By Jim Ellis
June 4, 2020 — The June 2nd primary featured 10 states, and now the candidates are set for November. Below is a recap of the races from Tuesday’s primary that project as competitive this fall, and an early prognosis for each.
• St. Sen Victoria Spartz (R) vs. Christina Hale (D)
Trump ’16: 53-41% | 2018 Congressional: 57-43% R (Brooks)
Ukrainian born state Senator Victoria Spartz topped a field of 15 Republican candidates with 41% on Tuesday night, after a nasty primary that resulted in some of the other contenders running ads touting that they were born in America. Democrat Christina Hale, a former state Representative and 2016 Lt. Governor nominee, had an easier time in her primary, and won with 39% of the vote, which was slightly under pre-election estimates.
Ms. Spartz is the favorite to win in November in a traditionally Republican district, but one that is moving more toward the center. Democrats will see how this race begins to unfold, but this is a seat on their secondary target list. We can expect Spartz to be tested early, and if the numbers suggest an opening, the Democrats will go for an upset win.
• Sen. Joni Ernst (R) vs. Theresa Greenfield (D)
Trump ’16: 51-42% | 2016 US Senate: 60-36% R (Grassley)
Iowa is one of three Republican firewall states to keep the Senate majority, with Montana and Maine being the other two. Sen. Joni Ernst seeks her first re-election and is now paired with Des Moines real estate executive Theresa Greenfield. The Democratic establishment backed Greenfield, but she came under attack in the primary and defeated two opponents with 47% of the vote, a bit under pre-election projection.
All races in Iowa are competitive, so we can expect intense political competition here from the presidential race all the way through each of the state’s four House districts. Polling will show the Senate race as close until Election Day, but what should be another Trump victory here will help set the table for the remainder of the races. Sen. Ernst is rated as a slight favorite as the general election now officially begins.
• Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D) vs. St. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R)
Trump ’16: 49-45% | 2018 Congressional: 50-45% D
Freshman Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Dubuque) defends her seat for the first time and faces a top opponent in Republican state Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Cedar Rapids), a former television news anchor. The 1st District looked to be the safest Democratic seat in the state after 2011 redistricting, but the electorate hasn’t voted that way. This will be a top tier Republican challenge race, and one to watch. Rep. Finkenauer certainly begins with the incumbent’s advantage, but the IA-1 campaign is a top national GOP target. If the Republicans are to have any chance of re-taking the House majority, Ms. Hinson will have to win.
• Rita Hart (D) vs. St. Sen. Marianette Miller-Meeks (R)
Trump ’16: 49-45% | 2018 Congressional: 54-42% D (Loebsack)
The 2nd District, located in Iowa’s southeastern sector, is the district that has played best for Democrats during the decade despite President Trump carrying it in 2016.
Democrats feature former state Senator and 2018 Lt. Governor nominee Rita Hart who was even unopposed in an open seat primary. Republicans counter with first-term state Senator Marianette Miller-Meeks (R-Ottumwa), who begins her fourth race for the congressional seat. Ms. Hart is the clear favorite here, and Dr. Miller-Meeks will have to prove her credibility nationally after three losses. If she does not begin the general election in competitive fashion, this race will quickly turn Ms. Hart’s way.
• Rep. Cindy Axne (D) vs. David Young (R)
Trump ’16: 48-45% | 2018 Congressional: 49-47% D
The Des Moines area district hosts a re-match of the 2016 contest that saw Democrat Cindy Axne unseating then-Rep. David Young. Young returns for a re-match after scoring a 70 percent victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary. This will be a top national campaign, and a must-win for Republicans if they are to have a chance at majority status. Expect this contest to be in toss-up mode all the way to Election Day.
• State Sen. Randy Feenstra (R) vs. J.D. Scholten (D)
Trump ’16: 61-33% | 2018 Congressional: 50-46% R (King)
State Sen. Randy Feenstra denied nine-term embattled Rep. Steve King (R-Kiron) re-nomination on Tuesday with a substantial 46-36 percent victory. He now advances into the general election against 2018 nominee J.D. Scholten who was unopposed in the Democratic primary.
The Trump percentage obviously suggests that this is the top Republican district in the state, but Democrats would certainly have made the race a first-tier challenge target had Rep. King won re-nomination. Against Sen. Feenstra, this is a different campaign. While there could be competition generated here, Feenstra begins the general election as a clear favorite to hold the western Iowa CD.
• Sen. Steve Daines (R) vs. Gov. Steve Bullock (D)
Trump ’16: 56-36% | 2018 US Senate: 50-47% D (Tester)
Both men were effectively unopposed on Tuesday, which will lead to a competitive general election. Montana is one of three Republican firewall states to keep the majority, with Iowa and Maine being the other two. We can expect a tight race and a very active general election cycle. Sen. Daines has the advantage because President Trump will again run well in Montana, giving the GOP a turnout model edge. This is a race to watch all the way to November and a harbinger of the national Senate vote.
