In this edition: All the primaries to watch today, the latest vote-by-mail dramas in key states, and a look at the Trump campaign's new ad strategy.

The difference between mail voting and absentee voting is — hey, look over there, a zeppelin! This is the Trailer.

In a vacuum, with all partisan politics removed, today's primaries could tell us plenty about which voting system may allow the fastest and most accurate November count. Five states wrap up elections today; in one, all voting is conducted by mail (Washington), and in another there's no in-person early voting whatsoever (Missouri). 

There's plenty to watch, with repercussions for November in a few House districts and a potential expansion of Medicaid in Missouri. But it's nearly as important to watch how ballots are counted, when the count is finished, and how many mail votes didn't make the cut. We will know plenty about these races by the end of the night, but we won't know everything. The ongoing question: Whether other states can avoid the fate of New York, where human error left many elections uncalled, and tens of thousands of ballots uncounted, weeks after the vote.

Until then, here's what to look out for.

Polls close at 8 p.m. in Michigan and Missouri, though the voters at the far edge of Michigan's upper peninsula observe Central time and will have another hour. (They typically cast less than 0.7 percent of the statewide vote.) The race with the biggest implications for Democrats is the primary in the 13th District, which covers most of Detroit, and where Rep. Rashida Tlaib's challenger has already defeated her once.

Two years ago, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones edged past Tlaib and two other candidates to win the last few months of an expired term; Tlaib won the election for the next full term, in a vote in which two additional candidates, both Black, split the vote. Every also-ran has now endorsed Jones, and the theory of unseating Tlaib starts with their math. Most of the district's voters are Black, and most had previously voted for an alternative to Tlaib.

But Tlaib has established herself in Congress as a fierce advocate for Detroit and high-profile critic of the president. Jones, who entered the race after the coronavirus pandemic had already begun, has been dramatically outspent and rarely been able to campaign in person. (She contracted covid-19 but recovered.) Four years ago, voters here cast 89,321 ballots and Tlaib won 31,121 of them, a baseline for her performance tonight.

Also worth watching in the Detroit area: the primary for Wayne County prosecutor, which pits 16-year incumbent Kim Worthy against Victoria Burton-Harris, a criminal justice reformer endorsed by Bernie Sanders, and the primary in the 9th state legislative district, where Democrat Karen Whitsett is being challenged by environmental and housing activist Roslyn Ogburn, who scooped up liberal endorsements when Whitsett went to the White House to promote hydroxychloroquine. And just outside Detroit, there are primaries for county prosecutor in Washtenaw and Oakland that will also test the post-George Floyd appeal of reformers in liberal areas.

The fiercest Republican competitions are in two usually safe seats, including the 3rd District represented by the retiring Republican-turned-independent Rep. Justin Amash. Five Republicans jumped in to replace him, none particularly similar to the libertarian congressman, and it has turned into a contest between state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis and veteran Peter Meijer, the heir to a grocery store chain who founded a project to elect more veterans. Either will face Democrat Hillary Scholten, a former Justice Department attorney who has raised $1 million. (Democrats hadn't seriously contested the seat since 2012, the first cycle under its current lines.)

There's another Republican battle underway in the 10th District, which Rep. Paul Mitchell is vacating after two terms. Business executive Lisa McClain has spent more than $1.6 million on her race, more than state Rep. Shane Hernandez and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Doug Slocum (R) combined. Whoever wins that primary is favored to hold a seat carried by the president by 32 points.

Republicans will also pick their nominees in two Trump-won seats lost by the party in 2018: the 8th District, represented by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, and the 11th District, represented by Rep. Haley Stevens. In the 8th, former congressional aide and TV anchor Paul Junge has loaned his campaign $500,000, easily outspending rivals who have raised less than $100,000 each. In the 11th, four Republicans are running as political outsiders, joined by Kerry Bentivolio, an eccentric one-term congressman who lost a 2014 primary for this seat and keeps trying to mount a comeback. Attorney Eric Esshaki is the only candidate whose fundraising earned an “on the radar” designation from the National Republican Congressional Committee, a sign of suburban party troubles in what was, until 2018, a safely red district.

