Election 2020 Politics

A state-by-state guide to primaries that end today

In this edition: A primary day guide, the aftermath of Kentucky’s elections, and the effects of an abortion ruling on the 2020 race.

In the future, all elections will be conducted by PACs with no pesky human interference, and this is The Trailer.

Three western states will hold primaries today, none of which have commanded national attention like last week’s races in Kentucky or New York. But there’ll be plenty to watch, from a deep red state choosing whether to add tens of thousands of people to Medicaid rolls to a bitter Democratic Senate race to an attempted political comeback by a Utah politician whose career seemed to be over years ago.

The polls start closing — that is, local elections offices start counting ballots delivered in the past few weeks — early in the evening. It could take days for these counts to finish, but decisive results in some races may be known before midnight.

Polls close at 8 p.m. in Oklahoma, where voters will decide whether to join 37 other states and expand Medicaid with the resources of the Affordable Care Act. State Question 802 would change the state’s constitution and make all adults at or under 133 percent of the poverty level eligible for single-payer health insurance. 

Polling has been sparse, and the Yes on 802’s own polling, which showed the campaign comfortably ahead, came before the pandemic. But since then the Oklahoma Hospital Association, battered by losses in rural areas, has endorsed the campaign, and Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt has only belatedly joined the case against it, arguing that the state won’t have the resources to expand health care after the pandemic.

“We have a billion-dollar shortfall next year,” Stitt said on a webcast with Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian group that has campaigned to kill the ballot measure. “The only way to get $200 million is to either raise taxes or to cut services somewhere else like education, first responders, or roads and bridges.”

Two years ago, both Idaho and Utah put Medicaid expansion measures on their general election ballots. Even as Republicans swept statewide races, the measures passed with 61 percent of the vote in Idaho and 53 percent in Utah. But in both states, legislators unwound much of what voters passed, something Oklahoma Republicans may struggle to do if the state’s constitution is altered.

Republicans will also pick their nominee in the 5th Congressional District, which covers Oklahoma City and which Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn won in 2018. Even though the metro area has been moving left, the president carried the district four years ago, making it a top GOP target in November. 

State Sen. Stephanie Bice has outraised the field, but the Club for Growth has spent six figures on ads attacking her on everything from her 2016 endorsement of Carly Fiorina, now one of the more prominent Republicans voting for Joe Biden, to her support for a film tax credit. (“Democrat donor Harvey Weinstein enjoyed $4.6 million of your taxes in the giveaway program Bice backed.”) The reason for that opposition: Bice, the only currently serving state legislator in the race, voted for a tax hike package. Eight other Republicans are in the race, and if none gets 50 percent of the vote today, it will continue to an Aug. 25 runoff.

At 9 p.m., polls will close in Colorado, which has held all-mail elections since 2014 and hardly needed to adjust for this primary. The biggest implications for November are in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, with former governor John Hickenlooper facing former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff.

This started as a very different race. Colorado’s rapid shift to the left made freshman Republican Sen. Cory Gardner look very vulnerable, and early last year, nearly a dozen Democrats piled in to challenge him. In August 2019, their plans hit a snag: Hickenlooper, fresh off a failed run for president, was enticed to seek the Senate seat, offering the party a popular and well-known candidate who could instantly raise millions of dollars. One by one, most other candidates dropped out.

But not Romanoff. Despite alienating some Democrats after an unsuccessful primary challenge to Sen. Michael F. Bennet and an equally unsuccessful 2014 House bid, Romanoff stayed in the race as a left-leaning alternative to Hickenlooper. He struggled to find an opening but got a lucky break when a two-year investigation into Hickenlooper’s travel, as governor, ended with a $2,750 fine. That blew the door open for further scrutiny of Hickenlooper, with a Romanoff ally sharing a video of the candidate joking about “ancient slave ships” and the former governor misstating how George Floyd was killed.

