Politics

New poll shows a tight Democratic primary contest for Massachusetts Senate seat

Campaign Action

A few polls taken before Kennedy launched his campaign in September gave the congressman, who hails from what is arguably America’s most prominent political family (his late grandfather is Robert F. Kennedy), a clear lead over Markey, but surveys taken earlier this year found a more competitive race. However, Kennedy very much has pulled ahead in the money race since he began campaigning for this seat. While the two were about evenly matched in June, Kennedy ended March with a $6.2 million to $4.4 million cash-on-hand lead.

As we noted when Kennedy began his campaign, it’s hard to find any major ideological fault lines between the two candidates. Kennedy has been arguing that he can bring change to the political system Markey’s inhabited since before the 39-year-old Kennedy was born, but this is hardly a classic insider vs. outsider battle. Both men are close to their party’s leadership, but it’s Markey who has the support of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a favorite of anti-establishment progressives.

Election Changes

California: The chairs of the election committees in both California’s Senate and Assembly have introduced legislation that would send every voter a ballot for the November general election and also ensure that a sufficient number of in-person voting options remain in operation. The lawmakers have also asked Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue an executive order requiring that all voters be mailed a ballot so that election officials can immediately begin procuring the necessary equipment without having to wait for the new legislation to become law.

Massachusetts: Democratic Secretary of State Bill Galvin has introduced a proposal to allow voters to vote by mail in Massachusetts’ Sept. 1 primary; currently, the state does not allow mail voting without an excuse in downballot primaries. The plan would also establish a week of in-person early voting before the primary and increase early voting before the November general election from 12 days to 18. In addition, the state would allow voters to request absentee ballots online and would also set up drop-boxes at which ballots could be returned.

For Galvin’s proposal to take effect, the legislature would have to pass it into law, though several other competing bills are pending before lawmakers. One would automatically send ballots to all voters, something Galvin has opposed.

Michigan: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court decision extending Michigan’s filing deadline by two weeks and halving the number of signatures candidates must turn in, saying the judge abused his discretion. However, the appeals court agreed with U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg that Michigan’s failure to ease its ballot access laws while the state’s stay-at-home order has been in effect violated the rights of candidates.

Where Berg erred, said a majority of the appeals panel, was in prescribing specific changes to Michigan’s ballot access procedures. Instead, the court said it was “instructing the State to select its own adjustments so as to reduce the burden on ballot access” and even suggested that if officials voluntarily adopted Berg’s adjustments, that would pass constitutional muster.

In response, officials said they would agree to postpone the filing deadline until May 11 (Berg initially moved it from April 21 to May 8), and reduce the required number of signatures to 70% of the normal amount. Berg had not issued a new ruling as of Thursday evening.

Oklahoma: Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed a law reinstating a requirement that Oklahoma voters have their absentee ballots notarized, just days after the state Supreme Court struck down the law. The new law temporarily waives the notarization requirement during a public health emergency, but in doing so it instead requires voters to present a copy of their photo ID, something that isn’t easily obtained either for voters who don’t have a home printer or access to transportation.

The court had ruled that the notarization requirement did not apply to absentee ballots under existing state law, but Oklahoma’s Republican-run legislature responded by quickly passing legislation to make the requirement explicit and add the photo ID requirement during emergencies, which hadn’t applied even before this litigation. Oklahoma is one of just three states, along with Mississippi and Missouri, that require absentee ballots to be notarized (several others let voters obtain a witness signature if they can’t get a notary’s signature).

Senate

GA-Sen-A: Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson is up with a new ad ahead of the June 9 Democratic primary. The commercial highlights endorsements from three prominent Black Georgians: former Atlanta Mayor and U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young, former Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron, and Martin Luther King III, the son of the iconic civil rights leader. Tomlinson’s accomplishments as mayor of Georgia’s third-largest city are noted as the spot’s voiceover says the endorsing trio “know extraordinary leadership when they see it.”

The ad comes just days after one of Tomlinson’s primary opponents, 2017 House nominee Jon Ossoff, went up with a spot touting the endorsement of one the most visible Black figures in the state, Rep. John Lewis. It also comes after last Sunday’s Democratic primary debate where, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tomlinson faced accusations of not doing enough outreach to the Black community in Columbus during her tenure as mayor.

