June 2, 2020 5:48 pm
Categories: Washington Post

In this edition: A guide to today’s many primaries, Biden and Trump navigate civil unrest, and new polls find a country siding with the protesters.

Welcome to the newsletter where even if you don’t have a primary, we care! This is the Trailer.

June 2 was not supposed to be one of 2020’s biggest election days. The coming of covid-19 shook up the calendar and saw several big states — Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island — push their primaries into June, giving them more time to expand absentee balloting and make other election changes.

That left numerous campaigns in limbo and delayed the date on which Joe Biden would clinch the Democratic nomination. He may well do so today, or as soon as votes get counted, with the expansion of mail-in voting probably delaying some totals. Biden has won 1,554 of the 1,991 delegates he needs to have a clear majority at the convention in Milwaukee, and 479 delegates will be picked today, so winning 91 percent of them would get him over the line. If Sen. Bernie Sanders clears the 15 percent threshold in enough states and districts, Biden won’t clinch until next week’s contests in Georgia and West Virginia.

There’s far more at stake down-ballot, for both parties. Among the incumbents facing challengers today are Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House. Two Republican senators will find out which Democrat challenges them in November, and a number of swing seats and open seats will set up their general election contests. 

Here’s a guide of what to watch, and when. All times are Eastern, and we’ll also get results today from Idaho, which held nonpresidential primary elections two weeks ago but waited to release vote counts.

7 p.m. Polls close across Indiana, where 12 of 92 western counties are on Central time; the rest of the state will start counting votes at 6 p.m. That means the results in the 5th Congressional District, which covers Carmel and other suburbs of Indianapolis, could come in quickest. Sixteen Republicans are competing to replace retiring Rep. Susan Brooks (R) in the only part of Indiana that moved left from 2012 to 2016; Donald Trump won it by 12 points after Mitt Romney won it by 17.

Female candidates have dominated both parties’ primaries in the district. On the Republican side, state Sen. Victoria Spartz (R) has poured nearly $1 million of her own money into a campaign backed by the Club for Growth. Spartz has emphasized her roots in Ukraine to pitch herself as a faithful warrior against “socialism.” Beth Henderson, a health-care professional who’s endorsed by Sen. Mike Braun (R), has questioned Spartz’s spending and displayed the old Soviet flag in one ad against her. “I was born in the USA, and I’m running for Congress!” Henderson says in one ad.

Both Henderson and Spartz have outspent state Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, and there’s no clear favorite. It’s a simpler story on the Democratic side: Christina Hale, her party’s 2016 nominee for lieutenant governor, has raised more than $1 million and faces only token opposition.

In the 1st Congressional District, which includes the suburbs of Chicago, 14 Democrats are competing to replace Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, and the winner is strongly favored to hold the seat. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, a Navy veteran, is backed by more moderate unions and favors Pete Buttigieg’s “Medicare for all who want it” approach to health care; so does Mara Candelaria Reardon, a legislator who’d be the state’s first Latina member of Congress. That’s left the Medicare-for-all lane open for Sabrina Haake, an activist who has not won a race before and who has not captured the interest of the left-wing groups trying to change the makeup of Congress.

8 p.m. Polls close in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia. The primary, quite obviously, isn’t even the biggest story in Washington today, and the only race being watched closely is in Ward 2, where scandal-plagued former council member Jack Evans is trying to win his seat back. And there are no contested federal primaries in Rhode Island.

There’s not much to watch in Maryland, either, which for the last time will nominate candidates on a Democratic-friendly gerrymander that both parties agree was unfair. The exception is in the 5th Congressional District, held since Ronald Reagan’s first term by current House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer. Activist Mckayla Wilkes has given Hoyer his first active competition in a very long time, going on the airwaves and prompting him to do the same. An upset, which Democrats consider unlikely, would be the biggest defeat for either party’s leadership since 2014, when Eric Cantor sleepwalked to a primary defeat. Hoyer has not taken this race for granted.

Pennsylvania, which famously redraw its House map in 2018, has perhaps four potentially competitive House races in November; three of them would pit Republicans against incumbent Democrats. The president’s party is particularly interested in the 8th Congressional District, which backed Trump in 2016 and has trended right but where no challenger has given Rep. Matthew Cartwright a real scare. Former Hazleton mayor Michael Marsicano is trying something new, leaving the Democratic Party to challenge Cartwright from the right and attacking primary opponent Jim Bognet, a Trump administration appointee, as a “liberal ally.

Republicans are also bullish on the 7th District, which covers Allentown and the Lehigh Valley, despite Rep. Susan Wild’s (D) 10-point win there in 2018. Republicans face a choice between two county commissioners, Dean Browning and Lisa Scheller; the national party has begun to tout Scheller, with Donald Trump Jr. cutting a robocall for her and calling her “the conservative choice.” Republicans have not sent a woman to Congress from Pennsylvania since 2004 and want to break that streak.

