By Jim Ellis
Aug. 28, 2018 — We have now come to the end of the multi-state primaries for the 2018 election cycle. Arizona, Florida, and Oklahoma voters go to the polls today in one of the last major primary days of the current election cycle. We take a look at how all the primaries look like they will shake down:
Two statewide campaigns are on the Grand Canyon State primary ballot, the Republican US Senate contest, and the Democratic race to determine the general election opponent of Gov. Doug Ducey (R).
The Senate primary is now clouded, of course, with the death of Sen. John McCain (R), though his passing should have no effect upon today’s vote. Gov. Ducey will appoint a replacement for the late senator, but he announced over the weekend that an individual won’t be named until after Sen. McCain is laid to rest. The new senator will serve until the 2020 election, at which point a special vote will be held for the winner to serve the balance of the term. Sen. McCain was re-elected in 2016, meaning the seat again comes in-cycle in 2022.
Republicans in the state will choose among Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson), former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. With polling showing McSally pulling away from the other two, and Ward sending an ill-advised tweet after Sen. McCain’s death — her former opponent in the 2016 Senate Republican primary — the stage appears set to propel the Tucson-area congresswoman to victory tonight.
If the predicted match-up does come to fruition, the open general election will feature two prominent female House members doing battle: McSally and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) who is virtually unopposed on the Democratic ballot. Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is retiring after one term.
Gov. Ducey is set for re-nomination and figures to face either Arizona State University professor David Garcia, state Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson), or Lutheran minister Kelly Fryer. Polling suggests that Garcia is favored by what appears to be a large margin.
Three congressional district races are of note. In the sprawling 1st District that comprises most of eastern Arizona, a trio of Republicans is vying for the opportunity of opposing freshman Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Sedona). State Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa), retired Air Force officer and frequent candidate Wendy Rogers, and attorney Tiffany Shedd are the candidates competing for the GOP nomination. This general election has the potential of becoming competitive in what is now a marginal political district that leans towards the Democrats.
In Rep. McSally’s open 2nd District, former US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) is attempting a political comeback after losing to Sen. McCain in 2016. Previously, she had represented the 1st District for three non-consecutive terms.
But moving to the Tucson seat might not be such an easy transition. She is facing a spirited opponent in the person of former state Rep. Matt Heinz, the 2016 Democratic nominee who lost 57-43 percent to Rep. McSally even though Hillary Clinton was a five-percentage point winner in the district. Tucson former state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, ex-Assistant Army Secretary Mary Matiella, marketing consultant Billy Kovacs, and two others round out the Democratic primary. The real contest, however, appears to be between Kirkpatrick and Heinz.
For the Republicans, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president Lea Marquez Peterson appears to the be the prohibitive favorite to capture the party nomination, and she will be in position to make the general election highly competitive.
In Rep. Sinema’s 9th District, former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton appears to be a lock for the Democratic nomination, while physician Steve Ferrara has the inside track for the Republicans. Mayor Stanton would begin the general election cycle as a clear favorite.
Just two incumbents face primary challenges. In the 7th District, two-term Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) faces Democratic state Sen. Catherine Miranda (D-Phoenix), and 8th District special election winner Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria) is forced to already defend her new office against former Maricopa County School Superintendent Sandra Dowling. Both House members are heavy favorites for re-nomination.
While the US Senate nomination races for incumbent Bill Nelson (D) and Gov. Rick Scott (R) have been decided for months, and the general election campaign is well underway, both men will be officially nominated in their respective Democratic and Republican primaries this evening.
The major competitive race on the Florida primary political card, however, is the open governor’s campaign. In both parties, the nomination contests have swayed back and forth — among several Democratic candidates, but between just two men on the Republican side.
The latest polling suggests that former Congresswoman Gwen Graham (D-Tallahassee) has forged into the lead and appears to be in position to fend off a late charge by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Gillum’s surge is in large part because national liberal donors Tom Steyer and George Soros combined to finance a seven-figure independent expenditure in order to boost the Tallahassee mayor’s turnout.
