Update On Key Primary Races

April 27, 2018

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

Key Takeaways:

  • California:  two new polls suggest Senate primary race tightening between Senator Diane Feinstein (D) and state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D)
  • Nevada:  new poll puts Sen. Dean Heller (R) up by 1 point in race with freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D)
  • Rhode Island:  former Independent Governor and former Republican US Senator Lincoln Chafee to challenge Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) in Democratic primary for US Senate
  • Tennessee:  Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) holds slight lead over Rep. Marsha Blackburn, 46-43%
  • Utah:  Mitt Romney (R) failed to get necessary delegate support at recent Utah GOP nominating convention and now headed to a June 26 Republican primary with physician and state Rep. Mike Kennedy
  • AZ-8:  former State Senate President Debbie Lesko (R) won the special election 53-47% over physician Hiral Tipirneni (D)
  • CO-5:  Rep. Doug Lamborn (R) disqualified from 2018 ballot because ballot circulators not state residents as required by Colorado election law, and fell below the required 1,000 signatures; Rep. Lamborn is seeking to overturn this decision in federal court
  • TX-27:  special election to replace resigned Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) now set for June 30, 2018


California: Little known Probolsky Research (data released 4/23; 900 CA registered voters) finds Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) falling into a closer June 5th jungle primary vote with former state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). The survey shows Sen. Feinstein commanding only a 38-27% lead over de Leon within the multi-candidate field.

The Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley (4/16-22; 1,738 CA likely voters responding to an online survey) also tested the California electorate and found a surprising result. While Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) only captured 28% support when all 32 qualified candidates were listed on the survey questionnaire, as they will be on the official ballot, movement occurred from at least one down ballot candidate. The second place finisher was former state Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) as expected, but at only 11%. The individual in third place, however, coming from the lower tier of candidates and trailing de Leon by just one percentage point, is Republican James Bradley who is running on an "America First" platform and against the sanctuary cities concept.

Michigan: The Strategic National survey research organization (4/21; 350 MI likely GOP primary voters) tested the Senate Republican primary and found venture capitalist Sandy Pensler leading manufacturing business owner John James, 26-13%. With just over three months to go before this August 7th primary culminates, the race for the GOP nomination appears wide open. The winner will face Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D), who is running for a fourth term.

Nevada: The Mellman Group, a national Democratic polling firm, tested the upcoming all-but-certain Senate general election campaign (4/12-19; 600 NV likely voters) between first-term Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R) and freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson). According to the ballot test results, Sen. Heller is clinging to a 40-39% edge. In 2012, Mr. Heller scored a similarly close one-point victory over then-US Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Las Vegas).

Rhode Island: Former Governor and US Senator Lincoln Chafee, who served in Washington as a Republican, was elected Governor as an Independent, and then switched to the Democrats, says he is "90% sure" he will return to active campaigning this year. Mr. Chafee said yesterday he plans to challenge Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) in the Democratic primary and will run as the Bernie Sanders candidate. Sen. Whitehouse unseated then-Sen. Chafee in the 2006 general election. After losing, he returned to run for Governor in 2010, but as an Independent, and was able to win a three-way general election with just 36% of the vote. Faced with poor approval ratings and staring at defeat both in the 2014 Democratic primary and in the general election as an Independent, Gov. Chafee chose not to seek a second term in office.

Tennessee: Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategies (4/17-19; 625 TN registered voters) tested the all-but-certain general election contest between former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood). Like other recent polls, the M-D numbers project the former two-term Governor to be holding a slight lead. According to the results, Mr. Bredesen has a 46-43% edge. All of the traditional coalition groups are lining up as expected for their respective candidates. Ms. Blackburn's biggest problem is trailing among Independents, 49-35%.

Utah: The Utah Republican Party nominating convention was held during the past weekend, and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney (R), who is viewed to be a lock to replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) in November, failed to place first among delegates and is now headed to a June 26th Republican primary election with state Rep. Mike Kennedy, a Lindon physician. The vote was 51-49% in Dr. Kennedy's favor after multiple rounds of voting eliminated ten others, but a candidate must obtain 60% delegate support to win the nomination outright. Despite his convention performance, which actually was expected, Mr. Romney remains the heavy favorite to win the party primary, and the general election. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), who was honored at the state convention, is retiring after 42 years of service.

Wyoming: It had been rumored for months that GOP mega-donor Foster Friess, founder of the Delaware-based Brandywine mutual fund family, would initiate a Republican primary challenge to Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso. While Mr. Friess never denied considering running for the Senate, even while referring to Sen. Barrasso as one of his "heroes", it didn't appear that he was making any discernible moves to launch a campaign. Late last week, however, Mr. Friess announced that he will challenge the Senator in the August 21st Republican primary. Mr. Friess, now a long-time resident of Wyoming, will have little trouble amassing campaign resources as he can easily self-fund a major campaign. It is doubtful that he can deny Sen. Barrasso re-nomination, but Mr. Friess can certainly make the primary campaign an expensive one.


