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U.S. Supreme Court issues opinions in four cases

On February 25, the Supreme Court of the United States issued opinions for four cases: McKinney v. Arizona, Rodriguez v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Hernandez v. Mesa, and Monasky v. Taglieri.

In the case McKinney v. Arizona, James McKinney was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1993. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the sentence after an independent review. A federal district court denied McKinney’s petition for habeas corpus. On appeal, the 9th Circuit instructed the district court to grant the habeas corpus petition. After another independent review, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the death sentences.

In a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling, holding that a state appellate court, rather than a jury, may conduct a reweighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances on habeas corpus review in cases concerning the death penalty. Justice Brett Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In the case Rodriguez v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, United Western Bank closed after suffering $35.4 million in losses in 2011. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was appointed as the bank’s receiver. Also in 2011, the parent company, United Western Bancorp, Inc. (UWBI), filed a tax refund request of $4.8 million to recover a portion of United Western Bank’s 2008 taxes. In 2012, UWBI filed for bankruptcy. Both the FDIC and UWBI argued in bankruptcy court that the tax refund belonged to them. The bankruptcy court ruled the refund belonged to UWBI. On appeal, the District of Colorado reversed the bankruptcy court’s decision. Simon Rodriguez, the Chapter 7 Trustee for UWBI’s bankruptcy estate, appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the district court’s ruling and remanded the case to the bankruptcy court. Rodriguez petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 10th Circuit’s decision, arguing circuit courts were divided on the question of tax refund ownership.

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded the 10th Circuit’s decision in a 9-0 ruling, holding the Bob Richards rule “is not a legitimate exercise of federal common lawmaking,” in which federal judges—instead of Congress, agencies, or states—make laws. Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the court.

In the case Hernandez v. Mesa, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa shot and killed 15-year-old Mexican national Sergio Hernandez in 2010. The Hernandez family filed charges against Mesa. The Western District of Texas dismissed the case. After several appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Hernandez v. Mesa in 2016. At that time, SCOTUS vacated the 5th Circuit’s judgment and remanded the case so the 5th Circuit might reconsider its ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Ziglar v. Abbasi (2017). On remand, the 5th Circuit ruled the Hernandez family could not rely on Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (Bivens) to file charges and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the 5th Circuit in a 5-4 ruling, holding that the plaintiffs cannot sue the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent for damages under the U.S. Constitution and that the Bivens holding does not extend to claims based on a cross-border shooting. Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In the case Monasky v. Taglieri, Italian citizen Domenico Taglieri and American citizen Michelle Monasky were a married couple living in Italy when they had a daughter, A.M.T. Both parents began applications for Italian and U.S. passports for their daughter. In 2015, Taglieri revoked his permission for A.M.T.’s U.S. passport. Two weeks later, Monasky took A.M.T. to the United States. Taglieri petitioned the Northern District of Ohio for A.M.T’s return to Italy under the Hague Convention. The district court granted Taglieri’s petition. On appeal, the 6th Circuit sitting en banc affirmed the district court’s ruling.

The Supreme Court affirmed the 6th Circuit’s decision in a unanimous ruling, holding (1) an actual agreement between the parents on where to raise a child is not necessary to establish the child’s habitual residence and (2) a district court should use clear-error review to determine habitual residence under the Hague Convention. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas joined as to Parts I, III, and IV, and filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Samuel Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

As of February 25, 2020, the court had issued decisions in eight cases this term. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 850 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.

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Heart of the Primaries 2020, Republicans-Issue 7 (February 26, 2020)

This week: Senate candidates in Alabama release opposition ads, Democratic groups spend against Garcia, Knight in CA-25, and the battleground primaries to watch on March 3.

On the news

Where do Republican and conservative pundits and commentators disagree? Each week, we bring you excerpts that highlight differing views.

“The fearmongering over Russian election ‘interference’ might be the most destructive moral panic in American political life since the Red Scare. Then again, to be fair, those who prosecuted the post-war hunt for Communists had the decency to uncover a handful of infiltrators. We’ve yet to meet a single American who’s been brainwashed or had their vote snatched away by an SVR Twitterbot. Probably because no such person exists. …

There are few people who detest the candidacy and philosophy of Sanders more than I, yet I’m positive that the KGB can’t give him the Democratic Party nomination any more than they can install Donald Trump in the White House. Only voters can.

It’s likely that Russia, as it did in 2016, will engage in amateurish efforts to foment divisions among some American — as if we needed any help. If they actually “hack” an election — a word incessantly, and erroneously, used by journalists at the height of the Russia scare in 2017 — we’ll know.”

David Harsanyi, National Review, Feb. 24, 2020

“Russian efforts to influence American social media didn’t stop in November 2016. In the words of former special counsel Robert Mueller, Russia is attempting to influence the 2020 elections ‘as we sit here.’ … 

Russian efforts to manipulate American social media have grown more sophisticated since the summer of 2016, when they were often easy to spot. … It’s much harder now. The Russian social media manipulation machine has been refining its techniques and building up a social media presence in preparation for 2020. Perhaps worse, the Russians’ success — and the lack of consequences — has encouraged others to try their hand at this sort of asymmetric warfare. Iran, North Korea and even China could decide to field their own troll armies in 2020.