Both parties expect expensive contests in the 10th and 17th districts, held respectively by Republican Rep. Scott Perry and Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb. But the parties already have their candidates in those seats. The decision of state Auditor Eugene DePasquale to run against Perry has opened up his statewide office, and six Democrats are competing for it, including unsuccessful 2016 House candidate Christina Hartman, unsuccessful 2018 lieutenant governor candidate Nina Ahmad and Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb, who happens to be Conor Lamb’s uncle. Most of the Democratic vote comes from Philadelphia and its suburbs, but races like this, where multiple candidates split the region’s vote, often give openings to candidates from the west.

Further down the ballot, some members of Democratic Socialists of America who won upsets in 2018 are trying to hold onto their state House seats, and former N 1 editor Nikil Saval is trying to join them in the state Senate. A key race to watch: Chris Roland’s primary challenge to Socialist state Rep. Summer Lee in Pittsburgh. 

9 p.m. Polls close in New Mexico and South Dakota. There’s not much to watch in the latter state, apart from minor primary challenges to Sen. Mike Rounds (R) and Rep. Dusty Johnson (R). Democrats did not field a candidate for the state’s sole House seat, and former state legislator Dan Ahlers is unchallenged for the party’s Senate nomination. 

In New Mexico, the decision of Rep. Ben Ray Luján to run for Senate created a seven-way primary in the deep blue 3rd District. Valerie Plame, the former CIA officer whose role was outed in a scandal 17 years ago, jumped in early and dominated both headlines and fundraising. 

Plame’s entry made Democrats nervous, not because they saw the seat at risk but because of a 2017 tweet in which she shared an article titled “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars.” (She apologized for the tweet.) Plame struggled with party activists, too, winning just 5 percent of the vote at the state convention; that would have been enough to keep her out of the race had she not also petitioned her way onto the ballot. The clear victor at that convention was Teresa Leger Fernandez, who picked up the support of Emily’s List and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s PAC and has racked up more liberal endorsements as the party tries to block Plame.

Republicans will pick one of five candidates to compete for that district, which gave the president just 37 percent of the vote in 2016. They’re more focused on the Trump-friendly 2nd district, where both Claire Chase and Yvette Herrell are running as Trump allies, having criticized Trump before he took office. The difference: Herrell already lost this seat, two years ago, and national Republicans think Chase would have a better shot against Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D).

In some years, there’d be a fight underway for the state’s open Senate seat. But despite the Trump campaign’s occasional talk about competing for New Mexico, no well-known Republican stepped up to run, while Luján cleared the primary field for himself, putting away a more liberal challenger. Bolo-tied former Interior Department official Gavin Clarkson has raised just $1 million to Luján’s $5.2 million, and he was forced to spend most of it in a race with former weatherman Mark Ronchetti and antiabortion activist Elisa Martinez. If Martinez is nominated, she’d have a shot at being the state’s first female Native American senator; it elected its first female Native American member of Congress, Rep. Deb Haaland (D), just two years ago.

10 p.m. Polls close in Iowa and Montana, where Democrats will pick their nominees for Senate seats they lost in the 2014 wave and where every House race could be competitive. 

In Iowa, the Democrats’ Senate primary pits Theresa Greenfield, a businesswoman endorsed by the national party, against three more thinly funded challengers. Last year, Republicans bought some advertising to boost Kimberly Graham, a left-wing attorney whom they considered easy to beat. Greenfield, despite an inauspicious start in politics — her 2018 campaign manager forged signatures and got her kicked off the ballot in a House race — won over national Democrats and raised the money to be competitive with Sen. Joni Ernst (R).

Graham never emerged as a threat. Retired Vice Adm. Michael Franken, a first-time candidate, entered the race late, won the Des Moines Register’s endorsement and shone in the party’s televised debates. At the same time, businessman Eddie Mauro, who lost previous bids for the state legislature and the House of Representatives, loaned more than $4.2 million to his own campaign, spending plenty of it on negative ads and polling that portrayed Franken and Greenfield as unelectable. 

All four of Iowa’s House districts are potentially competitive, and most have key races today. In the 1st District, 36-year-old state legislator Ashley Hinson is expected to secure the Republican nomination to challenge 31-year-old Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D). In the 2nd District, state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks is the favorite to win the Republican Party’s nomination to vie to replace retiring Rep. David Loebsack (D). National Republicans have been more bullish on Hinson than Miller-Meeks, both because of the 2nd District’s bluer tinge and because Miller-Meeks lost three races (in 2008, 2010 and 2014) against Loebsack. But Miller-Meeks lost those last two bids, in good Republican years, by just 5 points. Rita Hart, a former state senator who carried the 2nd District as her party’s 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, will officially secure the Democratic nomination. By the end of the night, for the first time, there may be three federal races in Iowa that pit Democratic women against Republican women.

