In this edition: Every upcoming House primary, the end of Justin Amash's brief presidential campaign and Trump's line of attack.
The campaign newsletter that's been windmill-free since 2018: This is The Trailer.
Republicans celebrated three different bursts of good news this week in their toughest 2020 challenge: taking back the House of Representatives. First, they won the special election in California's 25th District. The same day, they were cheered by the win of a left-leaning candidate over a more moderate one in Nebraska, seeing her as easier to beat in November. And then, their National Republican Congressional Committee edged past the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in monthly fundraising, $11.4 million to $11.3 million.
What they don't know yet, and what nobody else knows yet, is who will be carrying the party's banner in every competitive House race. A handful of states are already finished with primaries, or might as well be. California, Illinois and Ohio held their contests the same day as their presidential primaries, as did North Carolina, where there'll be just one runoff on June 23 for the seat of former congressman Mark Meadows, now the White House chief of staff. (Two Republicans are competing for a very red district.)
But most of the nominations in the 435 races for the House have yet to be decided, pending primaries that will continue on Tuesday and not wrap up until four months later. We know that Democrats still have intraparty arguments to work out, though most of their tough primaries will unfold in safe seats, including three represented by “the Squad” — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. (The fourth “squad” member, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, has no challenge in the primary or general election.)
We know that Republicans have succeeded in recruiting more female and nonwhite candidates and a crop of first-time candidates with military experience — all things that worked for Democrats two years ago, all goals for Republicans at the start of the year. While Democrats are favored to hold the House, especially as long as Joe Biden leads in national and swing-state polls, Republicans have already chipped into their majority. They could win back more seats depending on how these primaries go, and whether either party has to move too far to one side to get past a primary.
There are countless debates, fundraisers and pandemic-era backup plans to sort out before November. Here's where things stand right now.
May 19: There may end up being no competitive House races in Idaho and Oregon once the primaries are over. The Gem State has not seen a competitive House race since 2010, when Republicans reclaimed a seat lost in the Obama wave. That seat, the 1st District, went for Trump by 39 points in 2016, and two little-known Democrats are fighting for the right to contest it.
In Oregon, four Democratic incumbents have primary challengers, none with many resources, while the Republican primary in the conservative 2nd District will probably pick its next member of Congress, after Rep. Greg Walden's retirement. The 2018 Democratic candidate spent $1.3 million to lose the district by 17 points, and none of this year's Democrats have put together comparable campaigns. The early Republican favorite was Knute Buehler, a former state legislator who ran for governor two years ago and won the district resoundingly. He approached that race as a centrist who supported abortion rights and reintroduced himself this year as a Trump supporter. That opened a lane for investment executive Jimmy Crumpacker to run as an a true, antiabortion conservative, though the presence of nine other Republicans on the ballot could help Buehler.
June 2: Thanks to the election delays caused by covid-19, this is now the biggest day on the calendar, with primaries in Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. The last state on that list is the outlier: There is no real House primary at all, as Democrats failed to recruit any candidates in the at-large district.
Indiana has two open seats and no real competition beyond that — after two failed attempts to win back the ancestral Democrats of the 9th District, the party has basically given up. In the 1st District, where Democratic Rep. Peter J. Visclosky is retiring, 14 Democrats and six Republicans have filed for what should be a safely blue seat. Tom McDermott, the mayor of the Chicago suburb of Hammond, has raised the most money for a campaign with echoes of Pete Buttigieg's presidential run; McDermott even favors “Medicare for all who want it.” But Latino groups have gotten behind state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, who'd be the state's first Latina member of Congress.
The Republican primary in the 5th District is far more crowded, with 16 candidates looking to replace retiring Rep. Susan Brooks (R) in the only part of the state that has trended left. (Mitt Romney won it by 17 points; Donald Trump won it by 12.) The Club for Growth has gotten behind state Sen. Victoria Spartz, who says she “experienced firsthand the dark side of socialism” by growing up in Ukraine, but there is no clear front-runner, while Democrats have largely rallied behind Christina Hale, their 2016 nominee for lieutenant governor.
In Iowa, the 1st and 3rd districts that Democrats flipped last year have straightforward primaries: strong Republican favorites (Ashley Hinson and former congressman Dave Young, respectively) with no serious challengers. Democrats already have their nominee in the 2nd District, where Rep. David Loebsack is retiring; Republicans have a five-way primary, with state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks dominating. In the 4th District, Rep. Steve King has been abandoned by national Republicans as he fends off state Sen. Randy Feenstra and three lesser-known challengers. King's advantage: If no candidate gets more than 35 percent of the vote, the race will go to a convention, where he could have more support.
