By Jim Ellis
Feb. 28, 2020 — While the Democratic presidential primaries have dominated the political media coverage for next Tuesday’s big election, five states are also holding their regular primary elections including four with Senate races.
Voters in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas will begin choosing their nominees for the Senate and their entire slate of down ballot races. Each is a run-off state, and two of the aforementioned, Alabama and Texas, appear headed for a secondary Senate primary contest later in March and May, respectively. The regular California primary is also scheduled, but there is no Senate election in the Golden State this year. We will, however, see 53 sets of US House general election participants advance to the general election from their top-two jungle primary system.
In Alabama, former US attorney general and senator Jeff Sessions is attempting a political comeback. Retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville and US Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) are his chief opponents. Former Alabama Supreme Court chief judge Roy Moore is also on the ballot, but polling suggests he will not even break into double digits.
Sessions launched two new ads in the last couple days, one that promotes himself as a strong supporter of, and the best person to implement the Trump agenda. The second is an attack ad against Tuberville, hitting him with audio of the retired coach saying we need immigrants coming across the border for certain jobs and that Tuberville actually lives and pays taxes in Florida.
Earlier, Tuberville was running a statewide ad reminding the electorate that President Trump fired Sessions as attorney general and that choosing him for the post was the president’s top regret during his tenure in office. Rep. Byrne has been simultaneously running a negative spot jointly attacking both of his top opponents.
The most likely pair to advance into the run-off are Sessions and Tuberville. The secondary election is scheduled for March 31.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton (R) is virtually re-elected. Democrats failed to file a candidate against him, meaning Tuesday’s primary is a non-event for the first-term senator. He will advance into the general against only minor party opposition.
North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis (R) faces only minor GOP opposition on Tuesday, meaning he will easily advance into the general election. North Carolina’s 30 percent run-off law suggests that neither major party will require a run-off, meaning we will have our general election pairing on Tuesday night. Democrats have filed six candidates, but the battle is between former state Sen. Cal Cunningham and sitting state Sen. Erica Smith (D-Gaston).
Recent polling suggests Cunningham will win the nomination. Sen. Smith has little money but is benefiting from a $3 million-plus independent expenditure promoting her as the most progressive candidate, which has been traced to GOP sources. Such a move suggests the Republicans believe Sen. Smith will be the weaker general election opponent. She has disavowed the expenditure, but it is the only apparatus providing her with statewide media.
In Texas, 12 Democrats are vying for the opportunity to challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R) as he runs for a fourth term. For weeks, polling has failed to show that any of the candidates even break 15 percent preference among the Democratic primary voters, but now we seem to have clear separation for one of the contenders.
As we reported last week, the latest YouGov poll for the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune publication released a survey (Jan. 31-Feb. 9; 575 likely Texas Democratic primary voters) that projects retired Army helicopter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate M.J. Hegar into first place with 22 percent of the vote. None of the others even reach 10 percent, but four, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), ex-congressman and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell, non-profit executive Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, who has Rep. Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez’s (D-NY) endorsement, and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, have the best chance of securing the second run-off position.
The Texas run-off is scheduled for May 26, so the two finalists must fight through a substantial secondary campaign period. Hegar and Sen. West are the most likely run-off finalists.
The California congressional slate of elections feature five major primaries including choosing general election contestants for the open 8th (Rep. Paul Cook-R), 50th (Rep. Duncan Hunter-R vacancy), and 53rd (Rep. Susan Davis-D) districts. Additionally, a Democratic general election opponent could emerge for Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), and a crowded jungle primary to choose a Republican opponent for freshman Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) will be resolved.
In North Carolina, Democratic primaries in the newly constructed 2nd and 6th Districts will likely identify the next House members from both districts. A court-ordered redistricting plan for the 2020 election has clearly flipped both CDs from Republican to Democrat – neither Reps. George Holding (R-Raleigh) nor Mark Walker (R-Greensboro) are seeking re-election – so Tuesday’s primary will set the stage for new representation.
Texas also sees two important primary challenges within its congressional delegation. Reps. Kay Granger (R-Ft. Worth) and Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) both face competitive intra-party challenges that will be decided on Tuesday.