In Missouri, voters will decide whether to expand Medicaid and accept the Affordable Care Act's resources, just six weeks after Oklahomans voted to do the same. This would make Missouri the sixth state to expand the multibillion-dollar health benefit after Republican legislators refused to, and it would come just two years after Missouri voters undid a Republican-passed right-to-work law, the first sign that liberals could win these ballot measures even during relatively lower-turnout primaries. When right-to-work was overturned, it led even in most rural counties; if today's measure leads anywhere outside the Democratic strongholds of Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia, it stands a good chance of passage.

The Democratic primary in the 1st District could help drive that turnout. Rep. William Lacy Clay, a member of a family that has represented St. Louis in Congress since 1969, faces a rematch against Cori Bush, an activist who lost her 2018 challenge by 20 points. But this has been a very different race. Bush has more than tripled her fundraising since the last campaign, while Clay ran a version of his 2018 race. 

The result is an incumbent being outspent on TV, and in difficult voting conditions neither had to deal with before. Lacy Clay has spent the final week sending a barrage of negative mail attacking everything from Bush's financial struggles (which she talks about freely) to her support from activists who want to boycott Israel. If Clay loses, he'll be the sixth incumbent member of the House to get ousted in a primary this year. And there's another race in the city: Kim Gardner, the first Black circuit attorney in St. Louis, faces a primary challenge.

At 9 p.m., polls will be closed across Kansas, where millions of dollars have been spent by both parties on the outcome of the GOP's Senate primary. It could be the last stand for Kris Kobach, the former two-term secretary of state who lost the 2018 race for governor and has been viewed as a liability ever since by national Republicans. (In Kansas, grumbling about Kobach goes back to his days as an unsuccessful House candidate.) 

Despite steady pressure from allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), President Trump stayed out of the race, leaving Rep. Roger Marshall to pitch himself as a Trump ally, as Kobach ran ads featuring Trump's outdated endorsement from two years ago. Marshall has outspent Kobach by a 3-to-1 margin, while plumbing company owner Bob Hamilton loaned himself $3.5 million for a campaign that hasn't broken through but could be decisive in a close Kobach-Marshall race. In the 2018 gubernatorial primary, Kobach absorbed losses in Johnson County (in Kansas City's suburbs) and Shawnee County but held on by romping in the Wichita area and holding his own in rural, deep red western Kansas.

Four Republicans are competing to replace Marshall in the 1st District, a stretch of north and western Kansas where Democrats are rarely competitive; veteran and physician Bill Clifford has spent the most to win it, followed by former lieutenant governor Tracey Mann. But there may be more at risk for the party in the 2nd District, where scandal-plagued Rep. Steve Watkins is defending his nomination against state Treasurer Jake LaTurner. Watkins narrowly won the party's 2018 nomination thanks largely to his strength around Topeka, but 73 percent of Republicans voted for somebody else.

Watkins's fortunes have been declining since July 14, when he was charged in relation to an investigation into illegal voting; as in the Senate race, Democrats have a rooting interest, as they think Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla can run a competitive race against Watkins. And in the 3rd District, which Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids flipped two years ago, five Republicans are competing to challenge her. Most are women, with former state party chair Amanda Adkins and former National Down Syndrome Society President Sara Hart Weir dominating on the air. (Adkins has also gotten a boost from a super PAC funded in part by her father.)

At 10 p.m., polls close in Arizona, a state with a robust history of early and absentee voting, and with fewer election conduct worries than most. Both Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democrat Mark Kelly have underfunded primary challengers in their Senate primaries; just as in 2018, when she won the nomination for the state's other seat, McSally is expected to roll past a Trump activist who questions her conservative loyalties. Daniel McCarthy has spent less than $500,000 on that challenge, but the results could test McSally's appeal to a restless party base.

Most of today's House primaries are Democrat-on-Democrat affairs, with both Rep. Tom O'Halleran and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick facing left-wing challengers; Eva Putzova, who's facing O'Halleran in the 1st District, has spent enough to get local attention. In the 6th District, Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, running after a strong 2018 bid for a far more conservative seat, has spent $1.3 million against unsuccessful 2018 nominee Anita Malik and two other Democrats. While Trump carried the suburban Phoenix district by 10 points, he did worse than any recent Republican presidential nominee there, and incumbent Rep. David Schweikert was admonished by the House last week over campaign finance violations.

