In this edition: A guide to today's primaries, the latest on how unrest is changing the presidential race, and fresh Democratic infighting in two upcoming races.
On West Virginia primary nights we'll always have Keith Judd, and this is The Trailer.
Voters in five states are wrapping up primaries today, in elections watched just as closely for how they're conducted as for who they nominate. In Georgia, voters in the busiest urban precincts are again facing grueling long lines for in-person voting; in West Virginia, absentee ballot applications were sent to 1.2 million voters, substantially more people than typically turn out in the state's primaries.
Both of those states are holding presidential primaries today, the first since the Associated Press reported that Joe Biden had secured the nomination. (The Washington Post's counter predicts that he will hit the key threshold, 1,991 delegates, sometime today.) Georgia has 105 delegates, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) may struggle to win any of them; he won just 28 percent of the vote four years ago, when the state held its primary on Super Tuesday. In that race, he ran strongest in deeply red, rural and white parts of the state, but that vote broke heavily for Biden in similar contests this year.
West Virginia, where Sanders won every county in 2016, may be even more interesting. Since 2000, as the national Democratic Party has moved to the left, there has been substantial protest voting against the party's likely or presumptive nominees, something that earned national attention eight years ago when a federal inmate got nearly 40 percent of the vote simply by not being Barack Obama. (Exit polls in 2016 suggested that many of Sanders's voters planned to vote for Donald Trump in November.) In last week's Pennsylvania primaries, there was a notable protest vote for Sanders and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii in some of the counties closest to, and more closely resembling, West Virginia.
The state's generous ballot access rules have let Parkersburg native David Rice offer himself as an alternative to Biden, Sanders and nine other Democrats who have suspended their campaigns; the president has five Republican challengers, too, including both Joe Walsh and Bill Weld, who ended their campaigns months ago. Democrats will assign 28 delegates.
Down the ballot, here's what else to watch.
At 7 p.m., polls will close in Georgia and South Carolina, though problems at the Georgia polls could keep lines open. (Read more about that here.) Both states are preparing for runoffs if candidates don't clear a certain victory threshold. Georgia Democrats will pick their candidate in one of the year's two Senate races, with Jon Ossoff, the Democratic Hill staffer turned documentarian, leading in recent polls over the party's 2018 lieutenant governor nominee and the mayor of Columbus. (The winner will face Sen. David Perdue; the election for the seat now held by Sen. Kelly Loeffler isn't until November.)
In Georgia's 6th and 7th Congressional Districts, which cover Atlanta's suburbs and have rapidly moved left, former congresswoman Karen Handel is favored to win the nomination again for a rematch against Rep. Lucy McBath, the Democrat who unseated her in 2018, and Carolyn Bourdeaux, who narrowly lost a 2018 bid for the 7th District, is facing political consultant Nabilah Islam and four other Democrats as she tries win the nomination again. Islam has been endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, but Bourdeaux essentially never stopped running after the midterm defeat and has raised nearly three times as much money as Islam. Seven Republicans filed for the seat, and state Sen. Renee Unterman would, if successful, be the latest female Republican nominee in a red seat being vacated by a man.
Two Republican retirements have opened up safe red seats, too. Nine Republicans are running to replace Rep. Douglas A. Collins, who is running against Loeffler, and 10 are running to replace Rep. Tom Graves in the 14th District. That last race could make news, as conservative activist Marjorie Greene, an adherent of the QAnon conspiracy theory, has far outspent a field that includes former state legislators, a former White House fellow and a former state superintendent of education. But unless someone clears 50 percent of the vote today, the top two candidates in all of these crowded races will have to face each other in August runoffs.
Georgia's House Democrats have a few primary challenges to handle, though none have captured much attention or captivated many donors. In the 13th District, nine-term Rep. David Scott is facing former Cobb County Democratic chairman Michael Owens and some fringe candidates; in the 5th District, Rep. John Lewis is facing a rare primary challenge from a young Democrat who has mistakenly argued that the state's Republican governor would replace Lewis, who has cancer, if he dies. (The Constitution forbids governors from replacing members of the House, requiring them to call special elections.)
