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Anti-Trump statement haunts GOP incumbent in Alabama

GOP Rep. Martha Roby could be forced into a primary runoff against a Republican challenger in Alabama, where opponents have used Roby’s critical 2016 comments about then-candidate Donald Trump to tag her as insufficiently supportive of the president.

Roby was well under 50 percent of the vote with more than one-third of precincts reporting in her first primary since saying she would not vote for Trump ahead of the 2016 election, after a tape came out featuring Trump bragging about sexual assault. If the results hold, it would force Roby into a July primary runoff with the second-place finisher in her conservative 2nd District, where the field of Republican challengers includes former Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright, who has switched parties.

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With eight states voting on the biggest primary night of 2018, the spotlight is also on Democrats’ efforts to avoid getting locked out of the general election in key battleground House districts in California, where the top-two primary system has Democrats sweating in three Orange County-based districts carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. There is a chance two Republicans could finish at the front of the pack because the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will move on to the November general election.

It’s a nightmarish possibility for Democrats, who are hoping to make significant inroads in California as part of their effort to undo Republicans’ 23-seat edge Republicans have in the House. The state has seven Republican members of Congress in Clinton-won districts, including two in California’s Central Valley and one north of Los Angeles. But it’s the ones in historically Republican-leaning Orange County that have attracted the most attention and spending — and anxiety.

“One of the challenges for Democrats in Orange County is that historically, they have not had a lot of infrastructure because they didn’t have candidates winning here,” said Harley Rouda, a Democratic real estate executive running to take on Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in one of the potential lockout districts. “Now, we have too much of a good thing.”

Meanwhile, a printing error affecting more than one-third of the precincts in Los Angeles County left 118,522 registered voters off the rolls in today’s primary, according to the County Clerk Dean Logan. Logan said all registered voters can cast provisional ballots even if their names did not appear on the list. It is unclear whether the error could potentially affect voter turnout, but a large number of provisional ballots could make the vote-counting process longer in certain races.

Tuesday night’s primaries will also kick off a key Senate race in Montana: Voters there will select a Republican nominee to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in a state President Donald Trump carried by more than 20 percentage points in 2016.

The primaries will also yield House candidates in potential battleground districts in Iowa, New Jersey and New Mexico, as well as nominees for governor in five states, including California, where Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is favored to make the general election — but it is unclear if he’ll face a Republican or a fellow Democrat. The same is true in the Senate race there, where Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein faces challengers on both sides of the aisle.

Polls close at 8 p.m. Eastern in Alabama, Mississippi and New Jersey; 9 p.m. in New Mexico and South Dakota; 10 p.m. in Iowa and Montana; and 11 p.m. in California. Some South Dakota counties will be keeping polls open later due to technical issues earlier Tuesday, which will delay the first results from the state for several hours.

Here’s a state-by-state guide to what’s on the ballot:

Alabama

Nothing on the ballot this spring approaches the high drama of last year’s special Senate election. But GOP Rep. Martha Roby, who spoke out against Trump and said she wouldn’t vote for him during the 2016 presidential election, appears headed for a runoff in the crowded primary in the 2nd District. Roby had 37 percent of the vote with 34 percent of precincts reporting, narrowly edging out two of her challengers. In second was her best-known challenger, former Rep. Bobby Bright, whom Roby narrowly defeated in the 2010 general election, when Bright was a Democratic member of Congress. A third candidate, Barry Moore, was close behind Bright. Roby has already spent nearly $ 1 million on her reelection bid, but she faces the same majority threshold to avoid a runoff.

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Gov. Kay Ivey, the former lieutenant governor who ascended to the top job when a sex scandal brought down Robert Bentley, faces a five-way Republican primary. And she has to get more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a one-on-one primary runoff.

California

Three House seats in California — the 39th, 48th and 49th Districts — feature multiple Republicans getting significant shares of the vote in pre-election polling, while large fields of Democratic candidates are splitting votes — which could leave the party without general election challengers in an area, Orange County, that has moved toward Democrats.

Local and national Democrats worked to thin the fields ahead of the June primary, “but it’s really hard to tell someone that you can’t pursue your dreams, especially in this environment,” said California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman, who was involved in those conversations.

“The local party couldn’t recruit a candidate here to save its life a couple years ago,” said Mike Levin, who once served as the Orange County Democratic Party chairman and is now one of several candidates in the 49th District, where GOP Rep. Darrell Issa has retired. “But all of that changed after 2016.”

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The large fields prompted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to spend millions of dollars trying to make sure that the party could get candidates into the general election.

Democrat Gil Cisneros, a lottery winner who’s running in the 39th District, brushed off the possibility of a top-two lockout in the district. “In Texas or Alabama or Pennsylvania, people came out to vote” at higher rates than usual in recent months, Cisneros said. “I don’t see why that trend would end here in California.”

