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GOP congressman facing scandal rumors and his primary foe struggle to raise money

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However, while LaTurner decisively outraised Watkins during his opening months on the campaign trail, the treasurer seems to have lost steam since then. Watkins took in $122,000 during the first quarter of 2020, which, while lousy for an incumbent, was well ahead of the $43,000 that LaTurner brought in. LaTurner, who entered the race with some leftover money from his aborted Senate bid, still ended March with a $572,000 to $438,000 cash-on-hand lead, though. De La Isla raised $338,000 during her first quarter, which was more than twice as much as the two Republicans’ combined haul, and she had $267,000 on-hand.

Watkins may have more immediate worries than his August primary. The Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating allegations that Watkins committed voter fraud last year, and District Attorney Mike Kagay announced Monday that he’d received the findings. It will be up to Kagay to decide whether or not to pursue charges, though he may also ask for additional information from investigators.

As we’ve written before, Watkins gave as his address on his voter registration form the location of a UPS store in Topeka and then proceeded to cast a ballot in November of last year as though he lived there—a move that could expose him to felony voter fraud charges. Watkins’ team insisted in December that it was all just an “inadvertent” error, and the congressman soon filled out paperwork listing his address as a Topeka apartment complex. Further muddying the waters, though, Watkins didn’t actually include an apartment number in his paperwork, which is a problem since the complex is split between two different state Senate districts.

Watkins isn’t the only member of his family being probed. In March, Politico reported that the FEC was investigating his father, Steve Watkins Sr., for allegedly making so-called “straw” donations to his son’s 2018 campaign. A spokesperson for the younger Watkins said that neither the congressman “nor his campaign committee are under FEC investigation.”

Election Changes

Please bookmark our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, both of which we’re updating continually as changes are finalized.

Louisiana: Both chambers of Louisiana’s Republican-run legislature have approved modest expansions to mail voting for the state’s July 11 primaries and Aug. 15 runoffs for local elections. The measure now goes to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has said he supports the legislation. The bill allows the following groups of people to request absentee ballots:

  • those at “higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to serious underlying medical conditions”;
  • those under a “a medically necessary quarantine or isolation order as a result of COVID-19”;
  • those “advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns”;
  • those “experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis”; and
  • those “caring for an identified individual who is subject to a medically necessary quarantine.”

Voters who may be asymptomatic or who are concerned about contracting or spreading the coronavirus are not permitted to ask for an absentee ballot. Lawmakers voted on the bill remotely, via ballots they received and returned by email.

Massachusetts: A spokesperson for Democratic Secretary of State Bill Galvin says that if lawmakers want to conduct the state’s Sept. 1 primaries by mail, they will need to pass a bill by June 2, which is the deadline by which candidates must file with state officials and when the secretary’s office begins preparations for printing ballots. Galvin previously said he would release his own proposal for an all-mail primary in May. At least one vote-by-mail bill is already pending before the legislature.

Pennsylvania: Voting rights advocates have filed a second lawsuit asking that absentee ballots be counted in Pennsylvania’s June 2 primaries and November general election, so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within seven days. Under current law, ballots must be received by Election Day. The suit was filed directly with the state Supreme Court. A separate case filed last week by different plaintiffs was brought in an intermediate appellate court; it also seeks an extension to the absentee receipt deadline as well as several other measures that would make mail voting easier.

Virginia: The ACLU has reached a settlement with the state of Virginia that will relax the requirement that voters have someone witness their absentee ballots for the state’s June 23 primaries. The agreement specifies that the requirement may not be enforced against voters “who believe they may not safely have a witness present while completing their ballot.”

Senate

AZ-Sen: The Democratic group Majority Forward is out with what it tells Politico is a new TV spot running for six figures. The commercial argues that, rather than looking out for her constituents during the current crisis, GOP Sen. Martha McSally “repeatedly voted to let big insurance companies deny health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. The same people most vulnerable to coronavirus.” The narrator continues, “Now, she refuses to support a bill that would provide desperately needed protective equipment for doctors and nurses on the front lines.”

GA-Sen-A: Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson is out with a new TV spot ahead of the June Democratic primary, and Politico reports that she’s put at least $50,000 behind it. After arguing that Gov. Brian Kemp, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump have all behaved irresponsibly during the pandemic, Tomlinson declares, “And while we fight an invisible enemy, David Perdue’s an invisible senator.” The candidate goes on to describe herself as “a public safety director and two-term mayor who led Columbus as one of the best-run cities in America.”

KS-Sen: The super PAC Keep Kansas Great, which supports Rep. Roger Marshall, is out with a new spot ahead of the August GOP primary attacking both former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Marshall’s adversaries at the Club for Growth.

