WASHINGTON — While the pandemic has upended the primary calendar this election season, there are still a whole lot of interesting primary races that will either set the stage for high-profile general election battles or effectively decide who will join Congress.
Here’s a breakdown of the House primaries that the NBC Political Unit is watching.
- IA-01: Republicans are looking for a candidate to knock off freshman Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer, with current state Rep. Ashley Hinson backed by the state’s Republican governor and lieutenant governor.
- IA-04: Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King is fighting for his political life, with his opponents hoping Randy Feenstra can end King’s political career.
- NM-02: The fight between Republicans Yvette Herrell and Claire Chase has gotten nasty and personal. The winner faces Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.
- GA-14: In this crowded field for a solidly Republican open seat, the contest has featured some vastly different messaging on the coronavirus pandemic.
- SC-01: Democrat Joe Cunningham unexpectedly flipped this seat blue in 2018. A handful of Republicans want to be the one to win it back, including state Rep. Nancy Mace, an author endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing, backed by former Sen. Jim DeMint.
- NV-03: In another swing district, a crowded field of Republicans faces off for the chance to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Susie Lee.
- NV-04: Incumbent Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, who recently admitted to an extramarital affair, faces a handful of challengers in the Democratic primary as well as a group of Republicans looking to defeat him in November.
- VA-5 GOP convention: This Republican district convention will decide an ugly contest between challenger Bob Good and incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman, who took heat with conservatives for officiating a same-sex marriage.
- KS-04: Incumbent GOP Rep. Thomas Massie was publicly blasted by President Trump for holding up an early coronavirus relief bill. His primary opponent, Todd McMurtry, is an attorney who represented Covington Catholic High School in a defamation suit against CNN.
- NY-14: Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aims to bat down a primary challenge from former CNBC reporter Michelle Caruso-Cabrera and others.
- NY-16: Progressive challenger and high school principal Jamaal Bowman hopes to topple longtime incumbent Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel.
- OK-05: Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn shocked political observers by flipping this seat in 2018. The GOP primary decides who will face her in November.
- NJ-02: After Rep. Jeff Van Drew switched parties to join the GOP, Democrats are eager for revenge. They just have to pick a candidate first.
- KS-03: A handful of Republicans are vying to take on Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids.
- MI-13: “Squad” member Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib faces a rematch against Brenda Jones, who briefly held this seat in 2018.
- MN-05: Another “Squad” member, Rep. Ilhan Omar, faces a field that includes political newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux, who argues he’d offer more low-key representation for the district.
- MN-07: Republicans have been unable to unseat Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson despite his district going for President Trump by 30 points in 2016. Who will take him on in 2020?
While some veep contenders confirm they’re being vetted, others make subtler moves
WASHINGTON — The selection process — and competition — for the vice presidential slot on the ticket with apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden intensified this week with several contenders confirming that they’re being vetted for the job. Though some potential picks were forthcoming about their ambitions, others made subtler moves hinting at possible interest in the job or further cooperation with the Biden camp.
In the past week alone, NBC News and other outlets have reported that the Biden campaign has asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both New Hampshire Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, and Florida Rep. Val Demings to provide the team with information required for the veep review process.
Shaheen and Demings left little to the imaginative race when Shaheen announced she declined Biden’s offer to be vetted, while Demings claimed to be on the “shortlist.”
Other rumored picks for the job haven’t been as outspoken about their running mate ambitions, if existent. Here’s a roundup of the past week’s veepstakes developments that went under the radar.
Harris: California Senator and Biden’s former primary opponent Kamala Harris has long been floated as a possible VP pick, performing well in polling and proving to be a popular choice for the former vice president. Though Harris is set to headline an upcoming Biden fundraiser and has repeatedly voiced her support for the apparent Democratic nominee, she hasn’t publicly clamored for the job.
Tuesday however, the Biden campaign hired Julie Chávez Rodríguez — who once served as Harris’ 2020 co-national political director — as an adviser for Latino outreach. Notably, Rodríguez will continue serving as a Harris consultant while simultaneously working with Biden’s team. The hiring shouldn’t be read into too much but could signal further cooperation between the Harris and Biden camps.
Warren: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has expressed in the past that she’d agree to be on the ticket with Biden if asked and this week, she raised eyebrows by appearing to shift away from her position on Medicare for All — a primary policy focus of her 2020 campaign — and closer towards Biden’s health care plan.
“I think right now people want to see improvements in our health care system, and that means strengthening the Affordable Care Act,” she said at a virtual University of Chicago Institute of Politics event.
