By Jim Ellis
Nov. 26, 2019 — Super Tuesday is scheduled for March 3, and while the national focus will be on the 14 states and one territory whose electorates will vote in the Democratic presidential nomination contest, important Senate primaries will also be occurring in four states. Five places moved their regular-cycle primary to run concurrently with the early March presidential vote, and four from this group host 2020 Senate campaigns. The lone exception is California.
The Alabama Senate contest has drawn much attention lately since former US Attorney General and ex-Sen. Jeff Sessions has re-emerged as a candidate. His nomination is not a foregone conclusion, however. He faces a significant field of Republican opponents on March 3, all of whom became candidates before he decided to run again.
Along with Sessions, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, US Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, former state Supreme Court Chief Judge and 2017 Senate special election nominee Roy Moore, and state Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Shelby County) comprise the credible candidate field.
Polling since Sessions returned to the race suggests that both the former senator and Coach Tuberville would advance to an April 14 run-off, but campaign prime time still remains, and much could change. Though Sessions has a residual base, he is unlikely to win the nomination outright against this field, none of whom have departed the race since his return. Therefore, the eventual nomination victor is still in doubt. The winner will face Sen. Doug Jones (D) in the general election.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton (R) stands for a second term and currently has no opponent. Democratic businessman and former congressional candidate Josh Mahony had been traveling the state to organize support from local party leaders and became the sole filer at the deadline against Sen. Cotton, but then ended his effort just two hours after submitting his candidate documentation citing family issues. Since the Democrats have no candidate, the party will convene to choose a replacement nominee. Regardless of whom they select, Sen. Cotton looks solid for re-election.
Though the North Carolina congressional primary may well be postponed because of yet another redistricting lawsuit against the third US House map of the decade, the Senate contest will move ahead as scheduled. Sen. Thom Tillis (R) seeks a second term and has a primary challenge from businessman Garland Tucker. Candidate filing is scheduled for Dec. 20, so the final cast of candidates won’t officially be known until that time. Tucker, however, will be a significant challenger.
North Carolina has a 30 percent run-off rule, which won’t be a factor in the Republican primary. Therefore, the GOP nominee will most probably be Sen. Tillis, while the Democrats have a crowded field of largely unknown participants at least from a statewide name ID perspective. The most likely victor is former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, who is the party establishment favorite. Their original top choice, Attorney General Josh Stein, chose not to run for the Senate but is instead seeking re-election to his current position. Cunningham’s major primary competition is state Sen. Erica Smith (D-Gaston). A Tillis-Cunningham general election will be a competitive campaign. This race is a top Democratic conversion opportunity.
Candidate filing in Texas closes Dec. 9, and 11 Democrats have announced their candidacy with the hope of opposing Sen. John Cornyn (R) in the general election.
Early polling suggests a run-off election will occur on May 26, since no one appears close to the 50 percent mark. In fact, the latest poll, from the University of Texas at Tyler (Nov. 5-14; 427 likely Texas Democratic primary voters), finds no candidate even reaching the 10 percent support plateau.
Retired Army helicopter pilot and former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), former congressman, Houston city councilman, and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell, Houston City Councilmember Amanda Edwards, and non-profit organization founder Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez appear to be the leading candidates. It is likely that two of the aforementioned will advance from the March 3 primary.
Regardless of who wins the nomination, and the Democratic race is very unclear at this point, Sen. Cornyn will begin the general election as a heavy favorite to win a fourth term.