By Jim Ellis
June 23, 2020 — Voters in five states — New York, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Virginia — will cast nomination votes today, and some interesting races are on tap.
NEW YORKThough the intra-party challenges to Reps. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx) have drawn the most political attention, Buffalo area state Sen. Chris Jacobs (R) is embroiled in a unique special congressional election to replace resigned-Rep. Chris Collins (R).
The special wasn’t designed to have such an interesting, and largely confusing format, but a quirk in New York election procedure has caused Jacobs to be campaigning simultaneously before two different electorates. He faces Democratic former Grand Island town supervisor Nate McMurray, who held Rep. Collins to a 48-47 percent victory in 2018 in the special general, and two strong Republican challengers in the regular 2020 primary.
It’s not particularly unusual to see a special election and a regular primary election being run concurrently, but it is strange to see a special general and a regular primary paired. Therefore, this forces Jacobs to campaign closer to the political center, a place where he typically falls, in his battle with McMurray to serve the balance of the current term, while also protecting his right flank against two opponents who are attacking him for being outside the Republican Party mainstream. McMurray has no such problem because he is unopposed on the Democratic side.
The 27th District is vacant because Rep. Collins resigned the seat when pleading guilty to an insider financial trading federal charge. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) scheduled the replacement election on the same day as the regular primary. Since the New York political parties give power to choose replacement nominees to the various county chairmen in the district, there is no special election primary. Therefore, voters only cast one ballot to fill a congressional vacancy.
While Sen. Jacobs needs the Republican rank and file to turn out heavily to support him against McMurray, two GOP candidates not chosen by the party leaders, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw and attorney and former town judge Beth Parlato, are consistently hitting him from the right, thus cross pressuring his message to the GOP base.
In the closing days, Parlato, who also carries the Conservative Party ballot line, has launched an additional attack on Jacobs indicating that he’s being investigated for voter fraud. While a citizen charge was filed, the local District Attorney has already dropped the action as having no substantiation. Still, Jacobs’ has had to defend himself on another political front.
The 27th District is an upstate seat that begins in the eastern Buffalo suburbs and extends north all the way to Lake Ontario, and then drops south of Rochester and east as far as the town of Canandaigua. The district includes four whole counties and parts of four others, including Erie and Niagara. It is a reliably Republican district (Trump ’16: 60-35 percent; Romney ’12: 55-43 percent).
The CD did flip to the Democrats, however, the last time a special congressional election was held here. Kathy Hochul, now New York’s lieutenant governor, won the seat in 2011. She was then subsequently defeated in the 2012 regular election by Collins, however.
The 27th CD special is a race worth watching; if the GOP could not hold onto it, it would ignite national ramifications. All of the other political action throughout the state, in the aforementioned 14th and 16th CDs and several others, is in the respective party primaries.
The other most competitive NY races center around the Bronx. Here, three congressional races are in play within the Democratic primary. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx) faces former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera and two minor candidates. The adjoining 16th District, however, has true upset potential. Here, former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman opposes 16-term Congressman Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) in a race that has turned expensive and negative.
Next door, in the open 15th District with Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx) retiring after serving 15 full terms and part of another, a dozen Democrats are competing for the party nomination. The top three appear to be NYC City Councilmen Ritchie Torres and Ruben Diaz, Sr., along with state Assemblyman Michael Blake. Tonight’s winner will take the seat in November from a district that gave President Trump only five percent of the vote in 2016.
Slightly to the north, in the Bronx/Westchester County CD, House Appropriations Committee chair Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) is retiring after serving what will also be 16 terms in the House. Here, eight Democrats are competing in the open 17th District with five of the candidates having the chance to slip past the others and claim the nomination. The one who does punches his or her ticket to DC in the Fall.
The five top contenders are state Sen. David Carlucci (D-New City), state Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-Mount Kisco), attorneys Adam Schlefler and Mondaire Jones, and former Defense Department official Evelyn Farkas. Jones, also holding the Working Families Party ballot line, is the only one assured of advancing into the general election.
Other New York House members facing somewhat credible primary opponents are Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn), Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), and Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan). Democrats will also choose a nominee to face Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the 1st District general election.
Long Island Republicans will pick a successor to retiring Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). State Assemblyman Anthony Garbarino (R-Bayport) looks to have the inside track for the GOP nomination, and will then face Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon who has only minor opposition in today’s Dem primary.
In Kentucky, eyes will be on the Senate Democratic primary to see if Amy McGrath can halt her downward slide against Democratic state Rep. Charles Booker (D-Louisville) who is making a late run for the nomination.
A Civiqs poll conducted for the Daily Kos Elections website last week actually gave Booker a surprising eight-point lead, this after McGrath, a retired Marine Corps helicopter pilot who ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2018, had raised over $41 million for a race ostensibly against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). She has now spent more than half her receipts in the party primary.
Mississippi voters have closed their nominations except for the 2nd Congressional District. There, two Republicans, retired realtor Tom Carey and nuclear plant technician Brian Flowers, compete for the right to lose to veteran Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton) in the safely Democratic Mississippi Delta district.
Voters in western North Carolina will choose a replacement nominee for resigned Rep. Mark Meadows (R-Skyland/Asheville), who is now the White House chief of staff. Lynda Bennett, the former chair of the Haywood County Republican Party and who has Meadows’ and President Trump’s endorsement, faces upstart real estate investment company owner and motivational speaker Madison Cawthorn. Cawthorn is confined to a wheelchair after surviving a near fatal automobile accident several years ago.
The winner opposes retired Air Force Colonel Moe Davis, who won the Democratic nomination back on March 3. COVID-19 precautions postponed to today the original runoff date of May 12. The 11th CD is a traditionally safe Republican seat, but the court-ordered late-decade redistricting plan has made the seat more Democratic. Therefore, the general election is not a Republican slam dunk.
Finally, in Virginia, 5th District Democrats go to the polls to choose among a surprisingly competitive field of candidates hoping to advance into the general election. All four of the candidates have raised well over $300,000 for their campaigns and a nomination that appears more valuable now that freshman Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Manassas) was dethroned in the GOP convention on June 13.
GOP winner Bob Good now faces an administrative problem because he missed the candidate filing deadline and must get a waiver from the Virginia Board of Elections at a meeting on July 7th to retain his ballot position. If the Board denies his request, which may be probable, further political chaos will rein in this central Virginia CD.