Primary Challenges Continue to Emerge

January 24, 2020

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

Key Takeaways

  • Presidential Polls: CA; IA; NH
  • GA-Sen: Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) getting into position
  • MS-Sen: first general election poll
  • FL-26: Miami-Dade GOP Mayor to challenge Rep. Mucarsel-Powell
  • NJ-7&11: candidate Rosemary Becchi (R) switches races
  • NY-9: Rep. Yvette Clarke (D) draws more primary opposition
  • UT-Gov: Rep. Rob Bishop (R) to run as Lt. Gov. Candidate


California:  Two presidential campaign political surveys were recently released from the Golden State, which, on Super Tuesday, will determine how 415 first ballot votes will be cast at the Democratic National Convention. The first, from Tulchin Research (1/3-10; 2,000 CA likely Democratic primary voters) sees Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) topping former Vice President Joe Biden 28-24% with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) capturing 12% support. In an extrapolated model of the projected vote, it is likely that all three candidates would qualify for delegate apportionment.

Survey USA conducted their study less than a week later. Here, S-USA (1/14-16; 565 CA likely Democratic primary voters) finds Mr. Biden holding a 30-20-20% advantage over Sens. Sanders and Warren. This model clearly projects that all three would qualify for delegate apportionment. The two polls are relatively equivalent in reliability. While the Tulchin poll has a much larger respondent sample, the S-USA methodology featured live interviews.

Iowa:  Former Vice President Joe Biden may be catching a momentum wave at a very good time. A recent David Binder Research survey (1/15-18; 500 IA likely Democratic Caucus attenders) finds him developing a clear advantage in the first voting state, Iowa. According to the Binder numbers, Mr. Biden has a 24-18-16-14-11% spread over Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The Minnesota lawmaker now appears to be making a badly needed late charge in neighboring Iowa.

Though Mr. Biden is projected to have a lead beyond the margin of error, this survey suggests that four candidates would still qualify to split Iowa's 41-vote first ballot contingent. Therefore, it appears that the party's nomination battle will be a long fight. The Iowa Caucuses are scheduled for February 3rd.

New Hampshire:  Emerson College took its turn at surveying the Granite State Democratic electorate in anticipation of the February 11th first-in-the-nation primary. The Emerson poll (1/13-16; 657 NH likely Democratic primary voters) projects Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to have taken a 23-18-14-14-10% lead over former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, ex-Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Following are Andrew Yang (8%), Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (5%), and billionaire Tom Steyer (4%).

A new MassInc survey shows almost identical results. The poll (1/17-21; 426 NH Democratic likely primary voters), conducted for television station WMUR in Manchester, finds Sen. Sanders leading the candidate field with 24%. Ex- Mayor Buttigieg is second with 17%, Mr. Biden third at 14%, followed by Sen. Warren at 13 percent. The single digit finishers are Sen. Klobuchar, Rep. Gabbard, and Mr. Yang with 6-5-5%, respectively.


Georgia:  It is becoming clear that the Democratic leadership and key powerbrokers are beginning to coalesce around Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, who is senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta where Dr. Martin Luther King was a member. Yesterday, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, who was an aspiring Senate candidate, announced that she would not run in anticipation of Rev. Warnock soon declaring his intention.

Rev. Warnock will reportedly be entering the Georgia special election to oppose appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R). The special primary will run concurrently with the general election. If no candidate receives majority support, the top two will run-off on January 5, 2021. If Rep. Doug Collins (R-Lawrenceville) decides not to run and the Democrats do coalesce around Rev. Warnock, it is likely this race will turn into a contest with two major candidates and several minor ones. If so, the chances of being forced to a run-off greatly diminish.

Kansas:  The Keep Kansas Great PAC released the results of a co/Efficient polling company survey (1/19-20; 1,246 KS likely Republican primary voters; interactive voice response) that finds west Kansas US Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Great Bend) moving slightly ahead of former Secretary of State and 2018 gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach (R) in the 2020 open Senate Republican primary.

The co/Efficient data finds Rep. Marshall only clinging to a 29-28% edge, but this is the first time that Mr. Kobach has trailed in a published Republican primary survey. Additionally, Mr. Marshall's statewide name identification is far below that of Mr. Kobach's who lost the Governor's race in 2018 to Democratic candidate Laura Kelly, suggesting the Congressman has much room to grow.

Massachusetts:  Democratic attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan announced that she is exiting the Massachusetts party primary, which effectively leaves Sen. Ed Markey (D) to face Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton) in a one-on-one battle. Previously, author Steve Pemberton dropped his bid just shortly after Rep. Kennedy announced his candidacy in October. This will be the nation's top Senate primary challenge and settled a bit earlier than originally planned. The legislature and Governor recently took action to move the September 15th election date to September 1st.

Michigan:  Baldwin Wallace University conducted a major online poll of the Great Lakes States and tested the evolving Michigan Senate race as part of the questionnaire. The poll (1/8-20; 1,023 MI self-identified registered voters; online) has a high error factor due to its online nature and reliance upon self-identified respondents. That being said, the new data finds Sen. Gary Peters (D) expanding upon what was previously a small lead within the polling margin of error to one that touches ten percentage points. The BWU results find Sen. Peters ahead of businessman and retired Army Ranger John James (R), 42-32%.

