Primary Challenges Continue to Emerge

May 31, 2019

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

Key Takeaways

  • AL-Sen: Judge Roy Moore (R) may run
  • NC-Sen: Poll shows serious primary challenge developing
  • MA-4: Rep. Joe Kennedy III draws Dem primary challenge
  • NC-9: Dan Bishop (R) up in special election poll
  • Redistricting: SCOTUS stays MI and OH rulings
  • MS-Gov: Legal challenge to election system


Morning Consult National Poll:  Former Vice President Joe Biden again leads a new national Morning Consult large sample poll (5/20-26; 16,368 US registered Democratic voters) but remains well under the 50% support he will need to clinch a first ballot win at next year's national convention in Milwaukee. The MC numbers find Mr. Biden holding a 38-20% advantage over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while all others hover in single-digits. Topping the second tier, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) captures 9% and South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg and California Senator Kamala Harris both record 7% support.


Alabama:  For weeks speculation has been rampant that former state Supreme Court Chief Justice and 2017 failed US Senate candidate Roy Moore is contemplating another run next year. Mr. Moore now confirms that he is considering again becoming a statewide federal candidate and says he will make a decision in the next few weeks. Already in the race are US Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, state Auditor Jim Zeigler, and state Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs).

Maine:  Maine US Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-North Haven/ Portland) says she "doubts" that she or her daughter, former state House Speaker Hannah Pingree (D), will challenge Sen. Susan Collins (R) next year. In addition to Rep. Pingree's comments, neither woman appears to be constructing a statewide campaign nor raising money to support such an operation. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had hoped to recruit either Pingree into the 2020 race.

The DSCC leadership also made overtures to freshman Rep. Jared Golden (D-Lewiston). With the Congressman declaring for re-election last week, it appears none of the party's top three choices will enter the race. At this point, Sen. Collins appears in strong position for re-election.

North Carolina:  The Club for Growth organization is making it clear they would like to see Rep. Mark Walker (R-Greensboro) challenge North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis in next year's Republican primary. The Club sponsored a new WPA Intelligence poll (5/19-21; 502 NC likely Republican primary voters) that finds Sen. Tillis below majority support in a GOP primary, but well over the minimum 30% threshold needed to win the party nomination.

According to WPA, Sen. Tillis would lead Rep. Walker and wealthy businessman Garland Tucker, who announced his Senate campaign earlier this month, 40-17-11%. When push questions are added, Walker's standing greatly increases to the point where he leads the primary field.

South Carolina:  Former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jamie Harrison, who formed a US Senate exploratory committee in February, announced late this week that he will become a full-fledged candidate against Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham (R). The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee then quickly endorsed Mr. Harrison. Any real threat to Sen. Graham, however, comes in the Republican primary, but he appears secure for re-election.

Texas:  Former one-term Houston Congressman Chris Bell (D) announced that he is forming a US Senate exploratory committee. If he decides to run, Mr. Bell will oppose retired Army helicopter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate M.J. Hegar for the Democratic nomination. The winner opposes three-term Sen. John Cornyn (R) in the general election.


CO-3:  Former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush (D), who challenged Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez/Western Slope) announced yesterday that she will run again next year. While M s. Bush lost 52-44% to Mr. Tipton, she did manage to outspend him $1.9 million to $1.7 million. Rep. Tipton is presumed to become a candidate for a sixth term in 2020. He will be favored for re-election in a district that President Trump carried, 52-40%.

GA-6:  The idea that ex-US Rep. Karen Handel (R), a former Secretary of State and Georgia gubernatorial candidate, would get a free ride for a re-match nomination against Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Marietta) is now an official pipe dream. After state Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) declared his candidacy even before Ms. Handel decided to run, we now see a Navy and Merchant Marine veteran coming forth. This week, Nicole Rodden, who will be a first-time candidate, made public her intention to run.

IA-2:  Things are looking positive for former state Senator and Lt. Governor nominee Rita Hart to become a consensus Democratic candidate in the battle to replace retiring Rep. David Loebsack (D-Iowa City). Yesterday, Rep. Loebsack publicly endorsed Ms. Hart as his successor. At this point, Ms. Hart is the only announced Democratic candidate. Republicans are expected to field several significant contenders but, so far, only Osceola Mayor Thomas Kedley is an announced candidate. The 2nd performs as a reliable Democratic district, but President Trump carried the seat 49-45% in 2016. Therefore, as an open contest, this race could become competitive.

