John Kennedy decides not to run for Lousiana governor

In a surprise twist, Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy said will not run for governor in 2019, a move that deprives the GOP of another top recruit in the red-leaning state.

Kennedy announced his decision to forego a bid to dethrone Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in a statement Monday morning.

"I love being in the United States Senate. I will not be a candidate for governor in 2019," he said.

"I hope someone runs for governor who understands that Louisiana state government does not have to be a big, slow, dumb, wasteful, sometimes corrupt, spend-money-like-it-was-ditchwater, anti-taxpayer, top down institution. I love Louisiana as much as I love my country, and the people of my state deserve a state government as good as they are.”

The good news for Bel Edwards deals another blow to Republicans looking to flip the seat—both Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and GOP Rep. Steve Scalise said in November that they weren’t interested in running.Kennedy had been seen as the highest-profile Republican still weighing a bid in a red state that President Trump won by about 20 points in 2016. So the decision opens up a clear path for another candidate like GOP Rep Ralph Abraham, who told the Monroe News Star last month that he’s leaning toward a bid.

Republicans have been looking forward to challenging Bel Edwards ever since his upset win in 2015 over Republican Sen. David Vitter, who had been seen as the clear favorite until he the relitigation of his prostitution scandal turned his campaign upside-down.

Whoever does decide to run against Bel Edwards will dive into the jungle primary, where all of the candidates face off in an open primary in October. The top two candidates, regardless of party, will move onto the general-election round on Nov. 16.

Veepstakes roundup: Background checks intensify as time for pick nears

WASHINGTON — During a week of spiking coronavirus cases, high-profile Supreme Court decisions, and continued calls for racial justice reform, the guessing game over who Joe Biden will select as his vice presidential running mate continued to make headlines as well with the presumptive Democratic nominee’s self-imposed Aug. 1 deadline approaching

“The final deep dives have not been done,” Biden said of the V.P. vetting process Thursday. “They are doing the background checks — they've not been finished. And so, I can't tell you what that will be.”

With that next stage of the veep search yet to come, here are the most significant developments from this week:

Sen. Tammy Duckworth: The Illinois senator started out the week in a rough spot after she suggested in a CNN interview that there should be a “national dialogue” about whether statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington should be removed. 

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill on May 7, 2020.Al Drago / Pool via AP

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was then questioned on her patriotism by conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and the Trump campaign argued that Duckworth was using her military service to “deflect” — moves that spurred Duckworth to write an op-ed and for Biden to come to her defense. 

“He attacks the senator from Illinois who is a literal hero, combat veteran, lost both legs fighting for her country, and he says she’s not a patriot. Folks we cannot let this stand,” Biden said during a virtual fundraiser Tuesday. 

In a New York Times op-ed Thursday, Duckworth clarified her remarks on CNN, writing, “our founders’ refusal to blindly follow their leader was what I was reflecting on this Fourth of July weekend, when some on the far right started attacking me for suggesting that all Americans should be heard, even those whose opinions differ from our own.” 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Even as Democrats call for a woman of color to join the ticket, the Massachusetts senator and former Biden primary rival still appears to have a spot in the veepstakes. 

Warren was a loud surrogate for Biden this week, appearing on multiple prime-time cable shows and participating in a campaign event Thursday with one of Biden’s most trusted advisers — his wife, Jill Biden — who will likely have a say in who Biden chooses as a running mate.

Both Warren and Jill Biden are educators — Warren was a public school teacher, and later a law professor, and Biden is a professor at a community college — and used their shared experiences to discuss school reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“As a fellow educator and advocate and as a senator, you have been an inspiration to so many people across our country for many, many years,” Biden praised Warren.

The Massachusetts senator was also reportedly a major player in formulating Biden’s new “Build Back Better” economic proposal, which could suggest that the presumptive Democratic nominee’s team considers her a valuable policy voice. 

