Early Primary Races

Dec. 2, 2015 — The early presidential calendar brings March congressional primaries to seven states. Instead of doubling the election cost with a stand-alone presidential primary followed by a commensurate state nomination event later in the year, several legislatures decided to move their entire cycle to an unusually early calendar slot.

The March primary states, aside from Texas and Illinois, which normally hold their nomination voting then, are: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Ohio.

March 1

Alabama: Sen. Richard Shelby faces Republican primary opposition from four opponents, one of whom, businessman Jonathan McConnell, could self-fund a campaign should he choose to do so. This is a good example of where the short time frame hurts potential challengers. Sen. Shelby should have little problem disposing of his competition to win re-nomination for a sixth term. Should Shelby fall below 50 percent, a run-off election would be held on April 12.

All seven House members are seeking re-election. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL-1), Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL-2), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL-3) and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL-4) all face Republican opposition. All are favored to win without a run-off.

Rep. Byrne faces real estate developer Dean Young who scored 47 percent in the original 2013 special election that elected the congressman. This appears to be the most competitive of the primary challenges.

Arkansas: Sen. John Boozman (R) faces perennial candidate Curtis Coleman in the GOP primary and will easily win re-nomination.

All four House incumbents are seeking another term, and each is heavily favored. The only member facing a primary is freshman Rep. French Hill (R-AR-2) who must dispose of businessman Brock Olree on March 1. He should have little problem in doing so. The March 22 run-off election will not be a factor in the congressional nomination process.

Texas: With no Senate race, the congressional campaigns will be the only point of interest in the state primary. Two seats are open, those of representatives Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX-15) and Randy Neugebauer (R-TX-19) both of whom are retiring. The South Texas 15th and the West Texas 19th will remain in Democratic and Republican hands, respectively. With crowded primary candidate fields, both districts will go to run-off elections on May 24. Fourteen members from both parties face primary opposition, but no incumbent appears seriously threatened.

March 8

Mississippi: No Senate race is scheduled here this election cycle. Candidate filing ends Jan. 8, but so far none of the four congressional incumbents have primary opposition. There was speculation that former US Senate candidate Chris McDaniel (R), who won re-election to his state Senate post in 2015, would challenge Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Biloxi) but so far such a contest has not yet materialized. If it does, this will become a serious political match-up.

March 15

Illinois: The big race is the Senate Democratic primary, where three candidates fight for the right to challenge Sen. Mark Kirk (R) in November. There is no run-off in Illinois, so we will see a nominee emerge on March 15. The heavy favorite is Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates), but she faces state Sen. Napoleon Harris and Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp. Splitting the African-American Chicago vote between Harris and Zopp will virtually guarantee Rep. Duckworth’s nomination.

The congresswoman is the only incumbent of the 18-member delegation to not seek re-election, due to her statewide bid. Her 8th District will be hotly contested in the Democratic primary, the winner of which will almost assuredly win the November general election. Former Deputy state Treasurer and congressional candidate Raja Krishnamoorthi and state Sen. Mike Noland appear to be the top contenders in the field of three. Krishnamoorthi has a huge resource advantage, but Noland is leading in early polling.

Six incumbents will field primary challenges, the most serious of which is from state Sen. Kyle McCarter who is opposing veteran GOP Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville/Southern Illinois). All contested races will go the incumbents’ way.

North Carolina: Sen. Richard Burr (R) is drawing only minimal Democratic opposition. With three minor candidates in the statewide race going to a May 24 Democratic run-off is a likelihood, which will be one more plus for Burr.

All 13 House members are seeking re-election, with five facing primary opposition. In at least two instances, the challenges have the potential of becoming serious. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-Dunn/Cary), who only scored a 56 percent win in the 2014 Republican primary, has the potential of being forced into a dangerous run-off. Several controversies have dogged the congresswoman since the last election. She faces three opponents, which ironically could help her secure the 40 percent needed to claim the outright nomination.

The second seriously contested primary comes against Rep. Walter Jones (R-Farmville/Outer Banks) who again faces former George W. Bush Administration official Taylor Griffin. In 2014, Griffin held the congressman to a 51-45 percent re-nomination victory margin.

Ohio: Democrats will find a nominee to challenge Sen. Rob Portman (R), and that will almost assuredly be former Gov. Ted Strickland. The ex-state chief executive faces Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the March 15 Democratic primary. Strickland is a strong favorite to advance into the general election.

One open seat will be decided in a special election process that begins March 15. Voters in former Speaker John Boehner’s (R) 8th District will nominate a Republican and a Democrat on March 15. The winner of the crowded GOP field will become the congressman in the special general on June 7.

Just two members face primary challenges, one potentially serious. Rep. David Joyce (R-Northeast Ohio) will again oppose former state Rep. Matt Lynch in the GOP primary. When Lynch was still in the legislature and challenged Rep. Joyce in 2014, he drew 45 percent in the 14th Congressional District primary. Therefore, Joyce should be in better position to face him again now that Lynch no longer holds office and has less of a fundraising base.

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