The 8 Primaries to Watch Tuesday

The duel in Mississippi, a more collegial contest in Oklahoma, and a string of competitive New York campaigns are among the most interesting races up this week.

National Journal
Adam Wollner
June 22, 2014, 9:50 a.m.

After House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor’s shock­ing de­feat, polit­ic­al ob­serv­ers got some ex­tra re­cov­ery time last week, when there were no primar­ies for the first time since April. This week, voters in six states will hit the polls to de­term­ine nom­in­ees in sev­er­al im­port­ant Sen­ate, House, and gubernat­ori­al races. Here are eight to keep an eye on:


The GOP primary in the Magno­lia State went to a second round after neither six-term Sen. Thad Co­chran nor his tea-party chal­lenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, got the ma­jor­ity sup­port ne­ces­sary on June 3 to avoid a run­off. After fin­ish­ing just ahead of Co­chran in the ini­tial round of vot­ing, McDaniel seems to have the slight up­per hand. Both can­did­ates have con­tin­ued to re­ceive plenty of air cov­er from out­side groups in the weeks since the primary: the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Re­altors have run TV ads pro­mot­ing Co­chran, while con­ser­vat­ive out­fits like Club for Growth, Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Ac­tion, and Cit­izens United have aired ads be­ne­fit­ing McDaniel.


The race to re­place out­go­ing Sen. Tom Coburn in Ok­lahoma has been less ex­pens­ive and less nasty than the cam­paign in Mis­sis­sippi. Rep. James Lank­ford is look­ing for a pro­mo­tion after two terms in of­fice, while T.W. Shan­non, con­sidered a rising star in Ok­lahoma Re­pub­lic­an circles, hopes to make the leap from the state House speak­er’s of­fice. The pop­u­lar Coburn is of­fi­cially neut­ral in the race, though he re­cently made a state­ment prais­ing Lank­ford while con­demning out­side groups run­ning neg­at­ive ads in the race, something loc­al ob­serv­ers think could be im­port­ant. Shan­non counts tea-party fa­vor­ites like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — who ap­peared in a pro-Shan­non TV spot — and Sarah Pal­in among his sup­port­ers. Ok­lahoma is an­oth­er state that man­dates run­offs if no can­did­ate reaches 50 per­cent, and Lank­ford and Shan­non are ex­pec­ted to con­tin­ue their con­test head-to-head un­til Aug. 26.


As term-lim­ited Mary­land Gov. Mar­tin O’Mal­ley sets his sights on a po­ten­tial 2016 pres­id­en­tial run, his lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor ap­pears well-po­si­tioned to re­place him. Re­cent in­de­pend­ent polling has shown An­thony Brown with a 20-point lead over At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Doug Gansler in the Demo­crat­ic primary. Boos­ted by en­dorse­ments from O’Mal­ley and Bill Clin­ton, Brown has run a mostly pos­it­ive cam­paign, tout­ing the ac­com­plish­ments of the ad­min­is­tra­tion and say­ing little about the his­tor­ic nature of his cam­paign: If Brown wins the nom­in­a­tion, he will be well on his way to be­com­ing just the third elec­ted black gov­ernor in U.S. his­tory. Gansler’s at­tend­ance at a teen drink­ing party last year drew more at­ten­tion than any­thing pos­it­ive about his cam­paign.


Gov. John Hick­en­loop­er looks less vul­ner­able now than he did a year ago, but the GOP still has its sights set on knock­ing him off this fall. Four Re­pub­lic­ans are vy­ing for the party’s nom­in­a­tion, and with little pub­lic polling avail­able, it’s not en­tirely clear who has the ad­vant­age head­ing in­to Tues­day. Some Re­pub­lic­ans worry that vic­tory by con­ser­vat­ive firebrand Tom Tan­credo, a former con­gress­man, would not only hurt their chances to take over the gov­ernor’s man­sion, but weak­en their odds in down-bal­lot con­tests and the state’s cru­cial Sen­ate race. A Demo­crat­ic group has even aired ads in the race de­signed to boost Tan­credo, along with a spot at­tack­ing former Rep. Bob Beau­prez. But Tan­credo’s cam­paign has been strangely quiet to­ward the end of the primary, while Beau­prez’s has been ag­gress­ively build­ing him up on TV. Former state Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mike Kopp and Col­or­ado Sec­ret­ary of State Scott Gessler are also on the bal­lot.