Sen. Kamala Harris: While Harris’ name continues to be whispered about as an obvious V.P. choice to some, there also seems to be some overlap between Harris’ 2020 team and the Biden campaign. The Biden camp announced its new Florida leadership team Monday and Brandon Thompson — who was Harris’ director of national campaigns — is now the coordinated director for Biden’s Florida strategy. 

As Harris’ name has grown more popular though, her Wikipedia page has come under scrutiny. According to some reports, Harris’ page saw a surge of activity over the week which were comparable edits to those made on Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine’s page before he was announced as the 2016 Democratic V.P. pick, and on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s page before she was chosen in 2008. 

Even though it’s just one sign that the page may be getting more traffic, it adds to the flurry of assumptions that Harris’ background and relationship with Biden shoots her to the front of the pack.

Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.

Biden releases new digital ads on restoring empathy

WASHINGTON — A day after Joe Biden lambasted President Trump as "exactly the wrong person to lead us," the presumptive nominee's campaign released a new digital ad, with three different versions, building off of the message of restoring core American values in the White House.

The ads don't mention the president’s name directly but instead hone in on their candidate’s commitment to family in an effort to stress his kitchen table values that have guided him throughout the trials and joys of life.

The Biden campaign unveiled their first digital ad narrated by actor Jeffrey Wright, who describes how the then-senator of Delaware commuted four hours on Amtrak from Wilmington to the nation’s capital to be with his two sons every night following the death of his wife and infant daughter weeks before he was sworn in to the U.S. Senate. 

“People in Washington didn’t get why Joe Biden would travel all that way. But in neighborhoods all over this country, there’s no distance parents won’t go for their kids,” Wright stresses in the minute-long ad. “When Joe Biden traveled those four hours, he wasn’t just going home for his kids, he was going to work for them too, just like he will for yours.”

Biden and his campaign have long pointed to his sense of empathy following numerous tragic losses in his life as a way for the former vice president connects with voters suffering personal and economic losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. The campaign hopes to build a message Biden stressed in a Dunmore, Penn. speech Thursday where he mentioned how his own life experiences guided him to personally connect with voters who have dealt with loss.  

“You know, you see growing up rich and looking down on people is a bit different than how I grew up here,” he said in a dig toward Trump. 

The new digital ads — which are part of a $15 million investment in battleground states the campaign announced last month — bring back messages Biden has long stressed throughout his campaign, including in the primary where he sought to contrast himself from Democratic opponents who fought for a more far-reaching approach on health care.

In the two shorter digital ads, that will also be played on social channels including YouTube, Hulu and other channels, the Biden campaign emphasizes their candidate’s personal journey with the health care system and his promise to protect American’s health care as if it were his family’s own.

Steve Bannon, former top Trump aide, applauds Biden "Buy American" event

DUNMORE, Pa. — A former top adviser to President Donald Trump is warning that Joe Biden’s bid Thursday to wrest away one of his few remaining advantages in the 2020 race — the economy — could prove a success.

Steve Bannon, who played a lead role in the closing months of Trump’s 2016 campaign and then in the early stages of his presidency, told NBC News that the former vice president appeared to be “stealing notes from [the] 2016 playbook.”

Biden on Thursday, near his hometown of Scranton, rolled out the first plank of his “Build Back Better” economy plan, focused on attempting to revive American manufacturing through a significant infusion of federal dollars to buy American-made products, while also investing heavily in domestic research and development. 

In a blistering speech, Biden said that the president had failed to live up to the promises he made to working-class voters in communities like the ones near his hometown of Scranton, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Joe Biden stops in front of his childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania on July 9, 2020.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

"The truth is: Throughout this crisis, Donald Trump has been almost singularly focused on the stock market, the Dow and NASDAQ. Not you, not your families,” he said. "If I'm fortunate enough to be elected president, I'll be laser-focused on working families, the middle-class families that I came from here in Scranton, not the wealthy investor class.”

To Bannon, it was an effective approach — “run as a populist and economic nationalist to keep Bernie voters.”

