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At the Races: Refreshing

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.

The Senate battleground continues to show promise for Democrats, according to recent polls in Montana, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona. And with third-quarter fundraising numbers rolling in by tonight’s deadline, it’s already clear that Democratic donors are energized. The anticipated Supreme Court confirmation of President Donald Trump’s third justice has fueled Democratic campaigns, and Republicans, even with an influx of cash themselves, are struggling to keep pace.

Money, of course, doesn’t buy elective office. But we’ve seen jaw-dropping totals. Jaime Harrison, the Democrat challenging Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, hauled in $57 million to the three-term Republican’s $28 million in Q3, smashing the quarterly fundraising record Beto O’Rourke set in Texas in 2018. Graham, who led the hearings this week for high court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, took the unusual (and seemingly prohibited) step of appealing to donors from the halls of Congress. Recent polls show a tight race.  

A Monmouth University poll out today from Arizona found Democratic Senate challenger Mark Kelly, who raised a whopping $38.7 million in Q3, leading appointed GOP incumbent Martha McSally 52 percent to 42 percent. Montana State University released its Treasure State poll Wednesday, showing Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. who raised $26.8 million in Q3, leading Republican Sen. Steve Daines 49 percent to 47 percent, within the survey’s 3.9-point margin of error. A recent New York Times/Siena College survey of North Carolina voters found GOP Sen. Thom Tillis trailing Democrat Cal Cunningham 41 percent to 37 percent. Pollsters were in the field in the Tar Heel State after news broke of Cunningham’s extramarital affair and Tillis’ COVID-19 diagnosis. 

In Georgia, which features two Senate contests, Democrat Jon Ossoff leads GOP Sen. David Perdue 51 percent to 45 percent in a new Quinnipiac University poll. This is the biggest lead we’ve seen for Ossoff. But Perdue had a 46 percent to 43 percent lead in another poll released this week, from SurveyUSA for WXIA-TV Atlanta. In the state’s all-party special election, Democrat Raphael Warnock has the lead with 41 percent, followed by Republicans Rep. Doug Collins at 22 percent and appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler with 20 percent, according to the Quinnipiac poll. Both Georgia Senate races will head to a January runoff unless someone wins more than 50 percent of the vote. 

Democrats, though, can probably expect to lose Sen. Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama, and another recent New York Times/Siena poll may cause alarm in the party: It showed Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters leading his GOP challenger, John James, by just 1 point. The Republican super PAC Senate Leadership Fund said Thursday it was dispatching another $5.6 million to boost James from Oct. 20 to Election Day, bringing the group’s investment in the race to nearly $15 million.  

Starting gate

Blue wave survivors: We unveiled a four-part series this week analyzing whether House Republicans who survived the 2018 blue wave that swept Democrats into control can win against the same opponents in 2020.

  • Rep. Rodney Davis, who held on to his Illinois seat by about 2,000 votes, faces a rematch with Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, who’s running on health care.  
  • Can New York Rep. John Katko defy gravity again against Democratic challenger Dana Balter? 
  • As Rep. Don Bacon seeks to defend his suburban seat in Nebraska, national GOP groups have stepped in with a barrage of ads branding his Democratic opponent, Kara Eastman, a “radical socialist.”
  • Democrats who have described Texas as “ground zero” in the battle for House think they may have a shot at defeating Rep. Michael McCaul, who won a surprisingly close race in 2018.

Phone a friend:  Several Democratic Senate campaigns and state parties are working with a group that thinks it’s cracked the code on “friend-to-friend” voter turnout. Bridget also joined CQ Roll Call’s Jason Dick to talk about the group on the latest Political Theater podcast.

Harvest season: California Democrats were crying foul this week after the state GOP admitted to placing ballot drop boxes in competitive House districts in an attempt to do their own ballot harvesting. Democrats say the move violates state law, but Republicans aren’t backing down. 

