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The Trailer: A Republican feud in West Virginia: Infrastructure money versus a Trump endorsement

In this edition: West Virginia’s Republican-on-Republican primary, election conspiracy theorists capture GOP nominations in Colorado, and a crypto-inspired Democratic family feud in Oregon.

No, I don’t think there’s a better phrase to start this edition than “crypto-inspired family feud,” and this is The Trailer.

BEVERLY, W.Va. — Rep. David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.) had driven three hours across the state to get to Randolph County and its Lincoln Day Dinner. A light April snow had started, thinning the turnout, as McKinley told Republicans that last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill would finally fix West Virginia’s roads.

“Corridor H was started in 1972, fifty years ago!” McKinley said, about an incomplete Appalachian highway to the east coast. “I said to the head of the Transportation Committee, if Corridor H had connected Huntington or Charleston or Wheeling, it’d have been done by now. People over the years talked about doing it, and now we’re doing it, thanks to the infrastructure bill.”

He sat down. A surrogate for Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) stood up and read from the endorsement Donald Trump gave Mooney last November; a few dozen words saying the congressman would “always protect our Second Amendment” and deliver “energy and beautiful, clean coal.” 

The May 10 Republican primary in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District has been a daily rehash of this argument — whether to keep a congressman skilled at bringing federal dollars home, or one who’ll vote for the position Donald Trump takes. The primary, the first this year that pits two incumbents against each other due to redrawn lines, will show what Republican voters are willing to give up or look past if Trump urges them to do so. Despite Mooney facing a House Ethics Committee investigation, and district lines that favored McKinley, polling from both camps shows a very competitive race.

“Trump endorsed me for a reason,” Mooney said in an interview. “He has stated publicly he was upset with the 13 Republicans that voted for the Biden infrastructure bill. And obviously, he’s no fan of the Jan. 6 commission to investigate him and his allies, which McKinley also voted for. So I don’t think was it was a hard decision for him, to be perfectly honest.” 

Mooney was describing two of McKinley’s very few breaks with Trump; one of them, infrastructure, is essential to McKinley’s reelection pitch. West Virginia lost one of its three House seats after the 2020 census, forcing its Republican legislature and governor to erase a safe Republican district. The eventual north-south split put almost all of McKinley’s current seat, and a smaller share of Mooney’s, into a district that runs from the Ohio River to the exurbs of Washington, with different sorts of Republican voters.

“In McKinley’s district, you’ve got a lot of old time Democrats who switched over and became Republicans,” said Greg Thomas, a former McKinley strategist who helped him win his current seat in the 2010 GOP wave. “Some of those people are labor friendly. They’re very supportive of the infrastructure bill. The folks in the eastern panhandle are more likely to see that as government waste. They don’t care how many bridges you build.”

McKinley came from Wheeling, in the state’s northern panhandle, and chaired the state Republican Party when Democrats still ran everything in West Virginia; Mooney moved nine years ago to Charles Town, a fast-growing town 60 miles from Washington, abandoning a political career in deep blue Maryland to start one in a state where, by then, Democrats were retreating. 

Both men won close races to capture their seats, and both got safer during the Trump years; even Gov. Jim Justice, elected in 2016 as a Democrat, switched parties at a Trump rally a few months later. Mooney joined the House Freedom Caucus and refused to request earmarks for West Virginia in spending bills, while McKinley voted with Republicans, but stayed at the table to redirect money to his district.

“I’m trying to show a difference between results and rhetoric,” McKinley said in an interview after the dinner in Beverly. “I’ve passed 25 bills that have been signed into law. I’ve been in the Oval Office when those 25 bills have been signed. How many times has my opponent?”

The new district lines had looked promising for McKinley, who represented more of its voters and had seniority in a state that often needed that in spending negotiations. But a few weeks after the map was finalized, Mooney headed down to Mar-a-Lago for a one-hour meeting, and came back with a Trump endorsement. Trump made it official the very same day that President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure package.

“This wasn’t an emotional decision, or spur of the moment,” said Mooney. “It was a calculated decision. It’s important that I tell voters why he did it, what I stand for, and why Trump agrees with that.”

