William Cummings, USA TODAY
Published 6:00 a.m. ET June 23, 2020 | Updated 3:45 p.m. ET June 23, 2020
Many states are planning on drastically different elections this year and mail-in ballots could be a big game changer.
Voters cast their ballots in several states on Tuesday in the latest elections to be held amid the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 120,000 people in the U.S.
The pandemic pushed multiple states – including Kentucky and New York, which vote Tuesday – to postpone their primary elections, and to expand early and absentee voting, in order to stave off the risk of spreading the virus in crowded polling stations.
States that have cast ballots since the outbreak began have been plagued by long lines due to fewer in-person polls being open and a decrease in the number of people willing to work the polls on Election Day. The continuing nationwide protests against police brutality and discrimination could also play a role in voter turnout and possibly influence who comes away victorious when the votes are counted.
In addition to primaries, several other states, including South Carolina and Mississippi, will hold runoff elections. Here are a few races to watch Tuesday:
The most closely watched race on Tuesday will likely be the one between the Democrats battling for the chance to try to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the fall. Former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker, and retired Marine, farmer and substitute teacher Mike Broihier are considered the top contenders for the chance to end McConnell’s 36-year Senate career.
McGrath has the backing of the Democratic Party establishment, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, and has raised $41.1 million – more than McConnell and her Democratic rivals combined. Those resources have enabled her to flood the airwaves with advertising, while also holding telephone town halls and spending time out in public talking with Kentuckians. Despite McGrath’s deep coffers, the race is tight. Last week, a poll found Booker leading McGrath, 44%-36%.
Booker gained national attention when he joined protesters in the streets of his hometown after the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who died in March after Louisville police officers shot her in her home. He has won the endorsement of progressive Democrats such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Broihier, whom the recent poll found in a distant third with 4% support, is backed by former 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. He has pitched himself as “Kentucky’s candidate,” beholden to neither the Schumer nor Sanders wings of the party.
Kentucky’s primary was originally scheduled for May but was pushed back due to the pandemic. All registered voters were given the option to request an absentee ballot and, according to Secretary of State Michael Adams, 27% of them took that option or voted early in person as of June 15. Many of the state’s counties, including the populous Jefferson County, will have only one in-person polling station open on Election Day, which some have decried as a form of “voter suppression.”
Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, who drew President Donald Trump’s wrath when he threatened to hold up a vote on the CARES ACT in March, is facing a primary challenge from attorney Todd McMurtry, who represented Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann in defamation cases against several news media companies.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel is facing a fierce primary challenge from three candidates, the strongest from former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman. Bowman is backed by progressives like Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders, reflecting an ideological divide within the Democratic Party as establishment figures like 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have rushed to defend the 16-term congressman.
Bowman is hoping to pull off an upset like Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated longtime incumbent Joe Crowley in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez occasionally butted heads with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her quest to upset the status quo, but Pelosi has since endorsed her reelection. She is facing her first primary challenge with three candidates vying to make her a one-term representative, journalist Michelle Caruso-Cabrera who called the democratic socialist a “polarizing, divisive force.”
Three Republicans are seeking the nomination to take on Sen. Mark Warner in November. The Democratic incumbent and former governor is heavily favored to win reelection but retired Army Lt. Col. Daniel Gade, Afghanistan veteran Thomas Speciale and teacher Alissa Baldwin are hoping to become the Republican candidate to unseat him against the odds.
Republican freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman lost his party’s nomination earlier this month to Bob Good, a former official in the athletics department at Liberty University. Riggelman, who angered social conservatives in his district when he officiated a gay wedding lost his party’s nomination, lost to Good in a non-primary convention.
The moderate Riggelman’s defeat by the more conservative Good could make the race in the 5th District, which went easily to Trump in 2016, competitive. Four Democrats are seeking the nomination to take on Good: retired Marines R.D. Huffstetler, John Lesinski, and Claire Russo, and physician Cameron Webb.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; Phillip M. Bailey, Ben Tobin and Morgan Watkins, Louisville Courier Journal; Mark Lungariello, Rockland/Westchester Journal News; The Associated Press.
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