By Jim Ellis
June 14, 2015 — In addition to the California races we described in the last Update, key general election campaigns are now underway in Iowa, Montana and North Carolina since their nominees were also chosen on June 7. New Mexico and South Dakota likewise held June 7 primary contests, but all of their incumbents appear safe for re-election.
Senate: Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R), who has come under heavy fire for his handling of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, may face a more competitive 2016 political contest than first believed. Originally elected the same night that Ronald Reagan first won the presidency in 1980, Sen. Grassley has never faced a difficult re-election. This year, however, Democrats believe they have an opportunity to make the race competitive.
Their new nominee is former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, who served one-term under Gov. Chet Culver (D) but was swept from office with him in 2010. Previously, Judge had been appointed as state Agriculture Secretary by then-Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), who, himself, currently serves as President Obama’s top agriculture cabinet member.
The Judge nomination performance, however, was not as impressive as certainly the national Democratic leadership had hoped. She defeated little known state Sen. Rob Hogg 48-39 percent, but fell short of securing a majority among her own party’s voters.
Republicans, on the other hand, counter with the argument that polling data shows Grassley is in strong position, and contend that the Garland nomination is not affecting his re-election status.
The Iowa Senate campaign is a second-tier race, but one that should be watched for further developments.
IA-1: Freshman Rep. Rod Blum (R-Dubuque) scored one of the biggest upsets in the country two years ago in winning the most Democratic of Iowa’s four congressional districts. At the time, Blum defeated former state House Speaker Pat Murphy. Murphy returned in last Tuesday’s primary, but lost his re-nomination attempt. The Democratic leadership, disappointed with Murphy’s 2014 campaign, became supportive of Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon (D) who will now face Rep. Blum in the general election. Already this race is a toss-up and should be viewed as one of the Democrats’ most viable conversion opportunities in the country.
IA-3: Freshman Rep. David Young (R-Van Meter/Des Moines) represents a politically marginal district that tends to vote Democratic for president but Republican for Congress. Democrats nominated Iraq War veteran Jim Mowrer in Tuesday’s nominating election. He was their 4th District candidate in 2014, losing to incumbent Rep. Steve King (R-Kiron/Sioux City). Mowrer made the change to run in a more favorable Democratic district. Touching 50 percent in the party primary, it is obvious that moving to the adjacent CD did not prove a major issue.
MT-AL: Though neither party had a primary, the general election contest between freshman incumbent Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish/Kalispell), a former Navy SEAL, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau (D) could become competitive. Juneau is term-limited in her current statewide position, hence the move to attempt to unseat Zinke. The congressman begins the race as a heavy favorite, but this campaign merits monitoring.
NC-2: The big primary race featured Rep. George Holding (R-Raleigh) denying fellow Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-Dunn) re-nomination when the two ended up running in the same district. Holding won a 53-24-23 percent victory over Ellmers and Tea Party activist and former US Senate candidate Greg Brannon. Attorney John McNeil is the Democratic general election candidate, but has little chance against Rep. Holding. The new 2nd District is safely Republican.
NC-9: The most intriguing Tar Heel State congressional general election comes in the new 9th District, where incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-Charlotte) clung to a re-nomination victory last week by just 142 votes. The post-redistricting 9th is 60 percent new territory for Pittenger and he managed only 35 percent of the primary vote. Because the legislature suspended the run-off elections after the members were forced to re-draw the district boundary lines, Pittenger survived a very close call.
If the normal North Carolina election law had remained in effect for the 2016 primaries, the congressman and pastor and former US Senate candidate Mark Harris would be headed for a secondary run-off election. Instead, Pittenger advances to the general election where he will face businessman Christian Cano. The latter was surprisingly the only Democrat to step forward as a candidate even though the new 9th is a much weaker Republican seat than the original domain to which Rep. Pittenger was twice elected.
Cano has only raised $23,000 since his campaign began and is not viewed as a top-tier contender. Seeing Pittenger do so poorly in the primary, however, will the Democrats begin to invest in Cano, someone they clearly believed was not a credible candidate? We will know shortly.
NC-12: The new redistricting plan drastically changed freshman Rep. Alma Adams’ (D-Charlotte) seat, in that the congresswoman’s Greensboro political base was completely removed. Re-locating to Charlotte and taking advantage of the under-funded crowded field of Democratic candidates, Rep. Adams scored a 42 percent re-nomination victory. Though the new 12th is not quite as safely Democratic as her original CD, Rep. Adams will easily defeat Republican pastor Leon Threatt, a 12th District candidate from two years ago.
NC-13: With the pairing of representatives Holding and Ellmers in the 2nd District, the new open 13th CD was created. The seat begins in Greensboro and Guilford County, and then stretches west to capture all or parts of five counties. The Republican primary drew 17 candidates, and the winner is agriculture businessman and gun range owner Ted Budd. He now faces former Guilford County Commissioner Bruce Davis (D), who won his Democratic primary by just 112 votes. Budd is in the driver’s seat for the general election, and is positioned to score a convincing win in November.