In the 3rd District, which includes Des Moines, former congressman David Young is favored to win the Republican nomination and challenge Rep. Cindy Axne (D). In the sprawling 4th District, national Republicans would prefer that the incumbent lose — Rep. Steve King is facing the toughest challenge of his career from state Sen. Randy Feenstra and three lesser-known candidates. In November 2018, King almost lost what should be a safe red seat; in January 2019, he made a flippant remark about the term “white supremacist” and Republicans pulled him off his committees. If any candidate wins more than 35 percent of the vote, he’ll be the nominee, and if no candidate does so, the race will head to a convention.

There are no such complications in Montana. Sen. Steve Daines (R) and his challenger, Gov. Steve Bullock (D), face only token primary challengers. But both parties have heated gubernatorial primaries, with Democrats quietly rooting for Rep. Greg Gianforte (R), who lost the 2016 race for governor, to beat Tim Fox, the popular and more moderate attorney general. Democrats have held the governor’s office since 2005, each time running far ahead of their party’s presidential nominee. Their own primary pits Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney (D) against business executive Whitney Williams, who’s been endorsed by Hillary Clinton. 

In the race for Gianforte’s open House seat, Democrats are choosing between Kathleen Williams, who narrowly lost the 2018 race, with Tom Winter, a 33-year-old state legislator; Republicans have a six-way race in which state auditor and unsuccessful 2018 Senate nominee Matt Rosendale has dominated in fundraising.

Reading list

“Protests pose a challenge for Biden: Appealing to older and younger black voters,” by Annie Linskey and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

How to navigate (yet another) issue that divides the country.

“Trauma and gaffes crash Biden’s VP selection process,” by Christopher Cadelago and David Siders

How civil unrest rattled the veepstakes.

“As Trump attacks voting by mail, GOP builds 2020 strategy around limiting its expansion,” by Amy Gardner, Shawn Boburg and Josh Dawsey

Behind the legal strategy to prevent automatic ballot access.

“Election officials contradict Barr’s assertion that counterfeit mail ballots produced by a foreign country are a ‘real’ worry,” by Amy Gardner

Why Russians couldn’t actually drop some ballots off the back of a truck.

“Some voters in 8 statewide primaries and D.C. face confusion today about where to vote, long lines and poor social distancing,” by Amy Gardner, Natalie Pompilio and Elise Viebeck

The biggest test yet for pandemic-era voting.

Ad watch

With the end of eight state primaries, we’re saying goodbye to dozens of candidates and will get to know a smaller group of winners.

Theresa Greenfield, “Really.” Backed by national Democrats who think her up-from-tragedy story can defeat Sen. Joni Ernst, Greenfield’s final pre-primary spot responds to an ad that Ernst ran six years ago, famously promising to make Washington’s spenders “squeal,” and referencing her own experience castrating hogs. “She didn’t castrate anyone,” Greenfield says, pledging not to cut spending per se but to replace tax breaks for corporations with tax breaks for “working folks.” 

Eddie Mauro, “Breaking Free.” The self-funding Senate candidate in Iowa has pitched himself as uniquely qualified to challenge Ernst, saying he has few vulnerabilities and can attack her on policy. This spot takes an analogy as far as it can go, portraying farmers with hands literally tied behind their backs. “I’m here to help Iowans break free from Joni’s bad policies,” he explains.

Michael Franken, “Ready.” The retired vice admiral was late to the airwaves in Iowa’s Senate race, introducing himself with an ad that’s half policy and half biography, though it’s lacking the disclaimer typically added when candidates use photos of themselves in uniform. (Typically, text onscreen will make clear that it’s not an endorsement by the military itself.) Four months after the Des Moines Register endorsement couldn’t get Sen. Elizabeth Warren a caucus victory, Franken puts his endorsement from the paper front and center.

Matt Rosendale, “Shaking Up the System.” Had a few thousand votes gone the other way, Rosendale would be in his first term as a senator from Montana. Instead, he’s able to run, once again, as a Washington outsider. “Rosendale lowered health-care premiums and passed the bill to lower drug costs,” a narrator says, explaining that this is in sync with the president.

Corey Stapleton, “Ship.” Like many underdogs in these primaries, Stapleton, who is running against Rosendale, portrays his opponent as anti-Trump (“He’s backed by the same swamp creatures that spent millions attacking President Trump.”) and promises to work hand-in-glove with a president who remains popular in Montana.

