Last week we had our preview of California’s downballot races, but there is a lot more going on tomorrow, our busiest downballot primary day of the year. Five more states, Iowa, New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico, and South Dakota, have regular downballot primaries, plus the US House primaries in North Carolina that were delayed by re-redistricting and a special general in OH-8. North Dakota also has its Democratic presidential primary. Poll closing times are as follows (ET): 7:30 – North Carolina & Ohio || 8 – New Jersey & South Dakota (Eastern) || 9 – New Mexico, North Dakota (Eastern), & South Dakota (Western) || 10 – Iowa, Montana, & North Dakota (Western) || 11 – California. Our liveblog starts tomorrow at 7:30ET. Click here for Legislative Primary Previews!
IA-Sen (D): Incumbent Chuck Grassley (R) has never dipped below 60% of the vote in his five re-election races, owing to his profile as an affable and hardworking mainstream conservative, but his fight for a seventh term this year will likely be his toughest election since his first run for the Senate in 1980. As Judiciary chair, Grassley has been at the forefront of the GOP’s initiative to refrain from holding hearings on the Merrick Garland nomination, which has earned him the ire of liberals and eroded some of the crossover support he has long-enjoyed in the deep-purple state. National Democrats recruited a last-minute entry into this race by ex-LG Patty Judge (D). Judge, who was elected statewide in her own right as Agriculture Commissioner before serving as LG under Chet Culver (D) from 2006 to 2010, has fundrasied well and has national establishment support. However, she was not the first candidate to enter this race; State Sen. Rob Hogg (D) had been running as a sacrificial lamb before Grassley came into national Dems’ focus. Hogg has deep connections in the legislature and has retained his local establishment and labor support even after Judge entered the race. Hogg has also had a credible if mediocre level of fundraising. As a result, this primary is competitive, but Judge does look like a moderate favorite (Selzer had her up 42-25). Two other candidates, 70s-era ex-State Rep. Bob Krause (D) and 90s-era ex-State Sen. Tom Fiegen (D), aren’t running serious campaigns. The issue differences between Hogg and Judge are slight; both are mainstream liberals, and it’s unclear if either will be a stronger general election candidate. Both will face an uphill election against Grassley’s longtime incumbency and proven crossover appeal. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Likely R.
IA-1 (D): First-term incumbent Rod Blum (R) was one of the most unlikely candidates to be swept in on the 2014 GOP wave. As an unheralded businessman, Blum picked up this D+5 district covering the northeast quarter of the state, including the Cedar Rapids and Waterloo areas. Blum had something of a rocky start in Congress, most notably in a prolonged feud with then-Speaker John Boehner (R) that led to Blum being left out of the NRCC’s incumbent-protection efforts. However, since Paul Ryan assumed the Speakership, the national Republican establishment has gotten to be on better terms with Blum. That said, the lean of the district means that Blum is still clearly one of the most vulnerable GOP House incumbents. Two Democrats are running, both retreads from 2014. Ex-State House Speaker Pat Murphy (D) is attempting to win the right to take on Blum again, and has significant name recognition. However, national Democrats are not eager to give Murphy another chance after his surprise 2014 disappointment, and have lined up in dramatic fashion behind Cedar Rapids councilwoman and 2014 LG nominee Monica Vernon (D). Vernon has dramatically outraised Murphy and garnered strong national Dem establishment support; however, she switched parties from the GOP in 2009, which has opened her up to attacks from Murphy on that front. Vernon looks like a slight favorite, but it’s possible that Murphy’s name recognition and local establishment support could allow him to pull the upset. Regardless, both Vernon and Blum are mainstream liberals. The D primary winner will probably start as the slight favorite in the general election thanks to the lean of the seat and Blum’s lack of obvious strength. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Lean D.
IA-3 (D): First-term incumbent David Young (R) won this EVEN district covering Des Moines and the southwest quarter of the state two years ago in unlikely fashion. Young won the nomination after coming in fifth in the primary: the race went to a convention because no one crossed 35% in the primary, and Young was chosen as the least objectionable candidate from a flawed field. Owing to the wave and a flawed D nominee, Young notched a relatively easy general election win. Three Democrats are vying to take him on this year. Polls suggest that the slight front-runner is businessman Mike Sherzan (D), who has self-funded a large amount and run TV ads touting his company’s social responsibility initiatives. Sherzan’s main rival, 2014 IA-4 nominee Jim Mowrer (D), is an Iraq veteran who attracted national support and cash in his first run, but fell totally flat amid the wave. However, he has fundraised well again this year for the bluer seat and received some national establishment support, so he might be able to pull the primary upset. A third candidate, businessman and former legislative candidate Desmund Adams (D) is running to the left of Mowrer and Sherzan as a bold progressive, but has been poorly funded and is likely to finish well behind the two front-runners. Both Mowrer and Sherzan are moderate liberals and neither seems to be clearly stronger in November. This general will be competitive, but Young does have real strengths as an inoffensive mainstream conservative who is closely tied to the popular Sen. Grassley, for whom he served as CoS. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Lean R.