"By doing it in Scranton, [it] shows that his people get what he has to sell and where he has to sell it,” Bannon said.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton narrowly carried Lackawana County, where Biden spoke. But neighboring Luzerne County saw one of the biggest swings in the country from Obama’s 2012 vote share to Trump’s four years later — more than 20 points.

But for Biden, Scranton is more than just his hometown, it’s central to his political identity. Allusions to the lessons he learned from family here have been a staple of his public speeches for decades. To reinforce that, Biden even visited that home briefly after delivering remarks at a metalworks factory here.

"You know you see growing up rich and looking down on people is a bit different than how I grew up here,” Biden said, making a direct contrast between his upbringing and Trump’s. "Wall Street bankers and CEOs didn't build this country. …  You can look around your neighborhood or your kitchen table and see who built this country. It was at my grandfather Finnegan's kitchen table in Green Ridge that I learned money doesn't determine your worth."

Pro-Tuberville effort outspending Sessions with days to go before Alabama Senate primary runoff

WASHINGTON — As Alabama's heated and closely-watched Republican Senate primary runoff nears, former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville and his allies have significantly outspent former Attorney General and Sen. Jeff Sessions on the airwaves. 

Through Thursday, Tuberville's campaign has spent $762,000 on TV and radio ads since the March primary, when the two men advanced to a head-to-head runoff after no Republican candidate reached 50 percent support. The Club for Growth, which has endorsed Tuberville, has spent about $615,000, while Grit PAC, a super PAC backing the former football coach, has spent another $73,000. 

Sessions, meanwhile, has spent $660,000 over the same period in a bid to win his old Senate seat back. 

Team Tuberville also has the edge in future spending — he and his allies have another $200,000 booked from Friday through Tuesday's primary, while Sessions has $75,000 booked. 

This spending data is courtesy of the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville walks off the field after the team's NCAA college football game against Memphis on Nov. 18, 2016, in Cincinnati.John Minchillo / AP

The primary will decide who has the right to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in the heavily Republican seat, making it a coveted slot amid a year where Republicans have few chances to go on offense in Senate races. 

In recent weeks, Tuberville has been leaning heavily on his endorsement from President Trump, echoing the president's rhetoric to call Sessions weak for recusing himself in the Russia investigation as attorney general. A recent Sessions spot cribs some footage from that ad to call Tuberville "Washington's choice" and take aim at his football career by saying he's "quit or been fired from every job he's ever had."

Biden rolls out economic proposals to boost manufacturing with spending and investment

SCRANTON, Penn. — Joe Biden is returning to his roots Thursday, kicking off what his campaign says will be a multi-week economic policy rollout with a focus on reviving American manufacturing near his home town of Scranton.

Even as Biden has built a consistent lead in national and most key battleground state polls, surveys also continue to find President Trump enjoying one advantage with voters with his handling of the economy. And so after weekly public events primarily focused on the administration’s response to the COVID-19, the presumptive Democratic nominee will begin to flesh out how a Biden administration would try and restart the economy — both by addressing the immediate needs triggered by the pandemic, and longer-term trends he will argue Trump has failed to address, or even made worse in office.

Where Trump vowed four years ago to “Make America Great Again,” a slogan that proved successful in swing counties like nearby Luzerne County that saw one of the biggest flips in the country from President Barack Obama to Trump, Biden’s team is billing his agenda as designed to “Build Back Better,” by prioritizing small business workers and addressing ongoing inequalities that prevent minorities from reaching a fair economic playing field. 

Previewing Biden’s remarks at a metal works facility in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, three campaign officials argued that despite Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, outsourcing of American jobs has only grown as he has weakened America’s standing internationally. 

Building on a plan released earlier this week focused on rebuilding American supply chains, his “Build Back Better” manufacturing initiative calls for directing $400 billion in federal procurement spending on American-made products while tightening enforcement of so called “Buy American” provisions, and investing another $300 billion on research and development initiatives aimed at developing new technologies that could be marketed globally. 