If you think it was bad in 2016, it’s going to be much worse this year. The goal of these trolls isn’t just to manipulate our elections, it’s to fundamentally damage our democracy and undermine our trust in American institutions.”

Chris Truax, USA Today, Feb. 20, 2020

U.S. Congress

Five states will hold statewide primaries on March 3, 2020 (15 jurisdictions will hold presidential nominating events). Here’s a list of the Republican Congressional battleground primaries to watch.

Senate candidates in Alabama release opposition ads

The three Senate primary candidates topping polls in Alabama are using the closing days of the primary to run ads criticizing each other for past comments about or conflicts with President Donald Trump.

Bradley Byrne and Tommy Tuberville criticized Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election during his time as attorney general. Sessions has defended his recusal and emphasized that he was the first senator to endorse Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.

Sessions and Tuberville criticized Byrne for saying Trump was not fit to be president in 2016 following the release of the Access Hollywood recording. Byrne has said the comment was a mistake and that he has a 97% pro-Trump voting record in the House.

Byrne’s and Sessions’ ads said Tuberville supported amnesty for people in the country illegally. Sessions’ ads also featured audio of Tuberville criticizing Trump on veterans’ health care. Tuberville has said he does not support amnesty and that Trump has not been able to do everything he’d like due to resistance from others.

Most ads released earlier in the primary focused on candidates’ conservative credentials, experience, and criticisms of Democrats. 

Two independent polls from early February showed Sessions and Tuberville about tied for the lead and Byrne in third. Both Sessions and Tuberville received around 30% support. To win the March 3 primary outright, a candidate needs a majority of the vote. If no one wins a majority, the top two finishers will meet in a runoff on March 31.

Trump won Alabama in the 2016 presidential race, defeating Hillary Clinton 62% to 34%.

The Republican primary winner will face incumbent Doug Jones (D) in November. Jones won the 2017 special election, defeating Roy Moore 50% to 48%. The 2020 primary features seven candidates, including Moore.

TX-11 candidates criticize With Honor Fund support of Pfluger

Six Republican candidates for Texas’ 11th Congressional District held a press conference in response to With Honor Fund‘s endorsement of and satellite spending for August Pfluger. Overall, eight candidates signed a pledge stating:

“We pledge not to knowingly take money nor receive support from individuals or groups that do not hold to the conservative, Constitutional and Judeo-Christian values of our District – specifically groups supported by radical liberal activists such as Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg or George Soros.”

Candidates Gene Barber, Brandon Batch, Jamie Berryhill, J. D. Faircloth, Casey Gray, Ned Luscombe, Robert Tucker, and Wesley Virdell signed the pledge.

With Honor describes itself as “a cross-partisan movement dedicated to promoting and advancing principled veteran leadership in elected public service.” The group spent $214,000 on an ad campaign supporting Pfluger. The ad discusses Pfluger’s Air Force experience and calls him “an outsider like President Trump, not a politician.”

Trump endorsed Pfluger Feb. 12. Virdell questioned the endorsement: “There’s questions about ‘is he actually the one who’s actually sending tweets out?’”

Pfluger said following the press conference:

“I think we can all agree that nobody cares more about draining the swamp and defeating democrats than President Trump, which is why I’m honored to have his complete and total endorsement. To suggest that Donald Trump is either too weak or too stupid to make his own endorsements is insulting and offensive. The fact is, I’m proud of the conservative, and completely positive, grassroots campaign we’ve run focused on the issues that the voters of this district care about.”

If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the March 3 primary election, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held May 26. The seat is open — incumbent Mike Conaway (R) is retiring.

Democratic groups spend against Garcia, Knight in CA-25

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and House Majority PAC released ads opposing Mike Garcia (R) and Steve Knight (R), respectively, in California’s 25th Congressional District top-two primary.

The DCCC ad said Garcia supported a middle class tax increase and accused his business of not paying taxes. The House Majority PAC ad called Knight a Trump Republican. Politico reported that the DCCC spent $318,000 and House Majority PAC, $293,000 on their buys.

The DCCC also placed a coordinated ad buy with Democratic candidate Christy Smith.

The district will have both a special election primary and a regularly scheduled primary on March 3. In the special primary, a candidate can win outright by getting more than 50% of the vote. Otherwise, a special general election for the top two candidates will be held on May 12. 

Eleven candidates—including Garcia, Knight, and Smith—are running in both elections, with additional candidates running in one or the other race. 

Former Rep. Katie Hill resigned in November 2019 following her acknowledgment of having had a relationship with a campaign staffer. Knight represented the district from 2015 to 2019. Hill beat Knight in 2018 54% to 46%.

Since the state began using top-two congressional primaries in 2012, a Republican and a Democrat advanced to the general election in three out of four cycles. In 2014, two Republicans advanced.

State executives

Jan Garbett announces run for governor of Utah, Aimee Winder Newton halts signature collection efforts

Businesswoman Jan Garbett kicked off her campaign for governor of Utah Thursday, becoming the eighth Republican to join the race. 

Garbett, whose husband Bryson served two terms as a Republican member of the state House in the 1980s, has run for political office twice before. She challenged Rep. Chris Stewart (R) in the 2018 election as a member of the United Utah Party but dropped out before November. In 2016, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vaughn Cook selected Garbett as his running mate. Their ticket was defeated at the state Democratic convention. 