IA-4 (R): Incumbent Steve King (R) is seeking his eighth term representing this R+4 district covering the northwest quarter of the state. King has been a staunch ideological conservative in his seven terms, and has had a history of some controversial statements. As a result, King has been a polarizing figure, but he has also proven a strong campaigner and won a tough 2012 general election surprisingly easily. King is facing a contested primary, but not because of controversial comments or initiatives. Instead, this is blowback for his vocal support of Ted Cruz, whom the Iowa GOP establishment hated for taking on the Ethanol industry. The local establishment backed a late entry into this primary by State Sen. Rick Bertrand (R), who has held down a Dem-leaning district as a mainstream conservative. Bertrand was on paper a credible candidate, but his bid for this seat never really got off the ground in fundraising or attention and he seems to have given up trying to run a serious campaign. Thus, King looks like the prohibitive favorite. Democrats have had illusions about targeting King before, and the PVI of the district keeps it in play, but this seat seems to be a lower priority this year after King turned back strong challengers in 2012 and 2014. This year Dems are running local D official Kim Weaver (D), who probably only has a shot in a Trumpocalypse. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Likely R.
NJ-1 (D) & NJ-3 (D): I’ve combined these two blurbs to show the races’ similarity: neither race’s ultimate outcome is in any real doubt, but both prove the power of Generalissimo George Norcross, America’s most powerful machine boss and de facto dictator of South Jersey. NJ-1 is a D+13 seat covering Camden and most of South Jersey’s Philadelphia suburbs. It is the domain of first-term incumbent Donald Norcross (D), George’s brother, who will not be losing to consultant Alex Law (D). Law has attracted some media attention running on a moonbat progressive platform, but his attempts to take on La Cosa Norcross are more likely to net him a horse’s head in his bed than a seat in Congress. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe D. Next door in NJ-3, an R+1 stripe across the state from the Philly suburbs of Burlington County to the Ocean County Shore, incumbent Tom MacArthur (R) seems to be on good terms with Norcross. Norcross’s Burlington machine has spurned MacArthur’s serious (if “C” list) challenger, ex-Asbury Park councilman Jim Keady (D). Keady, who is mostly notable for being told to “sit down and shut up” by Christie in one of his trademark town hall moments, lost the Burlington machine endorsement to a fringey Some Dude, who may well win as Keady has raised almost nothing for himself. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Likely R, but that rating will likely require a re-evaluation.
NJ-7 (R): The Garden State’s only competitive GOP primary is for this R+6 seat covering New York’s southwest exurbs in the west-central part of the state along with some upper-middle-class suburbs in Union County. Four-term incumbent Leonard Lance (R) won his first two terms in a much swingier district before the 2012 redistricting made his seat Safe. Lance was known in his first terms as one of the House’s most moderate Republicans, notably being one of just 8 Republicans to support “Cap and Trade” in 2009. Lance has drifted to the right since 2010, but is still known as a relative moderate, and thus has never been able to count on strong support from GOP primary voters in his district. Businessman David Larsen (R) is now challenging Lance for the fourth time after coming up short in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Larsen has self-funded his runs and promises to be a more consistent conservative than Lance. He has improved his vote share each time, taking 46% in 2014. Larsen’s campaign is considered credible once again and this could be the year he gets over the top; however, Lance has been taking this primary seriously and his incumbency advantages have only grown with time. There doesn’t seem to be a clear favorite this year. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
Only one other Garden State race is worth a mention (the legislature isn’t up this year), NJ-5. This R+4 seat will have a competitive general between incumbent Scott Garrett (R), who is somewhat polarizing and more conservative than most northeastern Republicans, and Bill Clinton speechwriter Josh Gottheimer (D), who has fundraised well but still faces an uphill fight in the historically-Republican district. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Lean R.
