Primary Challenges Begin To Emerge

January 25, 2019

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

Key Takeaways

  • President: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend, IN) announce; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) out
  • Michigan: 2018 Senate nominee John James (R) interested in running again
  • GA-6: defeated Rep. Karen Handel (R) signals re-match with Rep. Lucy McBath (D)
  • HI-2: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) faces Dem primary challenge from State Sen. Kai Kahele
  • IL-3: Democratic primary rerun for Rep. Dan Lipinski (D) as 2018 primary challenger and media consultant Marie Newman likely to run again
  • NH-Gov: Gov. Chris Sununu (R) already draws 2020 challenge from Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky (D)


Mayor Pete Buttigieg:  South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee this week, quite a jump from being a small city mayor all the way to running for President. At this point, Mr. Buttigieg must be viewed as a minor candidate, but with millennial and LGBTQ constituencies serving as a potential political base, the South Bend Mayor could have access to both a financial and vote base.

Sen. Kamala Harris:  As expected, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced her candidacy for President but did not do so at a Martin Luther King Day rally in her birthplace city of Oakland as originally planned. Instead, she made her declaration during an interview on ABC News' Good Morning America, followed by a speech at Howard University in Washington, DC. Regardless of her announcement venue, Sen. Harris is now an official presidential candidate.

John Hickenlooper:  Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, out of office for less than a month after serving two terms, says he will decide by March about whether to enter the presidential campaign. Mr. Hickenlooper has been on the fringes of the national campaign for months and may find himself dropping hopelessly behind if he doesn't begin to take action very soon.

Sen. Chris Murphy:  Though Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy has never indicated that he would become a presidential candidate in 2020, his name often surfaced as an individual looking to make a run for the national office. Yesterday, Sen. Murphy addressed the rumors and stated flatly that he will not be a candidate for President next year, saying that he will continue to fulfill the duties of his current office.

PPP National Polls:  The Public Policy Polling firm conducted a nationwide political survey (1/19-21; 760 US registered voters), testing President Trump against seven potential Democratic opponents. The poll clearly skews left and finds the President trailing all, suggesting that his dip in popularity would be very serious if he were directly heading into an election. On the plus side for him, the Trump standing isn't much worse than his previous polling status versus Hillary Clinton, meaning he still retains his strong base.

Former Vice President Joe Biden fares best, topping Mr. Trump, 53-41%. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) would beat him 51-41% if the election occurred during the PPP polling period. The other candidates, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), all lead between five and seven points.


Alabama:  Conventional political wisdom suggests that the Alabama Republican Senatorial primary will be a crowded affair with the winner having a strong chance of unseating Sen. Doug Jones (D), who won the 2017 controversial special election. Yesterday, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), always believed to be a near-sure Senatorial candidate, indicated he would make his 2020 decision known in the next few weeks. All signals suggest that the Congressman will enter the race.

Michigan:  Manufacturing company owner and retired Army Ranger John James (R), who did much better in a losing effort against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (52-46%) than originally projected even in a bad year for Michigan Republicans, may challenge Sen. Gary Peters (D) next year. Mr. James confirms he is interested in again seeking political office, and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Todd Young (R-IN) continues to sing Mr. James' praises as a viable candidate.

Should he run in 2020, Mr. James' campaign effort will be taken much more seriously, but the political road ahead will remain rocky despite Sen. Peters rather tepid job approval ratio (33:28%; according to the Morning Consult national polling organization in their pre-election survey of all 100 Senators).


GA-6:  First-term Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Marietta) scored a close 50-49% upset victory over Rep. Karen Handel (R-Roswell) in November. Therefore, it is clear that she will be a major GOP conversion target in 2020. Already, two potential Republican opponents are signaling that they will be candidates in 2020.

Former Rep. Karen Handel (R-Roswell), who won the most expensive race in history in a 2017 special election but lost the regular vote to Ms. McBath by less than a percentage point, says she is seriously considering running again in 2020. State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) also took action just before the holiday weekend break. He filed a fundraising committee with the Federal Election Commission.

GA-7:  Georgia's 7th District race produced the closest raw vote margin in the country, a spread of just 419 votes between veteran Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Lawrenceville) and former state Senate committee staff director Carolyn Bourdeaux (D). We have not heard whether Ms. Bourdeaux will make another run in 2020, but if she does the former nominee will not have a free ride in the Democratic primary. Yesterday, attorney and Democratic activist Marqus Cole announced that he plans to file for the 7th CD party nomination next year.