GA-Sen-B: On Thursday, former GOP Rep. Karen Handel endorsed Rep. Doug Collins over appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the November all-party primary. Handel, who is trying to regain her old 6th Congressional District from freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, doesn’t face any serious opposition in next month’s primary, so there’s little risk to her by taking sides in the Senate contest. However, Handel’s decision to do so is another indication of just how badly things are going for Loeffler.

Republicans initially hoped that Loeffler, who was appointed to this seat late last year, would be able to help the party reverse its dramatic Trump-era decline in the Atlanta suburbs, especially among women. Handel, who lost a suburban House seat last cycle, would have especially benefited if Loeffler had actually been able to boost Team Red’s prospects there.

That very much doesn’t seem to be happening, though. Loeffler has been on the defensive since mid-March over her pandemic-related stock transactions, and polls from Collins’ campaign and a Collins ally have found her extremely unpopular statewide. The senator recently launched a $4 million ad campaign to try to rehabilitate her image, but Handel seems to be betting that it won’t work in her old constituency.

NH-Sen: Attorney Corky Messner is up with a new spot ahead of the September Republican primary. The ad, backed by a six-figure buy, highlights Messer’s business success and military background to argue that he has strong leadership abilities. His military experience is also used to nod at one of the GOP’s favorite talking points, socialism, when the voiceover exclaims, “As an Army captain and Ranger during the Cold War, he led men in our battle against socialism.”

Messner is facing a one-on-one battle with retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc. Although Bolduc outraised him in the last fundraising quarter $170,000 to $42,000, the deep-pocketed Messner holds a large cash advantage over Bolduc after he self-funded $2.1 million in the first three months of 2020. Messner also holds a huge $3 million to $102,000 cash-on-hand lead over Bolduc.

Whoever emerges from this primary will be in for a tough race against incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who brought in $2 million last quarter and possesses a $7.1 million war chest, in a race Daily Kos Elections rates as Likely Democratic.

Gubernatorial

MT-Gov: The state AFL-CIO endorsed Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney this week ahead of the June 2 Democratic primary. Cooney had previously earned the backing of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, which his campaign described as the largest union in the state.

House

CA-10: Politico’s Ally Mutnick reported on Wednesday that Republican Ted Howze, who is challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Harder, has a long history of bigoted social media posts.

Howze’s Twitter and Facebook accounts had written or shared messages attacking both Muslims and one of the survivors of the Parkland high school massacre; Howze’s page also used a racist stereotype against Rep. Maxine Waters, who is one of the most prominent Black members of Congress. These posts were published from January 2017 until March of the following year around the time that he launched an unsuccessful bid against GOP Rep. Jeff Denham in the top-two primary.

Howze responded by employing the Shaggy Defense and said that, while he didn’t dispute that these “negative and ugly ideas” were shared on his accounts, he had nothing to do with them. Howze said, “I made the mistake of allowing others access to these accounts unknowingly — and I am angered, horrified and extremely offended that these ugly ideas were shared or posted by those individuals several years ago.” Howze did not respond to Mutnick’s inquiries about who could have written or shared these posts or why they were only removed the day he launched his 2018 bid.

Harder unseated Denham 52-48 after a very expensive race in this 49-46 Clinton seat, but Daily Kos Elections rated this contest as Likely Democratic even before this story broke. Howze has struggled to raise money, and while he self-funded close to $600,000 though March, it’s not clear how much more he can throw down. Harder, by contrast, has been a very strong fundraiser, and he ended the first quarter with an enormous $3.6 million to $101,000 cash-on-hand lead.

GA-07: 2018 nominee Carolyn Bourdeaux is up with her first TV ad ahead of the June 9 Democratic primary, and her campaign says that it’s running on cable for $30,000. Bourdeaux tells the audience, “When I hear from families struggling to afford health care, I think of my own parents who drained their life savings to pay for prescription drugs.” She continues by saying that, especially during the current crisis, it’s vital “[t]o fix your health care and make our economy work for everyone.”

Both parties have crowded primaries in this competitive open seat in the northeast Atlanta suburbs, but only two Democratic candidates had much money to spend at the end of March. Bourdeaux held a $1.1 million to $504,000 cash-on-hand lead over state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, while former DNC official Nabilah Islam had just $82,000 to spend. Two other candidates, former Fulton County Commission chair John Eaves and state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, had $56,000 and $38,000 to spend, respectively.