Garbett said she had planned to run for Congress again this year but switched to the gubernatorial election after hearing all six candidates participating in the Jan. 31 debate say that they supported President Trump.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton announced Wednesday that her campaign was suspending its effort to collect signatures to petition onto the primary ballot. Candidates for governor of Utah may qualify for the primary ballot in one of two ways. Up to two candidates can receive a place on the ballot by winning support from delegates at the state party convention, while any number of candidates can qualify by submitting 28,000 signatures from registered voters. Winder Newton joins Jason Christensen and Gregory Hughes, who are also seeking the nomination via the convention alone.

So far two candidates—Spencer Cox and Thomas Wright—have submitted nominating petitions. Each submitted over 30,000 signatures. As of noon Mountain Time on Feb. 25, 21,675 of Cox’s signatures had been verified—77% of the qualifying requirement. None of Wright’s signatures had yet been verified.

The candidate filing deadline is March 19. The June 30 primary will be open to registered Republicans only. The winner of the primary is likely to also win the general election—no Democrat has won election as governor of Utah since 1980. Incumbent Gary Herbert (R) is not seeking re-election.

Montana Secretary of State candidates meet for forum

The four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Montana secretary of state met for a candidate forum in Kalispell Thursday. All four said that they were best-suited to keep the office in Republican hands in November. Each stated their support for ending the state’s same-day voter registration program and for cutting the size of the secretary’s staff.

Montana Supreme Court Clerk Bowen Greenfield (R) said he was the only candidate who has won a statewide election and that it was critical that Democrats not win the secretary of state’s office. 

Deputy Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen (R) said incumbent Corey Stapleton (R), who is running for U.S. House, has endorsed her and that she had the most experience in the secretary’s office. 

State Rep. Forrest Mandeville (R) said he had experience defeating election laws supported by Democrats, including automatic and online voter registration, as chairman of the State Administration Committee. 

State Senate President Scott Sales (R) said that he had the most private sector experience of any candidate and was the only person in Montana history to serve as both speaker of the state House and as state Senate president.

Montana’s secretary of state is the chief elections officer and has a variety of other duties including maintaining and updating the state’s regulatory codes, registering businesses and trademarks, licensing notaries public, and maintaining official government records.

The candidate filing deadline is March 9. The June 2 primary will be open to all registered voters. Since 1980, most Montana secretary of state elections have been won by the same party that won that year’s presidential election. The only exception was in 1988, when Mike Cooney (D) was elected Secretary of State and George H.W. Bush (R) was elected president.


Lyft targets Diep over AB5 vote

Ridesharing company Lyft is using direct mail to target California Assemblyman Tyler Diep (District 72) for his support of Assembly Bill 5. Diep was the sole Republican to vote in favor of the bill. AB5 requires gig economy companies (such as Lyft) to hire employees rather than use independent contractors. 

Lyft has spent $250,000 so far this cycle opposing Diep’s re-election. As reported previously in Heart of the Primaries, the Orange County Republican Party withdrew its endorsement of Diep in January. Diep faces former state Sen. Janet Nguyen (R), Bijan Mohseni (D), and Diedre Nguyen (D) in the March 3 top-two primary. The top two vote-getters will run in the Nov. 3 general election.

Open MI House primary becomes competitive

Yvonne Black filed to run for District 47 in the Michigan House of Representatives, making the Republican primary for the open seat competitive. Livingstone County Commissioner Bob Bezotte, who announced he would run in early 2019, is the other candidate in the primary. Rep. Henry Vaupel (R) is ineligible to run because of term limits. He has represented the district since 2015.

The filing deadline for the race is April 21, and the primary will take place Aug. 4. District 47 is located in central Michigan and includes the city of Howell and portions of Livingstone County.

SD Senate primary becomes competitive

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop David Zellmer filed to run in the South Dakota Senate District 14 primary. State Rep. Larry Zikmund (R) has also filed to run for the seat. The current incumbent, Sen. Deb Soholt (R), is ineligible to run because of term limits.

The filing deadline for the race is March 31, and the primary will take place on June 2. District 14 includes portions of Sioux Falls.

Update: Mike Prax appointed to AK House District 3

The Alaska House Republican Caucus confirmed Mike Prax (R) to the seat left vacant when former Rep. Tammie Wilson (R) resigned in January to take a job with the Office of Children’s Services in the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Wilson was one of eight Republicans who caucused with Democrats to create a coalition majority in the House. Republicans hold a 23-15 numerical majority in the chamber, with two independents also holding seats.

Power players

“The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans.” – Official Facebook page of the House Freedom Caucus 

The House Freedom Caucus is a congressional caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Nine Republican representatives established the caucus in 2015. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was its first chair. An October 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found that the majority of caucus members were generally considered to be more conservative than most Republicans.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) was elected chairman of the House Freedom Caucus in September 2019. The House Freedom Caucus does not disclose its membership list. As of June 2019, the caucus was estimated to have 31 members.

The House Freedom Fund, a PAC associated with the Caucus, endorses candidates which it says are “dedicated to open, accountable, and limited government – candidates who will fight to defend the Constitution and advance policies that promote liberty, safety, and prosperity for all Americans.” According to Jordan, the fund “helps grassroots candidates get the financial support they need to compete with establishment candidates.” To view a list of candidates endorsed by the House Freedom Fund, click here.