The narrator begins, “Kris Kobach let President Trump down. Kobach demanded Trump give him a taxpayer-funded jet to accept a job.” The commercial then spends a significant amount of time laying into the Club, and if we didn’t know any better, we’d think that the extremist anti-tax group was also a candidate in this race.

The Club hasn’t endorsed anyone, but Keep Kansas Great still charges that Kobach is “being bankrolled by an anti-Trump D.C. special interest group.” The narrator continues, “Trump called the Club for Growth ‘pathetic’ and phony,'” and a clip then plays of Trump proclaiming, “We have the Club for Growth, which is … forget ’em. They’re a fraud! They’re crooked!”

The Club famously spent millions on ads during the 2016 primaries attacking Trump, but it’s reinvented itself as a fanatically pro-Trump organization over the last few years. However, Keep Kansas Great isn’t the first group this year that’s tried to make the Club’s past transgressions a current issue for Republican primary voters.

In the February contest for Wisconsin’s 7th District, a group called Americans 4 Security PAC ran ads arguing that Club-endorsed state Sen. Tom Tiffany “opposed Donald Trump, and his big money backers spent millions to stop Trump.” However, the argument wasn’t enough to stop Tiffany from decisively winning the nomination.

The Congressional Leadership Fund had far more success the following month, though, with its victorious campaign to defend Texas Rep. Kay Granger from the Club’s attacks. The CLF went up with a commercial arguing that the incumbent’s opponents “spent millions attacking President Trump. They lost. America won.” Just like Keep Kansas Great’s ad, the CLF spot never actually accused Granger’s opponent, businessman Chris Putnam, of opposing Trump, it simply framed the contest as a battle between the Trump-backed congresswoman and anti-Trump forces and asked the audience, “Whose side are you on?”

After several seconds attacking the Club, Keep Kansas Great’s ad goes back to hitting the actual candidate in the race and declares, “Now, Trump is done with Kobach.” This doesn’t seem to be true at all, though: While Trump’s aides advisers have reportedly tried to convince him to back Marshall in order to stop Kobach from being nominated, Trump hasn’t taken sides yet or even publicly come out against Kobach. The narrator then predicts, “Kris Kobach will lose again, and the liberal radicals will be back in charge.”

ME-Sen: The GOP group One Nation has launched what Politico reports is a new $510,000 TV, radio, and digital buy supporting Sen. Susan Collins. The narrator praises Collins for working to get help to Maine healthcare providers during the pandemic despite what “dark money groups” say.

MI-Sen: The environmental groups NRDC Action Votes, LCV Victory Fund, and EDF Action Votes are out with a joint $1 million TV buy supporting Democratic Sen. Gary Peters.

The commercial features a woman named Cathy Wusterbarth telling the audience, “I was diagnosed with cancer and arthritis at the age of 28. When we learned about the PFAS contamination in the water we suspected there was a link.” After decrying that no one did anything about the problem for decades even as others suffered, Wusterbarth says of Peters, “He’s fighting to get these contaminated areas cleaned up. And making sure this never happens again.”

Gubernatorial

MT-Gov: Businesswoman Whitney Williams is out with a trio of ads for the June Democratic primary (here, here, and here) where she argues she can lead Montana to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

PR-Gov: While Puerto Rico’s Democratic presidential primary has been indefinitely postponed, it’s still hosting competitive primaries for governor on June 7 for the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP) and pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party (PDP).

The race to lead the NPP pits incumbent Wanda Vázquez, who became governor last summer after Ricardo Rosselló resigned in disgrace, against former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, who acted as governor in August until the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ruled that Vázquez was actually the one who was next-in-line for the post. The coronavirus has largely put this campaign on hold, but Pierluisi has argued that Vázquez hasn’t been fixing mistakes made by her administration during the crisis.

The PDP, which Pasquines writes is holding its first-ever gubernatorial primary, has a duel between San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and Puerto Rico Senate Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia. So far, both candidates have largely focused on criticizing NPP rather than one another.

UT-Gov: On Monday evening, a federal judge lowered the number of valid signatures businesswoman Jan Garbett needs to reach the June GOP primary from 28,000 to 19,040. This ruling applies only to Garbett, who filed a lawsuit arguing that the state had not done enough to make it easier for candidates to collect signatures during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the ruling is good news for Garbett, she isn’t guaranteed a spot on the ballot yet. Garbett turned in around 21,000 signatures on the April 13 deadline, so she needs election officials to accept about 90% of them as valid. The state’s director of elections said that his team would finish reviewing Garbett’s petitions no later than May 6.

Meanwhile, former state GOP chair Thomas Wright is up with a commercial touting his business record. The candidate’s wife declares, “Now more than ever, we need a strong experienced leader, a businessman with years of experience who knows how to lead during times of crisis.”

