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At the Races: Land of Kennedy? Louisiana

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.

Joe Biden’s campaign stop in Wisconsin today has renewed attention to the outsize role Upper Midwestern battleground states could play in the presidential election.

But even as presidential campaigns compete in the region, it will be tough for Republicans to pick up House seats there. 

Five of the 30 Trump House seats held by Democrats are in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan — states where both presidential campaigns have committed to spending considerable amounts of time and money in the fall. 

The NRCC put all of those seats on its target list at the beginning of the 2020 cycle. But the odds of flipping them have gotten worse as Republicans struggle to match Democrats’ fundraising advantages and defend a widening map.

Four of those races — Michigan’s 8th and 11th districts, Minnesota’s 2nd, and Wisconsin’s 3rd — are now rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales

In those districts, Democratic incumbents Elissa Slotkin, Haley Stevens, Angie Craig and Ron Kind have raised exponentially more than their Republican challengers — Slotkin, at the high end, had raised $6.1 million to Republican Paul Junge’s $983,000 as of July 15. 

Republicans are hopeful that President Donald Trump’s focus on violence in Minneapolis and Kenosha, Wisconsin, could help swing independents in rural areas to the right, helping down-ballot candidates even if their districts have not seen many protests. 

The region is playing host to one competitive Senate race. Sen. Gary Peters faces a challenge from John James, a top Republican recruit, who has outraised the Michigan Democrat in recent quarters. Inside Elections rates that race Lean Democratic

James has been chipping away at Peters’ fundraising advantage, but he trails by an average of 5 points in polls. 

Democrats are targeting Michigan’s 3rd District, where Republican-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian Justin Amash is retiring, Minnesota’s 1st District, held by freshman Republican Jim Hagedorn — both races are rated Tilt Republican —and Michigan’s 6th, held by 17-term Republican Fred Upton. That race is rated Likely Republican.

Starting gate

Women in the House: Winning primaries has been a persistent obstacle for Republican women. But now that most of the primaries are over, we dug into whether GOP women will actually add to their ranks in Congress. 

Remember the campaign trail?: At the Races sat down virtually with Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood and the filmmakers behind “Surge,” a new documentary that followed Underwood and two other Democrats during their 2018 campaigns, when a record number of women ran for office. 

Dear Abby: One GOP women’s group is hitting the airwaves in Iowa’s 1st District. A super PAC linked to Winning for Women launched a negative ad this week against Democrat Abby Finkenauer, the first significant negative spending against the freshman congresswoman.

Bay State brawls: Massachusetts voters showed Democratic incumbents a lot of love in Tuesday’s high-profile primaries, sending a scion of the Kennedy political dynasty packing in favor of sitting Sen. Edward J. Markey. Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal also coasted to victory over challenger and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse in the 1st District, as did Reps. Stephen F. Lynch in the 8th District and Seth Moulton in the 6th. 

#NCSen: As the Toss-up North Carolina Senate race hits a pivotal stretch, the VoteVets super PAC launched a $2.7 million ad campaign to boost Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham’s bid to unseat GOP Sen. Thom Tillis. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is also out with a new digital buy supporting Tillis, part of a larger effort the organization will run in other Senate battlegrounds, including Montana, Georgia and Texas.

Paging Sam Waterston: In last week’s speech at the GOP convention, Trump made preserving “law and order” central to his reelection. But will other Republican candidates do the same?


Start the popcorn: The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced the 2020 moderators: Chris Wallace of Fox News on Sept. 29, Steve Scully of C-SPAN on Oct. 15, and Kristen Welker of NBC News on Oct. 22. Also, Susan Page of USA Today will moderate the vice presidential debate on Oct. 7.

Mask mismatch: While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spent part of last Thursday in Kentucky emphasizing the need to wear masks, Trump supporters, including some senators, rallied largely maskless on the White House lawn.

Hawkeye headlines: Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst grabbed headlines this week for saying that she was “so skeptical” of the reported number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, repeating a debunked theory that health care providers are inflating the numbers because they are “reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it.” Her Democratic opponent in the competitive Senate race, real estate executive Theresa Greenfield, responded by reiterating her call for a statewide mask mandate. 

Thrill of the chase: The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, announced Wednesday it was launching a $10 million field and “ballot chase” program, which targets voters to make sure they return their mail ballots in districts that may not get as much attention from presidential campaigns. 

Coming to a TV near you: The DCCC launched several new ads this week knocking GOP incumbents and candidates for their positions on health care and tying them to special interests. The NRCC also launched a slew of ads, focusing on policing, taxes and liberal proposals such as “Medicare for All.” In other ad news, House Majority PAC, the Democratic super PAC that plays in House races, made an additional $11 million in fall airtime reservations, Politico reported.

Counting every vote: Speaking of Massachusetts congressional primaries, we’re still waiting on the conclusion of the Democratic race to replace Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, who ditched the deep-blue seat to run against Markey. Jake Auchincloss, a Newton City councilor who had the backing of a super PAC whose donors included his family members, was leading the crowded Democratic primary field with 22.4 percent with 96 percent of precincts reporting as of Thursday morning. Former Planned Parenthood official Jesse Mermell, a onetime aide to former Gov. Deval Patrick, was a close second with 21.4 percent. Auchincloss, in a statement from his campaign, said “every vote” cast before 8 p.m. Tuesday “must be counted.”  