Warren added that she hopes the United States will have a single payer health care system in the future, but the move could be viewed as an attempt to adopt a more moderate health care policy that builds on the Affordable Care Act instead of overhauling it, a position Biden backs and that Warren has previously criticized for not being ambitious enough.
Duckworth: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said one week ago that his fellow Illinois colleague in the Senate, Tammy Duckworth, will interview for the vice presidential slot soon, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“I support Tammy Duckworth. She’s spectacular, a great colleague and I hope that she fares well in this interview, which I think is going to take place soon,” Durbin said.
Duckworth, while a less high-profile contender compared to Warren and Harris, brings a unique perspective to the table as an Asian-American woman and Iraq War veteran who lost both legs after her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. Duckworth hasn’t answered questions about whether she’d accept the veep offer directly but Durbin’s statement about the veteran could be considered meaningful given that he’s a longtime ally of Biden’s. In 2016, he publicly honored the former vice president before he left office.
Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.
Most Americans favor mail-in voting, here’s how states are adapting
Sixty-three percent of registered voters favor mail-in voting for the November election due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Fox News poll. While President Trump has argued that mail-in voting would lead to fraudulent ballots, several states already allow all mail-in ballot elections, and even more states have loosened absentee voting rules due to the pandemic.
Here’s the breakdown on how to vote by mail in each state:
Mail-in voting allowed
Before the coronavirus pandemic, 34 states, plus Washington D.C., already allowed mail-in voting or no-excuse absentee voting. In states like Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington every registered voter is automatically sent a mail-in ballot to fill out if they don’t want to head to the polls.
In the other 16 states, registered voters need to provide an excuse, such as illness or temporarily living out of state, in order to qualify for an absentee ballot. Each state also has its own deadlines on how long before an election an absentee ballot must be requested. In a state like Georgia, which has no-excuse absentee voting, a voter must request their ballot 180 days before the election.
Several states have changed their absentee ballots rules for rescheduled primaries and/or the general election in November. In the 16 states that require excuses, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia lifted restrictions on what qualifies a voter for an absentee ballot for either the rescheduled primaries in June and July or for statewide elections in the same time period.
And in Georgia, while there’s never an excuse needed, all registered voters were sent a mail-in ballot application for the state’s May 19 primary. Similarly in Maryland and Delaware, all voters will receive a ballot for their new primaries.
In New Hampshire, restrictions have been lifted for the November election as well.
Ongoing fights for mail-in voting
While some states have yet to go forward with updating their absentee voting rules, there are many ongoing efforts to open up voting possibilities. In Texas, a federal judge ruled that all registered voters should qualify for a mail-in ballot during the pandemic — the state Attorney General is reviewing the order.
The Connecticut Secretary of State said they would send every registered voter an absentee ballot, however the state law has not been modified to allow those ballots to be counted if the voter doesn’t have an excuse (like illness, age or temporary relocation) listed.
New Biden digital ad compares Trump to a ‘deer in the headlights’ on coronavirus
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign Friday launched a new digital ad charging that President Donald Trump has reacted to the coronavirus pandemic like a “deer in the headlights” and has been “too scared to act, too panicked to tell the truth, too weak to lead.”
The one-minute ad, targeted to voters living in key battleground states, blasts Trump’s reaction to the pandemic since its onset, charging that the president was “unprepared, indecisive, frozen” in place and “paralyzed by fear” to act against the Chinese government and risk ongoing trade deal negotiations.
“Panicked at the thought of what a stock market collapse could mean to his re-election, he failed to act and the virus got out of control and shut down the nation and crushed the economy,” the narrator says as images of frontline workers and Americans in masks waiting to get tested flash on the screen.
The ad will play across key battleground states including Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
This is the third consecutive digital ad in which the Biden campaign has honed in on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a message senior campaign aides announced last week is one of the defining pillars of their general election strategy.
The campaign has not run television advertisements since the March 17th primaries, pivoting its investments towards online spending in an effort to catch people on their laptops and phones while they stay-at-home.
In an effort to unlock the best way to immediately draw in viewers and keep them interested enough to watch the entirety of an ad, the campaign employed a new advertising technique called “micro-teasing” foe this new ad that they adopted from the entertainment industry.
The first five seconds are devoted to hooking in the viewer by previewing their core argument and contrasting the look of those first moments to the rest of the ad. “When the coronavirus came, Trump froze like a deer in the headlights,” a narrator says as the ad opens.
The campaign says it will continue to test different advertising strategies like this one in an effort to improve its video completion rates as it tries to find lasting ways to engage with supporters in the digital campaign era.