Legal drama: The November election for Minnesota’s 2nd District, which had been postponed until February because of the death of a third-party candidate, is back on for Election Day after a federal judge sided with Democratic-Farmer-Labor incumbent Angie Craig. A judge subsequently denied Republican challenger Tyler Kistner’s request for a stay, but that’s now on to a higher court. 

Check those facts: Yes, we’re in the middle of a global health crisis with election officials making major shifts to accommodate voting by mail while also fending off cyber attacks. But experts told CQ Roll Call’s Gopal Ratnam that disinformation actually poses the greatest threat to next month’s election.

First in ATR: Giffords PAC started its second phase of an $800,000 statewide mail campaign in the North Carolina Senate race today, the group told At the Races. The latest mail pieces draw a contrast between Tillis and Cunningham on gun control, accusing Tillis of being “bought and paid for by his gun lobby donors.” The mail program is targeting “persuadable voters,” particularly women. Giffords PAC executive director Peter Ambler said the group is “all in for Cal Cunningham,” adding that in the closing weeks of the race, Giffords PAC is “making crystal clear who the real gun safety leader is.”


Koch money: The conservative super PAC Americans for Prosperity Action launched a seven-figure digital and connected TV ad campaign this week aimed at boosting House GOP candidates, including Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Steve Chabot of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, as well as challengers such as Nick Freitas in Virginia’s 7th District, Nancy Mace in South Carolina’s 1st and Ashley Hinson in Iowa’s 1st. 

Does this make census?: The Census Bureau will stop the population count today following a Supreme Court ruling Tuesday, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reported. Critics said the decision could lead to an inaccurate population count, which also affects how congressional districts are reapportioned.

Casting her ballot: Sara Gideon, the Democrat challenging GOP Sen. Susan Collins in Maine, voted Wednesday in person at the Freeport Town Hall, her campaign said. Recent polls show Gideon leading the vulnerable incumbent. Democrat Theresa Greenfield, who is taking on Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, returned her ballot Wednesday to a Polk County Election Office.

Troubleville: GOP Senate nominee Tommy Tuberville has faced some negative headlines this week in his race against Jones in Alabama. The New York Times found that Tuberville has been involved with people associated with Ponzi schemes and his decisions “raised questions about Mr. Tuberville’s judgment and financial acumen.” The Associated Press also dug into Tuberville’s business dealings, including a foundation that has only given a small portion of its funds to charity.

Sounds like someone saw some polling data: Trump made a direct plea to suburban women during a rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, this week, asking, “Will you please like me?” Victories in suburban seats handed the House to Democrats in 2018, and the president’s ongoing struggles in the suburbs have dimmed GOP hopes of winning the chamber back this year.

Paging Democratic admakers: Democrats have seized on a new line of attack against Republican Stephanie Bice, who is challenging vulnerable freshman Kendra Horn in Oklahoma’s 5th District. Bice suggested his week that health savings accounts could be an alternative to “providing insurance” to people who can’t afford their health care. Horn tweeted in response, “That’s not a plan — that’s a disaster.” House Majority PAC spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki weighed in on Twitter: “I guess Stephanie is tired of all the ads on her votes against teachers.” HMP has reserved $950,000 in ads in the Oklahoma City-area district.

Courting the Q vote: In Georgia, Loeffler, who has veered sharply to the right in her attempt to make it to a runoff in her all-party Senate primary, accepted an endorsement Thursday from QAnon supporter and soon-to-be-congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene has expressed a belief in the the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that Trump is leading a fight against “deep state” Democratic child sex traffickers, cannibals and Satan worshipers. But at an event Thursday, Loeffler said she agreed with Greene on “fighting socialism” and “supporting conservative values.” “No one in Georgia cares about this QAnon business,” the senator said.

What we’re reading

Piece of cake?: We can neither confirm nor deny that Stu Rothenberg has taken up baking in the pandemic, but this week he looks at whether the cake that is the presidential race is already baked.