Romanoff had set himself up for an upset, besting Hickenlooper at the party’s activist-dominated convention and securing endorsements from some liberal groups such as the Sunrise Movement. But he did not become a cause for national left-wing groups or leaders such as Kentucky’s Charles Booker or New York’s Jamaal Bowman. The trouble was Romanoff’s record: He’d been a centrist state legislator, and his 2014 campaign emphasized his support for a balanced-budget amendment, which is seen by the left as a tool conservatives would use to eviscerate entitlement spending. Hickenlooper’s own heresies, such as his support of hydraulic fracturing and attacks on “socialism,” could not pull key figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) into the race. Private polling released by Romanoff and public polling from TV networks, has found Hickenlooper with a double-digit lead.

Down the ballot, in the 3rd Congressional District, Republican Rep. Scott R. Tipton is facing a primary challenge from gun rights activist Lauren Boebert, the owner of Shooter’s Grill in Rifle, Colo., where customers can order a “Guac 9” burger or a “Turkey Ham Uzi Melt.” She became the focus of local media attention when she defied coronavirus restrictions and tangled with city officials. Democrats have a primary of their own, with 2018 nominee Diane Mitsch Bush facing seafood company chief executive James Iacino.

Finally, polls close at 10 p.m. in Utah, another state that had put all-mail voting into effect before the pandemic. Republicans have a four-way gubernatorial primary with a twist — the candidacy of former governor Jon Huntsman, who left that job to become ambassador to China for the Obama administration, left that job to run for president, then became ambassador to Russia for the Trump administration.

Huntsman, who was phenomenally popular in the governor’s office, has trod a rough road back. Public polling has put him in a close race with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and put two more conservative candidates, former state House speaker Greg Hughes and former GOP chair Thomas Wright, far behind them. 

Outgoing Gov. Gary R. Herbert, who came into the job when Huntsman quit, has endorsed Cox, and the former governor lost badly at the state convention. Luckily for Huntsman, the once-binding convention results (for years, they determined who would appear on the primary ballot) mean less than they used to, and to the consternation of many Republicans, Huntsman has encouraged Democrats to join the GOP and back him in the primary.

Just one of Utah’s four congressional districts, the 4th, is truly competitive; Rep. Ben McAdams, who narrowly flipped the seat for Democrats two years ago, will get his Republican opponent. The national GOP struggled to recruit a challenger, creating a four-way race between state Rep. Kim Coleman, former NFL safety Burgess Owens, talk radio host Jay McFarland and nonprofit director Trent Christensen.

Reading list

“In South Jersey, it’s a Kennedy against a power broker favorite to challenge turncoat Rep. Van Drew,” by Paul Kane

Inside a battle for a seat Democrats want to flip for the second cycle in a row.

“The fall of Jeff Sessions, and what came after,” by Elaina Plott

On the trail with the proto-Trump whom Trump cast aside.

“Joe Biden rises with a less-is-more campaign,” by Michael Scherer

Why the “basement” strategy seems to be paying off.

“How Hickenlooper may side-step a challenge from the left,” by James Arkin

The Democratic Party’s infighting skips a key primary.

“Hunt for Biden tapes in Ukraine by Trump allies revives prospect of foreign interference,” by Paul Sonne, Rosalind S. Helderman, Josh Dawsey and David L. Stern

How secret, edited recordings of Biden’s diplomacy could affect the election.

“Beto O’Rourke thinks Texas is ‘Biden’s to lose,’ ” by Brittany Shepherd

The Texan whom the NRA wants to make into a mascot for Biden feels good about the Democrat’s chances.

In the states

Election officials in Kentucky and New York warned for weeks that it would take time to tally up the historic number of absentee ballots cast by virus-wary voters. That didn’t halt insta-punditry about the results in those races, even though just a few — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory, a special election to replace disgraced ex-congressman Chris Collins — had margins big enough for winners to be declared soon after polls closed.

We’ll start to get more New York results tomorrow, the first day after the final absentee ballots can be received by county election boards, though New York City absentees won’t be tallied until next week. In the meantime, Kentucky’s Senate primary broke for Amy McGrath, the 2018 congressional candidate who narrowly lost her race but impressed national Democrats. Charles Booker, a black state legislator backed by many of his colleagues, and boosted by 11th-hour endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, fell short after the release of hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots.

