sessions announced he was endorsing Trump at a campaign rally in Madison, Ala., becoming the first senator to back the presidential hopeful. After a tumultuous stint in Trump’s administration as attorney general, Sessions faces a GOP primary runoff Tuesday as he seeks his old Senate seat, but he doesn’t have Trump’s backing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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