McKinley had not been surprised by the endorsement; he had tried, he said, to “get to Trump’s people,” but since the decision was made, he has moved on and told his own story to voters, about why the infrastructure bill needed to pass. He’d have preferred that Republicans got it done when Trump was in office, as the former president long promised, but they didn’t, and he has adjusted.

“It wasn’t a failure on his part,” McKinley said, downplaying Trump’s inability to fix Republican divisions over infrastructure. “Nancy Pelosi was not going to let him get a vote on infrastructure while he was president and she was speaker. It was just politics — ugly, raw Washington politics.” 

McKinley pulled a brochure out of his jacket pocket, produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers — he’s a member — with dire ratings for his state last year. “When they issue a report card with Ds and Fs on it for West Virginia, I’m supposed to say: ‘No, I can’t?’” he asked. “No, I’m voting for West Virginia.”

Trump’s role in the race, so far, has been limited to one news release, but the primary never moved past it. Mooney’s signs and advertisements display Trump’s name or a photo of the congressman with the former president, while McKinley’s literature emphasizes that he’s technically cast more votes in favor of Trump’s position; members of the House Freedom Caucus sometimes rejected spending that the ex-president signed into law.

“I know exactly where David B. McKinley stands, and he stands with Trump,” Justice says in one of McKinley’s TV spots, which shows both men at the 2017 MAGA rally in Huntington, before Trump took the stage and before he’d had anything bad to say about the congressman.

McKinley has plenty of material, the resources to put it on the air, and air cover from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied for the infrastructure bill. At the end of 2021, McKinley loaned his campaign $500,000; when the last full month of campaigning began, he’d spent a bit less than $600,000 on campaign messaging, while Mooney had spent slightly less than $700,000. While Mooney has not yet reported his fundraising for the final stretch, last week McKinley revealed that he entered it with $1 million left to spend, and with no serious Democrat waiting to contest the seat in November.

That money has paid for sharp-edged negative ads, including one, from McKinley, that calls Mooney a “political prostitute.” One ad dismissed Mooney as an “opportunistic career politician who’s never had a job outside of politics” and was now “under federal investigation,” referring to the House probe into whether the congressman made taxpayer-funded staffers complete his personal tasks, and whether he interfered with a campaign finance investigation. Another, designed to look like a short TV news report, told voters that Mooney had “voted against Trump’s plan to stop deadly fentanyl coming from China,” and was “bad for the Trump agenda and worse for West Virginia.”

Mooney’s rebuttal was straightforward: How could he be anti-Trump when Trump endorsed him? His own ads have labeled McKinley a “RINO” — “Republican In Name Only” — who wasn’t opposing the Biden administration’s spending plans; the Club for Growth’s pro-Mooney commercials said that his opponent supported “Joe Biden’s spending spree,” which was also how Mooney referred to the infrastructure bill. 

“Most people don’t even know what the infrastructure bill is, to be honest,” said Republican state Sen. Patricia Rucker, who supports Mooney and attends his church. “A lot of conservative folks are very concerned about things in that bill that really don’t have anything to do, in their minds, with infrastructure.” The ethics probe hadn’t moved many minds, Rucker added, because “these allegations are coming from Nancy Pelosi, and we know that Nancy Pelosi is going to be partisan.”

Republican voters were also sounding less interested in the ethics probe than in McKinley’s vote to create a Jan. 6 commission — a riskier vote, and one for which outside groups haven’t come in to defend him. On Saturday morning, both Mooney and McKinley spoke to a meeting of West Virginia Republican women in Martinsburg, minutes from Mooney’s home, and one activist took the opportunity to grill the visitor on the commission.

“The patriots that were there, that were protesting — that’s legitimate protest, and I applaud them for that,” McKinley said, explaining that he voted for a bipartisan commission that was killed by Republican leadership and replaced by one created by House Democrats. “We had two votes. Someone’s trying to confuse you. The first vote was trying to do what we did with 9/11, what we did with Benghazi, because we knew that the media was going to put the blame on Donald Trump, and that’s wrong.”

