Early Senate Primaries – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 23, 2020 — A total of 35 US Senate races will adorn the various state ballots this year, and the nomination process will begin in five states on Super Tuesday. Voters in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas will make Senate candidate choices on March 3 since their domains have linked the statewide primary concurrently with the presidential primaries. The remaining Super Tuesday statewide primary state, California, does not host a Senate race in this election cycle.

After Super Tuesday, Mississippi and Illinois will hold Senate primaries later in March. Then, a respite comes until May when six more states’ electorates will choose their candidate slates.

MARCH 3

Alabama: The premier March Senate primary comes in Alabama where former US Attorney General and ex-Senator Jeff Sessions attempts to re-claim the seat from which he resigned to accept his federal appointment. In the subsequent special election to replace Sessions, Democrat Doug Jones was able to win the seat and now stands for a full six-year term.
Sessions, however, faces credible Republican opposition and the top two primary finishers heading to an April 14 run-off election appears probable. Sessions looks to be leading the race and is likely either to face former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville or US Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile).
Former state Supreme Court Chief Judge Roy Moore, who lost the special election to Sen. Jones, lags well behind most of the GOP field. Assuming Moore does not rebound to win the nomination, the eventual Republican nominee should become the favorite against Sen. Jones in a state where President Trump will record one of his strongest victory percentages.

Arkansas: Consider Sen. Tom Cotton (R) as already being virtually re-elected. Democrats originally had a candidate to oppose him, but several hours after non-profit executive Josh Mahony filed his papers to run, he decided to withdraw, and the party failed to find a replacement candidate. Therefore, without any Democratic opposition, Sen. Cotton becomes a cinch for re-election in the fall.

North Carolina: Sen. Thom Tillis (R) dodged a major political bullet when early primary opponent, businessman Garland Tucker, decided not to file as an official candidate, even though he had been running for several months. On March 3, Sen. Tillis will learn if his general election opponent is former state Sen. Cal Cunningham or state Sen. Erica Smith (D-Gaston). North Carolina always hosts tight US Senate campaigns, and the 2020 contest will be no exception.

Texas: Twelve Democrats are in the race for the right to challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R) in the general election, six of whom are polling in contention for the party nomination. The problem for all is that no one is forging a clear lead. A May 26 Democratic run-off is a certainty and will likely feature some combination among Afghan War veteran and former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar, ex-US Rep. and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. Sen. Cornyn remains a heavy favorite to win a fourth term in November.

MARCH 10

Mississippi: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) stands for a full term after winning a 2018 special election with a 54-46 percent margin over former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy (D). Only the Democratic primary is contested, and Espy is again expected to win the party mantel in order to challenge the first-term incumbent.
The 2020 contest looks to be a re-match of the previous special election, with Sen. Hyde-Smith again forecast to record a solid victory.

MARCH 17

Illinois: Sen. Dick Durbin (D) runs for a fifth term and has no opposition in the March 17 Democratic primary. Five Republicans are vying for their party nomination, but none are strong enough to give Sen. Durbin a competitive fight. He is a lock to win again in November.

MAY 12

Nebraska: Sen. Ben Sasse originally was thought to have pro-Trump Republican opposition, but only former Lancaster Republican Party chairman Matt Innis has declared as the March 1 candidate filing deadline fast approaches. Now that Sen. Sasse has mended fences with President Trump to some degree, he looks to be in the driver’s seat for both re-nomination and re-election. Democrats so far look to be fielding only three minor candidates.

West Virginia: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) will file for a second term on Jan. 25 and appears in very strong re-election position. Former state senator and 2018 CD-3 candidate Richard Ojeda (D) says he will run to oppose Capito and looks to face only 2018 Senate Democratic candidate Paula Jean Swearengin. Swearengin recorded just 30.1 percent of the vote in her intra-party challenge to Sen. Joe Manchin.

MAY 19

Georgia: Sen. David Perdue (R) will run for a second term and the additional Georgia Senate special election has certainly divided Democratic opposition. Appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) will also run in this cycle to fill the final two years of resigned Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R) term but will do so in a primary concurrent with the general election. Should no one earn majority support in that election, the top two finishers will advance to a Jan. 5, 2021 run-off election.
Sen. Perdue faces minor Republican primary opposition, while the Democrats are fielding 10 candidates, which could result in a secondary run-off election between former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and ex-congressional candidate Jon Ossoff. The latter came to national political notoriety for raising over $36 million for a special congressional campaign, a race he would ultimately lose to Republican Karen Handel. At this point, Sen. Perdue is a strong favorite for re-election.

Idaho: Sen. Jim Risch (R) stands for a third term, and so far, just three minor Democratic opponents have filed. Idaho is one of the strongest states for the GOP, so Sen. Risch will have little trouble winning again in November.

Kentucky: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) will be on the ballot for a seventh term and again faces an avalanche of campaign money coming into Kentucky. Six minor Republicans have filed as well as 10 Democrats, but his eventual general election opponent will be former congressional candidate and retired Army helicopter pilot Amy McGrath.
Already raising well over $10 million for her battle against Sen. McConnell after spending $8 million in a losing 2018 congressional effort, Ms. McGrath will have plenty of financial support. In the end, however, it is more than likely that the Majority Leader, as he always has done in the past, will forge the relevant coalitions and pull away to a substantial victory in the closing weeks.

Tomorrow, we will cover the next dozen Senate campaigns, those with primaries in June through early August.

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