On the GOP side, state Sen. Renee Unterman led physician Rich McCormick, a fellow self-funder, $726,000 to $542,000 in cash-on-hand. Businesswoman Lynne Homrich had $273,000 to spend, while businessman Mark Gonsalves had $165,000. Candidates need to win a majority of the vote to claim their party’s nomination without going through an August runoff.

NY-02: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has thrown its support behind Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino in the June 23 GOP primary to succeed retiring Rep. Pete King. Garbarino already had the backing of much of the party establishment including King and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who endorsed the assemblyman back in March.

NY-17: EMILY’s List has endorsed former Obama administration official Evelyn Farkas in the crowded June 23 Democratic primary for this open seat.

NY-27: The coronavirus pandemic led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reschedule the special election for this 60-35 Trump seat from late April to June 23, the same day as New York’s primaries, and that’s created a complicated situation on the GOP side. State Sen. Chris Jacobs is Team Red’s nominee for the special election to fill the final months of disgraced ex-Rep. Chris Collins’ term, but he’s also facing oncoming fire on his right flank in the primary from attorney and former Fox contributor Beth Parlato.

Parlato recently went up with a TV ad featuring an actor playing an IRS agent who declares, “The IRS does not endorse candidates. But if we did, we’d choose Chris Jacobs.” The actor goes on to say that Jacobs “shares our values” and supported $5 billion in new taxes. He continues, “We can’t let Beth Parlato into Congress. She’s like President Trump, a tax cutter.”

Parlato may also be getting some outside support soon. The anti-tax Club for Growth has long had it out for Jacobs, who identified as pro-choice during his failed 2006 run for lieutenant governor, and its president told The Buffalo News‘ Robert McCarthy that it would “likely” endorse Parlato.

However, it remains to be seen how much aid the group would provide. Back in January, right after party leaders nominated Jacobs for the special (in New York special elections, county party leaders choose congressional nominees rather than primary voters), the Club publicly said that it was “prepared to spend seven figures opposing Jacobs,” but it wouldn’t commit to any kind of amount this week.

Even if the Club goes all-in, though, it’s still going to be difficult to deny Jacobs the GOP nod. Another candidate, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, is also in, and he and Parlato may end up appealing to the same type of voters who aren’t happy with the state senator. Jacobs also will probably benefit from being the GOP’s nominee in the concurrent special election since his opponents will need to win over plenty of Republican voters who would be supporting Jacobs in the other contest.

Jacobs also has plenty of important allies. Donald Trump endorsed him in February for the special election, and Jacobs has made sure to remind voters of that in his ads. Parlato responded by griping to McCarthy that Trump’s endorsement only applied to the special, which was set for April at the time. She’s right, but that’s a distinction that may be lost on most voters now that both races are on the same day. The deep-pocketed U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which often finds itself on the opposite side of the Club in primaries, also threw its support behind Jacobs this week.

This seat, which includes some of the Buffalo suburbs, is very tough turf for Team Blue, though it’s possible that the GOP chaos will give Democrat Nate McMurray a better opening in the special election. McMurray faces no opposition in the primary, so he’ll take on the GOP primary winner in the general election.

P.S. If Jacobs does lose the primary on the same day he wins the seat in a special general election, he’ll have some company in political nerd trivia. In 1986, Hawaii Democrat Neil Abercrombie won the special election for the 1st District by defeating Republican Pat Saiki 30-29, while fellow Democrat Mufi Hannemann took 28%. (All the candidates competed on one ballot without any sort of a primary or runoff, a system that cost Democrats this seat in a 2010 special.)

However, it was Hannemann who defeated Abercrombie 40-39 in the regular primary, so Abercrombie arrived in the House as a lame-duck congressman. Saiki beat Hannemann a few months later but left in 1990 to unsuccessfully run for the Senate, and Abercrombie won the seat back.

TX-22: Self-funder Kathaleen Wall made national news last month with a racist anti-Chinese commercial, and she’s out with another ad ahead of the July GOP runoff that pledges she’ll “make China pay.” The narrator declares at the end, “For Congress, it’s Kathaleen Wall against communist China.”

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