A Surprising Primary Incumbent Defeat

September 7, 2018

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

Key Takeaways

  • California: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) falls below 40%
  • Florida: two polls show tie in Senate race battle between Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Gov. Rick Scott (R)
  • Indiana: new poll again finds Senate race closing between Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) and challenger, businessman Mike Braun (R)
  • FL-7: new poll says Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) up 47-46% in close race against state Rep. Mike Miller (R)
  • MA-3:  in contest to replace retiring Rep. Niki Tsongas (D), the Democratic winner in a ten candidate primary still not decided
  • MA-7:  Rep. Mike Capuano (D) defeated in primary by Boston City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley (D)
  • MN-2: Rep. Jason Lewis (R) holding one-point lead in re-election effort over Democrat Angie Craig
  • Alaska: ex-Sen. Mark Begich (D) refuses to leave Gov race
  • Kansas: Sec. of State Kris Kobach (R) clings to lead over state Sen. Laura Kelly (D) and Greg Orman (I) in race for Governor

Primary Results 

In another surprising primary finish, ten-term Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Somerville) was soundly upended in this week's Massachusetts Democratic primary.  At-large Boston City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley, uniting the minority coalition in what is the state's only majority minority district, defeated the long-term incumbent, 59-41%, far beyond what any published poll was suggesting.

Though data had not been available for most of August, the latest surveys found Rep. Capuano leading but never with majority support.  This signaled weakness within the incumbent's base, but nothing like the margin that materialized in what proved to be a typical primary turnout election.  Ms. Pressley will now be an easy winner in the general election in what is a safely Democratic seat.

The open 3rd District Democratic primary that featured ten candidates vying to succeed retiring Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell), is still not decided.  Only 52 votes separate former congressional chief of staff and businesswoman Lori Trahan and ex-Boston mayoral chief of staff Dan Koh, as the results are surely headed for a recount.  An undisclosed number of provisional ballots also remain to be counted.  We can expect the recount process to drag on for several days.  The eventual winner faces Republican businessman Rick Green in the general election.

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper (D) was easily re-nominated with 65% of the vote against Democratic socialist Kerri Harris in a September 6th Democratic primary that drew media attention but no real competition.  The Senator will now easily defeat Sussex County Councilman Rob Arlett (R) in the general election to win a fourth term.


Arizona: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed former Sen. Jon Kyl (R) to replace the late Sen. John McCain (R).  Mr. Kyl served as a US Senator from 1995-2013 after originally winning election to the House in 1986.  He promises to serve at least to the end of this year, "but probably more." Mr. Kyl says he will not be a candidate in the 2020 special election.

California:  A new Problosky Research poll (8/29-9/2; 900 CA registered voters) finds Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) leading fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles state Senator and former state Senate President, by a tepid 37-29% count.  Sen. Feinstein has never been over 50% in any poll, placed first in the state's jungle primary with only 44%, but retains a huge advantage in campaign resources and personal familiarity.

Florida:  The new St. Pete Polls survey (8/29-30; 1,755 FL likely voters via automated response system) finds Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Gov. Rick Scott (R) in a flat 47-47% tie, as does the latest Quinnipiac University most recent Florida poll (8/30-9/3; 785 FL registered voters). The Q-Poll finds the two candidates tied at 49%, apiece. We can expect this race to poll close all the way to Election Day.

Indiana:  NBC/Marist College released their new Indiana survey (8/26-29; 955 IN adults; 816 IN registered voters; 576 IN likely voters) and found a much tighter race than in the last published poll. According to NBC/Marist, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) holds a 43-41% lead in the registered voter segment, which increases to 44-41% when the small likely voters cell is isolated.

Sen. Donnelly boasts a good job approval rating, however, 46:31% positive to negative. The numbers also tell us that the outside attacks against Republican nominee Mike Braun have taken their toll. His approval rating is a lower 38:31%. President Trump's job approval in Vice President Pence's home state is 46:47%.

Missouri:  NBC News/Marist College polled the Missouri Senate race (8/25-28; 930 MO adults; 774 MO registered voters), and like all other results we've seen in this contest, the ballot test is close.  According to these results, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) leads Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), 44-40-5-3% with the Libertarian and Green Party candidates obtaining the latter two figures.  If the contest were only between McCaskill and Hawley, the two candidates would fall into a 47-47% tie.  The culmination of data again suggests that this Senate race remains in the toss-up category.

Ohio:  The Ohio Senate race has not gotten much national attention, which suits incumbent Sherrod Brown (D) just fine.  A new Change Research survey for the liberal Innovation Ohio think tank (8/31-9/4; 822 OH likely voters), however, finds the two-term Democratic incumbent leading US Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth) by only a 46-42% clip, much closer than the conventional political wisdom suggests.

West Virginia: Last week, Harper Polling released a survey showing Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) closing to within a 47-41% spread.  Now, Research America (formerly Repass Research) has released their new survey (8/16-26; 404 WV likely voters from each of the state's 55 counties) suggesting a slightly different cut, but in the same range as Harper. According to Research America, the Manchin lead is 46-38%.


