Two congressional seats are up for primaries this week, one Senate and one House. Polls close at 8ET in Alabama and 10ET in Utah; our liveblog starts at 8.
AL-Sen (R, D): Alabama is the lone Senate seat up for election this year; Gov. Kay Ivey (R) moved the special election for this seat up from 2018. Essentially all the action for this race is on the GOP side, where nine candidates are facing off, five of them serious. Click HERE for our poll of the race from last week if you haven’t seen it already.
Appointed incumbent Luther Strange (R) made a somewhat, well, strange, decision in regards to this race. Despite the fact that as AG his office was investigating then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R) for covering up a sex scandal, Strange accepted an appointment to the Senate from Bentley. The appointment decision was in spite of the fact that Strange had statewide name recognition that would have made him the prohibitive favorite for an open seat race. Strange’s handling of the appointment, which raised blindlingly obvious questions of impropriety, has become a major liability for him in this race. And with the race moved up from 2018, he doesn’t have a lot of Senate service record to distract from the appointment mess. Indeed, Strange has been in a tight 3-way race; he is polling well below 50%, taking second place with 29% in our poll. There is even a small chance he could be boxed out of the runoff, as some polls have shown him dropping in recent days. However, Strange does have some significant advantages; he retains strong establishment support, which has enabled him to swamp his rivals in both his own and outside fundraising. In particular, McConnell-aligned forces have been boosting Strange with saturation advertising portraying him as the most loyal Trumpist in the race. Trump also gave Strange a late endorsement, but it’s unclear if that has gotten enough play to make a major difference in the race.
Ex-State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (R) is Strange’s most likely runoff rival. If Strange has baggage of a typical political-insider nature, Moore has equal baggage in his out-of-the-mainstream ideology. You may remember the “Ten Commanments Judge” episode last decade, when Moore’s first stint on the state Supreme Court ended with his removal after he refused to take down a statue of the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouse. After being re-elected to the court in 2012, Moore was removed again over ordering state officials to disregard SCOTUS’s Obergefell decision. Moore has a dedicated base of social conservatives, but is something of a one-note character on religious issues, making him a tough sell to less-devout Republicans. His incredibly polarizing nature means his odds of winning a runoff are probably fairly long; Strange would likely prefer to face him in the second round, and thus Moore has largely been spared attacks in advertising to date. In our poll, he held a small lead with 31% on the backs of his strong evangelical base, which will probably be enough to get him to a runoff. Were Moore to emerge with the nomination, that may be the only way this general election in deep-red Alabama becomes competitive; while Moore has won statewide before, he has run well behind Generic R.
If Moore is the candidate of the social conservative anti-establishment, the fiscal conservative anti-establishment has its standard-bearer in Rep. Mo Brooks (R). Brooks is in his fourth term representing the Huntsville area; he is a staunchly antiestablishment conservative who won his congressional seat by primarying out a party-switching Rep. Additionally, Brooks has been aligned with the Tea Party faction in the House and an antagonist of leadership. Leadership has returned the enmity by hitting Brooks hard in a lot of their spending on Strange’s behalf. Most notably, Brooks has been hit relentlessly for his support of Ted Cruz in last year’s primary over Trump and skepticism (like many conservatives) of Trump’s conservative and personal bona fides. The adds seem to have had the desired effect: Brooks’s poll numbers are relatively weak and he has been polling well behind Moore for the second spot. He is likely to have a strong base in his north Alabama district, but may struggle with name recognition across the rest of the state. Overall Brooks has a very slight chance to make the runoff (probably by boxing out Strange) but seems more likely than not to come in third, as he was at 18% in our poll and around ten points behind both Strange and Moore.
Two other candidates are unlikely to make the runoff but are serious enough to draw a significant number of votes. State Sen. Trip Pittman (R) is the final established pol in the field. He hails from the Mobile area, a unique geographical base. Pittman has fundraised credibly; however, his low name recognition and the short time frame have largely prevented him from being a real threat to advance. Pittman is a relatively antiestablishment conservative, so his votes (8% in our poll) will probably come out of Brooks’s base. That combined with his complementary geographical base on the opposite side of the state likely means his major effect in the race is to spoil Brooks’s chances of making a runoff.
The final serious candidate appears to be physician and evangelical activist Randy Brinson (R). Brinson has some social conservative support as he formerly led the state’s chapter of the Christian Coalition; he is as staunch a social conservative as Moore, but takes a less combative approach to the same priorities. While Brinson likely has no chance to make the runoff or even break out of low single-digits, polling at the asterisk-level 2% in our poll, he may get a small number of votes out of Moore’s pocket.