Conservative group launches new ads calling to ‘reopen America now’
WASHINGTON — FreedomWorks, the conservative think tank based in Washington D.C., is running a new digital ad campaign aimed atginning up public support to “liberate” states and “reopen society.”
The group started running four different ads on Hulu Wednesday as part of a $50,000 digital ad buy targeting Republicans and independents across the country while also focusing on D.C.
The ads are all similar. They largely begin by arguing that the mortality rates for COVID-19 infection are significantly lower for those under the age of 65 and without pre-existing conditions, before issuing a call to action for the young and healthy to push for a reopening.
“This disease is horrible, and it is our American duty to take care of the vulnerable. If you are healthy, it’s time to demand we get back to work to support our families and communities,” the woman speaking to camera in one ad says.
“Let’s be brave and we’ll get through this together. Start making a difference by telling your governor to liberate your state and reopen society,” she adds, directing viewers to text a message of support for reopening.
The spot comes as the political pressure on reopening is ramping up — President Trump has repeatedly called on Democratic governors to “liberate” their states, and there have been a handful of protests in states calling for governors to relax coronavirus-related restrictions amid record unemployment numbers.
Recent polling from Gallup shows that social-distancing has decreased as states begin to move toward relaxing some restrictions.
But that even so, 73 percent of adults say it’s better for healthy adults to stay home “as much as possible to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus,” compared to the 27 percent who say it’s better to “lead their normal lives as much as possible and avoid interruptions to work and business.”
Jeanne Shaheen takes herself out of veepstakes
WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., declined a request from Joe Biden’s presidential campaign to be vetted as a potential running mate, a source with direct knowledge told NBC News. She cited her “commitment to New Hampshire” as she runs for her third Senate term this year.
It’s the latest indication that Biden’s vetting work is well underway. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was the first possible candidate to publicly disclose this week that she has been in touch with Biden’s team. During a “Today” interview she said, “it was just an opening conversation.” Biden has said he expects the vetting process to take five to eight weeks, which would point to an announcement occurring no sooner than July.
“They’re now in the process of thoroughly examining a group of women, all of whom are capable in my view of being president. And there’s about a dozen of them,” Biden said during a virtual fundraiser last week. “We’re keeping the names quiet because if anyone isn’t chosen I don’t want anybody to think it’s because there was something that was a — some liability that existed.”
The Biden team’s interest in Shaheen was first reported by WMUR political reporter John DiStaso, who has also reported that Maggie Hassan, the state’s other Democratic senator, has agreed to be vetted by the Biden campaign, something NBC News has not confirmed.
NBC News learned that there were multiple conversations between Shaheen and Biden representatives over the last two weeks — specifically with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who are part of the Biden vetting operation.
While Shaheen, who also served three terms as New Hampshire’s governor, hasn’t been listed as a top possibility, Biden mentioned her multiple times as one of women he might consider. At a campaign event in Iowa last November, Biden cited “the two senators from New Hampshire” as possibilities.
However, there are key factors as to why Shaheen may have declined the opportunity: At 73-years-old, she does not offer an obvious generational balance to the ticket and she’s ideologically more moderate. Additionally, if Shaheen were to be Biden’s running mate, and Biden were to win in November, the Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu would appoint her replacement. This could hurt Democrats’ chances at winning back the Senate.
Shaheen and Biden have known each other for decades. Shaheen’s husband endorsed Biden before the New Hampshire primary and was an active local surrogate for him. Shaheen endorsed Biden in April once he became the apparent Democratic nominee.
Even though Shaheen will not be campaigning for Biden as a potential vice president, Biden will likely Biden depend on the strength of Shaheen’s formidable and time-tested political operation in New Hampshire. His campaign said last week that as they continue to build up their state-by-state operations, they would be seeking to supplement the work of strong Senate candidates rather than set up their own operations from scratch.
Marianna Sotomayor contributed.
A pandemic campaign is a lean campaign, and other campaign finance takeaways
WASHINGTON — Wednesday marked another monthly campaign finance deadline, where presidential campaigns and many committees filed their latest fundraising report through April.
Here are a few takeaways from the Political Unit.
A pandemic campaign is a lean campaign
There are real concerns among political strategists that the massive job losses and belt-tightening caused by the pandemic may leave campaigns strapped for cash.
But one benefit — the lack of a real campaign schedule is allowing former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump to stockpile cash away ahead of the fall.
Biden’s campaign raised $43.7 million and spent just $12.9 million, a healthy burn rate that allowed its cash-on-hand to swell from $26.4 million in March to $57.1 million at the end of April.
