The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
The most expensive 2020 Senate races so far, by ad spending
WASHINGTON — As Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, the political calendar shifts to a smattering of primaries that will set the stage for the key Senate races this cycle.
But while voters haven't chosen nominees in many contests yet, there's already been more than $133 million spent on TV and radio advertising in Senate races so far, according to Advertising Analytics.
Here are the top ten most expensive Senate races so far, by ad spending:
- Maine: $25.6 million
- North Carolina: $20.9 million
- Iowa: $13.3 million
- Michigan: $13 million
- Kentucky: 12.4 million
- Georgia (special election for the seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson): $10.1 million
- Arizona: $9.3 million
- Alabama: $6.1 million
- Colorado: $5.4 million
- Texas: $4.2 million
Joe Biden nabs AFL-CIO endorsement
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic nominee, earned the AFL-CIO's endorsement on Tuesday.
The organization, which says it has about 12.5 million members across 55 union groups, said in a press release announcing the endorsement that it plans to draw contrasts between Biden and President Trump's union records up until the general election.
"Joe Biden is a lifelong supporter of workers and has fought his entire career for living wages, health care, retirement security and civil rights,” president of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka said in the statement. “Our members know Joe has done everything he could to create a fairer process for forming and joining a union, and he is ready to fight with us to restore faith in America and improve the lives of all working people.”
The group highlighted "Trump’s record of slashing rules designed to protect us on the job, cutting workplace health and safety inspectors to their lowest level in history, and taking away overtime pay from millions of workers" as points they intend to make against the president.
Trump and Trumka traded jabs in September 2019 when Trumka criticized the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. The president responded that union members should stop paying their dues in protest. The president has made a play for union workers both during the 2016 election and the 2020 election, and has made recent trips to factories in battleground states producing personal protective and medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden's campaign has often touted the former vice president's support for unions — and it's usual for him to use lines like, "The country wasn't built by Wall Street, CEOs and hedge fund managers, it was built by you, the American middle class and the middle class is built by unions," at rallies and events.
—Marianna Sotomayor contributed.
Democratic super PAC wades into New Mexico GOP primary
Patriot Majority PAC has booked $150,055 worth of ads set to hit the television airwaves between Tuesday and next week’s June 2 Republican primary in New Mexico’s second House District, according to ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
A recent ad from the group depicts former state legislator Yvette Herrell as loyal to President Trump and criticizes her GOP rival, oil executive Claire Chase, for once labeling the president “unworthy of the office.”
“She's 100 percent loyal to Trump, backed by 11 pro-gun sheriffs and Cowboys for Trump, and she's even for Trump's border wall,” a narrator says of Herrell, ticking through some popular characteristics among Republican voters.
By underlining Herrell’s pro-Trump credentials and attacking Chase as disloyal, the Democratic group is echoing Herrell’s own strategy in the primary.
The spot has come under fire from some Republicans, including Chase, who suggested in a letter issued Sunday that the Democratic group is attempting to boost the GOP candidate they view as weaker against Democratic incumbent Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who flipped the seat as part of the 2018 blue wave. Torres Small narrowly defeated Herrell that year.
“The group has a history of meddling in GOP primaries to support candidates they view as less electable in general elections,” the letter reads, according to the Associated Press.
Herrell disavowed the spot, per the AP, saying in a statement that, “Liberal Super PACs have no business getting involved in this primary, and they should stop immediately.”
Patriot Majority PAC’s heavy spending comes as the contest has gotten more controversial — and personal.
Earlier this month, Chase demanded that her opponent drop out of the contest after spreading what Chase argues are false rumors about her first marriage.
Herrell denied the accusations and stressed that she’d stay in the race.
The contest has drawn significant outside spending. GOP super PAC Defending Main Street, which is backing Chase, has booked $85,200 to spend in the race’s final week. Another anti-Herrell group, Citizens for a United New Mexico, has booked approximately $61,000 for the final week, with the anti-Chase Make New Mexico Great PAC and House Freedom Action booking about $61,000 and $56,000 respectively.
The campaigns of Herrell and Chase are scheduled to spend only $26,000 and $24,000 on TV and radio waves during the culminating week of the primary respectively, Advertising Analytics shows. However, it’s possible more money may pour into the heated race in its final days.
—Ben Kamisar contributed.
The NBC Political Unit's Senate primaries and run-offs to watch
WASHINGTON — The battle for control of the Senate is on in November, but before vulnerable senators have to defend their seats, there are a few more primaries to watch out for this summer.
Here are the Senate races that the NBC News Political Unit has eyes on over the next few months.