There's less to watch in South Carolina, where Republicans will pick a nominee to try to win back the 1st Congressional District after Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham won it in 2018. The strongest fundraisers in the race are women: state Rep. Nancy Mace and local city council member Katherine Landing have raised a combined $2 million, while the men in the race have raised less than $350,000 combined. Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military academy, has been tipped for years as a potential GOP star. But she had an inauspicious start, running in 2014 against Sen. Lindsey O. Graham at the height of Republican base anger over the senator's immigration reform advocacy. Graham faces three weak challengers today.
Polls close at 7:30 p.m. in West Virginia, with no truly competitive House or Senate races and a potentially dramatic race for governor. That's the race with the most to watch, with Gov. Jim Justice, who won office in 2016 as a Democrat and switched to the GOP months later, facing a few primary challengers and learning which Democrat will face him. Justice's Republican opponents include Woody Thrasher, his former commerce secretary who quit over a controversy about the handling of flood recovery money, and former state legislator Michael Folk, who may be most famous for saying that Hillary Clinton should be “hung on the Mall” after being tried (and, presumably, found guilty) for treason. Justice is heavily favored, and the president has endorsed him, two years after officiating over his party switch at a MAGA rally.
The Democrats' race is wide open, after nonprofit director Stephen Smith got some early attention for running a grass-roots campaign that departs from the party's more typical strategy: run a wealthy candidate and spend heavily. But the state's biggest unions, as well as Sen. Joe Manchin III, have endorsed Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who is running to Smith's right. Smith, for example, favors federal Medicare-for-all and universal health care inside the state; Salango favors expanding the state's current programs. Polls have found a dead heat between Salango and Smith, and a comfortable lead for Justice.
No federal race is very competitive. While national Democrats contested Sen. Shelley Moore Capito's first statewide run in 2014, they did not recruit a candidate this year. That was a boost for Paula Jean Swearingen, an activist who challenged Manchin from the left in the 2018 Senate primary and won 30 percent of the vote. She's facing off against former state senator Richard Ojeda, who in 2018 ran for Congress and ran far ahead of the rest of the ticket. But Ojeda's reputation was tarnished last year when he made a short, fruitless presidential bid, resigning his seat in Charleston and then dropping out.
Ojeda raised nearly $3 million for that 2018 bid, becoming a minor political celebrity in the progress. He has raised less than $40,000 for this Senate run. Republicans are favored to hold the state's three House seats this year, with West Virginia Working Families Party Chair Catherine Kunkel favored to win the Democratic bid in the 2nd District, a departure from the usual Democratic strategy of nominating center-right candidates here.
While polls in most of North Dakota close at 9 p.m., there's not much at stake in a state that Republicans dominate top to bottom. One of two little-known Democrats will win the nomination to challenge Republican Rep. Kelly Armstrong, while Gov. Doug Burgum (R) is expected to easily dispatch a challenger.
Finally, polls close at 10 p.m. in Nevada, where both the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts are held by Democrats and winnable for Republicans. In the former, which Donald Trump carried by a single point in 2016, Rep. Susie Lee faces three gadfly primary challengers, while six Republicans are competing for the right to face her. (Danny Tarkanian, the perennial candidate who lost the seat two years ago, took a pass on it this year.)
The biggest fundraisers share the same first name, and virtually nothing else: former state treasurer Dan Schwartz and former professional wrestler Dan Rodimer. While Rodimer's political career started inauspiciously, placing fourth out of five candidates in a 2018 primary for state Senate, he has dominated Schwartz in national endorsements, including one from Kevin McCarthy. Lee has lapped both of them in fundraising and won by nine points in 2018 but has since faced questions about how her husband's company benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program.
Rep. Steven Horsford has a different issue in the 4th District, which he won back in 2018 after a stint as a lobbyist. He admitted last month to carrying out an affair with a staffer years ago and rekindling it after he returned to Congress. (In an extremely 2020 fashion, the staffer revealed the affair on her podcast.) But the story didn't lead to intraparty criticism of Horsford — it was too late to recruit another candidate when the scandal became public, and Horsford has no serious primary challenger. National Republicans have touted Lisa Song Sutton, the 2014 Miss Nevada who'd be the first female nominee for the seat; she has been outraised by former legislator Jim Marchant, and either will exit the primary with a fraction of Horsford's resources.
How the Democrat began to emerge from his basement.
A possible political future for the senator who embarrassed the New York Times's op-ed page.