And the Trump campaign raised $16.9 million and spent $7.7 million, closing April with $107.7 million (Team Trump is also supported by a handful of other authorized groups as well).
Those numbers show Biden’s fundraising kicking into a steady gear as he knocked out his Democratic presidential rivals (he raised $46.7 million in March). And they show how the pandemic is allowing both sides to build up their resources.
Loeffler’s husband cuts big check for pro-Trump group
It’s been a busy few months in the news for Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
She’s been dogged by criticism of stock sales around the coronavirus pandemic. She’s argued her portfolio is handled by outside advisers, and a spokeswoman revealed last week that she had turned over information to the Justice Department about those sales.
All the while, she’s running in a competitive Senate primary where her opponent, Rep. Doug Collins, has repeatedly highlighted the controversy.
On Wednesday, FEC reports showed that Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher (the chairman of both the New York Stock Exchange and the Intercontinental Exchange), donated $1 million to the pro-Trump super PAC America First on April 29.
That was the second-largest individual check to the group (New Hampshire businessman Timothy Mellon gave $10 million).
The battle for Congress
New reports from the House and Senate campaign committees provide a temperature check on the race for both bodies come November.
Republicans have the slight cash edge on the Senate side — the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $11.5 million in April and has $37.8 million banked away. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $9 million and has $28.8 million in the bank.
On the House side, both groups virtually tied in fundraising, but it’s the Democrats with the big advantage in the bank.
The National Republican Congressional Committee raised just over $11.4 million, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee coming in just under that amount.
But the Democrats have $82.5 million banked away, while the Republican group has $52.3 million cash on hand.
Sanders still has a nice chunk of change
He may no longer be actively seeking the Democratic presidential nomination (even though his campaign has argued he’s still seeking delegates), but Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders still has a lot of money banked away from his presidential bid.
Sanders’ April report shows he closed the month with almost $8.8 million in cash on hand, and that’s after spending more than $1 million refunding donations to supporters.
He, and other presidential candidates can do a lot with leftover campaign cash, including — keep it for a future presidential election; refund more money to donors; spend it to wind down the campaign; donate to a charity that doesn’t directly benefit him; contribute (within limits) to other campaigns/committees; make an unlimited transfer to local, state or the national party; or transfer the money to his Senate account.
Man who helped thwart train attack in 2015 poised to win GOP nomination in Oregon House district
WASHINGTON — Alek Skarlatos, the former National Guardsman who famously stopped a gunman on a Paris-bound train in 2015, appears to have won the GOP’s nomination for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, setting him up for a clash against an 18-term Democrat.
Skarlatos racked up a huge lead in Tuesday night’s primary, winning almost 87 percent of the primary vote with almost 77,000 mail-in ballots counted, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.
While more mail-in ballots are likely to be counted, Skarlatos’ sizable lead prompted groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee to refer to him as the winner.
Skarlatos, who served a nine-month tour in Afghanistan for the Army National Guard, was one of three Americans who rushed a gunman on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, ultimately subduing the gunman before anyone was killed. After the attack, Skarlatos received the Soldier’s Medal, one of the Army’s highest honors, as well as a major award from the French government.
He later played himself in the Clint Eastwood movie “The 15:17 to Paris,” which portrayed the train episode, appeared on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and lost a close commissioner race in Douglas County, Ore. in 2018 before launching his congressional bid.
If his lead holds, Skarlatos will face off against Rep. Pete DeFazio, the longtime Democratic congressman who chairs the House Transportation Committee.
DeFazio has regularly cruised to victory over the years, but in 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton beat President Donald Trump in the district by just 0.1 percentage points, according to the Cook Political Report’s analysis.
Senate Democrats still looking for answers on agency cooperation with probes
WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is asking the heads of four government agencies if President Donald Trump is “weaponizing” federal agencies by forcing them to cooperate with investigations into Trump’s 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
In a letter to the heads of the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Treasury and the National Archives, obtained by NBC News, Murphy asks if they are “applying different standards” to congressional requests for documents and information, suggesting that the agencies are cooperating with Republican investigations while stonewalling probes into the president.
“I am troubled that President Trump may be weaponizing the executive branch in advance of the 2020 elections by directing agencies to comply with congressional investigations designed to hurt his political opponents,” Murphy wrote, “while stonewalling legitimate oversight investigations into the actions of his own administration.”