- Iowa Senate Democratic Primary: Who will take on GOP Sen. Joni Ernst in the fall? Theresa Greenfield is the favorite, but the Des Moines Register has endorsed rival Mike Franken, and there are three other candidates on the ballot, too. If Greenfield doesn’t get to 35 percent support, the nomination will be decided by a party convention later in June.
- Montana Senate Democratic Primary: How much strength will Gov. Steve Bullock show in his likely lockup of the nomination to face GOP Sen. Steve Daines?
- Georgia Senate Democratic Primary: Former special House election candidate Jon Ossoff competes against former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, former Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico, and others for the chance to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue. If no one gets 50 percent, there’s a runoff August 11.
- South Carolina Senate Democratic Primary: Jaime Harrison hopes for a strong showing as he preps for an expected run against GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.
- Kentucky Senate Democratic Primary: Well-funded Democrat Amy McGrath wants a solid performance in the primary as she prepares a general election run against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
- Colorado Senate Democratic Primary: Former governor and onetime White House hopeful John Hickenlooper is the heavy favorite against progressive and past Senate and House candidate former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to take on vulnerable GOP Sen. Cory Gardner.
- Alabama Republican Senate Run-off: Jeff Sessions wants his old Senate seat back, but President Trump endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. The winner takes on vulnerable Democratic Sen. Doug Jones.
- Maine Senate Democratic Primary: State House Speaker Sara Gideon is the favorite for the nod to take on vulnerable GOP Sen. Susan Collins.
- Texas Senate Democratic Run-off: Deep-pocketed M.J. Hegar is fighting against longtime state Sen. Royce West before taking on Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
- Arizona Senate Democratic Primary: Mark Kelly has to dispatch a challenge from his left in order to face Republican Sen. Martha McSally in one of the cycle’s marquee races.
- Kansas Senate Republican Primary: Some Republicans fear that if polarizing candidate Kris Kobach wins the Republican primary, they risk losing this open seat in November. The likely Democratic nominee is a state senator and former Republican, Barbara Bollier.
- Michigan Senate Republican Primary: Republicans think likely nominee John James is a rising star in the party. He’ll likely take on Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in a state where coronavirus has had a huge impact.
- Tennessee Senate Republican Primary: This contest will likely decide Tennessee’s next senator in a reliably red seat. The frontrunner to replace retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander is former ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty.
The NBC Political Unit's House primaries to watch
WASHINGTON — While the pandemic has upended the primary calendar this election season, there are still a whole lot of interesting primary races that will either set the stage for high-profile general election battles or effectively decide who will join Congress.
Here's a breakdown of the House primaries that the NBC Political Unit is watching.
- IA-01: Republicans are looking for a candidate to knock off freshman Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer, with current state Rep. Ashley Hinson backed by the state's Republican governor and lieutenant governor.
- IA-04: Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King is fighting for his political life, with his opponents hoping Randy Feenstra can end King's political career.
- NM-02: The fight between Republicans Yvette Herrell and Claire Chase has gotten nasty and personal. The winner faces Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.
- GA-14: In this crowded field for a solidly Republican open seat, the contest has featured some vastly different messaging on the coronavirus pandemic.
- SC-01: Democrat Joe Cunningham unexpectedly flipped this seat blue in 2018. A handful of Republicans want to be the one to win it back, including state Rep. Nancy Mace, an author endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing, backed by former Sen. Jim DeMint.
- NV-03: In another swing district, a crowded field of Republicans faces off for the chance to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Susie Lee.
- NV-04: Incumbent Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, who recently admitted to an extramarital affair, faces a handful of challengers in the Democratic primary as well as a group of Republicans looking to defeat him in November.
- VA-5 GOP convention: This Republican district convention will decide an ugly contest between challenger Bob Good and incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman, who took heat with conservatives for officiating a same-sex marriage.
- KS-04: Incumbent GOP Rep. Thomas Massie was publicly blasted by President Trump for holding up an early coronavirus relief bill. His primary opponent, Todd McMurtry, is an attorney who represented Covington Catholic High School in a defamation suit against CNN.
- NY-14: Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aims to bat down a primary challenge from former CNBC reporter Michelle Caruso-Cabrera and others.
- NY-16: Progressive challenger and high school principal Jamaal Bowman hopes to topple longtime incumbent Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel.
- OK-05: Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn shocked political observers by flipping this seat in 2018. The GOP primary decides who will face her in November.
- NJ-02: After Rep. Jeff Van Drew switched parties to join the GOP, Democrats are eager for revenge. They just have to pick a candidate first.