That didn’t satisfy the questioner. What about the Jan. 6 rioters who were still in prison, she asked?

“What we can do is just raise as much Cain as we can, and get their lawyers involved,” McKinley said.

She kept pressing, saying incorrectly that Trump supporters had nothing to do with violence on Jan. 6. What about the “undercover FBI” and “antifa,” she asked?

“We don’t control the media, as you well know,” said McKinley. “I wish we did.”

McKinley wrapped up the Q&A to head to Beverly, which like Martinsburg had been represented by Mooney for years. But some of his longtime constituents were wavering, weighing whether to replace their congressman with a neighbor who impressed Donald Trump enough to get his endorsement. Kandi Nuzum, 71, had been represented by McKinley for most of McKinley’s career, but was open to supporting Mooney. 

The Trump factor was one reason; another was the negative side of the infrastructure bill, which she’d begun to hear more about as the primary drew closer. She had heard that it would fund gun control research, and promote “women in the service.” The first policy didn’t make it into the bill, but language supporting women in the trucking industry did, and that was a reason to take Trump’s view of it all. 

“The more I read about it,” she said, “the more I wished he hadn’t voted for it.”

“Biden turns to stemming gun crimes as violence rises,” by Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Annie Linskey

Can a campaign against “ghost guns” be controversial? You bet.

“School reopening mess drives frustrated parents toward GOP,” by Michael C. Bender

The effect of long classroom closures.

“With Biden’s voting rights push stalled, Georgia activists regroup,” by Matthew Brown

Life and campaigning after H.R. 1. 

“What Trump’s Mehmet Oz endorsement means for the Pennsylvania Senate race,” by Jonathan Tamari

A boost for a celebrity candidate who was struggling to re-introduce himself.

“For Democrats, flipping red states is hard. Ask this state chair,” by Dan Balz

Pete Buttigieg’s campaign manager builds something new in Indiana.

“Greitens’ fade reorders Missouri Senate race,” by Natalie Allison

A post-scandal comeback that voters might not want anymore.

“Gosar, far-right incumbent, faces G.O.P. challengers in Arizona,” by Jack Healy

Why Arizona’s most conservative might want a different congressman.

“Florida legislators give DeSantis their power to draw House map,” by Colby Itkowitz and Lori Rozsa

Bowing to the inevitable.

The Republican governors of New Hampshire and Florida defied their GOP state legislators on redistricting, rejecting their maps for very different reasons. In New Hampshire, that’s led to a court prepping to take over the process; in Florida, it’s meant Republicans throwing up their hands and letting Gov. Ron DeSantis take over.

There are more seats at stake in Florida, where Republicans in Tallahassee initially drew a map that gave their party an 18-10 advantage, while leaving two plurality-Black districts intact. Last month, as the maps moved through the legislature, DeSantis’s counsel revealed an alternative map, one that would gave the party an initial 20-8 advantage, in part by carving up a Jacksonville-area district where 46 percent of residents were Black, and which reliably voted for Democrats.

DeSantis warned that the current 5th Congressional District was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, and the new one would be too. Democrats didn’t believe him. “Based on his public comments,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Abel Iraola told the Tampa Bay Times, “there is no doubt that any proposal from Gov. DeSantis would be a nonstarter and an attack on Black representation in Florida.”

Florida’s Aug. 23 primary and June 17 filing deadline saved it from some of the time pressures other governors and legislators faced in getting their maps drawn. New Hampshire’s primary and filing deadline come even later, and on Monday, the state Supreme Court set dates for evidence and a trial if elected leaders can’t finish a map before then. 

Last month, Gov. Chris Sununu rejected a Republican-drawn map that created two safe seats — one likely to elect a Republican, and one that would be hard for any Republican to win — in favor of creating another version of a map where both seats are currently competitive.

Jamie for Oregon, “Shred.” Hardly a day goes by without a candidate shooting bullets at a piece of legislation, or a piece of paper representing something like “socialism.” Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a Democrat challenging Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), is more inventive: She rips up a check representing “corporate PACs,” shovels manure onto a “Big Oil and Gas” check, drives a heavy-duty shredder over a “big pharma” check, burns a “congressional stock portfolio,” and feeds something else to a goat. The message isn’t just that Schrader takes donations that she won’t — the ad is running as Center Forward, a political group funded by the pharmaceutical industry, begins running ads to help Schrader.

