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At the Races: The end of the beginning

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.

After Tuesday’s primaries in Maine, Texas and Alabama, the matchups are set in all but four of the Senate races that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as competitive. Still on tap: Arizona, Alaska, Kansas and Georgia’s special Senate election. 

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly and surgeon Al Gross are expected to win the Democratic nominations in Arizona and Alaska. In Georgia’s special election featuring appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, candidates from all parties will compete on the same ballot in November. If no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the race would advance to a January runoff. 

So the next Senate primary to watch is in less than three weeks in Kansas, where GOP Sen. Pat Roberts is retiring. Kansas and national Democrats have largely coalesced around state Sen. Barbara Bollier, who switched parties less than two years ago. Republicans will choose their Senate nominee on Aug. 4. 

Four of the eleven GOP candidates on the ballot have been running competitive campaigns, but most of the attention has focused on conservative firebrand Kris Kobach and Rep. Roger Marshall. National Republicans have made no secret of their concern that Kobach could win the primary but fail to capture independent voters in the general election, which is what happened when he ran for governor in 2018 and lost to Democrat Laura Kelly. Groups aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have spent millions trying to stop Kobach. In case there are any doubts about Democrats’ preference, this week a new super PAC with ties to national Democrats launched an $850,000 ad apparently designed to boost Kobach’s appeal among conservative voters and malign Marshall as “soft on Trump and weak on immigration.” 

With the general election underway in most of the competitive races, millions of dollars have been pouring into Senate campaigns as Democrats believe they have a clear shot at the majority. Most Republican incumbents in races that Inside Elections rates as competitive have the same formidable campaign war chests. According to the second-quarter fundraising reports filed Wednesday, all but two of the Senate GOP incumbents in competitive races, Arizona’s Martha McSally and Montana’s Steve Daines, led their opponents in cash-on-hand advantages.

Starting gate

Money makers: Campaign operatives were bracing for a drop in fundraising in the second quarter due to the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. But fundraising reports due this week show that there was actually an increase in funds flowing to congressional campaigns

Auburn beats Alabama: Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville defeated former Attorney General (and Alabama alum) Jeff Sessions in the GOP primary runoff to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. 

A good week for the DSCC: Both of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s preferred candidates won their primaries Tuesday night, with Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon winning a three-way contest to take on GOP Sen. Susan Collins and Air Force veteran MJ Hegar winning the primary runoff to challenge Republican incumbent John Cornyn in Texas.

Battlegrounds (almost) set: Democrats are targeting several House seats in Texas and also defending Maine’s 2nd District where the GOP nominee hasn’t yet been certified but former state Rep. Dale Crafts holds a commanding lead. 

House party: Tuesday’s primaries featured runoffs in four open, ruby-red House districts, meaning the GOP nominees are expected to come to Congress. The winners of two of those runoffs include former White House physician Ronny Jackson and former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions.

#KS02: Kansas GOP Rep. Steve Watkins has been charged with voter fraud. The charges come just three weeks before Watkins’ primary. Unlike other Republican lawmakers who’ve faced felony charges, Watkins isn’t giving up his committee assignments.

Making history: Two weeks after the New York primaries, The Associated Press called the Democratic primary in the open 17th District for lawyer Mondaire Jones, who would be the first openly gay Black man in Congress if elected in November (which is likely).

Gears stripped: The defeat in last week’s primary of the House candidate backed by South Jersey’s Democratic political machine demonstrates how mailing every voter a ballot can tilt the balance of power. It also helps to be named Kennedy.

Connecting with the youths: Campaigns have been trying to make sure that staff and interns are still engaged and excited about their races even though everyone is dispersed during the pandemic. Texas GOP House candidate Wesley Hunt has decided to do regular Zoom calls with his interns, where they can ask him anything.


Windfall on the way: A campaign to oust Collins in Maine plans to transfer about $3.8 million to Gideon, her Democratic challenger, on July 24, according to Liz Jaff of Be a Hero, which helped organize the effort. Donors gave more than $4.1 million, but some of the funds went toward processing fees.

Red to blue: The DCCC announced Thursday that it was adding six more candidates to its Red to Blue program for strong contenders, which can help with fundraising and provide access to committee resources. The new additions are Margaret Good in Florida’s 16th District; Amy Kennedy in New Jersey’s 2nd; Desiree Tims in Ohio’s 10th; Christina Finello in Pennsylvania’s 1st; Sima Ladjevardian in Texas’ 2nd; and Candace Valenzuela in Texas’ 24th.

