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At the Races: ‘A human being is here!’

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.

If you’re not a political ad junkie, then this week’s been rough.  

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched its first independent expenditure TV ad of the general election. The spot hits three-term Republican John Katko in New York’s 24th District on what we expect to become a recurrent theme into November: money in politics. 

That was hardly the only political message hitting the airwaves this week. In Maine, GOP Sen. Susan Collins went up with an ad showcasing her voting record while hitting her Democratic opponent, state House Speaker Sara Gideon, for shutting down the state’s Legislature during the coronavirus pandemic. In Michigan, the campaigns of Democratic Sen. Gary Peters and his GOP challenger, John James, both released new ads. House Democrats out with their first general election spots include Rep. Abigail Spanberger in Virginia’s 7th District and Anthony Brindisi in New York’s 22nd. 

But it isn’t just about ads at this point in the campaign season. More candidates are getting back out on the trail, while taking precautions to avoid the coronavirus. In Massachusetts, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Edward J. Markey in a Sept. 1 Senate primary, wrote in a campaign email that he’d made 40 stops this past weekend, with masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing. (Kennedy is also up with a new ad, and Markey released his first spot this week.) 

“We’re door-knocking with masks and gloves on,” Illinois Republican Esther Joy King, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos in the 17th District, said during a Zoom meeting with donors and reporters this week organized by Rep. Elise Stefanik’s E-PAC. “But what we’re finding is that everyone is so thankful. They’re like, ‘A human being is here to talk to us,’ and we’re getting great reception in campaigning in the time of COVID.”  

Starting gate

Bridging a divide: Democratic fundraiser Cooper Teboe taps big Silicon Valley donors while also connecting with small-dollar, progressive grassroots contributors, offering an interesting window into a business and political model that combines both factions of the party.

Just got paid: Running in a top House race can be a full-time job, so New York Democrat Dana Balter, who is challenging Katko in the 24th District, is taking advantage of a provision that still allows her to earn a salary.

#GA05: Georgia Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikema Williams will replace the late Rep. John Lewis on the November ballot in the deep-blue 5th District. Williams, the first Black woman to lead the state party, is also a state senator. 

Green Beret vs. CIA: Over the weekend, Republicans in Virginia’s 7th District picked state Del. Nick Freitas, a retired Green Beret, as their nominee to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Abigail Spangerger, a former CIA officer, in November. 

K Street capital: Lobbyists bundled donations to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Trump campaign coffers, recent filings show. But other bundlers remain a mystery, much to the chagrin of a coalition of campaign finance overhaul groups.  

It’s official: More than three weeks after the New York primary, Jamaal Bowman was declared the winner in his race against Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel in the 16th District.


On the Bayou: Two days before Friday’s filing deadline in Louisiana, Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins announced he would challenge GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy. Perkins, an Army veteran and Harvard Law School grad who is Black, noted in a campaign announcement video that his grandfather was a sharecropper. Perkins was endorsed by the DSCC on Thursday. (Remember, Louisiana has a jungle primary system, so candidates of all parties will compete in a Nov. 3 primary, and if no one wins a majority, the top two, regardless of party, will advance to a general election runoff in December).  

And, finally, the winner is: Dale Crafts has won the GOP nomination in Maine’s 2nd District to challenge freshman Democrat Jared Golden in November. The result wasn’t official until a week after election day because Crafts did not clear 50 percent, triggering the state’s ranked-choice voting system (which the state GOP opposes, by the way). Golden has a big cash advantage, reporting nearly $2.2 million in the bank as of June 30. Crafts, who reported raising about $330,000 and faced a competitive primary, had just $32,000 on hand. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilt Democratic.  

Jacobs in the House: Republican Chris Jacobs was sworn in this week to represent New York’s 27th District, replacing disgraced former GOP Rep. Chris Collins. Jacobs won a special election last month, but the race was also a preview of what’s to come in November, with weeks of ballot counting and shifting margins. On election night, it looked like Jacobs was poised for a landslide victory, but he ultimately won by 11 points with 55 percent of the vote.

Coming to a mailbox near you: Vermont election officials plan to mail ballots to all registered voters for the November election. 

Uh-Oh: The New York Times reported this week that Iowa state Rep. Ashley Hinson’s campaign for the 1st District plagiarized some sections of her campaign website and several published op-eds from the Times, other news outlets and even her Democratic opponent, Rep. Abby Finkenuaer. Hinson said in a statement that an employee with a consulting firm was responsible for the plagiarism and that she had ended her “working relationship” with that firm. “What happened was wrong and violated your trust,” Hinson said. “I sincerely apologize and take full responsibility.” She also added, “Let me be clear: the values and issue positions that were put out under my name are 100% my views.”

Taking sides in the Sunflower State: Retiring Kansas GOP Sen. Pat Roberts endorsed Rep. Roger Marshall ahead of the Aug. 4 Republican primary race to replace him. In Kansas’ 2nd District, GOP Rep. Ron Estes last week backed state Treasurer Jake LaTurner over freshman Republican Steve Watkins, who faces charges of voter fraud.

Life after Congress: Former Florida GOP Rep. Allen West is the new chairman of the Texas Republican Party. West moved to Texas in 2014 to run a Dallas-based think tank, according to The Texas Tribune.