“Vice President Biden truly believes that this is no time to just build back to the ways things were before with the economy's same old structural weakness and inequalities still in place. This, he believes, is the moment to imagine and build a new American economy for our families and next generations,” a senior campaign official said in a press call with reporters Wednesday.

In coming weeks, Biden will lay out additional initiatives that would both provide a needed boost to the economy while also addressing other challenges — specifically climate change and the pandemic. Next week, aides say, Biden will offer new details on what it calls a “clean energy and infrastructure plan,” followed by a plan creating a 21st century caregiving and education workforce, recognizing a shortage in healthcare providers that has been exacerbated during the pandemic. 

Finally, Biden will discuss an economic agenda focused on closing racial wealth gaps and expanding affordable housing, investing in minority entrepreneurs, and advancing policing and criminal justice reform.

In addition to Biden’s remarks Thursday, the campaign has planned six “Build Back Better” themed roundtable discussions with surrogates across the country in key battleground states Friday that include vice presidential hopefuls Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as well as former primary rivals. 

Campaign officials would not specify Wednesday how Biden’s new spending would be paid for — a shift from the Democratic primaries when the campaign regularly detailed how he would generate new funding — one significant source being a rollback of some Trump tax cuts. 

Instead, a second official signaled that the administration would consider some of these new initiatives as essential stimulus measures that would not be offset by spending cuts or new taxes — as Congress has already done this year, and as Biden himself oversaw in the 2009 Recovery Act. 

“He wants to retain some flexibility,” the adviser said. “This year alone, we've seen a $3 trillion Cares Act now we're talking about another trillion or two to come in. And the pandemic trajectory is not looking particularly positive. So what's going to be required in terms of additional stimulus spending early next year is a little bit hard to figure.”

Republican outside groups book millions in ad time to defend Georgia, Kentucky Senate seats

WASHINGTON — Republican-affiliated groups are preparing to spend more than $25 million on new TV ads aimed at shoring up GOP-held seats in Georgia and Kentucky. 

The new buys in typically safe Republican states come as Democrats push to expand the map to challenge Republicans for the Senate majority. 

Two affiliated groups, the non-profit One Nation and super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, are making the ad buys this week, spokesman Jack Pandol confirmed. 

In Georgia, One Nation plans to spend about $8.65 million in August and Senate Leadership Fund plans to book roughly $13.5 million in television ads to start after Labor Day. 

There, Republicans have to play defense in two seats the party currently controls — in a special election to replace former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, and in Republican Sen. David Perdue's re-election. 

Perdue is set to face off against Democrat Jon Ossoff, the Democrat who built up his name recognition and a strong fundraising network during a failed bid in a 2017 congressional special election. 

And in the special election, Republicans are in the middle of a brutal primary battle between incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins, while Rev. Raphael Warnock is the Democratic frontrunner. 

A recent Fox News poll found former Vice President Joe Biden leading President Trump by 2 points (the same poll found Perdue leading Ossoff by only 3 points). A down-ballot drag for Republicans, plus infighting in the Republican special election, could make Georgia more competitive in the fall. 

One Nation also plans to spend $4.3 million on a four-week television buy in Kentucky that starts on August 4. There, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has to fend off Democrat Amy McGrath, who won a tight primary against the more progressive state Rep. Charles Booker, but has an unprecedented warchest for a Democratic Senate challenger who isn't self-funding. 

Kansas' Bollier joins ranks of Senate Democratic challengers raising big money in second quarter

WASHINGTON — Kansas Senate Democratic contender Barbara Bollier broke the record for the largest reported single-quarter fundraising filing of any federal, state, or local candidate in the state’s history, her campaign said Wednesday.

Bollier, endorsed by the DSCC and widely viewed as the favorite to win the August 4 Democratic primary, raised $3.7 million in the second quarter, lasting from April through June, with over $4 million in cash on hand according to her team. That’s over $1 million more than the $2.35 million she raised in the first quarter of 2020. 

The campaign also said that almost 81 percent of those contributions were from first-time donors in a press statement. 

