Close Primary Races and Competitive Contests Continue to Emerge

April 6, 2018

This article originally appeared on BIPAC's blog. Written by BIPAC Political Analyst Jim Ellis.

Key Takeaways:

  • Mississippi Senate:  Senate-designate Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) to be sworn-in, replacing Sen. Thad Cochran (R), setting stage for competitive special election in November
  • Tennessee Senate:  surprising poll puts former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) ahead of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) in key Senate open seat race
  • CT-5:  Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D) to retire after widespread criticism for failing to act immediately against her chief of staff who was accused of sexual and physical abuse of a staff member
  • NC-3:   new poll suggests Rep. Walter Jones (R) in primary fight
  • Florida Governor:  new poll shows Republican candidates Rep. Ron DeSantis and former Congressman Adam Putnam virtually tied in crowded primary field
  • Minnesota Governor:  former 2-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty enters race


Mississippi: Designated Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) won't be sworn in until Monday to replace retiring Sen. Thad Cochran (R), but developing special election candidates aren't waiting. When Mr. Cochran first announced he would leave the Senate in early April, former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy (D) immediately entered Senate special. Then, Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel switched from challenging GOP incumbent Roger Wicker to joining the new election. Late this week, Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton (D) announced that he, too, will become a Senate special election candidate.

All candidates will appear on the special election ballot to be held concurrently with theNovember 6th special election. If no contender receives a majority vote, the top two, regardless of political party affiliation, will advance to a run-off election three weeks later, onNovember 27th. The winner will serve the balance of the current term and be eligible to run for a full six-year stint in 2020. Chances are strong that the secondary election will be necessary because it's unlikely that any one individual can build majority support.

Tennessee: Middle Tennessee State University just released a credible statewide survey (3/22-29; 600 TN registered voters) that surprisingly stakes former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) to a ten point, 45-35%, lead over US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood). It is a virtual certainty that each individual will win his and her respective party nomination so it is not too early to begin testing the pair as if the August 2nd primary has already occurred. Other polls have given Ms. Blackburn the early advantage largely because of the state's strong Republican nature; a voting trend that has noticeably moved rightward since Mr. Bredesen was last on the statewide ballot in 2006.


CA-44: Citing too much bitterness within the electorate, actress Stacy Dash (R), who was challenging freshman Southern California Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-San Pedro), ended her campaign well before the June 5th primary. Ms. Dash, a long shot candidate campaigning as a conservative, would have had a difficult time even qualifying for the general election in a district where only 10.2% of the voters are registered Republicans. Rep. Barragan, an upset winner in 2016, now faces only Compton Mayor Aja Brown (D) as a serious opponent.

CT-5: Late this week, three-term Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Cheshire/Waterbury) announced that she will end her quest for re-election, succumbing to calls for her to resign. While her announcement only indicated that she won't run in November, the intense demands from media editorial boards and even a series of Democratic state legislators for her to step aside are coming because she did not immediately take action against her chief of staff who was accused of sexual and physical abuse of a staff member to the point where a restraining order was required.

For the Democrats, former Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman, a twice-defeated candidate for Lt. Governor, quickly announced that she will enter the open seat congressional race. Turning to the GOP, state Rep. William Petit (R-Cheshire) confirms that he is contemplating entering the race. Two Republicans who won't be running for Congress are Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart. Both confirmed that they will remain in the Governor's race.

FL-23: Law professor Tim Canova made a big splash in 2016 with his primary challenge to South Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston), while she was the sitting Democratic National Committee chair. Mr. Canova attracted just under $4 million in financial support, and an endorsement from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, but lost the party primary 43-57%. After the election, Canova quickly announced that he would seek a re-match this year. With little in the way of 2018 financial support developing for him, and even Sen. Sanders staying away from the re-match, Mr. Canova announced this week that he is exiting the Democratic primary and will run as an Independent in the general election. Rep. Wasserman Schultz now becomes the prohibitive favorite for re-election.

MA-3: Retiring Rep. Niki Tsongas' (D-Lowell) open 3rd District congressional seat is creating a great deal of interest within the Massachusetts political community. A total of 13 Democrats have announced their candidacies for the seat along with one Republican, business owner Rick Green. State Sen. Barbara L'Italien (D-Andover) just released the results of her EMC Research survey (3/14-19; 500 MA-3 likely Democratic primary voters), which finds the poll sponsor leading the primary field with 19% support. Trailing in second place at 8% is former Boston mayoral chief of staff Dan Koh. No other breaks 5% preference.

NH-1: Levi Sanders, son of Vermont Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is coming under attack because he doesn't even live close to the 1st Congressional District where he is an announced Democratic candidate. Mr. Sanders resides in Claremont, NH, which is near the Vermont border in the southwestern part of the state. New Hampshire's 1st District covers the eastern portion of the Granite State. Though he just received a new public endorsement, it probably won't help Mr. Sanders too much. This week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced his support of Levi Sanders. But, backing from another state's Governor won't help quell the attacks against him for not having much local support.