Heart of the Primaries 2020, Democrats-Issue 7 (February 26, 2020)

This week: GOP Senate super PAC funded ads for Democratic candidate in NC, Tzintzún Ramirez picks up endorsements in Senate race in TX, and the battleground primaries to watch on March 3.

On the news

Where do Democratic and progressive pundits and commentators disagree? Each week, we bring you excerpts that highlight differing views.

“[The TX-28 Democratic] primary showdown proves that conservative forces are more than willing and more than able to fight for power under the auspices of the Democratic ticket. In TX-28, they’ve dug in their heels in a simple primary that is not likely to meaningfully alter the composition of the Democrats’ House majority.

Still, the question remains why Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC would continue to support a Koch-backed candidate who has been openly antagonistic towards the Democratic agenda, regularly opposing even signature legislation from the House Dems … 

That Democratic party leadership is so eager to prop up a candidate who has thwarted their own legislative ambitions paints a troubling portrait of the party’s priorities under Pelosi’s leadership. At times, she has seemed less interested in expanding the Democrats House majority than ensuring that anti-progressive forces are safely entrenched in the chamber. Especially as the progressive agenda polls very favorably amongst the Democratic base, and Bernie Sanders surges into the lead for the presidential nomination, that sets the stage for a further confrontation about where the party is headed, and what a winning ticket, up and down the ballot, will look like come November.”

Alexander Sammon, The American Prospect, Feb. 19, 2020

“The vote March 3 is the first significant challenge to a House incumbent in the 2020 cycle and highlights the broader challenges the Democratic Party is facing, as progressive groups have sought to evict lawmakers deemed too out of step with the Democratic base. The race in some ways mirrors the split in the presidential primary, with some candidates demanding aggressive liberal policies and others taking a centrist approach. … 

The push by liberal groups to oust some incumbent Democrats has grown since House Democrats took the majority in 2018. Last year, Rep. Cheri Bustos, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, canceled a planned fundraiser with fellow Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, an antiabortion incumbent, after criticism from her colleagues and activists.

Still, the number of competitive Democratic primaries is far from what some moderate House Democrats feared after 2018, and there hasn’t been a tea party-like wave. Leaders argue the party won the House majority in part by appealing to more conservative voters in areas President Trump won in 2016.”

Natalie Andrews, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2020

U.S. Congress

Five states will hold statewide primaries on March 3, 2020 (15 jurisdictions will hold presidential nominating events). Here’s a list of the Democratic Congressional battleground primaries to watch.

GOP Senate super PAC funded ads for Democratic candidate in NC

We recently reported that Faith and Power PAC had spent $2.4 million on ads and activities supporting Erica Smith as “the only proven progressive” in the Senate race in North Carolina, and that media outlets alleged the group had Republican ties. The PAC’s pro-Smith spending has reached $2.9 million, and the source of the funds was disclosed as the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF).

SLF, a super PAC, was founded to support a Republican majority in the Senate. The group’s president, Steven Law, said they were trying to drive up spending in the Democratic primary more than trying to influence the outcome. Law also said Democrats had a history of involvement in Republican primaries. In a statement Feb. 21, the day after Faith and Power PAC disclosed its funding source to the Federal Election Commission, Law said the following:

“We stole a page out of Chuck Schumer’s playbook, and it’s been more successful than we could have imagined. Democrats are burning cash in a $13 million rescue mission for Cal Cunningham, who has proven to be a lackluster candidate with less money in the bank today than the beginning of the year. If you add in the fact that Cunningham felt pressured to say he would support Bernie Sanders, I’d call this an unqualified success. We got a lot more for our money than when Democrats spent millions in Thom Tillis’ primary six years ago.”

In a Feb. 21 Facebook post, Smith wrote, “We have the support of the people, and I am here to serve the people not the SuperPACs – CorporatePACs who meddle, interfere and attempt to influence elections with special interest $$$s.”

The same day, Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham wrote in a Facebook post, “Mitch McConnell meddled in our election to try to mislead voters, and it’s clear why—he knows Thom Tillis has failed NC and he’s terrified to face me. I’ve got a message for McConnell and his allies—your scheme won’t work and I’ll see you in November.”

There are five candidates running in the March 3 primary. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed Cunningham, who has led in polls and fundraising. VoteVets has spent more than $7 million and the group Carolina Blue has spent more than $3 million backing Cunningham. 

A candidate needs more than 30% of the vote to win the primary outright. Otherwise, a runoff for the top two will be held May 12 if the second-place finisher requests one.

Three race raters call the general election a Toss-up or Lean Republican.

Tzintzún Ramirez picks up endorsements in Senate race in TX

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez picked up endorsements from Reps. Joaquín Castro and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the 12-candidate Democratic primary field for Senate in Texas. Tzintzún Ramirez headed the Workers Defense Project and founded an advocacy group aimed at young Latinos.

Last week, the group Lone Star Forward spent $58,000 on a TV ad supporting Ramirez. The ad says she would be the state’s first Latina senator and that she would fight for healthcare for all, universal childcare, jobs with living wages, and more.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed MJ Hegar in the race. Hegar ran against John Carter (R) in Texas’ 31st District in 2018, losing 48% to 51%. 

The Houston Chronicle endorsed Royce West, a state senator, in the race last week.

If none of the 12 candidates receives 50% or more of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a May 26 runoff. 

Incumbent John Cornyn (R) was first elected in 2002. Democrats last won a statewide election in Texas in 1994. In the 2018 U.S. Senate election in Texas, incumbent Ted Cruz (R) defeated then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) 51% to 48%.

Pelosi campaigns for Cuellar, Ocasio-Cortez’s PAC backs Cisneros in TX-28 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in Laredo Saturday for a series of events, including a stop at Rep. Henry Cuellar’s campaign headquarters. 

Pelosi said, “We want this to be not only a victory, but a resounding victory for Henry Cuellar. … Every step you take, every door you knock, every call you make, will make that resounding victory possible — and it includes getting out a big Democratic vote prepared to vote again in the general election so that we turn Texas blue.”

At an annual event in town, Pelosi further praised Cuellar for his contributions to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

Last year, Pelosi said, “I’m very, very proud of Henry’s work in the Congress and I’m proud to support him — even if I didn’t have a policy of endorsing incumbents.”

Cuellar, in office since 2005, faces a progressive primary challenge from Jessica Cisneros on March 3. Cuellar says the district is more moderate and has criticized Cisneros’ positions on abortion and energy policy.

Cisneros is an immigration attorney. She says her progressive platform is more in touch with the district. She says Cuellar has voted with President Donald Trump 70% of the time and highlights Cuellar’s A rating from the National Rifle Association.

This past week, Courage to Change PAC—founded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D)—endorsed Cisneros. Her other endorsers include Justice Democrats and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I) and Elizabeth Warren (D).  

As we reported earlier, Cuellar has endorsements from groups that don’t typically back Democrats, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and LIBRE Initiative Action.

Wachspress withdraws from PA-01 primary

Pennsylvania’s 1st District Democratic primary is down to two candidates after Pennsbury School Board member Debbie Wachspress ended her campaign last week. The announcement followed a lawsuit alleging Wachspress used offensive language during a school board executive session. Wachspress said, “It is clear to me that these lies and distortions will be too big a distraction to overcome.”

Christina Finello and Skylar Hurwitz remain in the primary. Wachspress endorsed Finello. The Bucks County and Montgomery County Democratic committees endorsed Finello—all of Bucks and part of Montgomery counties are in the 1st District.

Wachspress had raised the most money among Democratic candidates. She reported $452,000 in receipts at the end of 2019, including a $50,000 loan. Finello had raised $81,000. 

Incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick (R) reported raising $1.9 million through the end of 2019. That included $532,000 from individual contributions and the rest from political committees and transfers from other candidates’ committees.  

Pennsylvania’s 1st is one of three congressional districts in the country that both Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election and a Republican won in the 2018 congressional election. 

Patch writer Doug Gross wrote, “Fitzpatrick’s seat is one that has been closely eyed by Democrats in recent election cycles. Bucks County has seen a rising tide of success for Democratic candidates, who took control of the county Board of Commissioners in last year’s election as well as winning in races for several county row offices and for control in multiple municipalities.”

State executives

Ben Salango receives labor endorsements

Kanawha County commissioner and West Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ben Salango (D) has won endorsements from two in-state labor unions.

The Parkersburg-Marietta Building Trades endorsed Salango Feb. 17, while the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades District Council 53 issued its endorsement Feb. 25. Other unions endorsing Salango include the West Virginia and Appalachian Laborers’ District Council and Teamsters Local 175.

Salango faces four opponents, including activist Stephen Smith and state Sen. Ron Stollings, in the May 12 primary

Smith says his campaign is part of a broader political movement called West Virginia Can’t Wait and says he is running to change the tone of West Virginia’s politics. 

Stollings, who has represented a portion of southwestern West Virginia in the state Senate since 2006, has focused his campaign on education, health care, and jobs.

The winner will face the Republican nominee in the November general election. Democrats have won each of the past six West Virginia gubernatorial elections. Incumbent Jim Justice was elected as a Democrat before joining the Republican Party in 2017.

Leader of state House progressives endorses Dan Feltes for governor of New Hampshire

State Rep. Kristina Schultz (D), the leader of the New Hampshire House Progressive Caucus, endorsed state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes (D) for governor Thursday. 

Schultz said her endorsement was personal and was not an endorsement from the Progressive Caucus, which currently has 72 members. Feltes’ other legislative endorsements include nine of his 13 Democratic colleagues in the state Senate and around 80 of the 232 Democratic members of the state House.

The only other declared candidate in the Democratic primary is Executive Councillor Andru Volinsky (D). Volinsky’s endorsers include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.).

The filing deadline is June 12. The Sept. 8 Democratic primary is open to registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters. Incumbent Chris Sununu (R) is running for re-election.

Update: Montana Democrats hold second gubernatorial debate

Last week, we reported that Montana gubernatorial candidates Mike Cooney (D) and Whitney Williams (D) had participated in their first debate. The two met for a second debate in Bozeman on Feb. 21. The candidate filing deadline is March 9. The June 2 primary will be open to all registered voters.