Kansas State Sen. Barbara Bollier speaks at the Statehouse in Topeka on April 26, 2018.John Hanna / AP file

The current state senator’s sizable cash haul is just one example of Senate Democratic challengers raking in big fundraising totals in the second quarter as the party tries to take back the Senate majority. Democrats aiming to unseat GOP Senate incumbents in Maine, the Carolinas, and Montana recently released their own eye-popping fundraising sums.

Bollier, a former Republican herself, hopes to become the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race in Kansas since 1932. But despite the state’s history of red representation in Congress, the Senate seat left open by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Roberts is considered winnable for Democrats under the right conditions with some Republicans worried that if former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach becomes their party’s nominee, the seat could be in play. 

Kobach, who lost the state’s 2018 gubernatorial contest to Democrat Laura Kelly, does not have the support of one of the most important trappings of the GOP establishment — the NRSC.

“Just last year Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat. Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump’s presidency and Senate Majority at risk," NRSC spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said last year after Kobach launched his bid. "We know Kansans won’t let that happen and we look forward to watching the Republican candidate they do choose win next fall.

Kobach's GOP rival, Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall, has racked up a number of significant endorsements and the Republican-aligned group, Plains PAC, also launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign Tuesday opposing Kobach’s candidacy.

And even though Kobach continues to make headlines, the Republican field ahead of next month’s primary remains crowded with almost a dozen candidates vying to advance to an expected general election match-up with Bollier in November.

New poll finds majority of Americans disagree with Trump on meaning of 'defund the police'

WASHINGTON — As President Trump is launching new ads attacking calls to "defund the police" and stoking racial and cultural division on Twitter, a new poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans don't agree with the way the president is framing the police-reform movement. 

The new survey from Monmouth University found that 77 percent of American adults say that "defund the police" means to "change the way the police departments operate," not to eliminate them. That view is  shared by 73 percent of white, non-college educated Americans and two-thirds of Republicans, Trump's core voters. 

Just 18 percent of Americans say the movement wants to "get rid of police departments," a view shared by only 28 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of independents. 

A protester holds a sign that reads, "Defund the Police" during a protest in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 7, 2020.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

The president has criticized those calling to "defund the police," addressing it when he signed an executive order on policing last month. 

"I strongly oppose the radical and dangerous efforts to defend, dismantle and dissolve our police departments, especially now when we've achieved the lowest recorded crime rates in recent history," Trump said. "Americans know the truth: Without police, there is chaos. Without law, there is anarchy. And without safety, there is catastrophe."

Trump's re-election campaign has attempted to leverage the issue into an attack on former Vice President Joe Biden, spending more than $3 million in less than a week running television ads both in English and Spanish that imagines a police department that's been defunded and unable to respond to serious, violent crimes. 

Biden does not support blanket cuts to police budgets. He told The Daily Show on June 11 that he supported linking federal dollars to fundamental changes in police departments including abiding by a national use-of-force standard and releasing police misconduct data. 

Sixty-two percent of Americans say that Trump's handling of the recent protests on reforming policing has made the "current situation worse," with just 20 percent saying he's made it better. Sixty-five percent say that the actions of protestors in recent months were justified, with 29 percent saying the actions were not justified. 

On the Black Lives Matter movement specifically, 71 percent of Americans say that the movement has "brought attention to real racial disparities in American society," but a plurality, 38 percent say that the movement has made racial issues in America worse, compared to 26 percent who say the movement has made racial issues better. 

Trump has heavily leaned into stoking racial division in recent weeks, blasting the push to take down Confederate statues as about erasing "our heritage" He called on NASCAR's only full-time Black driver to apologize after an investigation into a door-pull rope shaped like a noose found in his garage ruled out a hate crime. And he retweeted a video of supporters shouting "white power" before deleting it a few hours later. 

Monmouth University polled 867 adults in the United States between June 26 and June 30. The margin of error in the poll is +/- 3.3 percentage points. 

Analysis: Trump makes school reopening a referendum on Trump

WASHINGTON — Barreling into the complex and sensitive policy conversation over reopening schools, President Trump made clear this week he wants in-person classes back full-time and said efforts to do otherwise are “political,” even as his administration’s school plans remain murky. 

