What You Need To Know About Today’s Elections In Minnesota And GeorgiaAugust 11, 2020
Believe it or not, the 2020 Democratic presidential primary is still going on — but it comes to an end today. Connecticut’s presidential primary is the last of the cycle, and the fact that it’s happening so late in the season is rare. According to presidential primaries expert and FiveThirtyEight contributor Josh Putnam, it marks the latest presidential nominating contest in the modern era.
But it’s not the presidential contest that will capture headlines today. A total of five states1 will hold their down-ballot primaries or runoffs today, in which the fight between the radical wings and more moderate factions will continue for both parties. Will a controversial member of “the Squad” — a group of first-term congresswomen of color known for their progressive views — lose her Democratic primary? And will Republicans send a believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory (with a history of racist comments) to Congress? We will (maybe) learn the answers today.
Two members of the Squad (Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib) have already routed their primary challengers this year, and another (Rep. Ayanna Pressley) doesn’t even have an opponent. But Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District might not find it so easy, as she’s facing a stiff challenge from attorney Antone Melton-Meaux.
Like Ocasio-Cortez’s and Tlaib’s challengers, Melton-Meaux has attacked Omar for basking in the spotlight of her national fame rather than attending to the needs of her Minneapolis-based district. Omar, though, has racked up a long list of controversies. First, she has made a number of anti-Semitic comments, including linking politicians’ support for Israel to campaign donations from Jewish advocacy groups, for which she apologized in 2019. Omar has also been accused of misusing campaign funds, most notably by paying thousands of dollars to a political consultant whose wife claimed he was having an affair with Omar (since then, Omar and the consultant have divorced their respective spouses and gotten married themselves).
But Melton-Meaux has issues of his own. Omar’s allies recently filed a Federal Election Commission complaint accusing him of concealing the true recipients of almost $100,000 in campaign funds through “mysterious shell companies.” And of course, the campaign is an ideological fight as well. Although Melton-Meaux has branded himself as a progressive, his policy positions are much more moderate than Omar’s. For instance, he does not want to defund the police, and he prefers a public option to a single-payer health care system.
It’s hard to know how close this primary is. In early July, the Omar campaign released an internal poll from Change Research showing the incumbent leading Melton-Meaux 66 percent to 29 percent. However, the money race implies a much tighter race. With the help of Omar’s well-funded political enemies, Melton-Meaux had raised an impressive $4.2 million as of July 22 — almost as much as Omar’s $4.3 million. The pro-Israel super PAC Americans for Tomorrow’s Future has also spent $2.1 million against Omar on attack ads and direct mail. Omar’s recent release of her own negative ad against Melton-Meaux may signal the race is tightening in the final days.
We’re also monitoring two Republican congressional runoffs in Georgia, and undoubtedly the most combustible contest is the 14th Congressional District race between controversy-laden construction company owner Marjorie Taylor Greene and neurosurgeon Dr. John Cowan. Today’s winner will be all but certain to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Tom Graves, as President Trump won 75 percent of the northwest Georgia district’s vote in 2016.
At first, it seemed as if Greene was the front-runner. After all, she won 40 percent to Cowan’s 21 percent in the initial vote June 9. However, Greene’s conspiratorial and racist views may have undermined her path to victory. For starters, she has refused to disavow QAnon, an FBI-labeled domestic terror threat that claims there’s a deep state conspiracy against Trump. And just after the June primary, Politico uncovered videos of Greene making racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic statements, which prompted many national GOP leaders and Georgia Republicans to oppose her and/or back Cowan. Koch Industries’ political action committee even asked for a refund on its $5,000 donation to her campaign.
Not that Greene needed that contribution to shore up her finances — as of July 22, she had loaned herself $900,000 out of the nearly $1.6 million she’d raised overall. But it still meant Cowan, who collected about $1.2 million (of which $200,000 was self-funded), entered the home stretch with $237,000 cash on hand, compared to roughly $144,000 for Greene. Nonetheless, despite public opposition from many Republican leaders, there’s been very little outside spending aimed at Greene.
For his part, Cowan has pitched himself as a pro-Trump conservative who doesn’t have Greene’s baggage. He’s also criticized Greene for accepting coronavirus relief funds for her company even though she’s self-funded more than half of her campaign. He has also tried to get to the right of Greene on immigration, running an ad accusing her company of not using the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program to check the immigration status of workers — a contention Greene denies.
Meanwhile, Greene has called Cowan a “globalist Never Trumper” who’s “too afraid to take on China.” She’s also made a play for conservative voters angered by recent protests against the police by attacking Cowan for not speaking out in support of former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe, who faces 11 charges, including murder, for shooting a Black man who had fallen asleep in his car at a Wendy’s drive-thru. Greene’s campaign slogan is “Save America, stop socialism.”
And those sorts of appeals may be enough for Greene to win today. A late July survey from Cowan’s campaign found the pair tied at 38 percent, numbers that were actually slightly worse for Cowan than in a late June poll from his campaign that put him ahead 43 percent to 40 percent.
Next door in Georgia’s 9th Congressional District, the Republican runoff will also likely decide the November winner in this conservative seat in northeast Georgia, which is open because GOP Rep. Doug Collins is running for the U.S. Senate. The clash between state Rep. Matt Gurtler and gun store owner and veteran Andrew Clyde appears to be wide open, after they finished with 21 percent and 18 percent, respectively, in a crowded primary June 9.
Gurtler has touted his belief in limited government and has acquired the moniker “Dr. No” for his tendency to vote against bills in the state legislature. This approach has won him allies — the conservative Club for Growth endorsed his candidacy — but not all of his no votes are popular. For instance, Gurtler has caught flak from some in the GOP after he was the only Republican to vote against a resolution commending President Trump for killing an Iranian commander considered a terrorist by the U.S. government.
As for Clyde, he’s built a reputation for successfully taking on the Internal Revenue Service after it tried to seize nearly $1 million from him. However, Gurtler has questioned why Clyde’s business has continued to sell guns to the agency, as that is seemingly at odds with Clyde’s anti-government rhetoric.
We haven’t seen any polls here, but Gurtler appears to have the most financial backing, even though Clyde had outraised Gurtler about $877,000 to $660,000 as of July 22. Unlike Gurtler, Clyde has mostly self-funded his campaign, and outside groups have poured in around $1.9 million on behalf of Gurtler or against Clyde. The campaign arm of the Club for Growth has been very active, spending about $500,000 boosting Gurtler and $653,000 attacking Clyde. Additionally, Protect Freedom PAC has spent $494,000 to help Gurtler while a single-candidate super PAC backing Gurtler has thrown in about $414,000 to support him or hit Clyde. So we’ll have to see whether all that money pays off for Gurtler in the end.
The three races we’ve highlighted — especially the ones in Minnesota’s 5th District and Georgia’s 14th District — all take place in districts that are safely in one party’s column, but who wins the primary still matters as it will affect the House’s ideological composition and each party’s internal politics. We’ll be watching to see just how these races shape the parties going forward.