Across the aisle, Clinton-era ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D) is the only serious Democratic candidate, though he does face 6 non-serious Some Dudes. Unlike other Dem special election candidates this year, Jones so far hasn’t attracted much national enthusiasm as Alabama’s deep-red and inelastic nature has tempered any Dem enthusiasm for a pickup here – and that lack of enthusiasm could even create problems for Jones in the primary. It would be embarrassing for him to be held to a runoff, let alone not come in first. But the limited polling of the Dem side suggests that is very possible.
Jones’s main complication in this primary is the fortunately-named but otherwise totally non-serious Some Dude Robert Kennedy (D). Polling has even shown Kennedy, who is not running a serious campaign by any measure, within striking distance of even avoiding a runoff, which would be an Alvin Greene-level embarrassment to the state’s Dems. Assuming Jones ultimately emerges with the nomination, Democrats are searching for any wins wherever they can find them and enthusiasm for him may increase. And thus there is a chance the race could heat up before the December general, particularly if the polarizing Moore is nominated – though even Moore’s statewide base has been enough for him to narrowly but consistently prevail in his judicial races. Of course that all assumes Jones doesn’t blow this race before it even begins. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
UT-3 (R): UT-3 is a very Republican (but Trump-unfriendly) seat around Provo vacated by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R). It covers the southeast quarter of the state, but substantially all the population is in the Provo area and its suburbs, along with a small slice of southern Salt Lake City exurbs. Three Republicans are facing off in the primary for this seat, and it seems like all have a chance to win.
Provo Mayor John Curtis (R) is generally considered the nominal front-runner. As Mayor of Provo since 2009, Curtis is probably the candidate with the highest name recognition. He has also placed first in both fundraising and the one recent poll of the race. However, he has liabilities; Curtis was a Democrat from 2000 until 2006, during which time he ran for State Senate and was even County chair for a period. If that’s not enough to throw suspicion on his conservatism, his two terms as Mayor has meant that he’s had to compromise on ideological purity many times. That said, this district, while conservative, is far from firebrand in its sensibilities, and Curtis’s moderate profile may not be the albatross here it is in similarly red seats. Curtis has also led his rivals by a large margin in funding.
From the other side of the party ideologically, antiestablishment-leaning ex-State Rep. Chris Herrod (R) won the endorsement at the convention. Herrod was appointed to the House in 2007, when he beat out none other than John Curtis for the job. Herrod ran against Sen. Orin Hatch (R) in 2012, but was eliminated at the convention. In 2016 he ran and lost against incumbent GOP State Sen. Curt Bramble – the man Curtis lost against as a Democrat in 2000. Politically, Herrod is perhaps the most antiestablishment candidate, very critical of illegal immigration of the major candidates and in manner and choice of words. He is probably also the one closest to Donald Trump. Herrod’s fundraising has been mediocre, but his antiestablishment leanings and official party support could be major assets in a low-turnout race, as he is likely to be a favorite of the engaged activist community.
Attorney Tanner Ainge (R) is the third candidate in the race and something of a wild card. Ainge, the son of Boston Celtics manager Danny, gathered signatures to avoid the convention and has partially self-funded his bid. Ainge seems to be striking a middle ground between Curtis’s moderate profile and Herrod’s antiestablishment conservatism, selling hismelf as both a mainstream conservative and a political outsider – a profile that has been very successful in Utah, which has an unusual predilection for selecting pols with no prior experience. Ainge has also had some outside advertising support and a somewhat surprising endorsement from Sarah Palin. Overall, Curtis is probably a nominal front-runner, but it would be very easy to see any of these three candidates coming out on top.
The primary winner will face physician Kathie Allen (D), a bold progressive who briefly gained some netroots enthusiasm (and cash) when she was running against Chaffetz, in November. Allen seems a poor fit for the district and shouldn’t present any of Herrod, Curtis, or Ainge much trouble. However, a third party candidate, Jim Bennett (I), son of ex-US Sen. Bob (R), might present somewhat more of a challenge if his campaign gains momentum. Bennett would likely have the best odds against Herrod, the Republican who seems most likely to entice moderates to defect. But even then the odds of swimming against the deep-red tide of the seat would still be very long for Bennett. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
There is also one legislative special tomorrow. FL-LD-44 is an R+6 (2012) seat covering southwest Orlando suburbs between Disney World and the Florida’s Turnpike. Four Republicans are facing off; three have a chance to win. Chamber of Commerce official John Newstreet (R), a former US Senate staffer, has raised the most, while former Winter Garden councilman Bobby Olszewski (R) has more local establishment support. Businessman Bruno Portigliatti (R) also has a strong chance to win as he has self-funded a significant amount. The fourth candidate, physician and former county commission candidate Usha Jain (R), seems less serious. The primary winner will face businessman Paul Chandler (D) in an October general.