WASHINGTON – Voters rebuffed President Donald Trump and nominated two Republicans he opposed to House seats from North Carolina and Kentucky on Tuesday. Calls in higher-profile races in Kentucky and New York faced days of delay as swamped officials count mountains of mail-in ballots.
In western North Carolina, GOP voters picked 24-year-old investor Madison Cawthorn, who uses a wheelchair following an accident, over Trump-backed real estate agent Lynda Bennett. The runoff was for the seat vacated by GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, who resigned to become Trump's chief of staff and joined his new boss in backing Bennett.
Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian-minded maverick who often clashes with GOP leaders, was renominated for a sixth House term. Trump savaged Massie in March as a “disaster for America” who should be ejected from the party after he forced lawmakers to return to Washington during a pandemic to vote on a huge economic relief package.
Cawthorn, who will meet the constitutionally mandated minimum age of 25 when the next Congress convenes, has said he's a Trump supporter, and Massie is strongly conservative. Still, their victories were an embarrassment to a president whose own reelection campaign has teetered recently.
As states ease voting by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic, a deluge of mail-in ballots and glacially slow counting procedures made delays inevitable. That torturous wait seemed a preview of November, when more states will embrace mail-in voting and officials warn that uncertainty over who is the next president could linger for days.
Kentucky usually has 2% of its returns come from mail ballots. This year officials expect that figure to exceed 50%, and over 400,000 mail ballots were returned by Sunday.
New York officials expect the vast majority of votes to be mail ballots this year, compared to their typical 5% share. Counties have until eight days after Election Day to count and release the results of mail ballots, with 1.7 million requested by voters.
In the day's marquee contests, two young African American candidates with campaigns energized by nationwide protests for racial justice were challenging white Democratic establishment favorites for the party's nominations.
First-term state legislator Charles Booker was hoping a late surge would carry him past former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath for the Democratic Senate nomination from Kentucky. And in New York, political newcomer Jamaal Bowman was seeking to derail House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel’s bid for a 17th term.
In Kentucky, many counties including Jefferson, the state’s largest, faced piles of mail-in ballots and reported no results. The Associated Press doesn't expect to call the McGrath-Booker race until June 30, when Kentucky plans to release additional tallies.
Even so, Booker and supporters gathered in Louisville chanted ’’from the ‘hood to the holler,” the slogan he hoped would help build a coalition of urban Blacks and rural whites.
“We have the opportunity to transform history," Booker said.
The AP was also delaying its call in New York’s Engel-Bowman race, pending additional vote tallies.
In other contests, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky easily won the Republican nomination for a seventh Senate term and will be favored in November against McGrath or Booker.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., won renomination, cementing her rise from obscurity to progressive icon status when she ousted Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, on track to become speaker, from the New York City district.
In Virginia, retired Army Col. Daniel Gade won the GOP Senate nomination but seems certain to lose to Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in November. Republican Scott Taylor will face Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria in a rematch between two Navy veterans in a Virginia Beach district from which she toppled him in 2018.
And Cameron Webb, a health policy researcher, won the Democratic nomination for a central Virginia House district. GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman lost his party's nomination, fueling Democrats' hopes that Webb, an African American, can capture the seat.
Voters endured 90-minute waits in Kentucky’s second-largest city, Lexington, and social media posts showed long lines in New York’s Westchester County deep into the evening. Yet overall, the day’s problems seemed less widespread than in recent elections in Georgia and Nevada, where some people stood in line for hours.
In Louisville, voting advocates complained that an unknown number of people stayed home because of difficulty traveling to the city’s single polling place — the Kentucky Exposition Center.
“In my neighborhood, most people don’t have cars,” said voter Michael Baker. “It’s not fair for them to have one site.”
A judge kept the polling place open an extra half hour after about 175 people, some of whom pounded on the building’s doors, demanded to vote. Louisville, the state's biggest city, has 600,000 residents.
In the big New York and Kentucky contests, Democrats were watching whether nationwide protests sparked by last month’s killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police would translate to a decisive turnout by African American and progressive voters.
Kentucky’s McGrath has a military resume, centrists views and fundraising abilities that helped her win support from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to oppose McConnell.
Booker’s campaign caught fire after he attended recent protests against the March police killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her Louisville home. That helped him win support from progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and the state’s two largest newspapers.
In one measure of McGrath's financial advantage, she has spent $16 million in ads compared to Booker's $2 million, according to Advertising Analytics, which studies campaign advertising.
In New York, Engel is supported by Democratic stars like Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus, plus major labor unions. He’s one of Congress’ most liberal members.
Bowman, an educator, has drawn strength from anti-racism protests and his accusations that Engel has grown aloof from his diverse district in parts of the Bronx and Westchester. Bowman has been helped by progressive groups and lawmakers like Sanders.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta and Fram reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe and Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington, Sophia Tulp in Leawood, Kan., Michael Warren in Atlanta and Gary Robertson in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.