On Tuesday, the White House held a series of calls and events on reopening in which Trump said he would “put pressure on governors and everybody else” to fill classrooms. His campaign has accused teachers unions, some of which have expressed concerns about staff safety, of slowing the process. 

"We hope that most schools are going to be open. We don't want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons — they think it's going to be good for them politically so they keep the schools closed. No way," Trump said at a Tuesday White House event, adding that re-opening schools is "very important for the wellbeing of the student and the parents." 

One day earlier, Trump tweeted a conspiracy theory that officials would try to keep schools from opening in order to boost Joe Biden’s candidacy, even as national Democrats have called for hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to implement reopening plans.

Biden’s coronavirus response plan calls school re-openings "perhaps the single most important step to get parents back to work” and he's backed an unspecified amount of federal aid, more research, and a national clearinghouse to share best practices on safety. 

Trump appears to be betting that angry parents will blame more cautious Democrats for any disruption while former Vice President Joe Biden and national Democrats are betting that their early push for federal aid to schools and emphasis on safety will resonate. 

President Donald Trump, flanked first lady Melania Trump by Vice President Mike Pence, from left, participate in an event with students, teachers and administrators about how to safely re-open schools during the novel coronavirus pandemic in the East Room at the White House on July 7, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Public health experts are torn on how to approach the issue and state and local officials in many places have warned parents to expect a “hybrid" of in-person classes and remote learning, which could further disrupt family’s work and child care plans.

A June NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 50 percent of voters with children under 18 are still “uncomfortable” sending their children to school or daycare in the fall.  

“I think it's clear what the administration wants to do, I'm not certain how much the event from today provides more clarity or any advice or information that’s actionable,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the American Association of School Administrators. 

Some school advocates were puzzled by the White House’s abrupt shift towards a full reopening, in part because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already had issued recommendations for reopening plans that include keeping children at least six-feet apart "if feasible." There are concerns whether that can be done without reducing the number of kids in the building, which has helped drive plans that would shift some students online part-time.

“This is really going to put schools in a tough spot because the CDC guidelines made it clear social distancing should be the goal,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank. “There's no way you can do that at full capacity.” 

White House officials said Tuesday that they never intended their recommendations to be interpreted this way, citing less strict recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics — rather than their own agencies — calling for in-person learning.

"Nothing would cause me greater sadness than to see any school district or school use our guidance as a reason not to reopen," CDC Director Robert Redfield said. 

At the White House event, one California principal praised Trump’s leadership and said he planned to reopen in August, but added the school was also considering a “hybrid” plan with 2 class days a week. The president replied that he hoped the school would be able to hold full, five-day weeks — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos slammed a Virginia school district for its "hybrid" plan earlier Tuesday. 

But the issue doesn't start and end with the White House — there have been calls throughout the summer for Congress to help schools too. 

The previous CARES Act included $13.5 billion for K-12 education, but education advocates have called for a massive infusion of federal aid to help schools retain and hire staff and implement new safety procedures. 

The HEROES Act, which was passed by the House in May but has not received a vote in the Senate, contained $58 billion for schools.

Senate Democratic leaders are backing a $430 billion education bill by Senator Patty Murray of Washington. But the White House and broader GOP’s full position on aid is still unknown and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he wants to address the next round of relief when the Senate returns on July 20, just weeks before schools start to reopen. 

Democratic challengers announce big fundraising hauls as party looks to take back Senate

WASHINGTON — As Republicans nervously watch President Donald Trump’s slide in the presidential polls, Democratic candidates for Senate are raking in record sums for their bids to unseat GOP incumbents and take back control of the upper chamber

South Carolina Democratic Senate nominee Jaime Harrison is the latest to announce a monster haul as he seeks to oust Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s staunchest allies. For the second-quarter fundraising period running from April to June, Harrison's campaign says it raked in almost $14 million, nearly double his fundraising total from the previous quarter.