AZ-8: Former state Senate President Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria) successfully held the vacant northwestern Maricopa County district for the Republicans last night, scoring a 53-47% victory over physician Hiral Tipirneni (D). The turnout of 173,708 voters represented a larger participation rate than was found in the last midterm election (2014), becoming the fourth US House special election in this current election cycle to post such a ratio. With the addition of Ms. Lesko to the Republican Conference, the House party division is now 238 Republicans and 193 Democrats with four vacancies. Just a day after losing the special congressional election, Dr. Tiperneni announced that she will become a candidate for the regular term. Arizona candidate filing closes on May 30th with the regular state primary scheduled forAugust 28th. With a more regular voting pattern likely to occur for the general election, Rep-Elect Lesko's support preference should increase at least into the high 50s.

CO-5: In a continuing story, the Colorado state Supreme Court late yesterday ruled that six-term Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) has been disqualified from the 2018 election ballot. Apparently the consulting firm Mr. Lamborn contracted with, Kennedy Enterprises, employed non-Colorado residents as circulators. Under Colorado election law, such circulators must be state residents. If not, all signatures gathered by individual non-resident circulators are void. Since the high court rejected all such ineligible petitions, Rep. Lamborn fell below the 1,000 minimum valid signature threshold to qualify for the ballot. Mr. Lamborn quickly responded by filing a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the state Supreme Court's decision. Other similar cases have been successful in federal court.

MN-1: First District Republican delegates gathered in convention during the past weekend in Mankato to endorse a congressional nominee. In Minnesota, though the conventions don't have the power to directly nominate candidates, contenders usually abide by the delegate vote and don't force primaries. In this instance, the delegates again chose businessman Jim Hagedorn as the endorsed candidate. Mr. Hagedorn barely lost the 2016 general election to Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato) by just half a percentage point. Mr. Walz is now running for Governor, so the open 1st District will feature a hot general election campaign. State Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), who lost the convention endorsement to Hagedorn, says she will force an August 14th primary election.

The Democrats simultaneously met in convention, and did so in Le Sueur; a small town located 25 miles north of Mankato on the way to the Twin Cities. There, the party delegates turned to former US Defense Department official Dan Feehan. It appears no primary will be forced in this race, so it becomes apparent that Mr. Feehan will become the party nominee attempting to succeed Mr. Walz in what will become a toss-up campaign.

TX-27: In an unusual move, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) scheduled the special election to replace resigned Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) for a period just over a month after the May 22nd run-off election. Arguing that the area needs representation in the final stages of the current congressional session because of issues involving the Hurricane Harvey clean up funding, Gov. Abbott received legal support from Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to invoke an emergency election timetable to fill the vacancy. This means the normal deadlines governing the candidate filing period and election structure are superseded.

In this new contest, now scheduled for June 30th with the candidate filing deadline already upon us by close of business today, contenders will appear on one ballot with the top two candidates advancing to a run-off election to be scheduled at a later date. The Governor's staff confirms that the secondary vote wlll occur sometime in early September. Both Republicans competing in the run-off election and Roy Barrera, one of two Democrats qualifying for that party's run-off, say they will file for the special election.

UT-3: Also at the Utah Republican Party nominating convention, freshman Rep. John Curtis (R-Provo), who won the 2017 special election to succeed resigned Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), failed to win re-nomination outright. Needing 60% to avoid a primary, Mr. Curtis received 59% of the delegate vote. In the special election, Rep. Curtis, then the Mayor of Provo, bypassed the party district nominating convention and qualified for the ballot via petition. The Congressman is again favored to win the succeeding primary, which is tantamount to re-election in the fall.


Maryland: The just-released Goucher Poll (4/14-19; 617 MD adults) finds Gov. Larry Hogan (R) remaining in strong shape as he prepares for his re-election campaign. According to the survey, a whopping 69% of the respondents approve of the job he is doing as Governor versus just 21% who disapprove. Fifty-three percent believe Maryland is headed in the right direction, while 28% say the state has gone "off on the wrong track."

Gov. Hogan fares well against his potential Democratic opponent as the state primary approaches on June 26th.   Against Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker (D), the Governor's margin is 44-31%. If Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz were to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Mr. Hogan's advantage would be 45-28%. Former NAACP president Ben Jealous falls in similar territory. He would also trail the Governor 44-31% if he were the Democratic nominee.

Michigan: The Glengariff Group, polling for the Greater Detroit Regional Chamber PAC (4/20-22; 400 MI likely Democratic primary voters; 4/19-21; 400 MI likely Republican primary voters) produced a surprising result. Though former state House Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer has gained the Democratic establishment's support, businessman Shri Thanedar has grabbed the lead in the primary race according to the GG results. They find Mr. Thanedar's margin to be 30-26%, the result of an early advertising campaign that has boosted his name identification to 75%. Thanedar is racking up large margins in the city of Detroit and Wayne County, which accounts for his early success. On the Republican side, the results were more in line with conventional thought. There, