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At the Races: Voters gonna vote

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.

Take a breath. It could stretch days, or even weeks, before all the votes are counted, with record numbers of absentee ballots cast in states amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Democrats need a net gain of three or four seats to flip the Senate, depending on who wins the White House. Some of their best opportunities are in states where results could be delayed. 

In Maine, ranked choice voting could extend the counting of ballots to decide GOP Sen. Susan Collins’ future. And pre-Election Day polls point to likely January runoffs in Georgia’s two Senate races, where candidates need more than 50 percent of the vote to secure an outright win. 

But a number of competitive races expected to be called within hours after polls close should provide an early indication of where things are headed. Bellwether contests include House races in Florida, where polls in most of the state close at 7 p.m. Eastern time and mailed-in ballots are typically counted quickly. 

Watch the 26th District, in South Florida, where freshman Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who was born in Ecuador, faces a challenge from popular Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Cuban American. The result there could also hint at how the state’s Hispanic voters are leaning

Virginia’s 7th and 2nd districts, held by freshmen Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria respectively, should be among the first races called of the 30 Democratic seats that Donald Trump carried in 2016. Both looked vulnerable after leading the House call for an impeachment inquiry last year, so wins for them would indicate how much the winds have shifted in the intervening year. 

Georgia’s 7th District and Indiana’s 5th, both open seats, will be among the first competitive races called in the suburbs. In the Georgia contest, Democratic university professor Carolyn Bourdeaux heads into Election Day with a polling and fundraising advantage over Republican doctor Richard McCormick. The outcome there could be an early test of Democrats’ ability to win suburban swaths of the South made competitive by demographic shifts.

Democrats believe Indiana’s 5th District is one of their best pickup opportunities, with former state Rep. Christina Hale taking on GOP state Sen. Victoria Spartz in traditionally red territory. That race could be an early sign of just how far the suburbs are shifting away from Republicans

And if the GOP loses North Carolina’s 11th District, the seat of congressman turned White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, some Republicans may start drinking heavily because it’ll be a sign the party’s in for a potentially brutal night.

Starting gate

Who’s in trouble?: Heading into Election Day, we took one last look at the 10 most vulnerable members of the House and Senate. In the Senate, almost all GOP incumbents who made the list were outraised by their challengers. And, in a sign of how much the battle for the House has shifted over the last year, Republicans dominated the list of the 10 most vulnerable House members.

The battle for Congress: Catch up on the dynamics that defined the fight for Congress this year.

When we’ll know: Here’s a guide to when polls close today and the deadline for absentee ballots in the states that will determine which party controls the Senate. 

Donor records: Once Trump leaves office, perhaps as soon as January if he loses reelection, will Democrats be able to sustain their fundraising momentum without the benefit of the provocateur in chief in the free world’s most powerful post? Offering a clue, one small-dollar Democratic donor says: “ActBlue is almost like my Amazon.”

Cyber-side efforts: A massive push for early voting was one way to reduce the threat posed by an Election Day cyberattack or technical collapse, but Homeland Security officials are not easing up on preparations, CQ Roll Call’s Gopal Ratnam reports.

Courtside seats: Some 42,000 legal volunteers reporting to 30 command centers around the country are preparing to press election and law enforcement officials and, if they must, plead with judges to address attempts at voter intimidation on Tuesday, CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger reports.

Road trip: CQ Roll Call photojournalist and proud Libra Tom Williams trekked to Georgia this week and returned with a balanced portfolio that featured Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the Democrats trying to oust them, and Rep. Doug Collins, who hung out with Roger Stone.


Eyes on 2022: Politico Playbook drops some names for the next NRCC chair, assuming Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer will have a tough time making a case to lead the committee again if the GOP suffers losses tonight. Potential candidates include New York’s Elise Stefanik, a prolific fundraiser who has been at the center of the effort to recruit female Republican candidates; Indiana’s Greg Pence, the vice president’s brother; and North Carolina’s Richard Hudson, who’s facing a competitive reelection himself in a redrawn district. 

#KYSEN: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be on a glide path to a seventh term against Marine veteran Amy McGrath. At his last campaign event on Monday, the Kentucky Republican couldn’t hide his amusement that The (Louisville) Courier-Journal’s left-leaning editorial board hadn’t endorsed McGrath. “I was perplexed — perplexed — that the ‘Curious’ Journal, which has been Democratic headquarters for as long as I’ve been in public life, chose not to endorse,” McConnell said.

Biden’s bundlers: The Biden campaign, over the weekend and with just days left in the campaign, released a list of $100,000-plus bundlers, or people who have rounded up contributions from others. Among them are lawmakers, including Sharice Davids of Kansas, and former members such as Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, now a partner at the law and lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.   

What she said: Stephanie Bice, a Republican state senator seeking to unseat vulnerable Democrat Kendra Horn in suburban Oklahoma City, borrowed passages on her website describing her health care platform and economic agenda from Iowa Republican Ashley Hinson, a former journalist who’s running for the 1st District. Hinson got into trouble this summer for plagiarizing sections of her website and op-eds published under her name.

