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Midterms Super Tuesday: Disaster in California? Plus, The Most Important Primary Elections on June 5, 2018

Midterms Super Tuesday: Disaster in California? Plus, The Most Important Primary Elections on June 5, 2018

Election junkies got a week off last Tuesday with no big primary elections to cover, and just a few scattered (and inconsequential) special elections over the past 2 weeks. This evening, June 5, it seems the election gods are making up for the lost time. Buckle up and open at least 9 tabs in your web browser: tonight, the midterms really take off.

There are primary elections tonight in 8 (yes, EIGHT) states:

  • Alabama (7 PM, all times central)
  • Mississippi (7 PM)
  • New Jersey (7 PM)
  • South Dakota (7 - 8 PM)
  • New Mexico (8 PM)
  • Iowa (9 PM)
  • Montana (9 PM)
  • and, of course, California (10 PM)

I will be live-tweeting the results of all federal contests to keep you up to speed, but there are really just a few races that you ought to focus on this evening:

  • AL-02 Republican primary: In the ever-salient “Trump test,” a second GOP incumbent could come up short, distancing herself from the president and pushing some loyal GOP voters to not tick her name on their ballot. Incumbent Republican Martha Roby has spent the lion’s share of cash in the district, but state officials have coalesced around challenger Barry Moore, signaling possible trouble for Roby — who also won her 2016 primary with just 60% of the vote.
  • NJ-02 Democratic primary: Watching for early signs of a November blowout? Jeff Van Drew is currently the projected likely winner of this Tossup R +4 seat. If he can beat his progressive challengers here by a large margin, that is likely a good sign for Democrats moving into November. Van Drew has raised roughly 5x as much money as the closest challenger, but what really drives home his advantage here is being endorsed by all county officials associated with the district.
  • NJ-11 Democratic and Republican primaries: If the parties nominate someone other than Mikie Sherrill (Dem.) and Jay Webber (Rep.), the dynamics of this Tossup seat could change overnight — though not by much, as open seat elections tend to align closely with the partisan lean of the district in midterm elections.
  • NM-02 Republican primary: This seat could be very competitive if a wave election comes to fruition in November, particularly if the more far-right candidate Yvette Herrell, endorses by the tea party House Freedom Caucus receives the nomination. However, with the seat voting for Donald Trump by 10 points in 2016, and with a partisan lean of R +12, a Democratic pickup here is relatively unlikely.
  • IA-01 Democratic primary: Democrats are looking to nominate another working-class woman to carry their banner in this Lean Republican seat come November. State Rep. Abby Finkenauer is running with endorsements from EMILY’S List, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, End Citizens United, and even U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell. At last count she had raised more than $1 million for her primary and general election campaigns here.
  • IA-03 Democratic primary: In this Tossup seat (yes, the Midwest will be important in 2018, perhaps more so than it was in 2016) another microcosm of the ideological fight in the Democratic party is unfolding. Small business owner Cindy Axne has the support of most local figures and state elected officials, as well as EMILY’S List and the Des Moines Register. Further to the left is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders-endorsed Pete D’Alessandro, who, despite receiving applause from the progressives in the party, is polling in third place among the flock.

And now for the races you all know to focus on…

  • Possible Democratic Lockouts in the CA-39, 48, and 49 top-two primaries.

Disaster for Democrats in the Golden State?

Democrats are facing potential disaster scenarios in California’s thirty-ninth, forty-eighth, and forty-ninth congressional districts — and if you haven’t been living under a rock for the past month, you likely know why: California primary elections operate under a top-two primary (or party-blind two-round election, if you’re from a more electorally literate part of the world), in which any candidates, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election. So two Republican candidates with, say, 28% and 17% of the vote would advance to the second round in November if 4 or 5 Democratic candidates split the remaining 55% of the vote in the district.

This is precisely the situation Democrats are facing in the 48th congressional district, held by Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher. A Change Research Poll from May 8 found Rohrabacher polling in first place at 27%, Democrat Hans Keirstead polling at 19%, Rohrabacher’s old protege Scott Baugh a close third at 17%, and Democrat Harley Rouda polling at 11%. Of course, these data are not perfect, and things have likely changed since the poll was in the field. However, even if the numbers were the same, the possibility of a Democratic lockout here would be very real, even if not explicitly likely.

In the 49th district, things may look even more grim for Democrats. According to a SurveyUSA poll released June 2 (again, House polling can be fairly inaccurate, especially in primary elections, so be careful not to over-interpret), Republican candidate Diane Harkey lead the field with 24% of the vote, with three Democratic candidates closely behind at 11, 11, and 10% of the vote. Four Republican candidates split the remaining 27% of the vote — polling at 8, 8, 6, and 5% respectively — preserving the possibility that one may be able to grab support from the others and surge above Democrat Doug Applegate or Sara Jacobs (the two candidates at 11% of the vote). Given the media attention in these seats over the past week, it would be hard for me to believe that these numbers have not changed, with the trailing Democrats and Republicans positioning to support one who can come out ahead.

Finally, in the 39th House district primary to fill retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s seat, seventeen candidates (6 D, 7 R) are running — putting both political parties at risk of being locked out of the general election. The most recent internal campaign polling found that Democratic candidate Gil Cisneros in the lead at 19% of the vote, followed by three Republican candidates at 13, 12, and 11 percent of the vote.

The impact of a lockout in any one seat could be mildly significant for either party. Because these seats are all forecast to be so crucial pickup opportunities for Democrats in the November midterm elections, if any of them become lockouts for either party their probability of winning the majority of seats in the House decreases about 1%. And that’s in the model run today; in November, if the race looks closer than it does today, that impact could grow quite a bit. Of course, the effect is even higher if a party gets locked out of 1, 2, or even 3 seats.

To be sure, even if there is not a lockout, the results of tonight’s primary elections across the state will be good indicators of what to expect in the November general elections.

Still, the chance of a lockout for either party is uncertain in any given seat. At the end of the day, we’ll have to wait until all votes are counted to find out. And in California, that could take anywhere from one day to three weeks.

That’s it for the preview! Follow along with tonight’s results on Twitter and my Discord channel, which you can access via the blog’s Patreon.

G. Elliott Morris avatar
About G. Elliott Morris
Elliott is a ("big") data journalist and data scientist who specializes in American politics, public opinion, and predictive analytics. He is a government, history, and computer science student at The University of Texas at Austin and worked previously for the Pew Research Center and Decision Desk HQ.
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