HI-2:  Soon after announcing that she plans to run for President, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Kailua) has drawn a serious Democratic challenger for her congressional seat. State Sen. Kai Kahele (D-Hilo) announced that he will run for the 2nd District House seat whether or not Ms. Gabbard seeks re-election in 2020. Under Hawaii law, an individual can simultaneously run for President and another office. This potential contest could well become a serious political challenge.

Ms. Gabbard was first elected to the House in 2012 after serving in the Hawaii state House of Representatives and on the Honolulu City Council. She did not seek re-election after one term in the legislature in order to serve in Iraq with her National Guard unit.

IL-3:  In a strong March 2018 Democratic primary challenge, media consultant Marie Newman came within two percentage points of denying veteran Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs/ Chicago Suburbs) re-nomination. According to a public statement made late this week, it appears highly likely that Ms. Newman will return for a re-match with the eight-term Congressman early next year.

IA-1:  The eastern Iowa congressional district that is usually friendly to Democrats but had a Republican Representative for the previous two terms figures to be another battleground region in 2020. Freshman Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Dubuque) defeated Rep. Rod Blum (R-Dubuque) 51-46% last November. Now, state Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion/Cedar Rapids) confirms she is considering the race and expects to soon make a decision. Reports coming from the National Republican Congressional Committee suggests that leadership believes Ms. Hinson will become a strong challenger candidate.

IA-4:  Rep. Steve King (R-Kiron/Sioux City) has been under heavy media attack over racial comments for the past two weeks, and a new poll has shown the controversy has hurt him. Winning re-election by just a 50-47% margin in what is normally a safe Republican district, 2018 Democratic nominee JD Scholten would already lead the Congressman according to a new poll just released.

The Insight 20/20 organization, polling for the Majority Rules Political Action Committee (1/16-17; 472 IA-4 registered voters), finds Rep. King trailing Mr. Scholten, 39-44%. Already, state Sen. Kurt Feenstra (R-Hull) has announced his primary challenge to Rep. King. Both Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) and the official Iowa Republican Party committee leadership have said they will not support Rep. King for re-election.

NC-9:  A North Carolina Superior Court judge denied Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris' legal move to be declared the winner of the disputed 9th District election. The presiding jurist indicated that the state Board of Elections is investigating the voter fraud allegations and that declaring either candidate a winner would be premature. The investigation has dragged on since Election Day. A new state Board of Elections will be in place beginning in February. The most probable result is calling for a new election.

TX-10:  Democratic attorney Mike Siegel, who held Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Austin) to a 51-47% re-election victory, says he will again seek the 2020 Democratic nomination in preparation for a re-match with the seven-term Congressman and former Homeland Security Committee chairman. The 2018 race was surprisingly close, and Siegel can again expect a big vote coming from the Travis County (Austin) part of the district.


Kentucky:  Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), who attracted national political attention in her unsuccessful 2014 US Senate race against then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), was another potential candidate said to be considering challenging Gov. Matt Bevin (R) later this year. This week, however, Ms. Grimes indicated that she will not become a candidate for Governor or any other office in 2019. She is ineligible to seek re-election to a third term as Secretary of State.

Montana:  Attorney General Tim Fox (R), who for several years was the state's lone Republican office holder, late this week announced as expected that he will run for Governor next year. With incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock (D) ineligible to seek a third term and seriously considering entering the presidential campaign realm, the door is wide open for Mr. Fox to make a strong bid to attain the Governor's office.

Secretary of State Corey Stapleton (R) is already running for Governor, so AG Fox will face significant primary opposition. Democrats will attempt to field strong candidates both for Governor and to challenge Sen. Steve Daines (R) as the latter man seeks re-election for the first time. Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney waits in the wings as the leading potential Democratic statewide candidate.

New Hampshire:  Being one of two states that limit their gubernatorial terms to only two years - neighboring Vermont is the other - New Hampshire state chief executives are always running. Late this week, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) drew his first major Democratic challenger.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky (D), a strong Bernie Sanders backer in 2016, told supporters through an email message that he will enter the Democratic gubernatorial primary in hopes of winning the opportunity to challenge the two-term Republican Governor. As always in New Hampshire, the statewide race has the potential of being decided by just a few votes. In November, Gov. Sununu was re-elected with a closer-than-expected 53-46% margin.