As of Tuesday morning, Graham had not released his fundraising total for the quarter, and had raised more than $26 million through June 20, according to his most current report with the Federal Election Commission. 

Despite his fundraising prowess, though, Harrison still faces an uphill battle in a race in a state that voted for Trump by a 14-point margin in 2016.  

The staggering South Carolina sum was the latest in a string of buoying news for Senate Democrats hoping to harness anti-Trump sentiment to flip red seats blue in November. Challengers in at least three other high-profile Senate races — in Montana, North Carolina and Maine — have also announced impressive totals for the quarter.

All three races are rated by the Cook Political Report as toss-ups. 

In Maine, state House speaker Sara Gideon raised $9 million in the second quarter, another eye-popping sum from a candidate who has put up strong fundraising numbers since she jumped into the race to take on Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Gideon is the favorite to win the state's July 14 primary, and whichever Democrat wins will also be the beneficiary of the millions of dollars raised pegged to Collins' support for confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, money that was earmarked for her eventual Democratic opponent. 

Maine's Senate race is already setting up to be costly — there's been more than $36.7 million spent on the airwaves in the race so far, according to Advertising Analytics, more than in any other Senate race. Collins had raised $16.2 million through June 24, while Gideon had raised $23 million by that point. 

U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon speaks at campaign event on Feb. 19, 2020 in Skowhegan, Maine.Robert F. Bukaty / AP

In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock set a single-quarter record for a Senate candidate in the state with his $7.7 million total. Bullock, a two-term governor of the state, hopes to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines. Through March, Daines had raised $9.4 million for his re-election bid. 

And in North Carolina, State Sen. Cal Cunningham's campaign announced Monday that it had raised $7.4 million in the second fundraising quarter, a quarterly total more than any candidate has raised for a Senate bid in North Carolina since at least 1979. That's the earliest year from which the Federal Election Commission makes campaign finance reports available. 

Cunningham had raised $7.7 million through March, compared to Republican Sen. Thom Tillis' $11.7 million raised over the same period. 

Most of the fundraising data released so far does not include context like total spending, cash on hand or loans to the campaigns. A fuller picture of each candidate’s fundraising will be available when candidates file official paperwork to the FEC, which they are not required to do until later this month.

The strong fundraising quarter comes as Democrats try to expand their pathways to winning back the Senate majority. The party needs to gain a net of four seats in November to win control of the Senate (or three plus the presidency, since the vice president breaks ties in the Senate). But far more Republican-held seats are expected to be in play in November than Democratic-held ones. 

Sen. Ernst releases first campaign ad of 2020 cycle with China center stage

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, joined a chorus of GOP candidates making tough-on-China pitches this cycle, releasing her first 2020 campaign ad Monday centered on the “supply chain threat” posed by the country.

“We rely on communist China for far too much, from technology to medicine. So I’m fighting to bring it home,” Ernst says in the 30-second spot. “Saving America starts with made in America.”

Ernst is considered one of the more vulnerable Republican senators heading into November, with polling suggesting the Iowa race is more competitive than initially thought and heavy Democratic spending in the state. Since Ernst’s opponent Theresa Greenfield won the Democratic primary last month, Democrats have spent about $3.7 million on TV and radio ads in the Senate contest compared to $3 million by Republicans, according to Advertising Analytics.

Ernst's campaign has about $825,000 booked through the end of the month, compared to $480,000 booked by Greenfield's campaign. But outside groups have, and will continue, to play a big role in this race on both sides.

The new spot, “All Over,” represents the latest example of Republican candidates making China central to their messaging this election season.

President Trump's reelection campaign and his super PAC, America First Action, have accused his Democratic rival Joe Biden of failing to hold China accountable in past ads — a theme that has trickled down to races across the country and employed in Senate ads in Arizona and Kansas. The National Republican Senatorial Committee circulated a memo to GOP campaigns in April detailing how to best make China an issue this cycle, POLITICO reported.

—Ben Kamisar contributed.