Senate – Early Primaries

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 19, 2019 — With candidate filing deadlines for the early primaries either passed or soon upcoming, it is a good time to review the Senate forecasts for the March through May state nomination campaigns.

MARCH

Former Senator and US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions (R)

• Alabama: A hot Republican primary will occur on Super Tuesday, March 3rd, featuring former US Attorney General and ex-senator Jeff Sessions attempting to regain the position he resigned to accept his appointment from President Trump.

The most recent polling suggests the primary will go to an April 14 run-off election, possibly between Sessions and retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville. US Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), ex-state Supreme Court Chief Judge and 2017 Senate nominee Roy Moore, along with state Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Shelby County) are also in the race and all but Mooney are still alive for the second run-off slot.

The eventual winner, assuming it is not Judge Moore who lost the special election after Sessions resigned, will be favored against Sen. Doug Jones (D) in the general election. Winning the Alabama race is critically important for Republicans to hold their majority.

• Arkansas: With the consensus Democratic candidate deciding to withdraw immediately after filing, the party is left without a challenger to first-term Sen. Tom Cotton (R). Though the state leadership could have chosen a new nominee in convention, the Arkansas Democratic chairman announced they are unable to field a candidate. Therefore, Sen. Cotton is a cinch for re-election facing only minor party opposition.

• Illinois: Sen. Dick Durbin (D) seeks a fifth term next year facing no primary competition on March 17, and only minor opponents for the fall campaign. In a full turnout presidential election year in a strongly Democratic state, Sen. Durbin is a sure winner in 2020.

• Mississippi: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), who was appointed to the seat when the late former senator Thad Cochran (R) resigned due to health reasons, won a special election in the 2018 cycle. She stands for a full six-year term in 2020. In the March 10 Republican primary, the senator faces former Miss America Organization CEO Josh Randle in an intra-party contest where she is heavily favored.

The general election is likely to be a re-match between Sen. Hyde-Smith and former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi congressman, Mike Espy. Last November, Hyde-Smith defeated Espy 56-44 percent in the special general election. A similar result is the early forecast for next year.

• North Carolina: Sen. Thom Tillis (R) caught a major break when his chief Republican primary opponent, wealthy businessman Garland Tucker, decided to end his campaign before the candidate filing deadline. With Rep. Mark Walker (R-Greensboro) also not challenging Sen. Tillis, the incumbent is likely to draw only minor primary opposition at Friday’s candidate filing deadline.

Democratic former state senator Cal Cunningham is expected to win the Democratic nomination and has the party leaders’ support. This will be a top-tier 2020 general election campaign, as are virtually all North Carolina Senate campaigns. The state’s electorate has defeated more incumbent senators than any other state in the modern political era.

• Texas: Sen. John Cornyn (R) seeks a fourth term and has minor opposition from four Republicans. Twelve Democrats have filed, five of whom have credible political backgrounds. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this week endorsed retired Army helicopter pilot and former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar in a somewhat surprising move. A proven strong fundraiser, the committee leadership chose Hegar over veteran state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), and former congressman and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell. Sen. Cornyn is a strong favorite in the general election, but the Democrats are expected to contest the campaign for the first time in Cornyn’s career.

MAY

• Georgia: The primary calendar turns to May as first-term Sen. David Perdue (R) seeks a second term. Candidate filing concludes March 6, so plenty of time remains for the candidate lineup to change. Right now, Sen. Perdue looks to draw only minor primary opposition. The two top general election candidates are former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff. Ossoff raised over $36 million dollars for the 2017 special election in the state’s 6th District but lost to then-former secretary of state Karen Handel (R) in a close vote.

Appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler does not face a special primary election until Nov. 3, but we could see candidate movement between this seat and the Perdue contest prior to the filing deadline, now that Gov. Kemp announced Loeffler as his choice to replace resigning Sen. Johnny Isakson (R). The two Georgia races cloud the political picture to a degree, but Sen. Perdue certainly begins as the favorite for re-election in his campaign.

• Idaho: The Idaho candidate filing deadline isn’t until March 13th, but Sen. Jim Risch (R) looks to be unimpeded in his quest for a third term. No Republican has yet announced against him for the May 19 primary, and only three minor candidates have entered the Democratic primary. This should be an easy campaign cycle for Sen. Risch.

• Kentucky: With Democratic candidate Amy McGrath, who lost the 6th District congressional race after raising and spending over $8 million, and who now already has garnered more than that ($10.7 million) for her Senate campaign, the May 19 primary will set the stage for her challenge to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The senator will be seeking a seventh term next year. It is likely polling will show this race as relatively close until the final stage of the contest, at which point Sen. McConnell pulls away and wins by a comfortable margin.

• Nebraska: Sen. Ben Sasse (R) faces former Lancaster County Republican chairman Matt Innis in a race where we can expect the incumbent to be attacked for not strongly supporting President Trump. The campaign, as it currently stands, isn’t expected to deny Sen. Sasse re-nomination, and he should then sail through the general election. The candidate slate could still change here, however, since the candidate filing deadline does not expire until March 1 for the May 12 primary.

• Oregon: Originally, Sen. Jeff Merkley wanted to enter the Democratic presidential primary, but he failed to convince his state party leadership and governor to change Oregon election law to allow candidates to simultaneously seek more than one office. Therefore, Sen. Merkley chose to seek re-election to his current position in lieu of launching a longshot national campaign. He will breeze through both the Democratic primary and general elections.

• West Virginia: GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito seeks a second term and, so far, faces little in the way of opposition both in the Republican primary and the general election. Candidate filing closes on Jan. 25 for the May 12 primary, but Sen. Capito looks to be a prohibitive favorite for re-election regardless of who may challenge her.

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