NY-24: After originally saying she would not run for Congress this year, apparently Juanita Perez Williams, a former attorney for the city of Syracuse and ex-Navy JAG officer who fared badly in the last Syracuse Mayor's race (losing 54-38% to Republican Ben Walsh), is circulating petitions to qualify for the ballot. In order to advance to the general election and face two-term Rep. John Katko (R-Syracuse), Ms. Williams will have to first get past Dana Balter, the local Democratic Party endorsed candidate for the June 26th federal primary. Ms. Williams was a top recruitment target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) after the party leadership failed to convince former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner to run. Though the 24th CD leans Democratic, Rep. Katko has put up a pair of strong 58% victories in his two House elections.

NY-25: It remains unclear if Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will call a special election to replace the late Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-Rochester), but there will be a regular June 26th primary election for the regular ensuing term. Last week state Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle (D-Rochester) announced his candidacy, as did former journalist and Mayoral candidate Rachel Barnhart, and Brighton Town Board member Robin Wilt. Now, Rochester City Councilman Adam McFadden (D) joins the Democratic field. Republicans are coalescing behind surgeon Jim Maxwell, who had announced a challenge to Rep. Slaughter before she unexpectedly passed away on March 16th. Democrats are favored to hold the seat.

NC-3: Veteran US Rep. Walter Jones (R-Farmville) is no stranger to competitive primaries, and faces another in 2018. In the May 8th North Carolina primary, two Republicans, Craven County Commissioner Scott Dacey and computer technician and frequent candidate Phil Law, are opposing the 12-term incumbent. No Democrat filed in this contest, so whoever wins the GOP primary takes the seat in November. The Civitas Institute commissioned a Voter Roll Call poll (3/23-25; 700 NC-3 registered voters; 329 NC-3 likely Republican primary voters) and found Rep. Jones only leading his opponents Dacey and Law, 37-28-15%, respectively.

WI-1: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) is finding that not only is he the premier fundraiser for his Republican colleagues and candidates, but he may be for the Democrats' also. Mr. Ryan's likely general election opponent in his southern Wisconsin congressional district, labor union activist Randy Bryce (D), said this week that his campaign has raised over $2.1 million to be reported on the April 15th Federal Election Commission disclosure report and possesses more than $2.3 million in his campaign account.


Florida: Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Palm Coast/Daytona Beach) released an internal North Star Opinion Research poll (3/12-15; 600 FL likely Republican primary voters) that stakes the Atlantic Coast Congressman to a 21-19% lead over Agriculture Commissioner and former Congressman Adam Putnam in their open race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Twelve Republicans have announced their candidacies, but only state House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes) is a formidable opponent to Messrs. DeSantis and Putnam. With a May 30th candidate filing deadline, an August 28th primary, and the leading Republican candidates virtually tied, this race is weeks, if not months, away from becoming defined.

Hawaii: Current Gov. David Ige (D) made national political news in 2014 when he trounced incumbent Gov. Neil Abercrombie, 66-31% in the Democratic primary, but things have gone badly for him since that time. Last week we reported upon a new Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey that found US Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Honolulu) leading him in the August 11th Hawaii Democratic primary, 47-27%. Now, a group of key Democratic state legislative leaders have jointly endorsed Rep. Hanabusa. State Senate President Ron Kouchi (D-Kauai), state House Speaker Scott Saiki (D-Honolulu), Senate Ways & Means Committee chairman Donovan Dela Cruz (D-Honolulu), and House Finance Committee chair Sylvia Luke (D-Makiki) all publicly agreed to join the Hanabusa campaign finance team.

Iowa: The signature petition process has officially claimed another victim. Earlier, an Iowa election review panel ruled that former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett (R) fell short of submitting the required 4,005 legal petition signatures to qualify for the ballot. Disputing the ruling, Mr. Corbett ultimately took his argument to court, but now his candidacy has ended. Yesterday, a Polk County District Judge upheld the Iowa State Objection Panel's ruling that Mr. Corbett did not qualify. After the decision was made public, the former Mayor said he would end his challenge and accept the ultimate result that he would not be allowed to challenge Gov. Kim Reynolds in the Republican primary. This means that the new Governor will run unopposed for the party nomination.

Minnesota: For weeks, it has been speculated upon that former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) was planning to make a return to the political scene after an eight-year absence from Minnesota politics. That speculation proved true on Thursday as the ex-Governor announced that he will enter the open seat campaign for his previous position. He faces Hennepin County Commissioner and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson in the Republican primary. In 2014, Mr. Johnson held retiring Gov. Mark Dayton (D) to a 50-45% re-election victory.

Tennessee: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, in a series of polls for the Save the Children Action Network (3/7-14; 600 TN registered voters), surveyed the Volunteer State gubernatorial primaries. For the Republicans, US Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) jumps out to the early lead, with 25% preference followed by Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, who posts 20% support. Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) lag with 7 and 6 percent, respectively. On the Democratic side, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean opens up with a large lead, registering 41% among those stating a preferred candidate. State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) had just 11% support. The Tennessee primaries are not until August 2nd, so much time remains for these nomination races to change.