At 11 p.m., polls will close in Washington, where all-mail voting has meant no changes to its usual election system; the state's worries are limited to staffing the process of ballot-counting. The only open seat is in the Olympia-based 10th District, where national liberals and local labor unions have endorsed state Rep. Beth Doglio; her closest competitors have been former Tacoma mayor Marilyn Strickland and former state representative Kristine Reeves, either of whom would be the first Black member of Congress from the state. 

Washington's all-party primary system sets up November runoffs between whichever candidates place in the top two after ballots are counted. That could mean an all-Democrat race in the 10th; it has clouded the races for governor and lieutenant governor, where Gov. Jay Inslee has 34 mostly fringe competitors, with anti-tax activist Tim Eyman the best-known Republican candidate. Rep. Denny Heck, who is vacating that 10th District seat, is favored to lead the primary for lieutenant governor, having run in part to clear a crowded field. (If Inslee were to leave office before his term was over, a Republican lieutenant governor would inherit the job.) 

And while Secretary of State Kim Wyman has been touted by national Democrats as a model Republican elections offer, Gael Tarleton is the only Democrat facing her, giving the party a chance of winning an office it hasn't held since 1964.

Reading list

How the campaign to warn voters away from absentee ballots could backfire.

The stakes of a “Justice Democrats” primary challenge.

The new USPS leadership is slowing down mail, with implications for elections.

How the senator from Massachusetts is shaping the Biden agenda.

What's the matter with Erie?

A look inside an effort to discredit mail voting before November.

In the states

New York's June 23 primary has become a national model for how not to conduct an election. It started with the state losing a legal challenge, after election officials attempted to cancel the presidential primary. It's ending with another legal defeat, as a federal judge ordered that ballots “not postmarked later than June 23, 2020” should be counted, rescuing thousands of ballots that were cast before the deadline but arrived later.

“When voters have been provided with absentee ballots and assured that their votes on those ballots will be counted, the state cannot ignore a later discovered, systemic problem that arbitrarily renders those ballots invalid,” Judge Analisa Torres wrote. “The policy embodied by the postmark rule, deliberately adopted and intentionally applied to those ballots, is sufficient to establish a violation of the Due Process Clause and the First Amendment.”

That will force election officials to recover ballots that were not postmarked, as required, by a Brooklyn post office. Since the June 23 primary, New York has added more protections for voters, who'll be able to check the status of what they mailed in. That won't do anything to change the result in the 12th District, where Suraj Patel was challenging Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and sued over the counting of non-postmarked ballots. Maloney has predicted that her lead of a few thousand votes will hold up, but that's after weeks of the president citing New York as evidence that mail voting won't be safe in November. In a statement Tuesday, Maloney said that "my former opponent has become Donald Trump's mouthpiece in disparaging mail voting" — mischaracterizing Patel, who has criticized the errors that left ballots uncounted, not mail voting itself.

“We have thousands of voters whose votes weren’t counted,” Patel said in a statement. “The idea that I am somehow a mouthpiece for Donald Trump is absurd on its face — our arguments are the complete opposite. The democratic process doesn’t stop when it becomes politically inconvenient for you.”

Maloney's campaign estimates that it ended the count about 3,700 votes ahead and that the decision will introduce fewer than 1,200 new ballots. Patel has not conceded.

In Nevada, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation, which sailed through the Democratic legislature, that will send a ballot to every active voter in the state. Nevada's long, slow count did not experience the same counting and legitimacy errors as New York, but it left some candidates waiting weeks until they learned whether they had won or lost. The law, Sisolak said, would “enable election officials to continue to support the safest, most accessible election possible under these unprecedented circumstances.”

Republicans immediately threatened a lawsuit, with the president confusingly criticizing an “illegal late-night coup” — an inapt description of a law passed in the daytime. So far, though, the president and RNC have had little success in getting courts to undo voting changes passed by legislatures; their victories have come, typically, when lower courts struck down local legislation.