- KS-03: A handful of Republicans are vying to take on Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids.
- MI-13: “Squad” member Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib faces a rematch against Brenda Jones, who briefly held this seat in 2018.
- MN-05: Another “Squad” member, Rep. Ilhan Omar, faces a field that includes political newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux, who argues he’d offer more low-key representation for the district.
- MN-07: Republicans have been unable to unseat Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson despite his district going for President Trump by 30 points in 2016. Who will take him on in 2020?
While some veep contenders confirm they're being vetted, others make subtler moves
WASHINGTON — The selection process — and competition — for the vice presidential slot on the ticket with apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden intensified this week with several contenders confirming that they’re being vetted for the job. Though some potential picks were forthcoming about their ambitions, others made subtler moves hinting at possible interest in the job or further cooperation with the Biden camp.
In the past week alone, NBC News and other outlets have reported that the Biden campaign has asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both New Hampshire Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, and Florida Rep. Val Demings to provide the team with information required for the veep review process.
Shaheen and Demings left little to the imaginative race when Shaheen announced she declined Biden's offer to be vetted, while Demings claimed to be on the "shortlist."
Other rumored picks for the job haven’t been as outspoken about their running mate ambitions, if existent. Here’s a roundup of the past week’s veepstakes developments that went under the radar.
Harris: California Senator and Biden's former primary opponent Kamala Harris has long been floated as a possible VP pick, performing well in polling and proving to be a popular choice for the former vice president. Though Harris is set to headline an upcoming Biden fundraiser and has repeatedly voiced her support for the apparent Democratic nominee, she hasn’t publicly clamored for the job.
Tuesday however, the Biden campaign hired Julie Chávez Rodríguez — who once served as Harris’ 2020 co-national political director — as an adviser for Latino outreach. Notably, Rodríguez will continue serving as a Harris consultant while simultaneously working with Biden’s team. The hiring shouldn’t be read into too much but could signal further cooperation between the Harris and Biden camps.
Warren: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has expressed in the past that she’d agree to be on the ticket with Biden if asked and this week, she raised eyebrows by appearing to shift away from her position on Medicare for All — a primary policy focus of her 2020 campaign — and closer towards Biden’s health care plan.
"I think right now people want to see improvements in our health care system, and that means strengthening the Affordable Care Act," she said at a virtual University of Chicago Institute of Politics event.
Warren added that she hopes the United States will have a single payer health care system in the future, but the move could be viewed as an attempt to adopt a more moderate health care policy that builds on the Affordable Care Act instead of overhauling it, a position Biden backs and that Warren has previously criticized for not being ambitious enough.
Duckworth: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said one week ago that his fellow Illinois colleague in the Senate, Tammy Duckworth, will interview for the vice presidential slot soon, the Chicago Tribune reported.
"I support Tammy Duckworth. She’s spectacular, a great colleague and I hope that she fares well in this interview, which I think is going to take place soon,” Durbin said.
Duckworth, while a less high-profile contender compared to Warren and Harris, brings a unique perspective to the table as an Asian-American woman and Iraq War veteran who lost both legs after her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. Duckworth hasn’t answered questions about whether she’d accept the veep offer directly but Durbin’s statement about the veteran could be considered meaningful given that he’s a longtime ally of Biden’s. In 2016, he publicly honored the former vice president before he left office.
Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.
Most Americans favor mail-in voting, here's how states are adapting
Sixty-three percent of registered voters favor mail-in voting for the November election due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Fox News poll. While President Trump has argued that mail-in voting would lead to fraudulent ballots, several states already allow all mail-in ballot elections, and even more states have loosened absentee voting rules due to the pandemic.
Here's the breakdown on how to vote by mail in each state:
Mail-in voting allowed
Before the coronavirus pandemic, 34 states, plus Washington D.C., already allowed mail-in voting or no-excuse absentee voting. In states like Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington every registered voter is automatically sent a mail-in ballot to fill out if they don't want to head to the polls.
In the other 16 states, registered voters need to provide an excuse, such as illness or temporarily living out of state, in order to qualify for an absentee ballot. Each state also has its own deadlines on how long before an election an absentee ballot must be requested. In a state like Georgia, which has no-excuse absentee voting, a voter must request their ballot 180 days before the election.
Several states have changed their absentee ballots rules for rescheduled primaries and/or the general election in November. In the 16 states that require excuses, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia lifted restrictions on what qualifies a voter for an absentee ballot for either the rescheduled primaries in June and July or for statewide elections in the same time period.
