The 8 Primary Races to Watch Tuesday

From a Republican incumbent at risk to a hog castrator rising and the GOP establishment backing a man who ran the hated Wall Street bailout — these are the week’s most interesting contests.

National Journal
Adam Wollner
June 2, 2014, 1 a.m.

An­oth­er Tues­day, an­oth­er round of primar­ies.

Voters in eight states will head to the polls on June 3 to cast their primary bal­lots in a bevy of races for Sen­ate, House, and gov­ernor. Here are the eight most im­port­ant races to keep an eye on:

MIS­SIS­SIPPI SEN­ATE

The tea party hasn’t had any luck in its quest to knock off Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors this cycle, but its best chance will come Tues­day in Mis­sis­sippi, where state Sen. Chris McDaniel is chal­len­ging six-term Sen. Thad Co­chran. Con­ser­vat­ive groups such as the Club for Growth and the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund have gone all-in for McDaniel, while the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Mis­sis­sippi Con­ser­vat­ives have rushed to Co­chran’s de­fense. Out­side groups have spent more on this primary — close to $8 mil­lion — than any oth­er so far in 2014. In re­cent weeks, the race has been en­gulfed by a scan­dal in­volving a loc­al polit­ic­al blog­ger who faces felony charges for tak­ing pho­tos of Co­chran’s bedrid­den wife in her nurs­ing home. Co­chran’s team has at­temp­ted to pin the con­tro­versy on McDaniel, whose cam­paign denies any in­volve­ment, but it is un­clear if voters will do the same.

IOWA SEN­ATE

Un­like in Mis­sis­sippi, there’s no dis­agree­ment between the dif­fer­ent fac­tions of the GOP in the Hawkeye State’s Sen­ate primary. Groups aligned with both sides have ral­lied be­hind state Sen. Joni Ernst as she seeks to clear the 35 per­cent threshold ne­ces­sary to win the nom­in­a­tion out­right in­stead of go­ing to a con­ven­tion. The cham­ber, the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, and Flor­ida Sen. Marco Ru­bio’s PAC have all run ads on her be­half. Mitt Rom­ney ap­peared in one of the cham­ber’s spots and stumped for Ernst in Iowa. But Ernst first broke through after launch­ing a TV ad where she talked about cas­trat­ing hogs on her fam­ily’s farm. Re­cent polls show Ernst pulling away from self-fund­ing busi­ness­man Mark Jac­obs, des­pite his sig­ni­fic­ant cash ad­vant­age, in the race for the right to take on Demo­crat­ic Rep. Bruce Bra­ley in the fall. A strong Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenge for this seat would make Demo­crats’ task of hold­ing the Sen­ate much tough­er in five months.

CALI­FOR­NIA GOV­ERNOR

Even though they aren’t likely to pre­vent Demo­crat­ic Gov. Jerry Brown from win­ning a fourth term, Re­pub­lic­ans will be pay­ing close at­ten­tion the res­ults of Cali­for­nia’s non­par­tis­an, top-two primary. Re­pub­lic­ans worry that Tim Don­nelly, an out­spoken mem­ber of the state As­sembly, could have a neg­at­ive ef­fect on down-bal­lot races where the GOP is more com­pet­it­ive if he ad­vances to the gen­er­al elec­tion. Don­nelly has held the ad­vant­age in polls over a bet­ter-fun­ded Re­pub­lic­an, Neel Kashkari, but the former Treas­ury De­part­ment of­fi­cial closed that gap thanks in part to spend­ing $2 mil­lion of his own cash on the cam­paign. Rom­ney, former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush, and former Sec­ret­ary of State Con­doleezza Rice are pulling for Kashkari.

NEW JER­SEY’S 3RD CON­GRES­SION­AL DIS­TRICT

Both parties see the race for the New Jer­sey seat left open by Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Jon Run­yan as one of the most com­pet­it­ive of the cycle. House Demo­crats have already backed law­yer Aimee Bel­gard, while two can­did­ates on the Re­pub­lic­an side have fought a nasty race. Ran­dolph Town­ship May­or Tom Ma­cAr­thur is the fa­vor­ite to win the GOP nom­in­a­tion after seed­ing his cam­paign with $2 mil­lion and earn­ing the coveted en­dorse­ments of New Jer­sey’s power­ful county parties. Tea-party fa­vor­ite Steve Loneg­an, the 2013 Sen­ate nom­in­ee, star­ted the race bet­ter known but couldn’t keep up with Ma­cAr­thur’s spend­ing — to the de­light of the Re­pub­lic­ans who wor­ried that the out­spoken Loneg­an would be a li­ab­il­ity in a bell­weth­er dis­trict in Novem­ber.