“Stung by crises, the brander in chief searches for a reelection message,” by Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker
With a pure “law and order” focus sputtering, the president casts about for a 2020 strategy.
“Who's voted, so far, in Georgia's June 2020 primary election,” by Isaac Sabetai
A breakdown of a delayed election's early vote.
“In Georgia, primary day snarled by long lines, problems with voting machines — a potential preview of November,” by Amy Gardner, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Haisten Willis
Even a months-long delay didn't fix a key state's election issues.
The math behind a problem that's smaller than some politicians make it sound.
“Vote for Trump? These Republican leaders aren’t on the bandwagon,” by Jonathan Martin
Inside the loose network of Republican statesmen who don't want the president to win again.
Who do you think is most to blame when violence occurs at protests? (Washington Post/Schar School, 1,006 adults)
Other people: 66%
One or more groups: 9%
There's a lot more in this poll, but this particular result shows how Americans are grappling with what, on TV, is often framed as an easy question: Who's responsible for violent protests? Frequently, the Democratic officials who run states and cities that have seen civil unrest blame it on outside agitators. Plenty of viral videos have pointed in that direction, too, with scenes of black protesters calling out (typically) white anarchists as they spray paint or smash windows. The Trump campaign, at the same time, has praised peaceful protesters, while accusing Democrats of excusing looting; see the Trump campaign's focus on how some Biden staffers donated to a bail fund, characterizing money that was meant for people engaging in civil disobedience as “bailing out looters.”
Presidential election in Tennessee (Vanderbilt/SSRS, 1,000 registered voters)
Donald Trump: 51%
Joe Biden: 42%
There is no modern electoral map on which Tennessee will be competitive. Twenty years ago, George W. Bush won it by single digits over Al Gore, making it the first election the Tennessean had ever lost there. An exodus of rural white voters to the Republican Party made the state reliably red, with Democrats seemingly hitting their bottom in 2016, as Hillary Clinton lost Tennessee by 26 points and carried just three counties. Even if Biden picked up no more voters, a 42 percent showing would be the best by a Democratic presidential candidate in 12 years and would come as Gov. Bill Lee (R) enjoys a popularity boost thanks to his handling of the coronavirus.
The law-and-order argument that has consumed the presidential race took another turn this week when Republicans demanded that Joe Biden take a position on the campaign to “defund the police” — and he came out against it.
Biden, who has not held a news conference in weeks, had gone the weekend without commenting on the rallying cry of some protesters, even after it was painted on Washington's 16th Street and on a street leading up to the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison.
“We are now days into this movement in the Democrat Party, and Joe Biden's campaign has managed only a feeble ‘no comment’ on the stories about this movement,” President Trump's campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said on a Monday morning call with reporters.
That was true: The campaign did not respond to questions about the “defund” slogan, which has picked up popularity among activists even as they've wrestled over what it means. (Republicans characterize it as wanting all funding cut from police departments, but many activists use the slogan as a shorthand for reducing police budgets and ending the transfers of military equipment.) By Monday afternoon, Biden's campaign had clarified, saying that he did not support defunding the police, and by the evening he had spoken out personally in an interview with CBS News.
“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” Biden said. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness, and in fact are able to demonstrate they can protect the community, and everybody in the community.” That still goes further than police unions, largely supportive of the president, would like to see Biden go, with one union leader even questioning whether something happened in Biden's “old age” to start him demanding police reform.
On Monday, Biden met with George Floyd's family members in Houston, and on Tuesday he sent a video eulogy to Floyd's memorial service. “Now is the time for racial justice,” Biden said. “That’s the answer we must give to our children when they ask why. Because when there is justice for George Floyd, we will truly be on our way to racial justice in America.”
The president spent part of Monday at a roundtable with some law enforcement leaders, where he emphasized that he'd oppose cuts to police funding.
“We won’t be defunding our police,” Trump said. “We won’t be dismantling our police. We won’t be disbanding our police. We won’t be ending our police force in a city. I guess you might have some cities that want to try, but it’s going to be very — a very sad situation if they did because people aren’t going to be protected.”
At the same forum, Attorney General William P. Barr returned to the case Trump's campaign was making before the Floyd killing: that other people had written harsh criminal justice laws, and Trump wanted to fix them.
“He didn’t require the crisis we have today to get started with the FIRST STEP Act,” Barr said.