Big Sky Country will have a lot of competitive general elections this year, but the matchups for the six statewide races are already set and there are no competitive primaries. For MT-Gov, incumbent Steve Bullock (D) and billionaire tech exec Greg Gianforte (R) face only token opposition. Their MT-LG running mates are LG Mike Cooney (D) and Phillips County commissioner Lesley Robinson (R) respectively. This race has been severely under-polled, but the general consensus is that Bullock is moderately popular despite being to the left of his state; RRH Elections currently rates the Governor election as Lean D. MT-AL will be between incumbent Ryan Zinke (R) and State Superintendent Denise Juneau (D); RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Likely R. MT-SoS is between State Auditor Monica Lindeen (R) and ex-State Sen. Corey Stapleton (R); I would personally rate this general election as a Tossup, though thanks to Lindeen’s name rec, this is probably Dems’ strongest shot to keep a Row Office. MT-AG is between incumbent Tim Fox (R) and ex-State Sen. Larry Jent (D); I would personally rate this general election as Likely R. MT-Aud, a stupidly-named office which is really the state’s Insurance Commissioner, will see State Sen. Matt Rosendale (R) take on 2012 AG candidate Jesse Laslovich (D); I would personally rate this general election as a Tossup. Finally, MT-Supt will be between State Sen. Elsie Armtzen (R) and teacher Melissa Romano (D); I would personally rate this general election as a Tossup.
MT-PSC: Three seats on the state’s 5-member Public Service Commission are up this year for 4-year terms. Republicans currently hold all five seats. However, that doesn’t mean the board has been conflict-free; personality differences have led the board to break down 3-2 into two warring factions that hate each other even though there aren’t huge ideological distinctions. MT-PSC-2 (R) is in the southeast around Billings. Incumbent Kirk Bushman (R), who leads the minority faction, is being challenged by Tony O’Donnell (R), who lost a State House race two years ago by 12 votes and is supported by the majority faction. Bushman looks like a mild favorite due to incumbency; there is no Democrat in the race. MT-PSC-4 (D) around Missoula is the most Dem-friendly of the districts, though still light-red; three Dems are vying to take on incumbent Bob Lake (R), who is Bushman’s ally. Ex-commissioner Gail Gutsche (D), whom Lake narrowly defeated in 2012, is facing ex-Deer Lodge County commissioner Mark Sweeney (D), who narrowly lost a primary for a different PSC seat in 2012. Businessman Lee Tavenner (D) seems less serious. There aren’t obvious differences between the three, so I’d guess Gutsche is the favorite due to name rec. This general will be very competitive. The last district, MT-PSC-3, in the south-central part of the state around Butte and Bozeman, will also have a competitive general election; incumbent Roger Koopman (R), part of the majority faction with the two commissioners not up this year, will face State Rep. Pat Noonan (D).
New Mexico isn’t a big electoral focus this year as the state’s three House members all face only token opposition for re-election. One statewide race is up for grabs, the special election for NM-SoS, and it has no primaries. Bernalillo County Clerk and 2014 nominee Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D) and State Rep. Nora Espinoza (R) will square off. Owing to the lean of the state and Toulouse Oliver’s strong 2014 run, I would personally rate this general election as Lean D.
NM-PSC: Two seats on the state’s five-member Public Service Commission are up this year for 4-year terms. Democrats hold a 4-1 majority on the board and that will not be changing this year as Republicans aren’t contesting either of the seats that are up. NM-PSC-1 (D) covers most of Albuquerque. Incumbent Karen Montoya (D) is facing a rematch with 2012 candidate Cynthia Hall (D), whom she beat by 3% in the open-seat 2012 primary. Hall is running to Montoya’s left on environmental issues, accusing the incumbent of being too friendly with coal and nuclear companies. With incumbency and high presidential turnout Montoya should be at least the slight favorite, but environmental groups are spending on Hall’s behalf so an upset is possible. NM-PSC-3 covers the north-central part of the state around Santa Fe; incumbent Valerie Espinoza (D) is unopposed.
South Dakota is one of the less interesting states this year, and there aren’t any primaries worth watching above the legislative level. But there are three races worth at least a mention. SD-Sen incumbent John Thune (R) will face local D official Jay Williams (D); RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R. SD-AL will be between incumbent Kristi Noem (R) and State Rep. Paula Hawks (D); RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R. Finally, SD-PSC incumbent Chris Nelson (R) will face a Dem opponent that will be nominated at a convention later this month; he is not expected to face significant opposition for a second six-year term.
North Carolina House:
Thanks to re-redistricting, NC’s House primaries have been delayed and are on the ballot with a judicial election this week. So these effectively function as Special Elections and are likely to be very low-turnout. Unlike in other years, these are also winner-take-all contests with no runoff, even if the winner is below 40%.