None of Maryland's districts in this year's election, the last that will be held on a pro-Democratic gerrymander that both parties have denounced, are looking competitive in November. But there are contests in two safe seats: Rep. Kweisi Mfume is trying to consolidate his special election win in the 7th District, and activist Mckayla Wilkes is giving House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer his first well-funded primary challenge, from the left, in the 5th District.
Montana, meanwhile, has a single district that's wide open, and that both parties are contesting; 2018 Democratic nominee Kathleen Williams and 2018 GOP U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale are running but have competition. In New Mexico, 2018 nominee Yvette Herrell is one of three GOP candidates vying to beat freshman Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in the red-leaning 2nd Dstrict; in the safely Democratic 3rd District, a number of Latino candidates have been out-fundraised by Valerie Plame, the former CIA operative central to the Bush-era leak scandal who has spent recent years buffeted by anti-Semitism charges.
Pennsylvania, the home to so much Democratic spending in 2018, is seeing less of it in 2020. Democrats failed to find strong recruits in the 1st District, now one of four nationwide held by a Republican despite being carried by Hillary Clinton. There's a six-way GOP race in the 8th District, where Rep. Matthew Cartwright has consistently run ahead of a Republican-trending vote at the top of the ballot.
June 9: Primaries will be held in Georgia, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and West Virginia. In two of those states — North Dakota and West Virginia — Democrats are no longer pouring resources in to flip back seats they lost years ago, and Republican incumbents have nominal primary challenges. The other three states have competitive contests in districts that have trended to the left but could go either way in November.
In Georgia, there are crowded Republican contests in the safe 9th and 14th districts, where Rep. Douglas A. Collins is leaving for a Senate bid and Rep. Tom Graves is simply leaving. In the safely blue 13th District, nine-term Rep. David Scott faces a challenge from local Democratic leader Michael Owens, though the race has not attracted interest like other anti-establishment campaigns. The only race with heated primaries on both sides is in the 7th District, which Republicans only narrowly held in 2018 as the suburbs surged left. Three of the seven GOP contenders are women; Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat who nearly won in 2018, has five challengers, largely on her left.
In Nevada's 3rd and 4th districts, both won by Democrats in 2016 and 2018, the incumbents have primary challengers; Rep. Steven Horsford, whose district is bluer, will be tested by the revelation that he carried out an affair with an ex-staffer. There are six-way and eight-way Republican primaries to find challengers, with the losers from 2018 staying out of them. The same's true in South Carolina, where neither former congressman Mark Sanford or Katie Arrington, the challenger who ousted him in a 2018 primary, is running against Rep. Joe Cunningham. Instead, state Rep. Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, has led fundraising in a four-way primary.
June 23: Primaries will unfold across Kentucky, New York and Virginia, as will runoffs, if needed, in Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. Democrats made big gains in Virginia two years ago, and did not make any in Kentucky; unsurprisingly, there are no heated primaries in the latter, and a mix of primaries and conventions in the former. In the 2nd District, Republican former congressman Scott Taylor is trying to win a primary after briefly running for Senate; in the 7th District, 2018 Senate candidate Nick Freitas, who lost the Republican Party's primary, is the favorite heading into a convention. The 10th District, the third of Virginia Democrats' 2018 gains, will have a convention, though none of Rep. Jennifer Wexton's potential opponents have come close to the fundraising power of Barbara Comstock, whom Wexton unseated.
Most of the day's battles will unfold in New York, where four seats are open and many more are being targeted by left-wing challengers. Republican retirements have opened up the 2nd and 27th districts, the first in competitive Long Island, the second in increasingly red parts of western New York. Democrats have already settled on their nominees in both, while Republicans have a low-money contest in the 2nd and an odd, two-step contest in the 27th. (State Sen. Chris Jacobs has already secured the nomination for a special election to fill former congressman Chris Collins's term, but there's a primary for the 2020 term.)
The other open-seat races are in Democratic territory; the 17th District is in blue-trending New York City suburbs, while the Bronx-based 15th went to Hillary Clinton by the biggest margin of any district in the country. Both have primaries with every Democratic faction represented, though wealthy attorney Adam Schleifer has dominated the spending race in the 17th and city councilman Ritchie Torres is running ahead in the 15th.