In Minnesota, a county judge approved two other changes demanded by Democrats: waiving the witness signature on absentee ballots, and allowing ballots postmarked on election day to be counted so long as they arrive within a week of the election. Republicans have threatened further legal action. 

Ad watch

President Trump's campaign paused all its advertising last week, going back on the air Monday with fresh interest in its strategy. The content of these TV spots hasn't changed, but the framing has.

In “Takeover,” Joe Biden's “unity task force” with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) again gets cited to prove that Biden has joined “the radical left,” its agenda defined thusly: “trillions in new taxes,” “amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants” and “reducing police funding.” As in the scrapped Trump ads, Biden’s willingness to “absolutely” redirect some funding from policing to social work is cited as proof that he’d reduce the funding.

In “Cards,” an actress flipping cue cards a la Bob Dylan explains that while she is “afraid to say this out loud,” she has concerns about Biden’s trade record, amnesty plan and tax plans. In 30 seconds it demonstrates the paradox of the Trump campaign’s “enthusiasm” argument — that Trump both has more outwardly excited supporters than Biden and a quieter base of voters who aren’t telling pollsters what they think. (The choice of a nonwhite actress for this ad also demonstrates which voters the campaign sees as populating that latter group.)

Finally, in “Progresista,” the Trump campaign makes good on a promise, turning Biden’s pledge to be the “most progressive” president back on him and informing Spanish-speaking voters that this is a back door into communism. “When they say ‘progressive,’" say the captions, "they mean …  a socialist revolution in the United States!”

Lisa McClain, “Shane Hernandez Says Wall Is Ridiculous.” The old Trump skepticism of some conservative Republicans continues to haunt them, as in this primary in Michigan's 10th District. The self-funding McClain accuses Hernandez, a state legislator, of calling Trump's wall proposal “ridiculous.” He did so, and, like 65 percent of Michigan Republicans, backed a Trump rival in the primary, the kind of vote that has come back to bite many Republicans this cycle.

Tracey Mann, “Somali Immigrants.” The former lieutenant governor of Kansas goes after his opponent in today's congressional primary for backing liberal immigration policies, everything from “college tuition for illegal immigrants” to once criticizing the president's immigration policy. The kicker: “Voted to bring Somali immigrants to western Kansas.” Two years ago, in a city contained in this district, three white men were convicted of plotting to bomb a house where Somali immigrants lived.

Fight Corporate Monopolies, “Wall Street Clay.” A liberal PAC launched just weeks ago by veterans of the CFPB and the Bernie Sanders campaign, FCM swept into Rep. William Lacy Clay's Missouri race at the last minute. “Clay opposed President Obama's effort to protect workers' retirement savings,” a narrator says, bringing up a fairly obscure Democratic fight and personalizing it with the ultra-popular former president.

Hiral Tipirneni, “No Excuses.” Thanks to Phoenix's crowded media market, most Democrats in Tipirneni's new district met her in 2018. Her message has hardly changed, adding “coronavirus” to the list of preexisting conditions her health-care plan (basically Biden's plan with a universal Medicare buy-in) would cover and emphasizing experience in hospitals that Republicans questioned last cycle.

Poll watch

Ben McAdams (D): 35%
Burgess Owens (R): 35%

That's a high number of undecided voters in a race that pits a freshman Democratic congressman against a Black former NFL player who appears frequently on Fox. McAdams won his 2018 race by a narrow margin after a long count of late-returned mail ballots. (Utah was one of five all-mail voting states before the pandemic.) Although every Republican candidate for president has carried the district since its creation in 2011, Trump won it by just seven points, thanks to a sizable protest vote for conservative independent Evan McMullin. But McAdams ran in 2018 as a bipartisan, deficit-conscious problem solver, a mission that the events of the last two years have made impossible.

Candidate tracker

President Trump continued to emphasize the powers of the presidency this week, gathering Republican authors of the Great American Outdoors Act at the White House to celebrate its passage. (Since the impeachment trial ended in February, Trump has generally kept Democrats away from even bipartisan bill signings.) 