The aftermath of George Floyd's killing keeps reshaping the conversation over Joe Biden's running mate, too, with potential picks getting asked what they think of the most radical calls for police reform. Rep. Val Demings of Florida had her first real run-in with the Trump campaign after giving CBS News a somewhat evasive answer when asked about “defunding” the police.
“I know that police are pulled to respond to situations on the streets and communities that they are not trained to respond to,” she said, suggesting that the police and citizens could “kind of spread” some law enforcement work. Republicans accused Demings, a longtime Orlando police chief, of issuing “talking points” from Biden's campaign.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California got similar questions Monday, from “The View” co-host Meghan McCain, and largely rejected the premise, saying that the focus should be on “how we are achieving public safety in America.” And Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts rejected the term when pressed by CNN's Manu Raju.
“That’s not the term I would use,” Warren said, “but I think it’s important for all of us to listen to the pain and lived experiences of the people who are protesting who have created a movement for real change.”
Washington Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, who has previously dismissed speculation about being vetted for vice president, did so again in a new interview with The Post. “I have the best job in Washington, D.C., already,” she told Fenit Nirappil on Monday.
Dems in disarray
With just two weeks to go before primaries in Kentucky and New York, some the left's biggest voices have weighed in on behalf of challengers who have something in common: They're left-wing and they've gotten cold receptions from the national Democratic Party.
In Kentucky, both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have endorsed Charles Booker, a black state legislator who jumped into the state's Senate race after national Democrats had gotten behind unsuccessful 2018 House candidate Amy McGrath. That came after more than a dozen members of Kentucky's shrunken Democratic legislative conference backed Booker, as did sports radio host Matt Jones, who has frequently dabbled in politics and considered a run of his own against Sen. Mitch McConnell.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has a long record of backing the winners in contested primaries, and the DSCC support helped at least two candidates, Arizona's Mark Kelly and New Mexico's Ben Ray Luján, clear the field this year. But McGrath, whose military background and national buzz made her a formidable fundraiser, stumbled out of the gate in the Senate race, telling reporter Philip Bailey that she would have backed Brett M. Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination and then, within hours, saying she would not have.
“Kentucky needs a real Democrat to take on Mitch McConnell,” Booker says in his first ad, before accusing McGrath of running to “help Trump get his way.”
While Kentucky is not near the top of Democrats' target list — they have not won a Senate seat in the state since 1992 — a defeat for McGrath would be a historic waste of small-dollar donations. McGrath has raised nearly $30 million, 100 times as much as Booker, all while positioning herself as the anti-McConnell candidate. Booker has run to her left, arguing that the conservative state can be transformed with a candidacy that mobilizes young and working-class voters.
In New York, Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders came together on three congressional endorsements, backing Mondraire Jones in the open 17th District, Jamaal Bowman in his 16th District challenge to Rep. Eliot L. Engel, and Samelys Lopez in the wide-open race for the 15th District. That first move put them in sync with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has endorsed Jones over wealthier, better-known and less liberal candidates, and the second was the first primary endorsement by either Ocasio-Cortez or Sanders, this cycle, against an incumbent. (Engel was criticized after attacking Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement of Bowman, comparing her intervention in the primary to “a dictatorship” with one person trying to shape an outcome.)
“Mondraire is the only person really running with a progressive ideology,” said Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, the co-chair of the CPC, which has already endorsed 11 candidates this cycle and is making Jones the first beneficiary of a $1 million independent expenditure. “He's got a great life story. He has the right value. And that made that a very easy race. You know, whoever wins that primary is more than likely to be the next member of Congress, so that's the type of race that we're more likely to get involved in.”
The 15th District race is another story. As The Trailer reported last week, independent polling has found the liberal vote in the district split between multiple candidates, opening a path to victory by conservative Democrat Rubén Díaz Sr., who opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage. While state legislator Ritchie Torres has been competitive with Díaz and was endorsed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus's BOLD PAC, Lopez has won over left-wing activists while polling has found her in the low single digits. The risk to Democrats of electing Diaz is becoming widely known, but there is now a clear split on the left about which candidate deserves their vote.
… 14 days until New York's presidential and congressional primaries
… 21 days until Colorado's primaries
… 30 days until the Green Party meets to pick a presidential ticket
… 69 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 76 days until the Republican National Convention
… 146 days until the general election