On the airwaves: Speaking of the DCCC, the committee is making additional TV reservations for the fall, Politico reported. The new round includes reservations in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Charleston, South Carolina; and in the El Paso and Houston markets in Texas. The Houston reservations include the committee’s first Spanish-language ad buy. 

Data dialing: Democrats are matching millions of cellphone numbers with other information in the party’s voter file and applying a proprietary data science model called Sonar to increase the chances of someone getting the message when campaigns reach out, CQ Roll Call’s Gopal Ratnam reported.

Oddsmaker: Speaking to reporters from retirement in Las Vegas this week, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saw nothing but blue coming on the election night map. “What we have every day with Trump’s talking and his tweeting is every day’s a good day for Democrats because he’s making such a fool of himself,” Reid said. “We’re going to win in Colorado. We’re going to win in Montana. … We’re going to win in Maine, North Carolina. Perdue’s seat in Georgia.”

Calling it: Three weeks after New York’s primary, the AP declared two Democratic incumbents the winners of their respective primaries: Yvette D. Clarke and Jerrold Nadler. But primaries involving two other incumbents — Carolyn B. Maloney and Eliot L. Engel — have yet to be called as ballots continue to be counted in New York City. The AP did declare lawyer and Army Reserve officer Kyle Van De Water the winner of the GOP primary to take on freshman Democrat Antonio Delgado in the 19th District. Trump carried the Hudson Valley seat in 2016, but Delgado is thought to be in a strong position to win reelection since Republicans failed to recruit a better-known candidate.  

Primary players: The Congressional Progressive Caucus is once again flexing its political muscle by spending in open-seat primaries in deep-blue districts. It’s launching a television ad in the open-seat race for Washington’s 10th District ahead of the Aug. 4 primary (where the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to November). The group is spending $140,000 on an ad backing state Rep. Beth Doglio, highlighting her support for Medicare for All, according to a press release. 

Take a listen: The struggle for voting rights is one that Rep. G.K. Butterfield and his family have been involved in since the early 20th century, the North Carolina Democrat says in our latest Political Theater podcast.

Organizing the left: Fresh off her third-place finish in last month’s Democratic primary in Georgia’s 7th District, activist Nabilah Islam announced Thursday she is forming a PAC to make early campaign investments for future progressive candidates and help them hire staff and consultants. The group, The Progressive List, will also “partner with other progressive organizations to help streamline endorsements and pool resources into running meaningful independent expenditure ad campaigns,” according to a press release. 

Back again: Former Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita, who made an unsuccessful bid for Senate in 2018, won the GOP nomination for state attorney general over incumbent Curtis Hill. Hill’s law license had been suspended by the state Supreme Court for 30 days over allegations that he groped four women at a legislative party. Hill denies the charge.

The stone bounce: Roger Stone told a pro-Trump podcast host that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and New York GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik advised President Donald Trump against commuting his prison sentence because it could hurt House Republicans in November.

What we’re reading

Swing on a (Lone) Star: Texas may be ‘competitive’ in the presidential race this year, but it may be five or 10 years away from becoming a “swing” state, self-professed language stickler Stu Rothenberg says. 

’Bama brawl: The New York Times delves into the upcoming battle between Doug Jones and Tommy Tuberville.

The House map: The Washington Post sat down with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who predicted Democrats would pick up seats in November.

“A slow-moving train wreck”: Politico digs into Senate Republicans’ fundraising woes, with the NRSC sounding the alarm about problems with digital fundraising.

Fact or fiction: The Washington Post examines misleading campaign messages of vulnerable incumbent GOP Sens. Martha McSally, Cory Gardner and Steve Daines when it comes to health care coverage for people with preexisting conditions. 

What gives? One dominant political player, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been largely missing in action so far this cycle, The Daily Beast reports.

The count: 18

Eighteen candidates — 14 Republicans and four Democrats — in competitive House and Senate races self-funded their campaigns in the second fundraising quarter, loaning their campaigns between $100,000 and $5 million, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of second-quarter fundraising reports. The reports include candidates in races that Inside Elections rates as competitive and races targeted by the party committees, and excluded anyone who lost primaries during the quarter.  