“Slick presentation?”: Democrats condemned an attack ad against Cameron Webb, their nominee in Virginia’s 5th District, as a “racist dog whistle.” The ad, produced for Republican Bob Good, urges viewers to look past Webb’s “slick presentation” and juxtaposes pictures of Webb against burning city scenes. Webb would be the first Black physician to be a voting member of Congress if elected. 

Don’t vote twice: That’s the message from election officials in North Carolina following comments this week in the state by Trump, who suggested his supporters should try to vote twice, by mail and in person. “It is illegal to vote twice in an election,” warned Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the state’s Board of Elections. “There are numerous checks in place in North Carolina that prevent people from double voting.”

See you in November: If you were wondering who won the primaries in Guam over the weekend, stop. A new law canceled the primary, and put all hopefuls on the November ballot.

What we’re reading

What ifs: Want to know what would happen if more Black voters or more white voters without college degrees turn out in November? The Washington Post has a simulation for you.

Harvest season: CBS News has an explainer on so-called ballot harvesting.

What’s keeping Democrats up at night: The New York Times delves into Democrats’ nightmare scenario under which Trump leads in votes cast on Election Day, declares victory, but Democrats narrow the gap in mailed ballots that take longer to count. 

Chamber of politics: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to endorse 23 House Democratic freshmen, scoops our former CQ Roll Call colleague Alex Gangitano in The Hill. Those picks include Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico. 

Fate, interrupted: Joe Kennedy’s Senate loss, a first for his storied political family in Massachusetts, may represent an end of the dynasty, according to Politico magazine. What’s more, Peter Canellos writes, is that it was a “nice, earnest young” member who “allowed himself to get tangled up in a tired mystique that was ripe for a backlash and offensive even to some of his closest relatives.” 

The count: $364.5 million

That’s what the Biden-Harris campaign said it and affiliated party and joint committees raised in August, including $205 million from online donors. “That figure blows me away,” Biden said in an email blast to supporters. The tab shatters what appears to be the record for a monthly presidential haul — nearly $200 million for the Obama campaign in 2008 — and exceeds what the Trump campaign and its affiliates brought in for July: $165 million. No word yet on what the Trump team collected in August. 

Nathan’s notes

GOP campaigns targeting Democratic Senate candidates and the Trump team going after Biden have hit on a common attack line, Nathan observes: Accusing them of  hiding in their basements rather than going out to campaign and debate.

Candidate confessions

Rep. Lauren Underwood, in an interview this week with At the Races, offered us a little insight into how her campaign has adapted this cycle from the pre-pandemic moments captured in the new film “Surge” about women running for office in 2018. 

House parties have morphed into porch parties, the Democrat said. 

“And so I go to different homes across the district, and we sit out on the porch in a socially distant way with our whole Zoom set up and community members ask their questions and we engage in that way,” confided Underwood, who is seeking a second term in Illinois’ 14th District. “So we’re still out in the community. We’re still engaging people, but doing it in a way that keeps folks safe and respects, obviously, the seriousness of being in a pandemic.”

Reader’s race: NY-02

Democrats started eyeing New York GOP Rep. Peter T. King’s 2nd District after he won reelection by just 6 points in 2018, his closest race since he first won the seat in 1992. And they had a strong recruit to take him on: former Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon, who is also a veteran of the Army Reserve who served in Afghanistan. King’s decision not to run for reelection made the race for this Long Island district even more competitive

Democrats quickly consolidated around Gordon, while state Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino, who was endorsed by King and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, secured the GOP nomination in June. Trump carried the 2nd District by 9 points in 2016, but former President Barack Obama won the district twice. Democrats have a slight voter registration edge, with 36 percent of voters registered as Democrats, 33 percent as Republicans and 26 percent not registered with any party. 

Gordon began the race with a sizable financial advantage, which is particularly helpful in New York City’s pricey media market. As of June 30, her campaign had $1.1 million on hand compared with Garbarino’s $104,000. Gordon launched her first TV ad of the general election last week, focusing on her biography. “I’ve been to basic and I’ve taught yoga,” she says in the 30-second spot. “All of us, we’re more than one thing.”

The race is also attracting outside spending. According to Daily Kos Elections, the DCCC and House Majority PAC have reserved airtime in the 2nd District for the fall, and so has the GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund. 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 Hampshire’s 1st District or Michigan’s 8th. Email us at

Coming up

Some of the last primaries of the cycle are coming up! Next week voters will head to the polls in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. In the Granite State, Republicans will pick challengers to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and to Rep. Chris Pappas, who is one of 30 Democrats in districts Trump won in 2016. 

Photo finish

This is what Law & Order looks like: Actor Sam Waterston is arrested by Capitol Police after blocking First Street in front of the Library of Congress in October as part of a protest calling for action on climate change. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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