Crowded down-ballot primaries could preview November contests

Indiana, New Mexico and Iowa have crowded Republican stand-offs.

June 2, 2020, 4:24 AM

With the presidential primary all but wrapped, attention is turning to down-ballot races across the country where outside spending has made its mark and as candidates adapt to campaigning from home.

A number of competitive primaries are coming to a close on Tuesday in states which delayed their voting due to the pandemic. Indiana, New Mexico and Iowa are starting down crowded Republican stand-offs, while the party as a whole searches for a path to winnow the Democratic House majority come November.

In Montana, Republicans and Democrats are facing a race for the state’s at-large House district, a Senate seat and the governor’s mansion. While no ultra competitive primaries are underway out West, Tuesday’s vote will be a test of enthusiasm in the state.

In Indiana’s 5th Congressional District, which sits northeast of Indianapolis, a packed Republican race has ensued a brawl to replace retiring Republican Rep. Susan Brooks.

The anti-tax Club for Growth endorsed state Sen. Victoria Spartz, a Ukrainian immigrant who often refers to her time in the Soviet Union on the trail, saying she has experienced “firsthand the dark side of socialism.”

Club for Growth has spent $461,138 on the race and bundled $56,686, putting up at least three ads attacking who they see as her main opponents, former Marion County prosecutor Carl Brizzi and Beth Henderson, who brands herself as a “pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, and pro- Trump conservative.”

In the final days of the race, Henderson launched an ad, which floated a veiled attack on Spartz’s immigration status, saying at the end of the ad “I was born in the U.S.A., and I’m running for Congress.”

Spartz’s campaign, in a statement addressing the ad, says the reaction from voters to her story has been positive, and they feel it inspires voters.

“Victoria Spartz came to the United States legally, became a citizen, built successful businesses, served in the State Senate and raised a family. She really has built the American Dream in Indiana. Voters appreciate her story and understand that she shares their values and will defend our way of life,” campaign spokesperson Tim Edson said.

In the same district, Democrats appear to have rallied behind Christina Hale, their nominee for lieutenant governor in 2016. The district is increasingly trending blue, but still looks to be safely in Republican hands come November.

Further north in the state, in Indiana’s first congressional district, a 14-way Democratic primary is going down for the safely blue seat in an effort to replace retiring Rep. Peter Visclosky. Former Hammond mayor Tom McDermott is one of the top fundraisers and has the endorsement of former presidential contender Rep. Seth Moulton. McDermott is leaning on his experience as a long-term mayor in the crowded primary in an effort to elbow out his competitors.

National Latino groups, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s BOLD PAC, have rallied behind state House Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, who would be the first Latina elected to the Indiana Congressional delegation.

In an interview with ABC News, Candelaria Reardon said the coronavirus pandemic has changed the campaign trail-- but has illuminated some of the kitchen table issues which should be a centerpiece of the race.

PHOTO: A worker cleans an election officials station during early voting for the June 2nd primary at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C., May 26, 2020.
A worker cleans an election officials station during early voting for the June 2nd primary at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C., May 26, 2020.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

“I think you're seeing the glaring glaring holes in our healthcare system, and they've been certainly laid bare in front of everybody,” she said. “And people are very concerned about that. People are also very concerned at the lack of leadership from the top, and how this has really shown that President Trump and this administration were totally unprepared for this crisis and unprepared to lead.”

One of the larger challenges for the race, her campaign manager said, was the fast switch to an expanded vote-by-mail process in Indiana, and making sure potential constituents have the resources they need to cast their ballots.

“We have done a lot of digital content with regard to where you can get a ballot, how to get a ballot, whether it's dropping off absentee applications to people, we've really been engaged in making sure that people know that there is a safe way to vote,” Grigsby Crawford, Candelaria Reardon’s campaign manager said.

In Iowa, candidates have been at work connecting with voters in an effort to get out the vote amid the pandemic. Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, a narrowly blue seat, is home to a competitive primary between Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling.

Miller Meeks is a part of the National Republican Campaign Committee’s “Young Guns” program, and has aligned herself with President Trump on the trail.

Her campaign has hit on Schilling, who recently announced he was undergoing cancer treatment, alleging his wavering support for President Trump in a Facebook video posted to her campaign’s page.

PHOTO: Former congressman Bobby Schilling speaks at the Muscatine GOP monthly meeting in Muscatine, Iowa, August 13, 2019.
Former congressman Bobby Schilling speaks at the Muscatine GOP monthly meeting in Muscatine, Iowa, August 13, 2019.
Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

According to a spokesman, the Miller Meeks campaign feels that drawing the comparison between her dedication to Trump and his agenda is a strong playbook for winning the district.

“We have seen that the district, as you know, went for the president and his support remains very strong here in the state,” Eric Woolson, her campaign spokesperson, said. “It has been very important to do in the primary, certainly.”

The same motif-- drawing on apparent “anti-Trump” stances-- has appeared in a competitive Republican primary in New Mexico, where oil executive Claire Chase and former state Rep. Yvette Herrell are running for the Republican nod in the state’s second congressional district, a swing seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

Defending Main Street PAC, a Republican-aligned outside group, dropped $100,000 for an ad buy in late May against Herrell, calling her an “anti-Trump” liberal, after she allegedly attended an invitation-only fundraiser with ‘Never Trump’ Republicans, according to the ad.

In a statement, Herrell said that voters in the second district aren’t buying into the attacks coming from outside groups on her campaign.

“We feel very good about our campaign as we head into the homestretch. We're focused on the issues that matter to the people of New Mexico's Second District, like our critically important energy and ag industries, as well as safely reopening our economy so our small businesses and rural communities can survive,” Herrell said in a statement to ABC. “New Mexicans aren't buying the desperate and false attacks on my character, and we are in a strong position to earn the nomination and take back this district in November."

Meanwhile, Herrell released an attack ad on Chase, an oil executive, calling out her alleged ‘never Trump’ views, reading Facebook posts supposedly made by Chase which show disapproval for the president.

Democrats also waded into the Republican primary. Democratic women’s PAC Emily’s List’s Women Vote sent mailers boosting Herrell ahead of the primary.

The attacks have been a preview of what is to come as the general election moves into view. The primaries, nonetheless, primed election officials and campaigns alike as to what the race could look like in November if coronavirus continues to hang over the country.

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