Georgia GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler topped the group with a $5 million loan to her campaign. Kansas GOP Senate hopeful Bob Hamilton, who is running in the Aug. 4 primary, loaned his campaign $1.5 million. Chemistry professor Nancy Goroff led among Democrats, loaning her campaign $1.5 million in the second quarter. Goroff faced a hotly contested primary to take on New York GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin. Her loans all came in May, before the state’s June 23 primary, which she went on to win.

Nathan’s notes

Democrats are well positioned to take the Senate, and Trump’s the reason, Nathan explains in his latest race ratings video.

Candidate confessions

To develop name recognition in a state more than twice the size of Texas, Alaska Senate candidate Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman, started off with a “listening tour” that took him through even the most remote regions, sometimes by boat or plane. After the virus forced him to curtail that kind of travel, Gross, an independent who has committed to caucusing with the Democrats if he wins, has turned to a different vehicle: a 25-foot Airstream trailer. 

Gross and his wife, Monica, have spent the spring and summer touring the state’s campgrounds, which have been flooded with stir-crazy state residents. Alaskans have largely had the sites to themselves because of restrictions on out-of-state travelers, creating a natural opportunity to connect with voters while maintaining social distances. 

People who might not feel comfortable talking to a canvasser at their front door are much more likely to engage on campgrounds, Gross said in a recent interview. When he arrives, he said, he walks around introducing himself to his fellow campers. At night, he lights a fire. “People will come around,” he said. “We can have political discussions around the fire.” Sometimes he roasts marshmallows, but he admits he has a bias about proper campground food. “I’m a fisherman,” he said. “I like seafood.”

Reader’s race: MA-01

This Western Massachusetts district is a Democratic lock, as one astute reader pointed out. Still, 16-term incumbent Rep. Richard E. Neal, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, faces an opponent who has attracted some buzz heading into the state’s Sept. 1 primary: Alex Morse, the 31-year-old mayor of Holyoke. 

Morse has sought to cast Neal as overly cozy with corporate donors. The insurgent has the backing of Justice Democrats, a group that has pushed for other primary challengers, including Marie Newman, who defeated longtime incumbent Rep. Daniel Lipinski in Illinois’ 3rd District in March. Another one of the group’s candidates, Jamaal Bowman, appears to have defeated Rep. Eliot L. Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs panel, in the Democratic primary in New York’s 16th District (but the AP has not yet declared a winner). Justin Hurst, the president of the Springfield City Council, endorsed Morse this week; Neal himself served as president of that council and as mayor of Springfield before Congress.

Of course, most primary challengers don’t win. And Neal certainly holds the edge when it comes to campaign cash: He disclosed $4.2 million in cash on hand as of June 30. Morse reported raising $322,000 during the second quarter, his largest haul so far but not an eye-popping sum in 2020. The challenger reported holding about $315,000 in the bank as of June 30.

However, Morse and his allies argue that money isn’t everything and are trying to turn Neal’s fundraising prowess into a liability. As chairman of the tax-writing panel, Neal has accepted more contributions from the PACs of business interests than any other congressional Democrat in 2020, according to a compilation by the Center for Responsive Politics. The only member in either party to exceed Neal is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.  

An outside group dubbed Fight Corporate Monopolies notified the FEC on July 7 it was dropping $150,000 on a TV ad opposing Neal. An ad posted by the group online says that “Corporate power is corrupting democracy. And Richie Neal is part of the problem.”

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Texas’ 24th District or for Michigan’s 11th. Email us at

Coming up

Virginia Republicans will choose their nominee to take on freshman Democrat Abigail Spanberger in the 7th District at a convention Saturday. Four of the six candidates, including top fundraiser Nick Freitas, missed the June 9 deadline to file paperwork to appear on the November ballot, but they got a break when the state Board of Elections issued a blanket extension to all candidates earlier this month. The DCCC this week filed a lawsuit challenging the board’s decision, which also applies to 5th District GOP nominee Bob Good, who also missed the deadline.

Photo finish

Inside Elections recently moved a number of Senate races in Democrats’ favor. Catch up on the latest ratings changes here.

Subscribe now using this link so you don’t miss out on the best news and analysis from our team, plus key stories and data that will keep you informed about 2020 races.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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