CALI­FOR­NIA’S 7TH CON­GRES­SION­AL DIS­TRICT

On the House side in the Golden State, Re­pub­lic­an former Rep. Doug Ose is at­tempt­ing a comeback bid in the battle­ground 7th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, cur­rently rep­res­en­ted by Demo­crat­ic Rep. Ami Be­ra. Ose’s main obstacle in the jungle primary is Ig­or Birman, a tea-party darling en­dorsed by both Rand and Ron Paul. The House Ma­jor­ity PAC, a Demo­crat­ic su­per PAC, has at­tacked Ose with TV ads and mail­ers in hopes of pre­vent­ing him from ad­van­cing.

CALI­FOR­NIA’S 31ST CON­GRES­SION­AL DIS­TRICT

Demo­crats are try­ing to avoid a 2012 re­peat in the 31st dis­trict, a Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing seat where sev­er­al can­did­ates sur­pris­ingly split the lib­er­al vote and let two Re­pub­lic­ans sneak in­to the gen­er­al elec­tion. The Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee and the League of Con­ser­va­tion Voters is sup­port­ing Red­lands May­or Pete Aguilar, while EMILY’s List is back­ing law­yer Eloise Gomez Reyes. Then there’s former Demo­crat­ic Rep. Joe Baca, who is well-known from his time in elec­ted of­fice; he is be­ne­fit­ing from spend­ing by a se­cret­ive su­per PAC that hasn’t filed re­quired dis­clos­ures with the FEC, which has some Demo­crats wor­ried about an­oth­er split vote. Re­tired Navy of­ficer Paul Chabot, a Re­pub­lic­an, ap­pears most likely to emerge from the primary, but former Miller aide Lesli Gooch could sneak by if there is enough di­vi­sion among the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates — which is why the DCCC at­tacked her with mail­ers re­cently.

CALI­FOR­NIA’S 33RD CON­GRES­SION­AL DIS­TRICT

Long­time Demo­crat­ic Rep. Henry Wax­man’s dis­trict is a safe Demo­crat­ic seat, but that doesn’t mean the fight to take it over after his re­tire­ment isn’t fierce. A total of 18 can­did­ates to enter the 33rd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict race, in­clud­ing a pair of ex­per­i­enced loc­al Demo­crats, state Sen. Ted Lieu and former Los Angeles City Con­trol­ler Wendy Greuel; in­de­pend­ent Mari­anne Wil­li­am­son, the fun­drais­ing lead­er after put­ting in nearly $400,000 of her own money; and Demo­crat­ic ra­dio host Matt Miller, among oth­ers. The race in the Los Angeles County-based dis­trict has at­trac­ted celebrit­ies such as Eva Lon­gor­ia, Katy Perry, and Kim Kar­dashi­an, who all sup­port Wil­li­am­son.

IOWA’S 3RD CON­GRES­SION­AL DIS­TRICT

While Demo­crats have already se­lec­ted former state Sen. Staci Ap­pel to run for this evenly di­vided, GOP-held seat, the crowded Re­pub­lic­an primary in Iowa’s 3rd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict seems destined to be in­con­clus­ive. (If no one wins 35 per­cent of the vote, there will be a nom­in­a­tion con­ven­tion in­stead, and such gath­er­ings are of­ten un­pre­dict­able.) Former con­gres­sion­al aide Dav­id Young and civil en­gin­eer Robert Cramer have raised the most cash after dip­ping in­to their per­son­al cof­fers, but re­peat can­did­ate Brad Za­un is the best known, thanks to his pre­vi­ous cam­paigns and le­gis­lat­ive ser­vice. The Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, Freedom­Works and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick San­tor­um have all thrown their sup­port be­hind Sec­ret­ary of State Matt Schultz, while Iowa Re­new­able Fuels As­so­ci­ation Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Monte Shaw has an en­dorse­ment from the Des Moines Re­gister go­ing for him.

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this story misid­en­ti­fied re­tir­ing Cali­for­nia Demo­crat­ic Rep. Henry Wax­man. 

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