And in Georgia, while there's never an excuse needed, all registered voters were sent a mail-in ballot application for the state's May 19 primary. Similarly in Maryland and Delaware, all voters will receive a ballot for their new primaries.
In New Hampshire, restrictions have been lifted for the November election as well.
Ongoing fights for mail-in voting
While some states have yet to go forward with updating their absentee voting rules, there are many ongoing efforts to open up voting possibilities. In Texas, a federal judge ruled that all registered voters should qualify for a mail-in ballot during the pandemic — the state Attorney General is reviewing the order.
The Connecticut Secretary of State said they would send every registered voter an absentee ballot, however the state law has not been modified to allow those ballots to be counted if the voter doesn't have an excuse (like illness, age or temporary relocation) listed.
New Biden digital ad compares Trump to a 'deer in the headlights' on coronavirus
Joe Biden's presidential campaign Friday launched a new digital ad charging that President Donald Trump has reacted to the coronavirus pandemic like a “deer in the headlights" and has been "too scared to act, too panicked to tell the truth, too weak to lead."
The one-minute ad, targeted to voters living in key battleground states, blasts Trump's reaction to the pandemic since its onset, charging that the president was “unprepared, indecisive, frozen” in place and “paralyzed by fear” to act against the Chinese government and risk ongoing trade deal negotiations.
“Panicked at the thought of what a stock market collapse could mean to his re-election, he failed to act and the virus got out of control and shut down the nation and crushed the economy,” the narrator says as images of frontline workers and Americans in masks waiting to get tested flash on the screen.
The ad will play across key battleground states including Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
This is the third consecutive digital ad in which the Biden campaign has honed in on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a message senior campaign aides announced last week is one of the defining pillars of their general election strategy.
The campaign has not run television advertisements since the March 17th primaries, pivoting its investments towards online spending in an effort to catch people on their laptops and phones while they stay-at-home.
In an effort to unlock the best way to immediately draw in viewers and keep them interested enough to watch the entirety of an ad, the campaign employed a new advertising technique called “micro-teasing” foe this new ad that they adopted from the entertainment industry.
The first five seconds are devoted to hooking in the viewer by previewing their core argument and contrasting the look of those first moments to the rest of the ad. “When the coronavirus came, Trump froze like a deer in the headlights,” a narrator says as the ad opens.
The campaign says it will continue to test different advertising strategies like this one in an effort to improve its video completion rates as it tries to find lasting ways to engage with supporters in the digital campaign era.
Conservative group launches new ads calling to 'reopen America now'
WASHINGTON — FreedomWorks, the conservative think tank based in Washington D.C., is running a new digital ad campaign aimed atginning up public support to "liberate" states and "reopen society."
The group started running four different ads on Hulu Wednesday as part of a $50,000 digital ad buy targeting Republicans and independents across the country while also focusing on D.C.
The ads are all similar. They largely begin by arguing that the mortality rates for COVID-19 infection are significantly lower for those under the age of 65 and without pre-existing conditions, before issuing a call to action for the young and healthy to push for a reopening.
"This disease is horrible, and it is our American duty to take care of the vulnerable. If you are healthy, it's time to demand we get back to work to support our families and communities," the woman speaking to camera in one ad says.
"Let's be brave and we'll get through this together. Start making a difference by telling your governor to liberate your state and reopen society," she adds, directing viewers to text a message of support for reopening.
The spot comes as the political pressure on reopening is ramping up — President Trump has repeatedly called on Democratic governors to "liberate" their states, and there have been a handful of protests in states calling for governors to relax coronavirus-related restrictions amid record unemployment numbers.
Recent polling from Gallup shows that social-distancing has decreased as states begin to move toward relaxing some restrictions.
But that even so, 73 percent of adults say it's better for healthy adults to stay home "as much as possible to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus," compared to the 27 percent who say it's better to "lead their normal lives as much as possible and avoid interruptions to work and business."
Jeanne Shaheen takes herself out of veepstakes
WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., declined a request from Joe Biden’s presidential campaign to be vetted as a potential running mate, a source with direct knowledge told NBC News. She cited her “commitment to New Hampshire” as she runs for her third Senate term this year.
It’s the latest indication that Biden’s vetting work is well underway. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was the first possible candidate to publicly disclose this week that she has been in touch with Biden’s team. During a "Today" interview she said, “it was just an opening conversation.” Biden has said he expects the vetting process to take five to eight weeks, which would point to an announcement occurring no sooner than July.
“They're now in the process of thoroughly examining a group of women, all of whom are capable in my view of being president. And there's about a dozen of them,” Biden said during a virtual fundraiser last week. "We're keeping the names quiet because if anyone isn't chosen I don't want anybody to think it’s because there was something that was a — some liability that existed."