Interestingly, this poll discovers a major gender gap and the results show Mr. James already drawing to parity with Sen. Peters among men (39-39%). Women, however, break 44-25% for the incumbent. At this point, Independent voters are also gravitating toward Sen. Peters (33-21%), which is to be expected in the early going. Overall, even these numbers confirm that the Michigan Senate race has the potential of becoming very close.

Mississippi:  Millsaps College in conjunction with Chism Strategies released the first Magnolia State poll for the upcoming re-match Senate race between incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) and former US Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey (released 1/21; 618 MS registered voters) finds Sen. Hyde-Smith holding a 44-36% lead, not unlike their 2018 special election final result of 54-46%. The junior Mississippi Senator's job approval rating was detected as an identical 44:36% favorable to unfavorable.


FL-26: Cuban-born Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez (R), while endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016, announced with the Republican establishment's blessing that he will challenge Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Miami) later this year. Two Republicans are already in the race, including former Fire Fighters Union president Omar Blanco, but the nomination appears to be Mr. Gimenez's to lose.

Rep. Mucarsel-Powell was first elected in 2018, unseating incumbent Republican Carlos Curbelo, 51-49%. The 26th District was drawn as a Democratic seat but elects a number of Republicans in races within its boundaries. Clearly, Mayor Gimenez is the type of candidate who could win the seat back for the GOP. We can expect this campaign to become a top national target.

NJ-7 & 11:  Attorney and former congressional committee staff member Rosemary Becchi has opted out of a Republican primary fight against state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. in New Jersey's 7th Congressional District and will now switch her campaign to challenging freshman Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair/Morristown) in the neighboring 11th CD.

Certainly, the move gives Ms. Becchi a better chance of advancing to the general election and, arguably, the 11th District is actually more favorable to a Republican candidate, but Ms. Sherrill proved to be one of the strongest 2018 open seat candidates, nationally. The move is undoubtedly good for the party, since it will now give Republicans two strong candidates in previous GOP districts that were lost in 2018. Whether the transfer ultimately benefits Ms. Becchi remains to be seen.

NY-9:  One of the 2018 New York primary night surprises was Rep. Yvette Clarke's (D-Brooklyn) scant victory over Brooklyn Community Board member Adem Bunkeddeko, 53-47%. Her challenger returns for this year's June 23rd primary, but this week New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch also joined the battle for the party nomination.

With Rep. Clarke and Mr. Bunkeddeko potentially splitting the district's dominant black vote, Councilman Deutsch may not only have enough support to deny the incumbent re-nomination, but he could conceivably win the party nod. Coalescing the white, Jewish, and less liberal voters, Mr. Deutsch could cobble together a large enough coalition to potentially win a close primary campaign. While having several opponents - four other minor candidates are also in the race - generally helps a weakened incumbent, in this case the larger field could be detrimental to Rep. Clarke.

NY-27:  Now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signaled he will schedule the special election to replace resigned Rep. Chris Collins (R) to run concurrently with the April 28th presidential primary election, Republican Party leaders are beginning to consider who they will choose as their nominee. Under New York election law, the local party chairmen choose nominees for special elections instead of holding a primary election.

Democrats have already coalesced around former Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, the 2018 congressional nominee who held Rep. Collins to a 48-47% victory. Vying for Republican county chairmen support are state Sens. Chris Jacobs (R-Buffalo) and Rob Ortt (R-Tonawanda), attorney Beth Parlato, and historian Frank Smierciak. Now, as expected, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw announced that he will also add his name for consideration. The chairmen from the eight counties that comprise the 27th District will determine the schedule to field a nominee, but we can expect a quick process now that we see a definitive election calendar emerging.

TX-12:  The Club for Growth conservative Super PAC announced its support for Republican primary challenger Chris Putnam, who is challenging veteran Rep. Kay Granger (R-Ft. Worth) in the March 3rd Republican primary. Mr. Putnam began the race by raising $456,000 before the September 30th campaign finance deadline and is expected to announce another sizable haul when the year-end reports are published soon after February 1st. The Club's entrance into this race signals that Mr. Putnam will attract even more financial support, meaning this contest is on the road to becoming a top tier primary challenge.


Utah:  Earlier in the week, retiring Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Brigham City) said he would not run for Governor and endorsed former Utah Republican Party chairman Thomas Wright to become the party nominee. Now, Mr. Wright has recruited Rep. Bishop to be his running mate for Lt. Governor. In Utah, gubernatorial candidates choose their Lt. Governor partner before the party primary.

The Moore-Bishop ticket will face Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Governor and US Ambassador Jon Huntsman, ex-state House Speaker Greg Hughes, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, and businessman Jeff Burningham in the Republican primary scheduled for June 23rd. The Republicans will first move through the nominating convention, which is scheduled for April 25th. A candidate can be nominated outright with a 60% share of the delegate vote. Otherwise, the top two finishers will advance to the primary election.