Local party endorsement draws criticism in PA House race

The Allegheny County Democratic Party endorsed Heather Kass in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania House District 36. The endorsement drew criticism from a local labor union and local state Sen. Lindsey Williams (D) because of comments Kass had made on social media. Kass has publicly expressed her opposition to the Affordable Care Act and criticized individuals who receive welfare.

Kass later said she regretted the social media posts and said that if elected, she would support the Democratic Party. There are five total candidates running in the April 28 primary. The Democratic nominee will face A.J. Doyle (R) in the Nov. 3 general election. District 36 contains portions of Pittsburgh.

Working Families Party backs progressive challenger in NY House primary

The Working Families Party endorsed Samuel Fein in his primary challenge of Assemblyman John McDonald (D-108). It’s the party’s first endorsement of a challenger to an Assembly Democrat this election cycle. This is McDonald’s first contested primary since his election in 2012, when he beat a WFP-endorsed candidate in the Democratic primary.

The WFP said it endorsed Fein because of McDonald’s criticism of tenant reform legislation and his stance on a $15 minimum wage in upstate New York. Fein is running to McDonald’s left, citing higher taxes on billionaires and racial and economic inequality as his key campaign issues.

The filing deadline for the race is April 2 and the primary will take place on June 23. The Democratic nominee will run in the Nov. 3 general election. District 108 contains portions of Albany.

Candidates for CT Senate hold fundraisers

Two candidates seeking progressive votes in the Democratic primary for Connecticut’s 17th Senate District each held fundraisers this weekend. Justin Farmer and Jorge Cabrera are each running for the Democratic nomination to take on incumbent George Logan (R) in the general election. Logan defeated Cabrera in the 2018 election 50.1% to 49.9%.

According to the New Haven Independent, the two candidates are gaining support among different groups. Farmer’s fundraiser consisted of younger voters focused on environmental issues, public transportation, and tax equity. Cabrera’s supporters include local Democratic assembly members and his campaign has focused on labor issues, municipal aid, and a progressive tax.

Power players

“The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C. completely changed the landscape of American elections. … It’s time to fight back. Established March 1, 2015, End Citizens United is a Political Action Committee funded by grassroots donors. We are dedicated to countering the disastrous effects of Citizens United and reforming our campaign finance system.”

End Citizens United website 

End Citizens United is a political action committee that aims to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The decision held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited because doing so would violate the First Amendment. 

End Citizens United’s mission statement is to “end Big Money in politics and fix our rigged political system by electing campaign finance reform champions, passing state ballot measures, and elevating this issue in the national conversation. We will work in partnership with these champions to overturn Citizens United and end the unlimited and undisclosed money in politics.” 

The PAC was founded in 2015 by three former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising strategists and has supported and made contributions to Democratic candidates.

Click here to view a list of candidates endorsed by End Citizens United. 

On Feb. 20, 2020, End Citizens United announced a partnership with Off the Sidelines, a PAC founded by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). The goals of the partnership according to the announcement are to “advocate for campaign finance reforms aimed at curbing the influence of money in politics and to raise money for and advise female candidates who align themselves with the groups on those issues.”

Wisconsin Supreme Court primary turnout at highest level in decades

Last week’s Wisconsin Supreme Court primary featured the highest turnout in at least 20 years, with just under 704,000 voters participating. The next-highest primary turnout during this period was in 2016 when 566,000 voters participated in the primary.

Since 2000, there have been 15 other elections for state Supreme Court, six of which had primaries (a Wisconsin Supreme Court primary is only held if more than two candidates file; the top two finishers in the primary advance to the general election).

Higher primary turnout has typically been associated with higher general election turnout. The 2016 general election had the highest turnout of any during this time period, including the nine without primaries, at 1.95 million. The record-low 278,000-voter turnout in the 2003 primary was followed by the lowest turnout in any general election where a primary was held.

Turnout in a general election has exceeded 1 million three time: in 2011, 2016, and 2019. The conservative-backed candidate won in all three elections. The three lowest turnout figures for contested elections during this time were in the 2009, 2003, and 2015 elections, ranging between 794,000 and 813,000. The liberal candidate-backed won in 2009 and 2015, while the conservative-backed candidate won in 2003.

Incumbent Daniel Kelly and Jill Karofsky were the top-two finishers in the Feb. 18 primary this year and will advance to the April 7 general election. Kelly received 50.1% of the primary vote. Of the six other primaries since 2000, a candidate received more than 50% of the vote in three. In all three, that candidate went on to win the general election.

This year’s general election coincides with Wisconsin’s April 7 presidential primaries. Eight notable Democrats are running in that party’s presidential primary as of Feb. 25. President Donald Trump will be the only candidate on the Republican presidential primary ballot.

The result of the state supreme court general election stands to impact future control of the court. A Kelly win would preserve the current 5-2 conservative majority. Assuming that no justices leave the bench early, this would prevent liberals from winning a majority on the court any earlier than 2026. A win for Karofsky would narrow the conservative majority to 4-3 and would mean that the 2023 election will decide control of the court.

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Nine candidates running in California’s 50th Congressional District top-two primary

Nine candidates are running in the primary election for California’s 50th Congressional District in the U.S. House on March 3, 2020.

Duncan Hunter (R), who had represented the district since 2013, resigned Jan. 13, 2020, after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds.

The top two finishers in the primary will advance to the Nov. 3, 2020, general election. One Democrat and one Republican have advanced from the primary in every election since the state began using top-two primaries in 2012.