It marked a reversal for the president after some (never successful) skepticism about filling the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and per Republicans who persuaded Trump to back it; the selling point was that he could deliver the biggest conservation bill in dollar terms since Teddy Roosevelt. While several Republican senators are emphasizing the bill in paid ads for their reelection campaigns, Trump hasn't yet.

Trump otherwise kept to the ad hoc campaign trail, packing a quick rally into a Florida trip focused on hurricane preparedness, where, flanked by police officers, he promised never to “defund the police” and mused on how nice Bernie Sanders had been to Joe Biden since losing the Democratic nomination.

“They took the election away from him twice,” Trump said. “Then he gets out, then he's friends with everybody.”

Biden kept a low profile from the weekend through the first days of this week, spending much of his public time on fundraisers. “Everybody thought I was nuts,” Biden told donors Monday, reflecting on his April prediction that the president would try to delay the election if it looked bad for him. “What did he do last week? He suggested we should postpone the election.” (The president does not have the power to delay an election.)

Biden actually grappled a bit with the president's campaign over another musing: His comments a week ago asking whether a pre-election coronavirus vaccine would be “real.” After the Trump campaign pushed back, Biden defended his position. “A vaccine compromised by political influence would create health and safety risks, and could further shake the American people's already weakened trust in our government's ability to combat this pandemic,” he said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Biden released his Latino agenda, packaging some previously announced economic investments with a repetition of his promise to give “11 million undocumented immigrants a road map to citizenship.” 

Veep watch

In the last edition of this newsletter, we took Joe Biden literally: He'd have a vice presidential announcement sometime this week. But Biden's words at a Delaware news conference didn't reflect the actual plan, with interviews and vetting continuing this week and an announcement perhaps next week, right before the Democratic National Convention.

That's a delay from Biden's initial plan, but the convention itself was delayed. And a last-minute announcement would still come earlier than Aug. 23, the date in 2008 when Barack Obama announced Biden as his running mate. In the meantime, Rep. Karen Bass of California has been putting out fires after attention swung to her long work in Cuba, her 2010 speech at a Scientology center and her work with members of the Nation of Islam in California.

“I’m not a socialist. I’m not a communist,” Bass told NBC News. “I’ve belonged to one party my entire life and that’s the Democratic Party, and I’m a Christian.” This is, easily, the most sustained national attention Bass has gotten since arriving in Congress 10 years ago.

Susan Rice, the only frequently touted candidate who has not run for election, appeared on “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday to emphasize just how ready she was for the job   executive branch experience and for campaigning.

“I will do the 20th century equivalent of licking envelopes,” Rice said. “I'll serve in whatever capacity that VP Biden thinks I can best serve." 

Meet a PAC

What it's called: The Congressional Integrity Project

What it does: Push for investigations of Republicans who are themselves pursuing “politically motivated” investigations, starting with Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who is not up for reelection until 2022. This week, the group released polling that suggested Johnson's use of the Senate Oversight Committee gavel to probe Biden family business ties was unpopular at home.

“Johnson's on an incredibly powerful committee and he's using it to focus on efforts that his constituents would rather he not focus on,” said CIP Executive Director Kyle Herrig. “Instead of focusing on things like the pandemic he's engaged in hyperpartisan activity.” Herrig comes to the group from other liberal oversight projects.

Who funds it: We don't know; as a 501(c) 4 it doesn't have to disclose donors and won't for months. Same goes for the spending, though CIP has no plans for direct advertising.

What's next: It's “tbd,” per Herrig, though Johnson has already responded to CIP's claim that he enriched himself by backing the 2017 tax cut.

“They are using false information, and they know it’s false, yet they still push it,” Johnson told WISN 12 news this week. “That’s why not enough good people actually run for office, and it’s such a vicious process, it’s so dishonest, but that’s the way it is. I accept that.” 

Countdown

… two days until primaries in Tennessee
… four days until primaries in Hawaii
… seven days until primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin, and runoffs in Georgia
… 13 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 14 days until primaries in Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming 
… 23 days until the Republican National Convention
… 31 days until some absentee ballots start going out
… 91 days until the general election