Big Primary Preview

By Jim Ellis

June 5, 2018 — Today voters in eight states — Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota — will choose nominees for the 2018 general election in the single primary election day with the largest number of voters participating. Here’s a rundown on where things stand in each of the eight states:


the-primariesThe most interesting race on the Alabama primary card is the state’s governor’s race. Incumbent Kay Ivey (R) runs for a first term after succeeding resigned Gov. Robert Bentley (R), when he left office last year as part of a plea bargain agreement for campaign finance violations.

Polling gives the governor wide leads to defeat Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, state Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile), and Baptist minister Scott Dawson. For the Democrats, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb are vying for the party nomination. Gov. Ivey is the favorite today and in November.

In House races, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) faces a multi-candidate Republican primary, including former US Rep. Bobby Bright, the man she unseated in 2010 when he was the Democrat incumbent. Also in the race is state Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) and former Roy Moore campaign manager Rich Hobson. Rep. Roby is favored, but the possibility of being forced to a run-off exists if she fails to obtain majority support.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) is being challenged for re-nomination from businessman Clayton Hinchman. Earlier, this looked to be a significant challenge, but Rep. Brooks appears to have easily locked down re-nomination.


Perhaps the most interesting vote occurs in California, where the top-two jungle primary system has fundamentally changed the various candidates’ campaign strategies and potentially causes havoc especially within the Democratic Party.

In the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is expected to place first and easily advance into the November general election. The question is whether a Republican candidate can also qualify. It appears that attorney and former presidential candidate John Cox has the best chance of the Republicans.

Both state Treasurer John Chiang and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hope to slip into second place in order to continue their campaign, but the latest polling suggests that both will fall short.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is poised to finish first, and polling suggests that former state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) could also advance. The candidate field features 34 names on the ballot, with all but Sen. Feinstein being largely unknown on a statewide basis. Therefore, virtually any second place result could occur. Regardless of percentage attained or political party affiliation, the top two finishers in all races will advance to the general election.

In the seven competitive House contests, one qualifying election is already decided. Because they are the only two individuals who filed, Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford/Bakersfield) and businessman T.J. Cox (D), both will advance to the general election in the state’s 21st District.

Looking at Rep. Jeff Denham’s (R-Turlock/Modesto) Central Valley congressional race, six Democrats appear on the ballot, one of who will advance to the general election. It is likely that businessman and 2014 and ’16 general election candidate Michael Eggman (D) will again move into the November contest. Rep. Denham defeated Eggman, 52-48 percent in 2016, and 56-44 percent in the 2014 midterms.

Moving south toward the Palmdale and Simi Valley areas, Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) will learn the identity of his general election opponent tonight. Since the congressman is the only Republican on the ballot, he is a lock to claim the first run-off position. His challenger will therefore be a Democrat, most likely attorney Bryan Caforio who held the congressman to a 53-47 percent win in the last election. Four Democrats are vying to secure the second qualifying position.

In Orange County, Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) sees four Democrats on the ballot against her. With no Republican opponent, a Democrat will certainly advance with her into the general election. The battle for second appears to be between two law professors, David Min and Katie Porter.

It is in the 39th, 48th and 49th districts where the Democrats fear that crowded candidate fields could allow two Republicans to slip into the general election, and thus “lock-out” all of their candidates. With GOP voter registration advantages in each district, early voter turnout being down in comparison to the last midterm, and multiple candidates from each party splitting the vote, seeing Republicans place 1-2 in all, or any one of these three districts, would create a nightmare scenario for Democratic strategists. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Yorba Linda/Fullerton) is retiring in the 39th, as is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) in the Orange/San Diego County 49th District. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) faces 15 opponents, and with he and former Assemblyman and Orange County Republican Party chairman Scott Baugh being among the best-known individuals on the crowded ballot, a credible mathematical chance does exist here for two Republicans to advance. In the 39th, seven Republicans and six Democrats are on the ballot. The 48th features six Republicans and eight Democrats, while the 49th yields eight Republicans and four Democrats.


What began as a competitive Democratic governor’s primary has turned anti-climatic. With state Sen. Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines) withdrawing because of sexual harassment charges, businessman Fred Hubbell is poised to comfortably win the party nomination. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who ascended to her current position when then-Gov. Terry Branstad (R) resigned to become US Ambassador to China, is unopposed for the GOP nomination. She and Hubbell will then begin a competitive general election campaign.

With no Hawkeye State US Senate race on the ballot this year, the four House races become the key federal campaigns. In the toss-up 1st District, Rep. Rod Blum (R-Dubuque) is unopposed for re-nomination. State Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Dubuque) is favored to win a crowded Democratic primary.

A similar situation occurs in the 3rd District, where three active Democrats are vying for the right to challenge two-term Rep. David Young (R-Van Meter/Des Moines). If no one receives 35 percent of the vote today, a convention would be called for delegates to select the Democratic nominee.


With all the focus on the Senate special election that will occur in November, Sen. Roger Wicker (R) is now positioned to again skate to re-election in the fall. He faces only minor opposition for re-nomination. The six-person Democratic field looks headed to a June 26 run-off, as it is likely than no one will attain majority support.