Dave McCormick for U.S. Senate, “Oz in His Own Words.” Not long after Donald Trump endorsed Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s GOP U.S. Senate primary, McCormick released this attack ad repeating the greatest hits of the oppo file. It uses not one, but two images of Oz kissing his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in between clips of Oz talking about transgender kids, speaking highly of Hillary Clinton, and working out with Michelle Obama. “Total fraud,” a narrator says.

Friends of Blair Milo, “Navy Vet Blair Milo for U.S. Congress.” Milo, a Republican running to flip Indiana’s 1st Congressional District, served as mayor of one of its biggest cities. That’s mentioned briefly here — more time is spent linking her U.S. Navy service to her ability to “fight” left-wing radicals. It’s one of several ads currently running that feature footage from riots two years ago, as a demonstration of what the left has done in power, though the sort of violence that unfolded in cities like Kenosha, Wis., that year hasn’t recurred under Biden.

Club for Growth Action, “Ally.” Most of Trump’s political endorsements are straightforward shows of support for incumbents who support him. His support of Rep. Mary E. Miller (R-Ill.) in one of the year’s next member-on-member primaries fit that bill, and the Club’s ad plays it straight, repeatedly mentioning the Trump endorsement and promising that Miller won’t compromise on “election integrity” or battling “socialist green energy schemes.”

Kay Ivey for Governor, “Stole.” Alabama is one of the only states where candidates who don’t win more than 50 percent of the primary vote have to win a runoff, and Gov. Kay Ivey has been trying to make her challengers irrelevant with a buffet of red meat ads. This one has the governor delighting in how “the left” will hate what she’s about to say. “The fake news, big tech, and blue state liberals stole the election from President Trump,” Ivey says, repeating unproven theories of 2020 that are widely believed by GOP primary voters. One way she talks about protecting elections — a ban on “curbside voting” — has not been linked to any voter fraud.

“If the election for mayor of Los Angeles were held today, who would be your first choice?” (Berkeley IGS/Los Angeles Times, March 29-April 5, 1380 likely voters)

Rick Caruso: 24% (+16 since February) 
Karen Bass: 23% (-9) 
Kevin de León: 6% (-2)
Gina Viola: 2% (+2)
Mike Feuer: 2% (-2)
Joe Buscaino: 1% (-3)

When one candidate spends more money on ads than all of his rivals combined, it makes a difference. Caruso, a billionaire developer who entered the race for mayor in February, put $9 million into an omnipresent ad campaign, TV, digital and text message. His support has surged since then, making him the only mayoral hopeful besides Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) with enough support to get 1st or 2nd place in the June 7 primary — only the top two head to the November general election.

Caruso’s portrayal of a city in crisis has been criticized by Bass and others, who point out that crime remains well below the levels of the mid-90s when Caruso served as a civilian police commissioner. But Caruso has identified the race’s top issues. Sixty-eight percent of voters, given the chance to chose their two top voting issues, say “homelessness” is one of them, and 38 percent say “crime and public safety.” The billionaire leads on both issues; Bass leads him on “housing affordability,” a top concern for 36 percent of voters, and “education,” an issue for fewer than half as many.

Colorado. Election conspiracy theorists romped at the state GOP’s assembly in Colorado Springs on Saturday, with candidates who believe that the 2020 race was stolen from Donald Trump getting preferred primary ballot placement in the races for governor, U.S. Senate, and Secretary of State.

“I fully expected Donald Trump to win in 2020, and he did,” state Rep. Ron Hanks falsely told Republican delegates in Colorado Springs, where he was the only U.S. Senate candidate to win more than 30 percent of delegate votes, and a spot on the June 7 ballot. “When we saw what we saw on election night in 2020, it changed everything. Just like the changes we felt after 9/11.”