The letter is Murphy’s second attempt to receive the information. The senator wrote to the inspectors general of the four agencies in March, asking them the same questions. Three IGs — from State, Treasury, National Archives — told Murphy that his request was not in their purview but that agencies should reply to his request.
Treasury Inspector General Joseph Cuffari wrote that the Treasury “can provide the factual information underlying your concern” and then-State Department Inspector General Steve Linick wrote that the State Department “may have relevant information” related to his request.
Trump fired the State Department IG, Steve Linick last Friday at the urging of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Democrats have pointed to the refusal of the executive branch to comply with congressional requests under President Trump, particularly during the impeachment process last year.
In contrast, the State Department has handed over thousands of pages of documents to Republican Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of committees investigating Hunter Biden’s work on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings. The National Archives has promised to hand over thousands more documents.
Johnson’s committee, the Homeland Security Committee, is expected to take a significant step in its investigation Wednesday and hold a vote to subpoena Blue Star Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm who worked with Burisma when Hunter sat on the company’s board.
In a separate Republican-led investigation into the “unmasking” by Obama administration officials of Michael Flynn during the Trump transition, Sens. Grassley, Johnson and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina released an email of Obama’s former national security aide Susan Rice declassified by the Acting Director of National Intelligence Director Richard Grenell at their request.
Attack ads and bear hugs of Trump dominate airwaves in Tuesday’s contested Oregon House GOP primary
WASHINGTON — While the coronavirus pandemic has upended elections across the country, it’s business as usual in Tuesday’s Oregon primary — that’s because the state has voted entirely by mail since 2000.
The most competitive federal election Tuesday is the GOP primary for the state’s 2nd Congressional District, where a crowded croup of Republicans are looking to replace the retiring Rep. Greg Walden.
It’s been busy on the airwaves in the sprawling district that covers most of Eastern Oregon, with $1.7 million spent on television and radio through Tuesday, according to Advertising Analytics.
Two candidates have spent significantly more than the rest of the field — Knute Buehler (the GOP’s 2018 nominee for governor) and Jimmy Crumpacker (an energy investor).
And those ads have gotten fierce — Buehler calls Crumpacker “a fraud with a trust fund” in one ad and a “Portland pretender” in another, hits fellow primary candidates Cliff Bentz (a former state lawmaker) and Jason Atkinson (a former state senator) as “Portland-loving liberals” in a third ad, and Bentz a “tax-and-waste politician” in a fourth.
Besides trying to rhyme his last name with “Trump-backer,” Crumpacker has gone on offense too. He calls Buehler, Atkinson and Betnz as allies of “Never Trumpers” in one spot and Buehler a “career politician” who campaigns on “liberal lies” in a second.
Bentz’s ads play him up as a “conservative Republican” who helped to “lead” one of the walkouts of Oregon Republican lawmakers aimed at frustrating legislative efforts on gun control and vaccines.
A handful of outside groups have jumped into the race too, lobbing bombs and promoting the top candidates.
So now all that’s left is deciding who will be the GOP’s nominee, who will have the inside track for the Republican-leaning seat.
Federal appeals court orders New York to hold Democratic presidential primary
A federal appeals court ordered Tuesday that New York’s presidential primary be reinstated, and that the names former presidential candidates Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders be among those allowed on the presidential primary ballot.
The new order is the latest, and possibly final, development in a months-long fight between members of the New York State Board of Elections and a handful of former presidential candidates like Yang and Sanders over whether a candidate who has suspended their campaign should be allowed to remain on a ballot and thereby eligible to collect delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
The New York State Board of Elections confirmed to NBC News they do not plan to appeal this morning’s decision, setting the stage for the presidential primary to return to ballots for the state’s June 23 primary.
Last month, the board removed Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders from the ballot, pointing to his decision to drop out of the presidential race and a recent law that gave the board the power to remove candidates from the ballot after they dropped out.
That move effectively canceled the state’s Democratic presidential primary.
But Sanders’ lawyers had argued against removing him, arguing that he was still fighting for convention delegates to have influence at the convention despite having ended his quest for the nomination.
Yang brought a lawsuit against the board over the decision, and the Sanders camp hired a lawyer and penned a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the challenge.
A federal circuit court judge disagreed with the board’s decision, ruling on May 5 that the primary proceed with the candidates who were on the ballot as of April 26. This includes Sanders, Yang, Michael Bennet, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.
And on Tuesday, the 2nd District Court of Appeals, the federal appeals court that covers New York, upheld the lower court’s decision.
In a tweet responding to the decision, “America’s Promise,” a super PAC formed by former senior Sanders advisors after his campaign ended, wrote “Democracy prevails.”