What we’re reading

Cross-examining the crosstabs: Stu Rothenberg analyses two high-profile national polls of the presidential race and finds that Biden’s lead is “both remarkably stable over the long haul and nothing to be sneezed at.”

Knock, knock: As some campaigns restart canvassing, a new report from McClatchy raises questions about whether door-knocking is safe. According to McClatchy, eight employees with the Progressive Turnout Project, which started canvassing in June, have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Squad watch: Freshman Democrat Rashida Tlaib faces a primary challenge from Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones in Michigan’s 13th District, and The Associated Press looks at the incumbent’s potential vulnerability in the Aug. 4 primary.  

Speaking of primaries: Politico dives into the Senate GOP primary in Kansas, where Republicans are working to box out Kris Kobach.  

November nightmares: The recent stretch of primary elections raises red flags over glitches, missteps, incompetence, and worse that could plague the elections this fall, writes Norm Ornstein in The Atlantic. 

On the trail:  Politico digs into the effort to diversify Congress, and caught up with several Black and Hispanic congressional candidates, who have seen their profiles rise amid national upheaval over racism and police brutality. 

The count: $2.8 million

That’s the average campaign war chest for a Democratic House member in a competitive race, which is eight times the size of the average GOP challenger’s, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of second-quarter fundraising reports, which were due last week. The latest reports demonstrate House Democrats’ massive financial advantage heading into November, and Democrats are also closing the gap in competitive Senate races. For more information on money raised and cash on hand for House and Senate candidates in competitive races, check out our analysis here.

Nathan’s notes

Does Joe Biden have a shot at red states including Alaska, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Utah? He may not win them, but they’re now in play, Nathan writes, according to Inside Elections’ latest Electoral College ratings.

Candidate confessions

“It’s been very frustrating,” said Yvette Herrell, the Republican challenging freshman Democrat Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico’s 2nd District, of campaigning during the pandemic. In this week’s Zoom meeting organized by Stefanik’s E-PAC, Herrell said her campaign has had “to stretch our imaginations” and use social media to reach voters 

“But where we’re really struggling is, most of New Mexico in the district is very rural, so this COVID has been very frustrating,” said Herrell, whose campaign against Torres Small is a rematch from 2018 when the Democrat pulled off a narrow victory. 

Herrell said she understood that the virus is serious, but complained about restrictions put in place by the state’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, saying independent businesses in the small towns and rural areas, such as those in the 2nd District, are struggling for survival. “And unfortunately, many of our small businesses will not weather this storm,” she said. Inside Elections rates the race Tilt Democratic.

Reader’s race: TX-24

As a growing, diversifying district in the Dallas suburbs with well-educated voters, Texas’ 24th is emblematic of where Democrats are looking to expand their House majority. President Donald Trump carried the seat by 6 points in 2016. But two years later, GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant won reelection by just 3 points while former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke was carrying the district by a similar margin in his unsuccessful Senate run. (Republicans are also quick to point out that the district also backed GOP Gov. Greg Abbott by 10 points in 2018.) Marchant announced his retirement last year, and former local school board member Candace Valenzuela, who won the Democratic primary runoff last week, and Republican Beth Van Duyne are vying to succeed him.

Republicans have known that Van Duyne will be their nominee since the March primary, where she avoided a runoff with help from a Trump endorsement. Van Duyne previously served as a regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but she is also known locally as the former mayor of Irving. As mayor, she made national headlines in 2015 for expressing concern about Sharia law when a 14-year-old Muslim student was arrested in Irving for bringing a homemade clock to school that was mistaken for a bomb. When ATR caught up with Van Duyne back in February, she said the incident was “a total setup.”

Valenzuela has criticized Van Duyne as divisive. But to take her on, Valenzuela first had to get past her primary runoff against retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson, which was delayed until July due to the coronavirus pandemic. Valenzuela defeated Olson with help from outside groups, including EMILY’s List and BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Throughout her campaign, Valenzuela has emphasized her personal story of experiencing homelessness as a child and becoming the first in her family to graduate college. If elected, Valenzuela would be the first Black Latina in Congress. 

After Valenzuela won the runoff, the DCCC quickly released an internal July 11-15 poll that showed Valenzuela leading Van Duyne 45 percent to 39 percent. The same survey also found Biden ahead of Trump in the district, 51 percent to 45 percent. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 points. Because of the Democratiic runoff, Van Duyne does start the race with more cash on hand. As of June 30, hercampaign had $483,000 in the bank to $111,000 for Valenzuela. Inside Elections rates the race Tilt Republican

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Montana’s at-large seat or  Washington’s 3rd District. Email us at

Coming up

As primaries take a pause next week, keep an eye on Capitol Hill, where negotiations over the next coronavirus relief package are underway. Congress’ response to the pandemic has already become an issue on the campaign trail, and you can keep track of our CQ Roll Call team coverage of the next package here.

Photo finish

Republicans in Virginia’s 7th District gathered over the weekend to pick their nominee to take on freshman Democrat Abigail Spanberger. The winner was state Del. Nick Freitas, left, here with a supporter at Saturday’s convention. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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