Meanwhile, there are 12 incumbent Democrats facing primary challengers of varying strength. The most expensive race will unfold in the 14th District, where Ocasio-Cortez is being challenged by former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. Defending that seat is a key priority for the new left; after that, the best-funded challenges are against Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Rep. Jerry Nadler and Rep. Eliot L. Engel. In each race, the left's plans are complicated by the rush of fringe challengers onto the ballot, a side effect of Ocasio-Cortez's machine-busting win (and Clarke's close victory) in 2018.
June 30: There aren't many vital primaries in Colorado, Oklahoma and Utah, all three of them states where Democrats gained seats in the midterms. Republicans already have their nominee in Colorado's 6th District, which flipped in 2018; Republicans had some recruiting struggles in Utah's 4th District, though some credible candidates jumped in. In Oklahoma's 5th District, where liberal gains in Oklahoma City helped elect Rep. Kendra Horn, the three strongest fundraisers in the Republican primary are all women.
July 7: The Democratic tide in New Jersey has already rolled back a bit, after Rep. Jeff Van Drew switched to the GOP during the impeachment debate. The president actually came to the 2nd District to help Van Drew, a blow to conservative challenger Bob Patterson, who has portrayed Van Drew as an unreliable, pro-abortion-rights congressman. Five Democrats are running for the right to challenge the winner. Republican recruits are favored to win primaries in the 3rd and 7th districts, both of which flipped in 2018, and there are primary challenges to entrenched Democratic incumbents, though none that have sparked much worry yet. (Outside the competitive suburban seats, the Democrats' north and south Jersey strongholds are hostile to Republicans.)
July 14: While Texas holds long-delayed runoffs in House seats, Maine will hold a GOP primary in the 2nd District — one of the reddest ones Democrats flipped last cycle — while Alabama Republicans will hold runoffs that nominate the successors to retiring members in the 1st and 2nd districts. Rep. Martha Roby, a sometime Trump critic, will probably be replaced by a man.
Aug. 4: It's a big day for left-wing challenges on a map that covers Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington. But Michigan may be the most closely watched state that day: Tlaib, one of the only nonblack representatives of a majority-black district, has a one-on-one race against Brenda Jones, the Detroit city council president who beat her in a 2018 special election. (The special election and a regular primary were held the same day, and Tlaib batted .500.) There are open-seat Republican contests in the 3rd District, which has been trending bluer, and the 10th District, which definitely has not. And Republicans will pick challengers to Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Rep. Haley Stevens, two suburban victors from 2018 who have substantial fundraising advantages.
In Missouri, the Congressional Black Caucus is watching the primary in the 1st District, where Rep. William Lacy Clay has a rematch with 2018 candidate and Bernie Sanders surrogate Cori Bush. In Kansas, Republicans will replace Rep. Roger Marshall in the deep-red 1st District and pick a challenger to Rep. Sharice Davids, who flipped the suburban 3rd District in 2018; once again, they may nominate a female candidate where a male Republican lost.
Aug. 6: We know that one of 15 Tennessee Republicans will win the nomination to replace Rep. Phil Roe in the 1st District. We can expect that nominee to cruise to Congress, in a seat that gave Hillary Clinton just 20 percent of the vote.
Aug. 11: There is just one vacancy across Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin, places where a lot of money was spent in 2018 to flip open seats. (Two open seats in Minnesota changed hands, but no other open seats did.) There are no contested primaries in Connecticut and no Republican candidate at all in Vermont. But in Wisconsin, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is the favorite to win a primary and replace Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., while the gerrymandered map has made every other district fairly predictable.
Minnesota is another story. Rep. Collin C. Peterson, who now represents the reddest district of any House Democrat, has two challengers and a bigger problem looming in November in the form of former lieutenant governor Michelle Fischbach; she is heavily favored over the Republican who lost 2016 and 2018 races to the Democrat. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents the state's bluest district — the Minneapolis-centered 5th District gave Trump just 19 percent of the vote — has four challengers, all of whom make some version of the argument that Minnesota liberals need a less-controversial member of Congress. “We need people in Congress who want to get things done — not who get distracted fighting with Donald Trump on Twitter or even with their own party,” former Hill aide Antone Melton-Meaux says on his website. Omar's criticism of Israel was well known in 2018, when she won a more crowded primary decisively; a new issue opponents have in this cycle is Omar's marriage to a political consultant with whom she'd denied having an affair.