In Colorado, where state party activists control who appears on the ballot and in what order, conservative candidates have frequently pushed past better-funded candidates and dominated the election-year assembly. It happened in 2016, when a right-wing El Paso County commissioner named Darryl Glenn thrilled delegates and won the nomination to challenge Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) It happened in 2010, when future Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) bested former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton — and, like Glenn, went on to lose to Bennet. 

This year’s GOP assembly handed the top Secretary of State ballot line to Tina Peters, a Mesa County clerk who was indicted last month in an investigation into the theft of voting machine data that was presented at a conference organized by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell. The most support in the race for governor went to Greg Lopez, a former mayor and state director of the Small Business Association who’s come up short in two other statewide primaries. In a 2016 U.S. Senate bid, Lopez said that what he offered voters was “not close to what Donald Trump represents,” but in this race, he echoed Trump and other Republicans in questioning the results of the 2020 election.

“It’s time we go back to counting all ballots by hand, and get rid of the Dominion machines,” Lopez told Republican delegates on Saturday. “And if Tina Peters should be falsely accused — as governor, I will pardon her.”

All three Republicans still have to win their nominations in the summer primary, against candidates who petitioned their way onto the ballot instead of counting on support at the assembly. Democrats met virtually for their own assembly the same day, renominating their incumbents in statewide races, and affirming state Rep. Yadira Caraveo as their candidate in the new, competitive 8th Congressional District. Republicans gave Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine their top ballot line in that primary, though three other candidates have qualified to run.

Iowa. A top Democratic recruit for U.S. Senate faced a crisis this week, after a judge ruled that three signatures on former Rep. Abby Finkenauer‘s ballot petitions could not be submitted — and that meant she did not qualify for the June 7 primary ballot.

“This Court should not be in the position to make a difference in an election, and Ms. Finkenauer and her supporters should have a chance to advance her candidacy,” Judge Scott Beattie, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, wrote in the Sunday night opinion. “However, this Court’s job is to sit as a referee and apply the law without passion or prejudice.”

Candidates for U.S. Senate in Iowa are required to file at least 3,500 valid signatures on their petitions, including at least 100 each from 19 counties. (In 2016 and 2020, Democratic presidential candidates carried just six of Iowa’s 99 counties.) Republicans sought to knock Finkenauer off the ballot by challenging three signatures in two counties — one without a date, one with an incorrect date, and one where the signer wrote a Zip code instead of a date. 

Finkenauer initially convinced an election panel to keep her on the ballot. But the two Democrats on the panel had sided with her, saying that there was precedent for accepting signatures with flawed dates, so long as the signatures were legitimate. The third member, Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, didn’t. Republicans went to court, and won.

“In a massive gift to Washington Republicans, this partisan decision overrules both the Republican secretary of state’s office and the bipartisan panel, ignores decades of precedent, interferes in the electoral process, and makes a mockery of our democracy,” Finkenauer said in a statement on Wednesday. The case will go to the state Supreme Court, with just days to go before primary ballots are printed. Retired Navy Vice Adm. Mike Franken, who ran for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination in 2020 and came up short to a candidate supported by national Democrats, is running again this time.

Pennsylvania. Donald Trump made an endorsement in Pennsylvania’s GOP U.S. Senate primary and promised not to support one of the party’s candidates for governor, after candidates in both races spent months trying to win his backing.

On Saturday night, while taking the stage at a rally in North Carolina, Trump endorsed Mehmet Oz in the Senate race, explaining in a statement that the celebrity doctor looked more electable than any other Republican running — including ex-hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick, who with his wife, Trump administration official Dina Powell, had been working to get Trump to support him.

“Women, in particular, are drawn to Dr. Oz for his advice and counsel,” Trump explained in a statement from his Save America PAC. “I have seen this many times over the years. They know him, believe in him, and trust him. Likewise, he will do very well in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where other candidates will just not be accepted.”

On Tuesday, Trump issued a sort of anti-endorsement in the gubernatorial primary, explaining why he would never endorse Bill McSwain, who he’d appointed as U.S. attorney — and whose campaign heavily emphasized that he was the only Trump appointee running. Trump’s rationale: McSwain had not helped to challenge the 2020 election’s results in Pennsylvania, though public calls for evidence of voter fraud turned up just a few isolated cases of Republicans voting for Trump with a dead relative’s ballot.

