Runoff Review – Part I

By Jim Ellis

March 25, 2020 — Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who moved the Texas run-off from May 26 to July 14 this past Friday night means that 16 federal contests – one Senate and 15 House races – will have a longer secondary campaign cycle. In Texas, if no candidate receives majority support in a partisan primary the top two finishers from the particular party advance to a runoff election.

Similar action has occurred in Alabama, where the Senate Republican runoff and secondary elections for both parties in open Congressional District 1 and for the GOP in open Congressional District 2 will now be held on July 14 instead of March 31.

In North Carolina, all federal nominations were decided in the March 3 primary except for the Republican race in Congressional District 11, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-Skyland/ Buncombe County) western state open seat. The North Carolina runoff has been moved from May 12 to June 23.

Mississippi has an inconsequential runoff for the 2nd District Republican nomination in a district where Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton/Mississippi Delta) will be the prohibitive favorite in November. Yet, this election, too, has been postponed until June 23.

The schedule change could greatly affect the Alabama Senate race and may be just what former US attorney general and ex-senator Jeff Sessions needs to re-tool his campaign message and reverse his recent political fortunes. The primary yielded retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville placing ahead of Sessions, 33.4 – 31.6 percent. All post-primary polling gave Tuberville a discernible lead, but that trajectory could now change considering Sessions will soon have considerably more time to tell his political story. The July 14 winner faces Sen. Doug Jones (D) in November.

In the Mobile-anchored 1st District, both parties advanced to runoff elections. The eventual Republican nominee becomes a prohibitive favorite in the general election. Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and former state senator Bill Hightower advanced to the runoff election and the winner of this runoff contest will become a heavy favorite in November. Carl placed first in the primary, nipping Hightower, 38.7 – 37.5 percent. Therefore, the runoff is anybody’s game.

For the Democrats, biologist Kiani Gardner and retired Marine Corps veteran James Averhart will battle for the party nomination. Gardner placed first with a 44.1 – 40.3 percent margin over Averhart. Almost twice as many people voted in the Republican primary within the 1st District race. The Democratic nominee will have little chance in the general election from this safely Republican seat.

In the southeastern open 2nd District, Republicans advance to a runoff in the person of moving company owner Jeff Coleman and former state representative Barry Moore. Loaning $975,000 to his campaign through the Feb. 12 pre-primary reporting period, Coleman captured a relatively strong 38.1 percent within a field of seven Republican candidates.

Moore slipped past third-place finisher Jessica Taylor by just under 600 votes, to record 20.5 percent support. The July 14 winner faces Democrat Phyllis Harvey-Hall who won her nomination outright with 59 percent of the vote against one opponent. As in the 1st District, the eventual GOP nominee becomes a big favorite for the general election.

The NC-11 contest features Rep. Meadows’ endorsed candidate Lynda Bennett and real estate investor and motivational speaker Madison Cawthorn. Bennett placed first in the March 3 primary, 22.7 – 20.4 percent. The two topped 10 other candidates to advance into the runoff election.

Unlike the other states covered in this Update, North Carolina has only a 30 percent runoff rule. Therefore, Democrat Moe Davis, who captured 47.3 percent in his party primary, won outright against four opponents and awaits the eventual winner for the 11th District general election.

Lynda Bennett is a small-business owner and former Haywood County Republican party chair. She earned the outgoing congressman’s support, which certainly helped her overcome a large 12-person field to place first.

Cawthorn slipped past state Sen. Jim Davis (R-Asheville), who was a favorite to make the runoff, by just over 1,000 votes. Though only 25 years old, Cawthorn survived a horrific motor vehicle crash in 2014, but his injuries left him wheelchair bound.

Cawthorn, who created his own real estate investment firm and travels throughout the state to give motivational speeches about overcoming adversity, has the type of personal story that captured a large share of the electorate’s attention. This will be an interesting runoff, with the winner becoming the heavy favorite to keep the safely Republican seat in the party column.

Tomorrow, we will review the 16 Texas runoff elections, including the Democratic US Senate nomination battle that now has almost four months to develop.

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