House

FL-19: Wealthy physician William Figlesthaler’s new GOP primary ad touts that the candidate, whom the narrator identifies as Dr. Fig, “took his family from poverty to prosperity while building a massive statewide medical operation, saving thousands of lives, and hiring hundreds of employees.”

GA-14: Air Force veteran Clayton Fuller is out with a TV spot ahead of the crowded June primary for this safely red open seat.

Fuller, who is shown in uniform kissing his wife and children goodbye, tells the audience that “recently I was activated to fulfill the oath I swore to serve our country. The mission this time: Contain the coronavirus.” The candidate continues, “President Trump appointed me to fight terrorism. I’ve served as a prosecutor to make our communities safer. And with lives at stake, it’s important to be a pro-life Christian, not just campaign like one.”

NJ-02: The New Jersey Education Association, which the New Jersey Globe describes as the “largest public employee union” in the state, has endorsed mental health advocate Amy Kennedy in the July Democratic primary. Montclair State University professor Brigid Callahan Harrison previously earned the backing of the American Federation of Teachers in the contest to take on GOP Rep. Jeff Van Drew.

NV-03: Former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz launched a spot earlier this month that focused on the three times his June GOP primary opponent, former wrestler Dan Rodimer, has been accused of assault, and Rodimer is now firing back with his own ad.

The ad begins with a shot of a CGI wrestling arena as the announcer proclaims, “Starting from San Francisco, the gun-grabbing, tax-hiking, amnesty-loving liberal, Daaannnn Schwartz.” The crowd loudly boos Schwartz, but they respond much more favorably to “Conservative Big Dan Rodimer!” Rodimer himself then appears in a suit in a very non-CGI outdoors and asks the audience, “The wrestling thing again? Let’s cut the hype.” (Dude, this is your ad!)

Rodimer continues, “I’m just a small businessman, a family man, living in the suburbs. But I see what the liberals do to President Trump. And he needs backup.” Rodimer concludes, “Liberals like Dan Schwartz will keep attacking, but I’m always ready!” The spot ends with Rodimer’s children rushing the candidate, who is revealed to be wearing shorts and wrestling boots. Somewhat surprisingly, though, Rodimer doesn’t actually get around to mentioning freshman Rep. Susie Lee, the Democratic incumbent he and Schwartz are competing to face.

This seat, which includes the southern Las Vegas suburbs, narrowly backed both Obama and Trump, but neither Republican has raised much money from donors. Rodimer, who has the support of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, outraised Schwartz $163,000 to $43,000 during the first quarter, but Schwartz threw in additional $100,000 of his own money; Schwartz, who has self-funded most of his campaign, ended March with a $424,000 to $323,000 cash-on-hand lead. Lee took in $509,000 during this time and had $1.89 million in the bank.

SC-01: Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing is out with her second TV spot ahead of the June GOP primary to face Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham, and the Post & Courier reports that it’s part of the same $125,000 buy she launched a few weeks ago.

The narrator argues that, with the economy in trouble, “We need adults in Congress to help President Trump restore stability.” (“Adults” and “Trump” are usually not words that go together outside of Republican campaign ads.) Landing then tells the audience about her background as a financial planner and says that “assessing financial situations, budgeting and planning for an uncertain future are what I do every day.”

The ad then takes a quick shot at Cunningham, who is pictured holding an air horn, as the narrator declares, “Congress has enough self-promoting talkers. This is a time for real expertise and real leadership.” Cunningham had used that device at a subcommittee meeting last year in order to demonstrate how “seismic air gun blasting is an incredibly disruptive process for marine life that depend on sound to communicate and navigate,” including whales. That’s an important issue for a coastal South Carolina district where much of the economy depends on tourism, but Landing’s ad ignores all that and is happy to just make Cunningham look like an unserious attention-seeker.

TX-17: Former Rep. Pete Sessions is up with a TV spot ahead of the July GOP primary runoff, and as the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek notes, it contains footage used during Sessions’ failed 2018 re-election campaign in the 32nd District 80 miles away. (Both ads show the same B-roll of Sessions talking to voters.) Sadly, for us at least, this partially-recycled commercial does not emphasize Sessions’ fiscal conservatism.

Instead, the ad stars Scott Bland, who took 7% of the vote in the crowded March primary, arguing that Sessions won’t need “on the job training.” Bland also tells the audience that the NRA is backing the former congressman and that Sessions wants “to build the wall where we can.”

Last month, Sessions outpaced businesswoman Renee Swann, who has the support of retiring Rep. Bill Flores, 32-19 in the first round of the primary for this reliably red seat. Swann, who has self-funded most of her campaign, ended March with a $131,000 to $93,000 cash-on-hand lead.

WI-07: EMILY’s List has endorsed Democrat Tricia Zunker ahead of the May 12 special election.





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