Booker was done in by two factors: the immense number of early votes sent in before his last-minute surge, and his weakness outside the state’s biggest metro areas. Booker did best in Jefferson, Fayette and Warren counties; respectively, in Louisville, Lexington, and Bowling Green. But McGrath piled up big margins across most of the state, demolishing Booker in eastern Kentucky (historically conservative but Democratic) and in the Cincinnati suburbs (historically Republican, but getting bluer).

Turnout, aided by the decision to make absentee voting easy, was high. At least 530,000 Democrats cast votes in the Senate primary, and nearly as many voted in the presidential primary. (Joe Biden was on track to secure every available delegate, as Bernie Sanders fell below the 15 percent delegate threshold.) That compared favorably to the 454,568 votes cast in the last presidential primary, held when Sanders was still competing with Hillary Clinton, and to the 394,490 votes cast in the party’s 2019 gubernatorial primary. 

But it was well short of the 701,768 votes cast in 2008, when Clinton defeated Barack Obama handily. The Obama presidency accelerated the decline of the local Democratic Party in rural areas; in eastern Kentucky’s Harlan County, for example, turnout fell from nearly 5,000 in 2008 to less than half of that this year. Turnout in Jefferson County, meanwhile, jumped from 144,055 to 148,335. That helped the party win a key race, flipping a state Senate district in Louisville’s suburbs.

Ad watch

John Hickenlooper, “Life.” The former governor entered today’s Senate primary with a gigantic lead and has tried to protect it throughout the race, stumbling in only the final weeks. His final pre-primary spot (in Colorado, voting effectively began weeks ago) positions him for the general election, with a competence pitch, not an ideological one. “We can come back stronger and more just than we were before,” Hickenlooper says. “We can put an end to this age of corruption and chaos.”

Andrew Romanoff, “Home.” The former state House speaker has performed most strongly in his race against Hickenlooper when the front-runner has erred. But Romanoff teed up the race with a contrast on climate change, with this lengthy video that imagines a dark, dystopian future and humans forced indoors by climate change. “Tired politicians tell us to lower our sights,” Romanoff says in a narration, switching seamlessly between Trump administration figures and Hickenlooper.

Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, “No on SQ 802.” The campaign against Oklahoma’s Medicaid expansion measure appeals to the state’s Republican-leaning voters with a partisan and somewhat populist message: It’ll put “Nancy Pelosi in control” of the state’s health care and bail out “the state’s wealthiest hospitals.”

Vote Yes on 802, “Oklahomans Decide Health Care.” The pro-expansion campaign’s messaging explains why the “Washington control” line is important to opponents: Local Chambers of Commerce and hospitals want the measure to pass, allowing the “yes” campaign to wear the mantle of local control.

Huntsman/Kaufusi, “Who Can Lead?” The former Utah governor deals with the basic question about his return to politics (“People ask me why I’m doing this again”) to focus on his turnaround pitch. Under him, Huntsman argues, Utah can be a dominant economic powerhouse. “We shouldn’t just recover from covid-19, these riots and all this uncertainty. I believe we should be reborn.”

Hughes/Iverson, “Spencer Cox Never-Trumper. The most popular theme in Trump-era GOP ads has come to Utah, too, the red state where Trump did the worst in 2016. Here, former Utah House speaker Greg Hughes talks entirely about Lt. Gov. Cox’s criticism of Trump, arguing that the state’s residents “don’t need a never-Trumper to lead Utah,” ending on a video of Trump talking about how Hughes was an “original supporter” of the president. Hughes backed Trump ahead of the 2016 Utah primary, which the future nominee lost in a landslide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Club for Growth Action, “We Lose.” This may be a first: a PAC running an attack ad against a PAC, specifically one that is getting the most attention for ads running against the president in D.C.’s safe blue media market. “They don’t just hate him,” the Club’s usual narrator says. “They hate you.” That’s the spot, an oppo dump of sorts against strategists such as Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson, blaming them for the Obama presidency.

Poll watch

2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania (Susquehanna, 715 voters)

Joe Biden: 46% (-2) 
Donald Trump: 42% ( 1)

This is a twist: a recent swing-state poll that finds the Democratic nominee treading water against the president, after several weeks of bad news for Trump. The same pollster always found Hillary Clinton ahead of Trump in Pennsylvania during the 2016 campaign, though never at 50 percent of the vote. One factor that could explain the stasis: Gov. Tom Wolf, who like many swing-state governors has been in a pitched battle with Republicans over when the state should “reopen,” has seen his approval rating fall from the stratosphere back to around 50 percent.