Media coverage and endorsements have focused on three Republicans and one Democrat: Ammar Campa-Najjar (D), Carl DeMaio (R), Darrell Issa (R), and Brian Jones (R).

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond and Former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock have endorsed DeMaio. U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R) endorsed Issa, who retired from representing the 49th Congressional District in 2019. The California Republican Assembly, the San Diego Police Officers Association, and the Peace Officers Research Association of California endorsed Jones.

Campa-Najjar advanced to the general election in 2018 and lost to Hunter 52% to 48%. He was endorsed by Reps. Susan Davis (D), Eric Swalwell (D), and Adam Schiff (D).

Also running in the primary are Jose Cortes (Peace and Freedom Party of California), Helen Horvath (I), Lucinda Jahn (I), Henry Ota (I), and Nathan Wilkins (R). Marisa Calderon (D) suspended her campaign on Jan. 31, 2020, but her name will still appear on the ballot.

The Cook Partisan Voter Index for this district was R+11, meaning that in the previous two presidential elections, this district’s results were 11 percentage points more Republican than the national average. Race raters have given Republicans an edge in the general election. All three major race rating outlets view the general as Safe/Solid Republican.

California’s 50th Congressional District is located in the southern portion of the state and includes much of San Diego County and portions of Riverside County.

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A state-by-state comparison of state legislative election and session dates in 2020

In 2020, 44 states will hold legislative elections and 46 states will hold regularly-scheduled legislative sessions.

In 19 of the states holding legislative elections in 2020, filing deadlines were scheduled to occur after the end of the state legislative session. Candidates in the remaining 25 states have to file either during or before their legislative session.

In the 40 states holding state legislative elections and sessions, 33 primaries were scheduled to take place after the end of the state’s legislative session. Two states’ primaries—Arkansas and North Carolina—were scheduled to take place before their legislative sessions. In those states, then, an incumbent could be challenged and defeated in a primary but still have a legislative session to attend.

The length of time between a filing deadline and primary impacts the amount of time legislative candidates have to campaign. The three states with the shortest length of time between the two are Connecticut, Delaware, and South Dakota, where candidates have 63 days between the filing deadline and primary. The three states with the longest length of time all border one another: Kentucky (130 days), Missouri (126), and Tennessee (126).

Legislative sessions in states with Republican trifectas are 100 days long, on average, whereas sessions in states with Democratic trifectas average 130 days. States with divided governments have an average session length of 151 days. Of the states with the ten longest sessions, only one—Ohio—has a Republican trifecta. The remaining nine consist of five states with Democratic trifectas and four with divided governments.

Click here for more details, analyses, and to see how elections and sessions are scheduled in your state.

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Dems spar over democratic socialism, foreign policy in Charleston debate

Ballotpedia's Daily Presidential News Briefing
February 25, 2020: Seven Democratic presidential candidates are debating in Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday night. Mike Bloomberg has spent more than $500 million on his presidential campaign.

Poll Spotlight

Notable Quote of the Day

“The 2016 Republican and 2020 Democratic primaries have been different. In both instances, the field emerging from Nevada has been roughly the size of a typical Iowa field. The field will likely narrow further after South Carolina, but there is a reasonable chance we will have four or five serious Democrats competing on Super Tuesday.

These sorts of fields are fertile soil for factional candidates to use their basic level of support to take root in the primary field. Trump probably started out with the firm support of around 20-25% of the Republican Party. But because the other votes were spread out over multiple candidates, that 20-25% produced strong showings in early states. Once the candidate wins the early races, it allows him to take hold as a legitimate candidate and then proceed to broaden his appeal.

That’s what happened in 2016, and it’s what is happening in 2020.”

– Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics


  • Joe BidenMichael BloombergPete ButtigiegAmy KlobucharBernie SandersTom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren are debating in Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday night. CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute are hosting the event.

  • With 100% of precincts reporting, Sanders was allocated 24 pledged delegates in Nevada, followed by Biden with nine and Buttigieg with three.

  • North Carolina Senate and House minority leaders, Dan Blue and Darren Jackson, endorsed Bloomberg on Monday. Bloomberg’s spending in the race has crossed $500 million, averaging $5.5 million a day since he entered the Democratic primary.

  • One of South Carolina’s largest daily newspapers, The Stateendorsed Buttigieg on Monday. Buttigieg made a seven-figure ad buy in 12 of the 14 Super Tuesday states that will begin airing on Tuesday and Wednesday.

  • Klobuchar released a medical report on Monday that said she was in good health and “does not have any health conditions that would impair her ability” to serve as president.

  • Sanders posted to his campaign website a plan for how he would pay for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. His proposals included a wealth tax, taxes on and litigation against the fossil fuel industry, and reducing defense spending.

  • Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo endorsed Warren on Monday.


Flashback: February 25, 2016

Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump participated in the tenth Republican primary debate in Houston, Texas.blank

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Previewing the Democratic primary for Texas’ 28th Congressional District

The March 3 Democratic primary in Texas’ 28th Congressional District features incumbent Henry Cuellar, who describes himself as a moderate-centrist, against self-described progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros.