Billions on ads well spent: Some 84 percent of voters nationally, including 81 percent of Trump supporters and 87 percent of Biden supporters, told University of Massachusetts Amherst pollsters they made up their minds at least two years ago on how they would vote in the presidential race. Just 5 percent decided in the last few weeks or days.

High-stakes dispute: Nebraska Democrat Kara Eastman’s campaign accused the Republican secretary of state of serving the state GOP’s political interests when he reprimanded her for allegedly violating the state’s election law in the days leading up to her closely watched rematch with vulnerable Republican Rep. Don Bacon.

Election Day quarantine: Democrat Amy Kennedy, who is challenging vulnerable Republican Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey’s 2nd District, canceled all her preelection events and went into quarantine after learning she had come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 at an outdoor event Saturday.

What we’re reading

Stu says: In his latest column, Stu Rothenberg breaks down team Trump’s assertion that he could still win, reminding us that “everything is possible, but not everything is equally likely.”

Battle for the Senate: The Washington Post dives into how Trump’s sinking poll numbers have dragged down Senate Republicans. Morning Consult explores how Joe Biden’s margin in Georgia is boosting Democrats’ hopes that they can defeat Perdue. And Politico takes a look at how GOP Sen. Thom Tillis and Democrat Cal Cunningham are approaching the final days of the tight Senate race in North Carolina.

Battle for the House: The Hill has an overview of the fight for the House, with Democrats eyeing gains in districts Trump won in 2016. For some deeper dives on individual House races, check out Politico’s story on North Carolina’s 11th District, the LA Times’ look at California’s 25th, north of Los Angeles, and the 48th in Orange County, and The Washington Post’s dive into Pennsylvania’s 10th.

The 22 percent: The Center for Responsive Politics looks at the role of small donors in the 2020 campaigns.  

“I need a lot more money”: In New Jersey’s hottest House race, NJ Spotlight News looked at the efforts of an Atlantic City “vote messenger” who worked with Kennedy in the 2nd District primary and now is helping Van Drew.

Florida man explains: Veteran Florida political strategist Steve Schale is working to clear up all the confusion about what we can and can’t know based on the state’s demographics, voter registration, early voting data and polls, one blog post at a time.

Paging Elizabeth Warren: Axios reports that Biden’s team is considering an “informal ban” on naming senators to his Cabinet if he wins the White House. That’s because they’re anticipating a potentially narrow Senate majority. 

‘Specter of political violence’: If you’re not already worried enough about the postelection aftermath, The New York Times has an alarming podcast about the rise in gun sales amid fears of coming unrest.  

The count: $287 million

That’s the price tag for the North Carolina Senate race, making it the most expensive ever, according to a Center for Responsive Politics tabulation. That figure includes candidate spending, of course, but also money that outside groups poured into the pivotal Senate battleground. 

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales takes a look back at eight moments that shaped the 2020 elections.

From the archives

Some of our favorite, most prescient stories from this cycle:

Battle tested: During the Democratic presidential primary (which seems like a lifetime ago), we delved into the candidates’ political origin stories. Here’s a throwback to Biden’s first Senate race. And here’s a dive into Kamala Harris historic run for California attorney general, when her opponent declared victory on election night but she won as more votes were counted.

Small money, big deal: In March 2019, we looked at how donors of small sums may hold the balance in the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns, which political operatives and campaign finance wonks predicted would likely shatter spending records. 

Early voting: This election, voters cast a record number of ballots before Election Day. Campaigns were anticipating this, and it affected their strategy and messaging

GOP women: Could Republican women add to their ranks in Congress? Here’s a look at their potential gains (and losses) in each chamber.

2014 rewind: In 2014, a group of Republicans helped their party win control of the Senate. For these particular senators, a lot has changed over the last six years. 

On the trail: The pandemic grounded our travel plans for much of the cycle, but we did manage to get out of our basements a few times this year. We went to the Iowa State Fair in August 2019, and caught up with vulnerable House Democrats and Ernst, who is one of the closest Senate races in the country, and brought you an early look at how Democrats were trying to win over rural voters. We traveled to Texas for a look at how tea party challenges look different in the Trump era and where Democrats were trying to expand their House majority. Way back in 2019, when it looked like Democrats’ calls for an impeachment inquiry would play on repeat in attack ads throughout the cycle, we went to town halls in Michigan and Virginia to see how vulnerable Democrats Elissa Slotkin and Elaine Luria were explaining their positions. And, more recently, we donned our face masks to talk to supporters of Virginia Republican Bob Good, a religious conservative whose ouster of libertarian-leaning GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman helped put the seat in play for Democrats. 

Money women: Female donors, who opened their wallets like never before in the 2018 midterm elections and helped propel an unprecedented number of women into Congress, appeared ready to break records in their contributions to congressional and presidential contenders running in 2020 as of mid-2019. 

Death of a Koch brother: GOP megadonor David Koch, who helped pioneer a network of often surreptitious organizations aimed at influencing elections and public policy, left behind a legacy of dark-money groups and a volatile political landscape when he died last year.

Coming up

Election results! We noted this earlier, but it’s worth repeating: Ballots may take days or weeks to be counted. Keep track of our campaign coverage here.

Photo finish

A woman pushes a baby carriage past a mural in Philadelphia on Monday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

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