Painful memories: Peters, who’s in a tight race for reelection to his Senate seat in Michigan, shared a personal story with Elle magazine about an abortion his first wife, Heidi, had to have in the 1980s. Heidi recalled the experience as “painful and traumatic.”

Voter support: When We All Vote, an initiative of former first lady Michelle Obama, is partnering with LeBron James’ More Than a Vote to generate enthusiasm for early voting, according to The Associated Press. The groups will provide transportation, food, music and protective gear at early polling sites. 

Cha-ching: Senate Republicans are concerned about Democrats riding a “green tsunami” of campaign cash to the majority, Politico reports. And CNN looks at how Harrison, the South Carolina Senate hopeful who smashed the quarterly fundraising record, can spend all of his money this close to Election Day. 

Get used to hearing a lot about Florida: Politico dug into early voting trends in the Sunshine State. Democrats have dominated absentee ballot returns, but Republicans say a wave of red votes is coming on Election Day.

The count: 17,143,629

That’s how many voters have cast their ballots already, according to the U.S. Elections Project, which tracks early voting numbers.

Nathan’s notes

While recognizing Trump’s 2016 victory made pundits jittery about making predictions, Nathan L. Gonzales does not hold back. In a video produced by CQ Roll Call’s Thomas McKinless, Nathan weighs the likelihood of a GOP rout on Nov. 3.

Candidate confessions

Candidates stuck at home during the pandemic find that virtual campaigning can be a bit of a drag. “Certainly it’s not as fun to be largely stuck in a room, either trying to project myself into the community through a Zoom chat or a livestream or just making phone calls,” Democratic lawyer Mike Siegel, who is in a rematch with Rep. Michael McCaul in Texas’ 10th District, said in a recent interview. But Siegel said there are some benefits, since phone banking is more efficient than door-knocking and people have been more willing to answer phone calls while they’re also at home.

Reader’s race: Texas Senate

Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters at the Capitol this week that the Supreme Court confirmation hearings could help Democrat MJ Hegar, the Air Force veteran who’s challenging him as he runs for a fourth term. 

“I think it will probably be a fundraising bonanza for my opponent,” the three-term Republican said. The Democratic fundraising surge following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death has already bolstered Hegar’s campaign, helping her raise a whopping $13.5 million in the third quarter. Cornyn has not yet announced his Q3 haul (fundraising reports are due tonight), but he did send a fundraising email saying he was being outraised and outspent. Hegar is now getting some outside help. Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, announced today it’s launching an $8.6 million TV ad campaign targeting Cornyn.

Hegar’s fundraising is critical in Texas, where competing statewide is expensive due to the state’s numerous and costly media markets. Democrats believe the state is moving in their direction thanks to a growing and diversifying population. The Texas secretary of state announced this week that a record 16.9 million Texans have registered to vote, an increase of more than 1.8 million registered voters since 2016. 

But it’s not clear if Texas has reached a political tipping point. Trump carried the state by 9 points in 2016, and the RealClearPolitics polling average has him leading Joe Biden by 4 points in the Lone Star State. On average, polling has shown Cornyn with a nearly 8-point lead. 

To catch up to Biden, Hegar has to make sure she is making the same inroads with new and nonwhite voters, while also appealing to independents and moderate Republicans. Cornyn made a recent attempt to cut into Hegar’s support among Black voters by launching an ad campaign highlighting critical comments from state Sen. Royce West, who lost to Hegar in a primary runoff. West, who is Black, recently said he won’t be voting for Hegar, but he also slammed Cornyn for using his comments in ads, accusing the senator of sowing racial division.  

Inside Elections rates the Texas Senate race Lean Republican.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Pennsylvania’s 10th District or for North Carolina’s 11th. Email us at

Coming up

Get ready for updated race ratings from Nathan on Friday. He is also going to talk on our webinar next Thursday about how the battleground shifted during the campaign.

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