Aug. 8: This will be the first Hawaii primary in years without Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who retired to focus on an unsuccessful bid for president. State Sen. Kai Kahele, who was challenging Gabbard in the primary before she quit, is the favorite in her deep-blue 2nd District; seven Republicans have filed for the nomination, none with substantial fundraising or a clear path in November.
Aug. 18: There will be primaries in Alaska, Florida and Wyoming, but only Florida has clearly competitive races. Ten Republicans are running in the safely red 3rd District, where Rep. Ted Yoho is retiring; 10 are running in the 19th District, where Rep. Francis Rooney is retiring. Both primaries have credible female candidates who would have glide paths to Congress if they got the GOP nominations. In the deep-blue 21st District, which contains Mar-a-Lago, Republicans are watching with mild irritation to see whether anti-Islam activist Laura Loomer wins their nomination; in the even bluer 23rd District, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has the third primary challenge in as many cycles, with anger still boiling over her disastrous term as DNC chair. The 26th District, which actually is competitive in November, will test whether Carlos Gimenez, the Miami-Dade County mayor who has been critical of the president, can get past that in a primary — one of the very few where most votes may be cast by Latino Republicans.
Sept. 1: The last left-wing insurgency and last open-seat Democratic primary of the year will both unfold in Massachusetts. In the 1st District, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who would be one of the youngest members of Congress, is challenging Rep. Richard E. Neal on the grounds that he's wasting his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. In the 4th District, being vacated by Rep. Joe Kennedy as he seeks a Senate seat, 11 Democrats are fighting to replace him, with local Mayor Jake Auchincloss and City Year founder Alan Khazei (a two-time also-ran in Senate race) each piling up more than $1 million.
Sept. 8: The 2018 election in New Hampshire saw Democrats hold on to both of the state's House seats, despite the president carrying one of them (the 1st District) and narrowly losing the other (the 2nd District) in 2016. The GOP primary in the 2nd features two of last cycle's also-rans, while the primary in the 1st has a new challenger: Matt Mowers, a party strategist who worked for the Trump White House and quickly built a fundraising lead in the three-way race.
Sept. 15: The primary season ends with a whimper: Delaware and Rhode Island all have secure Democratic incumbents, and Republicans haven't recruited strong challengers in either.
“Faced with a Trumpian barrage of attacks, Joe Biden chooses to look the other way,” by Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey
A campaign that watched Hillary Clinton's approach struggle tries something else.
“What 74 former Biden staffers think about Tara Reade’s allegations,” by Daniel Bush and Lisa Desjardins
Why people who worked for Biden don't believe a charge of sexual misconduct.
The Democratic game plan, less than six months out.
“Seeking: Big Democratic ideas that make everything better,” by Alexander Burns
Inside the Zoom meetings that are writing the Biden agenda.
“Donors can now give $620,600 to Biden and DNC, expanding Democratic big-money fundraising,” by Michelle Ye Hee Lee
A big fundraising milestone for a candidate who expects to be outspent.
“A future to believe in” no longer.
On the trail
Less than a month after announcing an exploratory committee, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan ended his campaign for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination. In a series of weekend tweets, Amash explained that he encountered a media climate “dominated by voices strongly averse to the political risks posed by a viable third candidate” and a public “understandably more interested in what life will look like tomorrow than they are in broader policy debates.”
Amash's decision dramatically altered, for the second time, a Libertarian nominating contest that has lacked a clear successor to two-time nominee Gary Johnson. Former judge Jim Gray, the party's 2012 nominee for vice president, is again the candidate with the most electoral experience, having run and lost two races as a Republican. Former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, who had been a member of both the GOP and the Democratic Party, had previously bowed out of the Libertarian Party race.
“Congressman [Amash] would clearly have been the candidate to beat in this race,” tweeted Jacob Hornberger, a presidential contender and party activist who had criticized Amash's record and late entry into the contest. “But he has already done the LP tremendous good, not only by joining our party but also by seriously considering the possibility of seeking our party’s presidential nomination.”
The Libertarian Party has fielded a presidential nominee in most states in every election since 1976. Four times, it nominated former Republicans; once, it gave a wealthy self-funder (David Koch) its vice presidential nomination. Those races delivered the party markedly more attention and higher vote totals than it won in years when it nominated little-known activists. The nominations of politicians such as Johnson also gave the party a story to tell, about a politician leaving better-established parties for a third option, which it might lose the chance to tell in 2020.