Re­pub­lic­ans view Demo­crat­ic Rep. Tim Bish­op’s Long Is­land House seat as one of their best pickup op­por­tun­it­ies this cycle: The five-term con­gress­man won his last elec­tion by just 4 per­cent­age points, and Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried the dis­trict by less than 2,000 votes that year. But the two Re­pub­lic­ans who hope to de­feat Bish­op first got in­volved in a con­ten­tious in­tra-party battle which at­trac­ted nearly $1.3 mil­lion in spend­ing from out­side groups. About two-thirds of that tar­geted state Sen. Lee Zeld­in, who has earned the sup­port of much of the party’s es­tab­lish­ment wing, in­clud­ing the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce. His rival, George Demos, who ran for the same seat un­suc­cess­fully in 2010, has pumped $2 mil­lion of his own money in­to the cam­paign and is backed by former New York City May­or Rudy Gi­uliani — but oth­ers in the GOP are wor­ried that he won’t be able to knock off Bish­op in the fall.

(RE­LATED: Out­side Groups Pour Cash In­to N.Y. Dis­tricts)


For the second year in a row, Rep. Charlie Ran­gel is fa­cing a stiff primary chal­lenge for his re­li­ably Demo­crat­ic Har­lem-based seat. After fall­ing roughly 1,000 votes short in 2012, state Sen. Ad­ri­ano Es­pail­lat is tak­ing an­oth­er shot at Ran­gel this year. A stark ra­cial di­vide defines the race for the ma­jor­ity-minor­ity dis­trict, with black voters co­ales­cing around Ran­gel and His­pan­ic voters around Es­pail­lat — but not as strongly. Ran­gel seems to be in a bet­ter po­s­i­tion than he was at this point two years ago, however. Late last week, a new NY1/Si­ena Col­lege poll found Ran­gel lead­ing Es­pail­lat 47 per­cent to 34 per­cent, ex­pand­ing on the 9-point ad­vant­age the 22-term con­gress­man held in mid-May.


After los­ing to Demo­crat­ic Rep. Bill Owens by less than 2,000 votes in 2010 and just 5,000 votes in 2012, busi­ness­man Matt Do­heny de­cided to run for the Up­state New York seat again this year after Owens an­nounced his re­tire­ment. But former Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion aide Elise Stefanik was already off and run­ning, and out­side en­dors­ers and groups have made elect­ing her a cause. Mitt Rom­ney and Rep. Paul Ry­an en­dorsed Stefanik, and the GOP su­per PAC Amer­ic­an Cross­roads spent $770,000 on TV ads call­ing Do­heny un­elect­able. The primary win­ner will face Demo­crat Aaron Woolf, a doc­u­ment­ary film­maker, in a battle­ground gen­er­al elec­tion, though they could end up di­vid­ing con­ser­vat­ive votes be­cause both have won third-party bal­lot lines for the fall.


Rep. Richard Hanna isn’t seen as one of the more en­dangered in­cum­bents in Con­gress, but he has angered con­ser­vat­ives on sev­er­al is­sues (in­clud­ing same-sex mar­riage, which he sup­ports), and Hanna drew a con­ser­vat­ive primary chal­lenge from As­semb­ly­wo­man Claudia Ten­ney. Amer­ic­an Unity PAC, a pro-gay-rights su­per PAC cofoun­ded by hedge-fund man­ager and ma­jor GOP donor Paul Sing­er, has spent over $600,000 on the race, an out­size sum for a sleepy primary that’s prob­ably more about Hanna’s gay-rights stance than a warn­ing that he’s en­dangered. Mean­while, Ten­ney has the back­ing of so­cially con­ser­vat­ive groups like the Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Mar­riage.

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