Cuellar was first elected in 2004 and has been endorsed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos, and others. He has received satellite spending support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and LIBRE Initiative Action. He has called Cisnernos an outsider backed by special interests who does not understand the desires of the district’s constituency.

Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration lawyer, is backed by several members of the party’s progressive wing, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Pramila Jayapal. She says Cuellar has voted with President Donald Trump 70% of the time. Her campaign material has called Cuellar “Trump’s favorite Democrat.”

According to FEC reports ending on February 12, 2020, Cuellar has outraised Cisneros $1.8 million to $1.3 million. Cuellar has more than doubled Cisneros’ spending, $2.3 million to $1 million.

The winner of the primary will face Sandra Whitten (R) and Bekah Congdon (L) in the general election. The 28th District has a Partisan Voter Index score of D+9, meaning this district’s results were 9 percentage points more Democratic than the national average in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. All three major race rating outlets rate the race as solid Democratic.

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Voters will decide a vaccination requirements referendum in Maine on March 3

On March 3, 2020, Maine voters will decide Question 1, a veto referendum that would repeal legislation related to vaccine requirements and have the effect of reinstating religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements. In 2019, the state legislature passed Legislative Document 798 (LD 798), which was designed to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions for students to attend schools and colleges and for employees of healthcare facilities. The legislation is scheduled to take effect on September 1, 2021, unless voters approve Question 1.

Question 1 is the 31st veto referendum on the ballot in Maine. The first one was on the ballot in 1910. Of the 30 veto referendums that have been decided, voters approved 18 (60 percent) of them, repealing the targeted legislation. The last time that voters rejected a veto referendum, thus upholding the targeted legislation, was in 2005.

Besides Maine, four states—California, Mississippi, New York, and West Virginia—did not provide for non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for students to attend schools. West Virginia has never provided non-medical exemptions. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that non-medical exemptions violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1979. Like Maine, California and New York repealed non-medical exemptions in 2015 and 2019, respectively.

Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma is leading the campaign in support of a “yes” vote, which would repeal LD 798 and reinstate religious and philosophical exemptions. An associated PAC, Mainers for Health and Parental Rights, collected 79,056 valid signatures to place the veto referendum on the ballot. At least 63,067 signatures needed to be valid. Yes on 1 and Mainers for Health and Parental Rights raised a combined $602,428 as of February 21, 2020. The largest donor was the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), which contributed $50,000. OCA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that, according to the group’s website, “educates and advocates on behalf of organic consumers.” The second-largest contribution was $27,020 from Stephanie Grondin, the office manager at Capital City Chiropractic.

Maine Families for Vaccines is leading the campaign in support of a “no” vote, which would uphold LD 798. Maine Families for Vaccines and the allied Maine Street Solutions – Protect Schools PAC received $822,256. The pharmaceutical companies Merck, Sharp & Dohme, and Pfizer were the largest donors, each contributing $250,000.

Question 1 is the only Maine measure on the ballot for March 3, 2020. The election on November 3, 2020, could feature additional citizen-initiated measures and legislative referrals. The deadline for initiated statutes passed on February 3, 2020, and proponents of one initiative filed signatures, which are under review. The legislature can refer bond measures and constitutional amendments during the legislative session, which is expected to adjourn around April 15. Campaigns for referendums to repeal legislation passed in the 2020 session must submit signatures within 90 days after the legislative session ends.

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With three presidential nominating contests behind us, where does the Democratic race for delegates stand?

Bernie Sanders leads the Democratic delegate race with an estimated 45 pledged delegates. Pete Buttigieg is in second with an estimated 25 delegates, followed by Joe Biden with 15 delegates, Elizabeth Warren with eight, and Amy Klobuchar with seven. These estimated totals reflect projections as of February 25, 2020, following the Nevada caucuses.

To win the nomination, a candidate needs the support of at least 1,991 pledged delegates on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

There will be 4,750 delegates in attendance: 3,979 pledged delegates and 771 automatic delegates (often referred to as super-delegates). Automatic delegates will not be permitted to vote on the first ballot.

If no candidate wins a majority of pledged delegates on the first ballot, a second vote will take place. At this point, automatic delegates will be able to vote. A candidate must then win a majority all delegates in order to win the nomination. Because some automatic delegates can cast only half-votes, which are not rounded up, the majority figure required for the second and any subsequent ballots is 2,375.5.

Pledged delegates are allocated proportionally based on the outcome of each state’s nominating contest. A candidate is typically only eligible to receive a share of the pledged delegates at stake if he or she wins at least 15% of votes cast in a primary or caucus. Party rules require that pledged delegates “shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.” Pledged delegates are selected in several ways: direct election in primaries or caucuses, local or district party conventions, and state party conventions.

Automatic delegates are not obligated to pledge their support to any candidate. Automatic delegates include Democratic members of Congress, governors, and other party leaders, including former presidents and vice-presidents.

In the three states that have conducted nominating contests so far, 101 total pledged delegates have been at stake, or 2.5% of all pledged delegates.

In the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29, 54 pledged delegates will be at stake, bringing the cumulative total to 155 (3.9%). On March 3, or Super Tuesday, 14 states and one territory will conduct nominating contests to allocate 1,344 pledged delegates. That will bring the cumulative total to 1,499 (37.7%). By month’s end, 2,603 delegates will have been allocated, 65.4% of the cumulative total.

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