NC-2 (R): This ~R+8 seat makes a backwards “C” around Raleigh, covering essentially all its outer suburbs and exurbs. Due to re-redistricting, there are two incumbents in this seat facing off. The district kept the number and hometown of Rep. Renee Ellmers (R), a third-term Republican who came in as a 2010 wave baby and was protected by redistricting. Ellmers started out as an antiestablishment conservative, but has since drifted to the center, most notably playing a major role in scuttling a pro-life bill. Ellmers’s political skills have also proven questionable, as she seems to have alienated not only the grassroots but the establishment as well. As a result, when it came time for re-redistricting, the legislature effectively threw her under the bus, leaving only a sliver of her old seat in the new NC-2. The vast majority of this new seat is made up of the old NC-13, represented by two-term Rep. George Holding (R). Holding’s own home was drawn the NC-4 D vote sink, but given Ellmers’s vulnerabilities it was an easy decision for him to run here. Holding has been a backbench establishment conservative, but that has been good enough for both the establishment and antiestablishment wings of the party; outside groups from both factions have teamed up to blast Ellmers and implicitly help Holding. Coupled with his territory advantage, that means Holding is the clear favorite here. There is a third wheel in this race in the form of 2014 and 2016 NC-Sen candidate Greg Brannon (R), a physician and libertarian-leaning antiestablishment conservative. Brannon got some antiestablishment backing in 2014, but is also known as a bit of a loose cannon and recently had to pay $250K in a business fraud suit, which led to his second run at the Senate falling flat. This House campaign seems unlikely to fare much better for him. Though he may peel off enough antiestablishment conservatives to hold down Holding’s margin, it seems unlikely that he could win or even play spoiler here. Holding is definitely in the driver’s seat but, Ellmers does have one major supporter in Trump, whom she endorsed early and who has returned the favor with a late robocall this past weekend. But that seems likely to be too little, too late to save Ellmers against Holding’s major structural advantages in an electorate that probably won’t include many low-info Trump enthusiasts. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
NC-3 (R): This ~R+11 seat covers most of the rural white-majority areas of eastern NC from Greenville east, and didn’t change much in the re-redistricting. Incumbent Walter Jones (R) has been a chronic pain in the side of leadership for many years, as he has never fully shed his Conservadem heritage. Despite being in a Safe seat, Jones has frequently been the first Republican defector on many policy initiatives, most recently backing Obama’s Iran deal. As a result, Jones has drawn a primary rematch with 2014 candidate and former Bush 43 staffer Taylor Griffin (R). Griffin is running as a more traditional establishment conservative, and came up just six points short to Jones in his first run two years ago. However, Griffin’s run this year has strangely not gotten the kind of national attention his 2014 bid did, and his fundraising, while enough to marginally outspend Jones, has been mediocre overall. Griffin also needs to contend with a spoiler candidate, veteran Phil Law (R), who may have raised enough to be a factor. But Griffin has a major force on his side in the later primary date, which is likely to lead to a much smaller, more conservative, and better-informed electorate. CW seems to be betting on Jones, but an upset here seems like a very real possibility. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
NC-9 (R): This ~R+8 seat is based on the wealthy southeast side of Charlotte and its eastern suburbs and stretches east to the rural, heavily minority Sandhills south of Fayetteville. Two-term incumbent Robert Pittenger (R), an establishment conservative, has seen some bad headlines with an ongoing investigation into his ties to his former real estate firm. That vulnerability has drawn Pittenger two primary challengers in his significantly revamped district, which was previously a compact suburban seat around Charlotte. Pittenger’s better-known rival is megachurch pastor and 2014 Senate candidate Mark Harris (R), who is running as a staunch social conservative. Harris might be able to count on support in the rural Sandhills region, which probably knows Harris better from his 2014 Senate campaign than a congressman from across the state. However, Harris’s bid to oust Pittenger has been complicated by Union County commissioner Todd Johnson (R), who is running as an antiestablishment conservative. Johnson has raised little, but has a base in his suburban home county, which represents about a quarter of the seat. Johnson is unlikely to come out on top, but he could peel off a significant number of anti-Pittenger conservatives from Harris. For now Pittenger, who has been able to self-fund and is the incumbent for most of the district’s Republicans, looks like a moderate favorite, but if the issues surrounding the investigation are salient enough, Harris might be able to pull the upset. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
NC-12 (D): This ~D+14 seat covers most of Mecklenburg County except the wealthy and heavily Republican southeastern part of Charlotte. Rep. Alma Adams (D) is in her first term representing the old incarnation of this district, a long string connecting black-majority areas of Charlotte and the Piedmont Triad. Inconveniently, Adams lived and built her career at the Greensboro end of the district, winning the primary last cycle largely on Triad support. Adams has carpetbagged to Charlotte and is seeking her revamped district, but she faces five opponents, three of them serious. State Sen. Malcolm Graham (D) looks like Adams’s most serious opponent; he actually carried Mecklenburg County in the primary two years ago and has been in the headlines recently after his sister was killed in last year’s Charleston church murders. However, Graham has been outspent by State Rep. Tricia Cotham (D). Cotham, the only serious white candidate in the race, is considered a rising star in NC Dem circles, and could have some support among non-black voters in her home of East Charlotte. A fourth candidate, State Rep. Carla Cunningham (D), has raised little, but may draw some votes in her home district. Two other Some Dudes are non-serious. Adams has lapped the field in spending, and it looks like incumbency and vote-splitting between the three native Charlotte candidates are probably going to be enough to give her a clear win. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe D.