“He said [former Attorney Gen. Bill] Barr told him not to do anything (because Barr was afraid of being impeached by the Democrats), but he should have done his job anyway,” Trump explained. “Without free and fair Elections, we don’t have a Country. Do not vote for Bill McSwain, a coward, who let our Country down.”

Oklahoma. First-term Gov. Kevin Stitt got a Republican primary challenger last week, after Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs director Joe Kintsel declared his candidacy and levied unspecific allegations of corruption against the governor.

“If elected, my first priority will be to clean up the corruption and mismanagement left behind by the Stitt Administration,” Kintsel said in a statement on Thursday. “We cannot allow Stitt and his buddies to continue enriching themselves at the taxpayer’s expense.” On Tuesday, Stitt signed a bill outlawing abortion except in a medical emergency.

A cryptocurrency billionaire’s PAC has stirred a Democratic family feud in Oregon, with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s PAC calling out the party’s main House super PAC for supporting the same candidate as the billionaire.

The focus of all the attention is Carrick Flynn, the founder of a think tank that studies artificial intelligence, who’s never run for office before seeking the Democratic nomination in Oregon’s new 6th Congressional District. Flynn got crucial early support from Protect Our Future PAC, founded by Sam Bankman-Fried, whose FTX crypto trading network has made him a billionaire. In no time at all, Protect Our Future spent nearly $6 million boosting Flynn, far more than any of the other candidates for the seat, which Democrats in Eugene drew to be safe for whichever member of their party emerged from the primary.

That rankled other Democrats — and that was before the House Majority PAC, a super PAC supported by House Democratic leaders, began a $1 million buy to help Flynn. BOLD PAC, the political arm of the CHC, issued a condemnation of that decision, asking why the PAC had “deliberately chosen not to endorse Andrea Salinas, a candidate who is among the most qualified Latinas running in a congressional race anywhere in the country” — a state legislator who had rolled up local endorsements and the support of BOLD PAC. 

“HMP is tasked with defending the House Majority by boosting Democrats and holding Republicans accountable, not with spending critical resources against a woman who has spent decades fighting for progressive causes and who will excite Democratic voters in November,” wrote BOLD PAC co-chairs Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Tex.).

Most of Flynn’s rivals, including Salinas, came together to condemn the HMP’s decision. At a brief news conference on Tuesday morning, where they took no questions, five candidates sat at the same table, each delivering short remarks about the unfairness of the PAC’s ad buy.

“This is a highly competitive Democratic primary with many strong candidates, as you can see,” said ex-Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith. “The field includes four women, three of which are women of color and two men who all have a good experience working in the Legislature.” 

“This effort by an influential Democratic establishment by this race for one candidate is a slap in the face to every Democratic voter and volunteer in Oregon,” added Kathleen Harder, a doctor and member of the state medical board. 

Asked about the criticism on Tuesday, HMP said that it would continue to support Flynn.

“House Majority PAC is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to secure a Democratic House Majority in 2022, and we believe supporting Carrick Flynn is a step towards accomplishing that goal,” House Majority PAC Communications Director CJ Warnke told The Trailer in a statement. “Flynn is a strong, forward looking son of Oregon who is dedicated to delivering for families in the 6th District.”

But in an interview, Salinas said that the HMP move “felt like a slap in the face” to a diverse group of candidates, in a state that has never elected a Latino or Black member of Congress.

“We need a strong candidate to come out of the Democratic primary,” said Salinas, who said that Democrats had barely even heard of Flynn when the ad buys began. “If we don’t have that, this seat could go Republican.”

… 21 days until primaries in Indiana and Ohio
… 28 days until primaries in Nebraska and West Virginia
… 35 days until primaries in Kentucky, Oregon, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania
… 42 days until Texas runoffs and the special primary in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District
… 60 days until the special House primary in Alaska
… 63 days until the special election in Texas’s 34th Congressional District
… 77 days until the special election in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District
… 204 days until the midterm elections