• State Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) vs. Kathleen Williams (D)
Trump ’16: 56-36% | 2018 Congressional: 51-46% R (Gianforte)
The Montana at-large seat is open for the fourth time this decade, as Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Bozeman) vacates to again run for governor. State Auditor Matt Rosendale easily won the Republican primary as he seeks his fifth different office since the 2010 election. He won three of those races (state House; state Senate; State Auditor). Democrats are again fielding former state Rep. Kathleen Williams who ran a very competitive race against Rep. Gianforte two years ago.
The at-large open is in play for November. Williams is an interesting candidate and voters may find candidate fatigue with Rosendale being on the ballot so many times for a myriad of offices. In addition to his three victories during the decade, he lost the 2014 at-large congressional primary and fell to Sen. Jon Tester (D) in 2018. What should be a Republican vote trend in Montana will clearly help Rosendale, and he must be regarded as at least a slight favorite at this juncture, but this race is far from over. A Williams win here would seal the Democrats retaining the House majority.
• Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D) vs. Yvette Herrell (R)
Trump ’16: 50-40% | 2018 Congressional: 51-49% D
Freshman Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-Las Cruces) converted this district to the Democratic column in 2018 and stands for her first re-election. National Democrats helped engineer a victory for 2018 Republican nominee Yvette Herrell on Tuesday, believing she was the easier candidate for Torres Small to beat in the general election. Their analysis will likely prove correct, as the new congresswoman starts the general election as a clear favorite despite this being a strong Trump district. Herrell will have to run a better campaign in 2020 if she is to have any chance in a district that should be in the GOP column.
• Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R) vs. Christina Finello (D)
Trump ’16: 47-49% | 2018 Congressional: 51-49% R
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick’s (R-Levittown) 57 percent primary win on Tuesday against a candidate who ran only a minimal campaign was a surprise. Clearly the congressman must shore up his base for what will be a competitive general election since he is one of the very few remaining Republican elected officials in the northeast.
Democrats nominated local official Christina Finello and the GOP primary results have certainly given the new general election challenger renewed hope and likely is moving this seat up the national target list. Rep Fitzpatrick should be a clear favorite, but Finello jumping out to a strong post-primary start could make this contest very interesting. The race is now moving closer to toss-up status from Lean Republican.
• Rep. Susan Wild (D) vs. Lisa Scheller (R)
Trump ’16: 48-49% | 2018 Congressional: 53-43% D
Rep. Susan Wild (D-Allentown) defends this marginal district for the first time. Her opponent will be former Lehigh County commissioner and business owner Lisa Scheller who won a close Republican primary against another former county commissioner, who she once unseated for the local position.
Scheller was the Republican establishment’s choice and won President Trump’s pre-primary endorsement. This race should become a top target, and will be, assuming the new Republican nominee steps up fundraising and takes charge early. This is a campaign to watch.
• Rep. Matt Cartwright (D) vs. Jim Bognet (R)
Trump ’16: 53-44% | 2018 Congressional: 55-45% D
The Scranton-anchored district could become competitive this year as the nature of the district significantly changed with President Trump’s strong victory here in 2016 and the 2018 court-ordered redistricting map that actually made this seat more Republican.
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Moosic) seeks a fifth term from his northeastern Pennsylvania district. He is a clear favorite for re-election, but if new GOP nominee Jim Bognet, a former Export-Import Bank official, can assemble a strong campaign early, this seat could come into play. President Trump is again favored to carry this district, but his percentage may drop since Democratic nominee Joe Biden was born and raised in this CD.
• Rep. Scott Perry (R) vs. PA Eugene DePasquale (D)
Trump ’16: 52-43% | 2018 Congressional: 51-49% R
This district changed drastically in the 2018 court-ordered redistricting plan and turned what was a safe Republican seat into one that is politically marginal largely because the city of Harrisburg was added.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Dillsburg) runs for the second time in this district after a close win against what should be a weaker opponent than his new political foe, two-term State Auditor Eugene DePasquale. This race is a top national Democratic conversion target, and a must-win for Republicans to keep their majority hopes alive. Like the MT-AL seat, a Democratic victory here would likely cement the party’s hold on the House majority. Expect this race to remain in toss-up mode all the way to Election Day.
• Rep. Conor Lamb (D) vs. Sean Parnell (R)
Trump ’16: 49-47% | 2018 Congressional: 56-44% D
This race is an outer-Republican conversion target but must remain on the target list because President Trump carried the seat in 2016 and must win here again if he is to carry Pennsylvania. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pittsburgh) scored an impressive win in a paired situation with then-Rep. Keith Rothfus (R), so he will be very difficult to dislodge, especially since he is careful not to stray too far from the political center.
Afghan War veteran Sean Parnell (R) is a Trump favorite, and he will receive national attention in a district that a Republican can certainly win. Rep. Lamb is a clear favorite at the beginning of the general election, but things could certainly develop here depending upon the national campaign’s flow. Both men were unopposed on Tuesday, so the real campaign begins right now.