If Democrats fail to move candidates through, expect the blame game to kick into high gear – aimed at the national party and other candidates.

“I’d say [the blame] lies with the other Democratic candidates who failed to step down,” said Hans Keirstead, a stem cell researcher in the 48th District who was endorsed by the California Democratic Party. “I’m very disappointed that these individuals are putting their own egos ahead of their party.”

But it’s Keirstead’s Democratic opponent, Rouda, who got an endorsement from the DCCC in the race to take on Rohrabacher, which also features another strong Republican candidate in former state legislator Scott Baugh.

Democrats are more assured of getting general election candidates through the primary in four other Clinton-won, Republican-held districts in California. And in the governor’s race, it could be Republicans who end up without a candidate.

That race is a battle for second place. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has led public polling, but former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang, both Democrats, both put up serious challenges, which could shut out Republicans. In an effort to avoid that scenario, potentially depressing GOP turnout in November, Republicans have tried to coalesce around John Cox, a businessman who picked up an endorsement from Trump via tweet last month.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is also holding off a challenge from fellow Democrat Kevin De Leon, a former state Senate leader, who’s trying to out-flank the longtime senator on her left. But De Leon faces competition from a slew of Republicans for a general election slot.

Montana

Republicans are targeting 10 Democratic senators from states Trump carried in the last presidential election, and they will choose a nominee to take on one of them Tuesday night.

Montana election logo

State Auditor Matt Rosendale has led polling, but he’s struggled to separate from the pack of GOP opponents, which includes former judge Russ Fagg. Rosendale’s bid is also a test for the conservative Club for Growth, which has spent big to support him in the primary and expects to continue that in the general election.

Tester, meanwhile, drew Trump’s ire recently for his role scuttling the president’s pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which could add another twist to the general election.

Iowa

Two more battleground House districts are on tap in Iowa Tuesday night. Abby Finkenauer, who’s running to take on GOP Rep. Rod Blum in eastern Iowa, could be the first woman in her 20s elected to Congress, but she has to navigate a Democratic primary first. In Des Moines and the surrounding area, the primary to face Republican Rep. David Young features all the archetypes of 2018 Democratic candidates, including a self-funding outsider, an EMILY’s List endorsee with establishment backing and a Bernie Sanders acolyte.

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In the governor’s race, wealthy businessman Fred Hubbell has led the Democratic pack in public polling, but if he doesn’t clear 35 percent of the vote in a crowded field, delegates to the state party convention will pick a nominee instead. Republicans are united around Gov. Kim Reynolds, the former lieutenant governor who took over when ex-Gov. Terry Branstad became the U.S. ambassador to China.

Mississippi

Rep. Gregg Harper’s retirement announcement spurred six Republicans to jump into the primary in his deep-red 3rd District. With the field that crowded, the top two candidates could be forced into a runoff later this month, unless someone manages to get a majority of the vote.

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New Jersey

Democrats hope to run competitive races in almost every New Jersey House district held by a Republican, putting unusual focus on Tuesday’s primaries. In two districts, Jeff Van Drew, a centrist state senator, and Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and prosecutor, easily won Democratic primaries in the open races to replace Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Rodney Frelinghuysen, who both decided not to seek reelection in a pair of suburban districts.

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“I think even Republicans can admit that Jeff Van Drew and Mikie Sherrill put those seats in play,” said Bill Cortese, a New Jersey-based Republican consultant. “But those are still red districts, at the end of the day.”

Democrat Tom Malinowski, a former Obama administration official, will face GOP Rep. Leonard Lance, who is running for reelection. Republicans, meanwhile, will decide a nasty two-way primary to face Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer in a district Trump carried narrowly last year.

In the Senate race, wealthy businessman Bob Hugin, the former CEO of a pharmaceutical company, easily won the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez. Menendez is leading his primary but running weakly compared to past results, as he faces voters for the first time since being indicted but not convicted on corruption charges.

New Mexico

A pair of House members are seeking promotion to statewide office here. Rep. Steve Pearce is unopposed in the Republican primary for governor, while Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham faces several challengers on the Democratic side — as well as questions about her role in a company that sold health insurance to high-risk patients in New Mexico.

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Lujan Grisham’s statewide run prompted a large, messy primary to replace her in the Democratic-leaning 1st District. Democrats have challenged for Pearce’s 2nd District in the past, but the winner of the Republican primary ought to be a favorite to take over the conservative-leaning seat.

South Dakota

Republican Rep. Kristi Noem is locked in a tight primary against state Attorney General Marty Jackley for the governorship, with current Gov. Dennis Daugaard unable to run for reelection because of term limits. The race has turned rough, with Noem attacking Jackley’s handling of a harassment complaint and Jackley going after Noem’s votes in Congress.

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Noem’s run for governor sparked a three-way GOP primary to replace her in Congress. If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, there will be a runoff between the top two Republicans in August.

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