Latest Post-Primary Developments

By Jim Ellis

the-primariesJune 7, 2018 — Featuring eight primaries and the Minnesota political party endorsing conventions immediately preceding the state’s candidate filing deadline, the week has brought a whirlwind of political activity. We’ll update the latest developments.

Over the weekend, Minnesota Democrats and Republicans met in convention, as they do in every election cycle, to issue formal party endorsements. It is the typical practice in this state for the un-endorsed candidates to end their campaigns instead of forcing an August primary. But, 2018 is proving to be an unusual year.

While the Republicans re-endorsed their 2014 gubernatorial nominee, particularly when former Gov. Tim Pawlenty chose not to compete in the endorsing convention, it became clear that there would be an active Aug. 14 Republican primary between the ex-state chief executive and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.

The Democratic process was even more interesting, however. When the delegates voted to endorse state Rep. Erin Murphy (D-St. Paul), state Auditor Rebecca Otto announced that she would end her campaign. On the other hand, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato), who said weeks ago that he would force a primary if he lost the party endorsement, confirmed that he will activate an Aug. 14 primary against Murphy.

Another twist occurred, however, when the vote for attorney general was taken, and it even led to affecting a congressional race. Surprisingly, incumbent AG Lori Swanson (D) failed to achieve the necessary delegate support to earn the party endorsement. Instead of turning and simply forcing a primary for her current position, she pivoted into the new gubernatorial primary setting up a three-way race among she, Murphy, and Rep. Walz.

Once US Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis) saw an open attorney general’s race, and with literally only hours remaining before the filing deadline was to expire, Ellison declared himself a candidate for attorney general. Again, as time was growing even shorter to enter races, a new open 5th District congressional race was launched. Immediately, eight Democrats, including Ellison’s ex-wife, became congressional candidates, and now a major primary for that office is underway. Thus, the most active Minnesota primary process in decades is officially commencing.

Updates from the California qualifying primary: Mail-in ballots can still be received on Friday, and many votes remain to be counted, it is unclear as to who Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) will face in the general election. While it is clear that the congressman clinched the first run-off position, albeit with a tepid 30 percent of the vote, Democrats Harley Rouda, endorsed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hans Keirstead, who carries the California Democratic Party endorsement, are still neck-and-neck for second place.

The latest count finds Keirstead leading Rouda by only 45 votes. Therefore, the late arriving ballots will clearly make the difference. With adding ballots, original counts, and re-counts, it could be two weeks or more before we actually know who officially advances into the general election against the veteran 15-term congressman. The close fourth place finisher, former assemblyman and ex-Orange County Republican Party chairman Scott Baugh, conceded late yesterday and publicly endorsed Rep. Rohrabacher.

In Alabama, there will be a run-off in the 2nd Congressional District, and it revives a long rivalry. Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) scored only 39 percent in the primary election, which is a bad sign for any incumbent in a run-off state. This means that 61 percent of voters in her own party chose another candidate. Former US representative and ex-Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright advances into the July 17 run-off with 28 percent of the vote.

Normally, Rep. Roby would be in severe political trouble in a secondary election, especially with an entry percentage so far below 50 percent. But, Bright is a former Democrat who Roby unseated in 2010 after he served one term. She already attacked him in the primary for voting for Nancy Pelosi for speaker, and his explanation for doing so was that “she wasn’t as toxic then (2009) as she is today.” This short run-off is hard to handicap but facing Bright instead of one of the other Republican candidates who might have qualified gives the congresswoman a better chance to salvage victory.

Though New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D) under-performed in the Democratic primary against a candidate who merely put her name on the ballot, two things will now likely happen. First, considering the strongly Democratic voting history in the Garden State, Sen. Menendez will remain the favorite to win the general election despite a defection rate of 38 percent among the Democratic primary voters.

Secondly, former Celgene pharmaceutical company CEO Bob Hugin, the new Republican nominee, will have plenty of personal money to inject into his campaign — he’s already loaned or contributed more than $8 million — and it is now becoming clear that more political attention will be paid to this fledgling campaign.

Will New Jersey now host the 15th competitive 2018 Senate campaign? Probably not yet, but it appears the race will be trending in that direction.

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