NC-13 (R, D): This open ~R+5 seat is based around High Point and part of Greensboro and stretches southwest to Statesville. The oddly-timed primary means that elected officials didn’t need to give up their seats to run, and that has created a ridiculous free-for-all for this open seat. 17(!) Republicans are mounting bids and none have had time to raise much. Gun range owner Ted Budd (R) has vaulted into the top tier with extensive outside support from the antiestablishment fiscal conservative Club for Growth. Due to all the candidates’ low fundraising hauls, the Club’s outside support for Budd has dominated the spending in this race. Budd’s antiestablishment conservatism seems a good fit for the small and motivated electorate, and that probably makes him the front-runner. State Rep. Julia Howard (R) is probably Budd’s main rival and the best-positioned establishment conservative, thanks to outside support from the National Association of Realtors. She is also a 28-year legislative veteran, which has given her institutional connections and name recognition. Budd and Howard look like the top contenders, but in a field this crowded, one of the other candidates could surprise, given that 20% is probably going to be enough to win. There seem to be three other candidates with a real shot. State Sen. Andrew Brock (R) was considered the front-runner before outside groups came in for Budd and Howard, and has a profile as a staunch social conservative and a geographic base in the center of the district. Davie County commissioner Dan Barrett (R), who ran for Governor in 2004 and is a mainstream conservative, has the most campaign cash of his own thanks to some self-funding. Ex-Winston-Salem councilman and perennial candidate Vernon Robinson (R) is probably the best-known candidate. Robinson, who proudly has called himself “the black Jesse Helms”, has a penchant for controversial statements. Though his shtick seems to have worn thin with most Republicans, Robinson’s name rec could be a big asset in a crowded race. I’d be very surprised if anyone outside of those five actually came out on top, but I’d peg seven other candidates as likely to get more than asterisk-level support. Consultant Kay Daly (R) is another candidate in the Robinson mold, who brags about being “less PC than Trump”. Retired CIA Agent George Rouco (R) attracted some establishment support for his run in the old NC-9 against Pittenger before the districts were redrawn this year. Guilford County commissioner Hank Henning (R) has a base in the district’s largest population center and Iredell County Register of Deeds Matt McCall (R) has a base in his midsized, deeply Republican county. Attorney Jason Walser (R) is running as a moderate and could carve out that ideological niche. Finally, State Reps. John Blust (R) and Harry Warren (R) have bases in their districts but have raised little. Five other Some Dude Rs are totally non-serious, but could affect the outcome in a field this crowded. Across the aisle, Five Democrats are running; developer Bob Isner (D) looks like the only truly serious candidate, but ex-Guilford County commissioner Bruce Davis (D), who lost a NC-6 primary run last cycle, could have a chance to win on name recognition. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R, but that may require a re-evaluation after the primary.
Special Elections: There are two Special Elections going on this week as well, one congressional and one legislative. OH-8 is holding a special election to replace former Speaker John Boehner (R) in this R+14 seat based in the Cincinnati suburbs of Butler County and also wrapping around Dayton’s suburbs to Springfield and some farm territory in the west-central part of the state. Veteran Warren Davidson (R) is the prohibitive favorite over a Some Dude Democrat. One legislative seat is up for grabs: MS-LD-29 is a heavily Dem seat in the Delta around Cleveland. Six candidates are running in a nonpartisan Louisiana-Rules Top Two format. There is basically no information on this race, but from what I can tell the most serious candidates are professor Abe Hudson and Mound Bayou Mayor Darryl Johnson; I believe both are Dems. Click Here for Legislative Primary Previews from Iowa, New Mexico, Montana, and South Dakota and don’t forget to look at our California Preview from last week if you haven’t seen it!