Late Senate Primaries

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 27, 2020 — Our final installment pertaining to the in-cycle Senate races covers the contests with primaries from mid-August through September:


Tennessee: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) is retiring and the Tennessee open Senate seat has generated little in the way of political competition. Republican leaders, including President Trump, have joined together in support of former US Ambassador to Japan, Bill Hagerty, and he is a heavy favorite to win the party nomination and the general election. Nashville surgeon Manny Sethi is challenging Hagerty in the Republican primary, but him topping the former ambassador for the party nomination would be a major upset.
Dr. Sethi does have the wherewithal to compete, however. Through September, he loaned his campaign over $1.5 million in addition to raising almost $900,000. For the fourth quarter, Hagerty is going to report over $1.5 million raised with $3 million in the bank.
Democrats have virtually conceded the general election, largely as a response to then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) defeating the person they believed was their best possible Democratic candidate in the last election, the state’s former two-term governor, Phil Bredesen. Blackburn’s strong 55-44 percent victory margin against the best they have has clearly dissuaded potential Democratic candidates who may have considered entering this year’s open contest.
Of the three who look to file on April 2, attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler, who exited the 2018 Senate race at the party leadership’s behest, is now their candidate of choice but he appears to be a sacrificial lamb at this point.


Minnesota: Then-Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) was appointed to the Senate in 2018 when then-Sen. Al Franken (D) resigned in disgrace over a sexual harassment scandal. Smith won the subsequent special election, 53-42 percent, over state Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s County). She now stands for a full term and will likely draw former one-term US representative and radio talk show host Jason Lewis (R).
The former congressman is capable of running a credible campaign, and should the presidential race again get close in Minnesota as it did in the last election with Hillary Clinton carrying the state by less than two percentage points, the Senate race could conceivably become close. In any event, Sen. Smith is certainly favored to win again, but the campaign bears watching in case developments begin to break the Republicans’ way.


Alaska: Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) is seeking a second term, and Democrats are looking favorably upon Dr. Al Gross, an Anchorage surgeon and commercial fisherman whose father was the state’s appointed attorney general in Republican Jay Hammond’s gubernatorial administration back in the 1970s. Dr. Gross is running as an Independent, but under Alaska election law can run under both an Independent and major party ballot line.
Dr. Gross is a serious candidate in that he had raised just under $800,000 at the end of September and added over $200,000 of his own money. Such a sum suggests that he will have the resources to run a credible campaign. Though Sen. Sullivan appears to be in strong shape for re-election, he is not resting on his incumbent laurels in raising over $4.4 million during the same time period and holding over $3.3 million in his cash-on-hand column.
The Alaska race should be placed in the Likely Republican column, but this could be a race to watch as the early stirrings suggest that Sen. Sullivan will not win this campaign by default.

Wyoming: Retiring Sen. Mike Enzi’s (R) open seat changed dramatically last week when at-large Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wilson/Jackson) announced that she would not run for the Senate. Instead, she prefers to stay in the House and keep, or possibly improve upon, her leadership position. At the beginning of this Congress, Rep. Cheney was elected as the House Republican Conference chair, the third ranking position in minority leadership.
We can expect to see some new action in this race since potential candidates were awaiting Cheney’s decision. One major contender who forged ahead is former at-large US Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R). She has been campaigning for months. Billionaire hedge fund founder Foster Friess confirms he is considering entering the Senate race. He ran in the open governor’s contest two years ago, finishing second in the crowded Republican primary to current Gov. Mark Gordon.
Though the Wyoming Senate campaign will likely yield a contested Republican primary, the general election is unlikely to feature much competition. The eventual Republican nominee will immediately become a heavy favorite upon winning the primary.


Massachusetts: Probably the premier Senate primary of this election season comes on the Democratic side and is a surprise. Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey (D), in Congress since 1977 and a longtime champion of the global warming/climate change issue, finds himself facing a stunning challenge from the left from none other than a member of the Kennedy family.
Four-term Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton), the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, is challenging Sen. Markey and leads him by double digits in early polling and fundraising. If this race occurs, and some believe that Sen. Markey will retire before the May 5 candidate filing deadline instead of risking losing, we can expect a major campaign to now be decided on Sept. 1. Less than a month ago, the legislature and governor moved the election date from Sept. 15.
Much time remains between now and filing time, which will be a critical period in determining if this race will actually happen. Right now, the battle is on and if pursued to the end will be a long time before Massachusetts Democrats see another such campaign. The seat remains Democratic in the general election, but which Democrat will hold the position come the beginning of 2021 is open to conjecture.

Rhode Island: Sen. Jack Reed (D), who has been in the Senate since 1997, runs for a fifth term against minimal opposition. At this point, he has no Democratic opposition and sees only former Massachusetts candidate Allen Waters coming forward for the Republicans. This is one of the safest Democratic situations in the nation.


New Hampshire: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) seeks a third term, and she appears set for re-election. But, in New Hampshire, nothing is sure until the final votes are counted when recalling the wild swings the state’s electorate has taken since the turn of the century.
This contest drew a great deal of attention when former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was considering running. Now that Lewandowski is out, it appears that Gen. Don Bolduc has the inside track for the GOP nomination. Gen. Bolduc’s fundraising became frozen as people were waiting for Lewandowski to make up his mind, but now that he is out Bolduc has the opportunity of putting together meaningful campaign finances. If he does, the general might become competitive. Otherwise, Sen. Shaheen will have an easy run for another re-election.


Delaware: Sen. Chris Coons (D) runs for his second full six-year senatorial stint after serving the final part of Joe Biden’s term when the latter man resigned to become vice president. With a late-cycle primary and candidate filing deadline not coming until July 14, Sen. Coons is looking today at another easy run in an increasingly reliable Democratic state. While he has announced Democratic and Republican opposition, none of the candidates appear capable of waging the type of campaign that could unseat an incumbent senator.


Louisiana: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R) seeks his second term and should have little trouble securing re-election. Louisiana has the unique system of running a jungle primary concurrent with the general election. Therefore, it will be highly likely that Sen. Cassidy will win his election in only one vote. Under Louisiana election laws, if a candidate secures majority support in the primary election, that person is elected.
Right now, with only minor opposition surfacing, Sen. Cassidy looks to be in position to win outright. Candidate filing, however, isn’t until July 17, so much could happen during the intervening time.

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