Libertarians still expect to gather, in some fashion, for a convention in Austin next weekend. They will pick a nominee on Memorial Day, May 25.
Knute Buehler, “Stand.” The 2018 Republican Oregon gubernatorial nominee, now seeking the state's sole Republican-held district, has tweaked his messaging accordingly. Images of Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders play under text warning of “open borders, a green new deal” and “Medicare-for-all.” On camera, Buehler pledges to “end sanctuary cities” and fight “the D.C. liberals” if he gets to Congress.
Jim Marchant, “Jim Marchant for Congress.” One of the Republicans in the state's swingy 4th District, Marchant pitches himself as the “only Trump conservative” in the primary who “took on the swamp in the Nevada assembly.” A final endorsement: “The liberal media can't stand him.”
Kelly Mitchell, “Meet Kelly Mitchell.” Indiana's state treasurer, running for the open House seat in Indianapolis's suburbs, begins with an image of people watching a Fox News update on the “Chinese coronavirus” and closes by saying her fiscal stewardship saved “critical funds to help Hoosiers through today's pandemic.” And the rest of the ad walks through her bootstraps biography, the sort of thing that can appeal without alteration in general-election messaging.
With the traditional campaign trail still temporarily inaccessible, President Trump did more interviews and media availabilities on the general theme of Joe Biden’s fitness to be president.
In a friendly interview with Pittsburgh-based reporter Salena Zito, Trump took a question about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s role in Biden's campaign — a question ostensibly about the Green New Deal and fracking bans — as a cue to question Biden’s mental acuity. (More on that below.)
The Biden campaign mostly ignored those comments, as it had blown off the accusations earlier in the week that Biden was part of a conspiracy to hurt Trump by asking for details of an FBI probe involving former national security adviser Michael Flynn. On Sunday, Biden recognized the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by promising to restore Obama-era LGBT protections and “strengthen the coalition of countries determined to eliminate discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
What I’m watching
Old Man Biden. The Trump campaign has not found a unifying theme to hang around Joe Biden's neck — not, at least, with the power of the “Crooked Hillary” message that resonated four years ago. The closest we've seen to a steady, negative line on Biden is that the Democratic nominee is old and therefore unready to take over a country that may, in 2021, be recovering from a pandemic.
That argument ran through the president's interviews this week, when any mention of Biden prompted a joke about the nominee being out of touch and unable to even write his own statements. It appeared in the campaign's Facebook advertising, which has recently included photoshopped images that portray Biden being spoon-fed in a nursing home. And it has been picked up by the president's allies, who rejoiced in a Monday Biden interview where the candidate denied knowing anything about the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn until the question was rephrased.
“Joe Biden, were you asleep in this meeting as well, when you actually were there?” said Rep. Douglas A. Collins of Georgia in a Sunday appearance on Fox News, referring to a White House meeting on potential interference into the 2016 election. “You told just this past week that you knew nothing about unmasking, and you actually made a request for unmasking?”
Trump, in the interview with Salena Zito, brought it up when asked about the “unity task forces” formed by Biden with Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“If you asked him who he named, he wouldn’t even know it,” Trump said. “Joe has absolutely no idea what’s happening.”
The “too old” messaging has an advantage: mocking Biden's verbal stumbles is perfectly common on the left and fodder for late-night comics. It has a disadvantage: As The Trailer noted last week, the only polling that asked voters about Biden's “stamina” and acuity found the president leading him by just three points on that question, 11 points less than he'd led Hillary Clinton. The Biden campaign has ignored the attacks, turning the conversation back to the pandemic.
Voters have yet to move against Biden after literally years of stories about whether he's up to the job. Seriously, years. Segments on “Rising,” the Hill's video news show that has become a reliable test of anti-Biden sentiment on the left, has followed headlines such as “Obama team SOUNDS ALARM on Biden's failing basement campaign” with “Biden's pathetic sleepy strategy might actually work.” The “Where's Joe?” attack of two months ago, asking why he could not get a reliable online video feed up and running, has been replaced by a theory that Biden won't be able to match Trump in debates. It's a risky strategy — lowering expectations for Biden ahead of the final primary debate was a disaster for allies of Bernie Sanders — but it's the one in effect right now.
… two days until primaries in Idaho and Oregon
… 37 days until New York's presidential and congressional primaries
… 92 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 99 days until the Republican National Convention
… 169 days until the general election