The open 3rd District (Rep. Gregg Harper-R; retiring) will attract the most attention among the four House districts. The open seat Republican nomination winner will become the prohibitive favorite in November. Six Republican candidates are vying for the nomination, and advancing to a run-off appears certain. Two individuals among the half-dozen candidates are elected officials: state Sen. Sally Doty (R-Jackson) and Madison and Rankin County District Attorney Michael Guest.


The most prominent election on the Montana ballot is the Republican Senate primary, which will decide who opposes Sen. Jon Tester (D) in November. State Auditor Matt Rosendale appears as at least a slight favorite, probably outpacing retired state judge Russell Fagg, businessman Troy Downing, and state Sen. Al Olszewski (R-Flathead Valley). Today’s official Republican nominee will begin in a clear underdog position to Sen. Tester despite Montana’s 22-point margin for President Trump in 2016.

Five Democrats are vying for the opportunity to challenge freshman Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Bozeman), who won the special election to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke when he left the House to accept his appointed cabinet position. Of the five candidates on today’s Democratic at-large congressional ballot only one, former state Rep. Kathleen Williams, has held public office. Rep. Gianforte will be a heavy favorite for re-election in November.


Sen. Bob Menendez (D) is running for a third full term and faces only minor opposition in the Democratic primary. Today’s likely Republican winner is retired Celgene pharmaceutical company CEO Bob Hugin, who had already dropped $7.5 million into his campaign treasury. A recent poll suggests a tightening Menendez-Hugin race with the incumbent brandishing lagging personal approval numbers. Though the bribery trial went Sen. Menendez’s way after the government’s case against him fell apart, the after-effects have taken a toll against his reputation. Even so, the senator must be rated the favorite to win again in November when considering New Jersey last elected a Republican senator in 1972.

In the House races, primaries are occurring up and down the ballot with competition looming in six of the state’s 12 congressional districts. In open District 2, veteran state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) is favored for the Democratic nomination and to later convert the seat that retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor/Atlantic City) has held since 1995.

Though District 3 looks to be competitive in November, both parties field unopposed candidates. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) runs for a third term and former National Security Council official Andy Kim (D) will challenge him in November. The congressman is favored for re-election.

A Democratic primary will be decided today in the 4th District between former software company CEO Josh Welle and ex-Asbury Park Councilman Jim Keady. The winner faces 19-term veteran Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton Township/Red Bank). The congressman will be favored to win for the 20th time.

Former Bogota Mayor and frequent candidate Steve Lonegan faces former Cresskill Borough Councilman John McCann in the Republican primary. The winner begins as a discernible underdog against freshman Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wycoff).

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) draws two minor primary opponents, so he will easily win re-nomination tonight. Democrats fielded three candidates, but former Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski (D) is in the driver’s seat for his party’s nomination, and will be in position to develop a strong challenge campaign against Rep. Lance. Malinowski has already raised over $1.3 million for his congressional campaign.

Perhaps the biggest primary is in the open 11th District, the Morristown anchored seat from which Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Morristown) is retiring. Republicans have five candidates, but the race is coming down to a battle between Assemblyman Jay Webber and investment banker Antony Ghee. The five-way Democratic field is dominated by attorney and Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill, who has already raised in the neighborhood of $3 million for the race. Sherrill’s strongest opponent is businesswoman Tamara Harris, but the Navy vet is the clear favorite. We can expect a very competitive general election to begin on Wednesday for what will likely be a critical open seat campaign in the November election.


There is no US Senate suspense tonight, as both Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) and state Labor Commission member Mick Rich (R) are unopposed in their nomination elections. Sen. Heinrich is a heavy favorite for re-election.

The governor’s race is open since incumbent Susana Martinez (D) is ineligible to seek a third term. For the Democrats, US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-Albuquerque) looks to be a lock for the nomination as polls show her easily defeating media executive Jeff Apodaca and state Sen. Joe Cervantes (D-Dona Ana County). For the Republicans, US Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) is unopposed for the party nomination. It appears that Grisham will open the general election in the favorite’s position.

With Grisham and Pearce moving into the statewide race, US House Districts 1 and 2 are left open. In Grisham’s Albuquerque-anchored 1st District, the Democratic primary is the race to watch. Its eventual winner will become the favorite in the fall. Here, former state Democratic Party chair and Tribal Administrator Deb Haaland, former US Attorney Damon Martinez, and retired law professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez are the major contenders battling for the nomination.

In the state’s southern congressional district, the Republicans feature a battle between state Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo) and former state Republican Party chairman and ex-Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman. The Democrats only filed two candidates, attorney Xochitl Torres-Small and college professor Madeline Hildebrandt. The general election will be competitive, but the Republicans have historically run well here despite the large Hispanic population (50.7 percent of the citizen age residents).


The open governor’s race and the at-large open House contest consume the South Dakota political card.

The real governor’s action is in the open Republican primary. There, a two-person battle between at-large US Rep. Kristi Noem (R-Castlewood) and Attorney General Marty Jackley is underway. Polling shows a toss-up contest. The winner will have the inside track toward replacing outgoing Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R), who is ineligible to seek a third term.

In Noem’s open House seat, the Republican primary is a three-way contest among former Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, and state Sen. Neal Tapio (R-Watertown). The race appears to be winnowing down to a duel between Johnson and Krebs, with the former brandishing polling leads. The Republican winner will face retired Circuit Judge Tim Bjorkman in the general election, who is unopposed in today’s Democratic primary. The GOP nominee will have a decided edge for November.

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