Does this quality describe the candidate? (Pew Research, 4,708 voters)

Energetic
Donald Trump: 56%
Joe Biden: 40%

Even-tempered
Joe Biden: 60%
Donald Trump: 25%

These two questions got the most extreme responses in Pew’s running voter panel; the first was best for Trump, the second was best for Biden. Both questions are also crucial to the campaigns’ current messaging, with pro-Biden advertising offering him as the candidate who can calm and unite the country and pro-Trump advertising portraying Biden as weak and confused. The downside for the president: Even as voters generally agree that he has more “energy” than Biden, he is losing by 10 points in the ballot test, a decline from a two-point deficit back in April.

2020 presidential race (USA Today/Suffolk, 1,000 registered voters)

Joe Biden: 53% ( 3) 
Donald Trump: 41% ( 1)

At the start of this year, Suffolk’s national poll was the only one showing a small lead for the president over Biden. That faded by the spring, and it has become a lopsided deficit for the president, who trails Biden on most personal qualities — including, remarkably, which candidate has the experience for the job. (There’s a 30-point lead on that question for Biden.) Suffolk also tests voters’ willingness to pick a third-party candidate, finding Biden still lopsidedly ahead if that option is included, while 11 percent of voters are open to it. That may be a defining question of 2020. While the third-party vote surged in 2016, neither Libertarian nominee Jo Jorgensen nor likely Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins has drawn much money or media attention.

On the trail

Liberals got a few small victories at the Supreme Court this week, with a Louisiana antiabortion law getting struck down and a case against the structure of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau leaving the agency intact — while giving a president power to fire the bureau’s leadership at will, something the law creating the CFPB prevented. In practice, that gives a President Joe Biden the chance to install his own CFPB chair as soon as January, instead of waiting nearly two years for the current term to run out, a potentially ironic twist in a case designed to kill the agency.

The abortion decision made a far bigger 2020 impact. In a 5-to-4 vote, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s liberals, Louisiana’s law that required abortion clinic physicians to have admitting privileges at local hospitals was deemed to be too similar to a law already ruled unconstitutional. (In practice, the law would have reduced Louisiana to a single abortion clinic.) While the law was passed by a bipartisan majority and backed by a Democratic governor, it’s now moot.

That was a victory for liberals, but not one they took as final. A shift of one vote on the court, obviously, would clearly produce a majority in favor of tearing up precedent.

“We’re hoping that this decision doesn’t lull people into complacency,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in an interview. “A clear read of what Roberts said tells us that we have to fight harder than ever. It’s a very narrowly tailored decision.”

In talks with The Post’s Paige Winfield Cunningham, antiabortion activists accepted that premise: One more vote would begin to unravel the country’s more liberal abortion laws. “What we need is someone of a higher caliber than Roberts,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said. 

But Hogue emphasized that the goal of pro-abortion-rights activists in 2021 was more than a court seat. It was getting a new Congress to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade, essentially taking them away from the courts altogether.

Candidate tracker

Joe Biden returned to the campaign trail today, giving a speech and then taking reporter questions on camera for the first time since securing the Democratic nomination three months ago. That put an end, for now, to the daily Republican questions about when Biden will face reporters again and ended without much damage to Biden. After again criticizing the president over his coronavirus handling, Biden turned back the Republicans’ “cognitive decline” attacks on President Trump.

“He either doesn’t understand his job or is having a difficult time sitting down and reading those reports,” Biden said. At the end of the questions, when a Fox News reporter asked whether Biden was “tested for cognitive decline,” the Democrat brushed it off: “I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I’m running against.”

The president will take part in a Fox Business interview Wednesday, his first since questions were raised about whether he ignored intelligence reports on Russia offering bounties to Taliban-linked militants who killed coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Countdown

… seven days until primaries in Delaware and New Jersey
… 11 days until the Louisiana primary
… 14 days until runoffs in Alabama and Texas
… 48 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 56 days until the Republican National Convention
… 66 days until North Carolina begins sending out absentee ballots
… 126 days until the general election

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