Poll watch

Do you approve of this politician’s response to protests in Minneapolis? (CBS News, 2,071 adults)

Donald Trump
Approve: 32%
Disapprove: 49%

Joe Biden
Approve: 33%
Disapprove: 25%

While this poll found Biden narrowly ahead of Trump in a ballot test, it found twice as much opposition to how the president was responding to civil unrest. One reason: A plurality of voters, when asked about Biden, did not know how he was responding. The poll was conducted before Biden held events in Wilmington and Philadelphia, commenting on the unrest and talking about some potential policy solutions.

Do you think the actions of the protesters were fully justified, partially justified, or not at all justified? (Monmouth, 807 adults)

Fully justified: 17%
Partially justified: 37%
Not at all justified: 38%
Depends on which protests: 4%

Monmouth has been asking similar questions about policing and race for years. These questions are, obviously, new, and find that only a minority of voters, at the moment, think none of what protesters have done since the killing of George Floyd can be justified. The polling was concluded June 1, meaning that respondents had time to absorb some of the nights of property damage by protesters — and the occasionally violent responses of police. At the same time, 53 percent of voters believe that the president has made race relations worse, a number identical to the percentage of voters who believed four years ago that Barack Obama had worsened race relations.

Candidate tracker

The presidential campaign was once again reshaped by events, with President Trump emerging from the White House with a promise to restore “law and order,” and Joe Biden holding several policy-focused events in Wilmington and Philadelphia.

Biden’s approach was to build slowly. He did not invite cameramen along for Sunday visits to businesses in Wilmington. He pooled the press for a Monday roundtable at an AME church in the city and held a live stream with mayors. Only on Tuesday morning, when Biden spoke at Philadelphia’s city hall, did national networks break in to cover him.

We won’t let those who see this as an opportunity to sow chaos throw up a smokescreen to distract us from the very real and legitimate grievances at the heart of these protests,” Biden said. “And we can’t leave this moment thinking we can once again turn away and do nothing. We can’t. The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism.”

Biden also used the speech to endorse a House bill that would ban the use of chokeholds by police and to call on the Trump administration to drop its lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. The president’s own public remarks had focused more specifically on how the wave on unrest could be halted.

I am mobilizing all available federal resources — civilian and military — to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights,” Trump said. “We are ending the riots and lawlessness that has spread throughout our country. We will end it now.”

Even as the president advanced beside a line of police officers and soldiers, he spent much of Tuesday on the defensive. Two Republican senators, South Carolina’s Tim Scott and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, criticized the decision to clear a peaceful protest outside the White House. While Scott is retiring in 2022, and while Sasse had just secured his nomination last month, both had resisted many other chances to criticize the president.

“If your question is, ‘Should you use tear gas to clear a path so the president can go have a photo opp?’ the answer is no,” Scott said in a live interview with Politico.

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, blasted Biden’s speech, attacking him for “cozying up to notorious racists in the Senate” while also accusing his staff of making a “stand with the rioters, the people burning businesses in minority communities,” because some staffers had donated to a bail fund for protesters.

Wait, what?

It didn’t make the highlights in our primary guide, but the most fascinating contest of the day might involve just a handful of votes: the Green Party’s primary for U.S. Senate in Montana. The Greens themselves are nearly irrelevant in a race that has pitted a Republican PAC against a Democrat-turned-Green trying to win the nomination so he can reject it.

On paper, the primary pits Wendie Fredrickson, a disgruntled former state employee, against Dennis Daneke, a professor at the University of Montana. Fredrickson really does want to compete against the major parties’ likely nominees, Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Steve Daines. (Bullock “created a hostile work environment,” Fredrickson claims on her website.)

But most of the money spent to help Federickson has been spent by Go Green Montana, a PAC that has paid a Republican firm for its services. It’s the second consecutive cycle in which the state’s GOP activists have tried to put a Green on the ballot in the hope that they’ll peel off Democratic votes; a 2018 attempt failed because the Green candidate fumbled on the signature requirement. Daneke jumped in on the promise that he would refuse to campaign or win votes if he got the nomination.

“There is no reason for me to be on the ballot,” he told MTN News in March. “I don’t want anybody wasting their vote.”

Fewer than 2,000 voters participated in the last Green Party contest in Montana, and the Go Green messaging has portrayed Daneke, accurately, as a catspaw for the Democratic Party. The Libertarian Party, which Republicans have blamed for siphoning off votes in every one of Sen. Jon Tester’s (D) victorious campaigns, already has a candidate and ballot access.


… 21 days until New York’s presidential and congressional primaries
… 37 days until the Green Party meets to pick a presidential ticket
… 76 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 83 days until the Republican National Convention
… 153 days until the general election