Simultaneously, billionaire Jeff Greene was making a bid with his $25 million in expenditures, but he failed to move into the top tier and then decided to cancel much of his final ad buy. By Greene drawing his votes largely from the party’s liberal wing, he appears to have helped Graham move into first place because he is taking votes away from Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who was the early race leader.
Also, by Greene dialing back his advertising, he has allowed Levine to regain some momentum, but it’s now Gillum who appears to be capturing some of the liberal base that the Miami Beach mayor had hoped to secure. Though political research surveys have produced radically different results for this contest during the past two months, it seems plausible that the latest data finding Graham gaining the inside track for the nomination is accurate. Gillum is now the candidate moving up the fastest, but his upward move may prove too little, too late.
On the Republican side, the governor’s race has also been wild. Agriculture commissioner and former Congressman Adam Putnam jumped out to an early lead, and at one point was ahead of US Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Palm Coast/Daytona Beach) by as many as 22 percentage points according to at least one poll. By largely identifying with President Trump, it appears that DeSantis is now the man to beat as he has completely turned the tables according to the most recent half-dozen statewide polls.
Turning to the House races, competition of sorts is apparent in 11 of the state’s 27 congressional districts.
Within the 5th district, which stretches from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, freshman Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) is defending his seat in the Democratic primary against former Jacksonville mayor Alvin Brown. Originally, this race looked to be highly competitive but Brown has raised less than $400,000 in his quest to deny Congressman Lawson re-nomination. Last week’s polling suggested that while the former mayor is doing well in Jacksonville, Rep. Lawson is swamping him throughout the rest of the district. Therefore, the congressman is favored for re-nomination tonight.
Another Democratic incumbent challenge comes in the Kissimmee area just south of Orlando. There former Rep. Alan Grayson (D) is returning after a failed 2016 US Senate bid in an attempt to defeat the man who succeeded him in Congress, US Rep. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee). Though polling looks relatively close, Rep. Soto is favored.
The open seat races are occurring in Republican districts where Reps. Dennis Ross (R-Lakeland), Tom Rooney (R-Okeechobee), and Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Miami) are all retiring while Rep. DeSantis vacates to run for governor. The most competitive general election from this group will be in the Miami district where former Health & Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala (D) and bilingual news anchor Maria Elvira Salazar (R) will likely face each other beginning tomorrow morning assuming no primary upset occurs on either side.
Expect tonight’s results to also produce credible challengers for Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park), Vern Buchanan (R-Sarasota), Brian Mast (R-Palm City), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Miami), and Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami).
Several run-offs are on the ballot in this state, including the Republican race for governor to succeed unpopular incumbent Mary Fallin. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and mortgage banker Kevin Stitt face each other in the Republican run-off. In the June 26 primary election, Mayor Cornett edged Stitt 29-24 percent, while Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb fell to third place with just under 24 percent.
The last two published polls, both taken in early August, gave Stitt leads beyond the margin of error. Today’s winner faces former Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) in the general election. Edmondson won the Democratic primary outright in late June.
In the open 1st Congressional District, run-offs will be decided in each party. The Republican contest winner, either former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris or businessman Kevin Hern, will be the favorite to succeed ex-Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa) who resigned from Congress in order to accept appointment as the NASA Administrator. Oil industry analyst Amanda Douglas and attorney Tim Gilpin are vying for the Democratic nomination.
In the eastern state 2nd District, Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols and retired Army Colonel Clay Padgett compete for the opportunity to face three-term Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Westville/Muskogee), who survived his own primary challenge in June with 54 percent of the vote against three GOP opponents.
Democrats are also fielding run-off elections in Districts 4 and 5, but veteran Reps. Tom Cole (R-Moore/Norman) and Steve Russell (R-Oklahoma City) are heavy favorites for November regardless of who they ultimately face.