The Biden team's interest in Shaheen was first reported by WMUR political reporter John DiStaso, who has also reported that Maggie Hassan, the state’s other Democratic senator, has agreed to be vetted by the Biden campaign, something NBC News has not confirmed.
NBC News learned that there were multiple conversations between Shaheen and Biden representatives over the last two weeks — specifically with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who are part of the Biden vetting operation.
While Shaheen, who also served three terms as New Hampshire's governor, hasn't been listed as a top possibility, Biden mentioned her multiple times as one of women he might consider. At a campaign event in Iowa last November, Biden cited “the two senators from New Hampshire” as possibilities.
However, there are key factors as to why Shaheen may have declined the opportunity: At 73-years-old, she does not offer an obvious generational balance to the ticket and she's ideologically more moderate. Additionally, if Shaheen were to be Biden's running mate, and Biden were to win in November, the Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu would appoint her replacement. This could hurt Democrats' chances at winning back the Senate.
Shaheen and Biden have known each other for decades. Shaheen's husband endorsed Biden before the New Hampshire primary and was an active local surrogate for him. Shaheen endorsed Biden in April once he became the apparent Democratic nominee.
Even though Shaheen will not be campaigning for Biden as a potential vice president, Biden will likely Biden depend on the strength of Shaheen’s formidable and time-tested political operation in New Hampshire. His campaign said last week that as they continue to build up their state-by-state operations, they would be seeking to supplement the work of strong Senate candidates rather than set up their own operations from scratch.
Marianna Sotomayor contributed.
A pandemic campaign is a lean campaign, and other campaign finance takeaways
WASHINGTON — Wednesday marked another monthly campaign finance deadline, where presidential campaigns and many committees filed their latest fundraising report through April.
Here are a few takeaways from the Political Unit.
A pandemic campaign is a lean campaign
There are real concerns among political strategists that the massive job losses and belt-tightening caused by the pandemic may leave campaigns strapped for cash.
But one benefit — the lack of a real campaign schedule is allowing former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump to stockpile cash away ahead of the fall.
Biden’s campaign raised $43.7 million and spent just $12.9 million, a healthy burn rate that allowed its cash-on-hand to swell from $26.4 million in March to $57.1 million at the end of April.
And the Trump campaign raised $16.9 million and spent $7.7 million, closing April with $107.7 million (Team Trump is also supported by a handful of other authorized groups as well).
Those numbers show Biden’s fundraising kicking into a steady gear as he knocked out his Democratic presidential rivals (he raised $46.7 million in March). And they show how the pandemic is allowing both sides to build up their resources.
Loeffler’s husband cuts big check for pro-Trump group
It’s been a busy few months in the news for Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
She’s been dogged by criticism of stock sales around the coronavirus pandemic. She’s argued her portfolio is handled by outside advisers, and a spokeswoman revealed last week that she had turned over information to the Justice Department about those sales.
All the while, she’s running in a competitive Senate primary where her opponent, Rep. Doug Collins, has repeatedly highlighted the controversy.
On Wednesday, FEC reports showed that Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher (the chairman of both the New York Stock Exchange and the Intercontinental Exchange), donated $1 million to the pro-Trump super PAC America First on April 29.
That was the second-largest individual check to the group (New Hampshire businessman Timothy Mellon gave $10 million).
The battle for Congress
New reports from the House and Senate campaign committees provide a temperature check on the race for both bodies come November.
Republicans have the slight cash edge on the Senate side — the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $11.5 million in April and has $37.8 million banked away. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $9 million and has $28.8 million in the bank.
On the House side, both groups virtually tied in fundraising, but it’s the Democrats with the big advantage in the bank.
The National Republican Congressional Committee raised just over $11.4 million, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee coming in just under that amount.
But the Democrats have $82.5 million banked away, while the Republican group has $52.3 million cash on hand.
Sanders still has a nice chunk of change
He may no longer be actively seeking the Democratic presidential nomination (even though his campaign has argued he’s still seeking delegates), but Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders still has a lot of money banked away from his presidential bid.
Sanders' April report shows he closed the month with almost $8.8 million in cash on hand, and that's after spending more than $1 million refunding donations to supporters.
He, and other presidential candidates can do a lot with leftover campaign cash, including — keep it for a future presidential election; refund more money to donors; spend it to wind down the campaign; donate to a charity that doesn't directly benefit him; contribute (within limits) to other campaigns/committees; make an unlimited transfer to local, state or the national party; or transfer the money to his Senate account.