FL-7:  A St. Pete Polls survey conducted shortly after the Florida primary (8/30; 435 FL-7 likely voters) finds state Rep. Mike Miller (R-Winter Park) trailing freshman Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park) by only a slight 47-46% deficit.  The 7th District is politically marginal. Rep. Murphy unseated veteran Rep. John Mica (R) here in 2016, and defends her seat as an incumbent for the first time.  Mr. Miller was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2014.  The Congresswoman is still favored to win this election, but the electorate here is split, so this poll may well be accurate. More data will be needed to obtain a complete picture.

MI-6:  A Global Strategy Group poll for the Matt Longjohn (D) campaign (8/24-29; 500 MI-6 likely voters) finds 16-term Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) ahead in his current re-election race, but his margin is competitive.  According to the GSG survey, Rep. Upton's advantage is 47-41%.  The 6th District is relatively marginal, so this type of spread isn't especially surprising.  In this current 6th District configuration (since 2012, inclusive), Rep. Upton has averaged 57.7% of the vote.

MN-2:  In late July, CNN unleashed a series of negative stories about freshman Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Woodbury), recounting many unflattering comments he made while a Minneapolis radio talk show host.  According to a mid-August WPA Intelligence survey that was just released, the negative attack hasn't changed the race a great deal.  In 2016, he and Democrat Angie Craig were in toss-up mode throughout the election with Mr. Lewis eventually prevailing 47-45%.  The WPA poll (8/18-21; 400 MN-2 likely voters) finds Rep. Lewis leading the re-match with Ms. Craig, 46-45%.

MO-2:  The 2nd District of Missouri, heretofore believed to be safe for three-term Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin/St. Louis County), now is moving into the competitive realm and presumably featuring a highly spirited campaign.  According to an Expedition Strategies survey (8/23-26; 402 MO-2 registered voters) Democratic challenger Cort VanOstran has actually taken a 43-41% lead over Rep. Wagner.  The Congresswoman has just under $3 million in her campaign account, so she certainly has the resources to reverse this trend.

NY-19:  Upstate New York's 19th District is viewed as a toss-up for this election cycle as freshman Rep. John Faso (R-Kinderhook), a Republican former gubernatorial nominee, defends the seat he first won in 2016. According to a Siena University survey (8/20-26; 501 NY-19 likely voters), Rep. Faso leads attorney Antonio Delgado (D), 45-40%.  The good news for the Congressman is that he looks to possess growth room with Republicans (76% support; Delgado has 81% among Democrats) and those 55 years and older, a polling segment in which the two candidates are tied.  There is a major gender gap here, however. Rep. Faso enjoys a 21% advantage among men, but is behind nine points among females.

NC-2: A couple of weeks ago, a story broke in the Raleigh area that North Carolina Congressman George Holding (R-Raleigh) sent a fundraising appeal to his donors indicating that his internal polling found him tracking behind his challenger, former state Rep. Linda Coleman (D), presumably to energize his donor base.  Yesterday, the Coleman Campaign released their own internal Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll (8/23-27; 401 NC-2 likely voters) that seemed to confirm the Congressman's reported polling numbers.  The GQR data posts their candidate to a 45-44% edge over Rep. Holding.


Alaska: The three-way race among Gov. Bill Walker, the nation's lone Independent state chief executive, former US Senator Mark Begich (D), and ex-state Senator Mike Dunleavy (R) became official early this week.  Though Walker supporters, including the state AFL-CIO, have been urging Mr. Begich to drop out of the race seeing that polls are uniformly finding Mr. Dunleavy would win a three-way race, he refused to do so.

The adverse split is occurring because Democrats and left-of-center voters are split between Gov. Walker and Mr. Begich, thus allowing the Republican base to push Mr. Dunleavy toward plurality support.  In 2014, Mr. Walker and then-Democratic nominee Byron Mallot unified their ticket (Mallot agreed to run as Lt. Governor), which led to unseating then-Gov. Sean Parnell (R).

Florida: Quinnipiac University immediately went into the field after the Florida primary and found a predictably close budding gubernatorial contest. According to their latest survey (8/30-9/3; 785 FL registered voters), Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) holds a slight 50-47% lead over Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Palm Coast/Daytona Beach).

Kansas:  A Public Policy Polling survey for the Kansas Education Association (8/24-26; 877 KS likely voters) finds Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach leading state Sen. Laura Kelly (D-Topeka) by a slight 39-38% margin with Independent Greg Orman pulling 9 percent. Mr. Kobach denied Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) re-nomination in early August by just 361 votes, statewide.

Ohio:  The aforementioned Change Research poll (see Ohio Senate above) also tested the Ohio Governor's race.  Here, the firms finds Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) recapturing a lead over former Attorney General and Consumer Federal Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray (D) by a 45-43% slight margin.  Though the numbers suggest a tight race for DeWine, they are actually an improvement over recently released polling.