ME-2:  Former state Sen. Eric Brakey (R), who challenged Sen. Angus King (I) last year and lost 53-35%, is expressing interest in opposing freshman Rep. Jared Golden (D-Lewiston) in 2020. He also plans to meet with former Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R), who has not yet decided whether he will run again. Mr. Brakey indicated that he did not envision a scenario where he and Mr. Poliquin would oppose each other for the Republican nomination.

MA-4:  Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton) is drawing a primary challenge from his political left. Former Wall Street regulator Ihssane Leckey announced at the beginning of the holiday weekend that she would run against the four-term legacy Congressman and criticized his remark that we should be striving for "moral capitalism." Ms. Lecky is running as a Democratic Socialist. It is unlikely that she will be able to deny Rep. Kennedy re-nomination, but the contest may be worth watching.

NC-9:  The new data coming from JMC Analytics (5/21-24; 350 NC-9 registered voters) reminds us that the south-central North Carolina congressional district is still Republican in nature. Despite Democrat Dan McCready raising huge sums of money (over $2 million cumulative within the pre-primary disclosure report filing period), new Republican nominee Dan Bishop, a Charlotte state Senator, has taken an early 46-42% lead in the first published poll for the September 10th special general election.

The 9th District has been vacant all year. The 2018 results were held in suspension due to vote fraud irregularities. Therefore, the individual placing first in that election, Republican Mark Harris who is not running again, was not certified as the official winner thus forcing a new election cycle. Expect this race to become a major battle as the summer progresses.

TX-24:  Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Coppell/Carrollton) now has three opponents. Yesterday, 2018 Democratic nominee Jan McDowell, who didn't even spend $100,000 on her campaign, confirmed that she will run again. So will 2018 Agriculture Commissioner candidate Kim Olson, a retired Air Force Colonel who ran well statewide, 51-45%, in a losing effort. Also in the Democratic primary is Carrollton-Farmers Branch School Board Trustee Candace Valenzuela. Therefore, in what has traditionally been a quiet political district, we can expect to see serious competition in both the Democratic primary and general election next year. In 2018, Rep. Marchant's victory margin dropped to 51-48%.

Redistricting:  At the end of last week, the US Supreme Court, in a rare 9-0 vote, granted the Republicans' motion to stay redistricting orders in Michigan and Ohio that would have forced the legislature to re-draw the respective states' congressional maps before the 2020 election. The move could be a prelude to three important high court rulings scheduled for release at some point in June: those on the Maryland and North Carolina redistricting cases, and the constitutionality of including a citizenship question on the upcoming census questionnaire.


Mississippi:  Yesterday, four African American voters, with the backing of former US Attorney General Eric Holder's National Democratic Redistricting Committee, filed suit to challenge the long-held Mississippi electoral practice of requiring statewide candidates not only to win a majority of votes, but also carrying a majority of state House districts. If the top vote-getter fails to win a majority of votes or House districts, the election is deferred to the state House to resolve the outcome.

The Mississippi statewide election system has been in effect since 1890. No first-place candidate in the statewide vote has ever been denied their office when the final vote was sent to the state House. The Mississippi statewide elections will be held later this year.

Montana:  Reports from a local Montana news service are indicating that Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Bozeman) will soon announce his gubernatorial candidacy. Mr. Gianforte was the Republican nominee for Governor in 2016, losing to incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock (D), 50-46%. He since won a special US House election in 2017, and re-election to a full term in 2018. Already in the open race are Attorney General Tim Fox (R) and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton (R).

Rep. Gianforte's House election percentages were both rather tepid: 50-44% in the special election, and 51-46% in the 2018 regular election, which may not bode well for him in a contested Republican primary. By contrast, President Trump racked up a 56-36% victory here in 2016, and Sen. Steve Daines (R) won his first term in 2014 with a 58-40% margin. Gov. Bullock, now an official presidential candidate, is ineligible to seek a third term.

New York:  Three-term New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is wasting no time declaring his next political move. This week, the Governor said he will run for a fourth term in 2022. If successful, Mr. Cuomo will achieve a political mark that alluded his father. Republican George Pataki defeated then-Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) when the latter man ran for his fourth term in 1994.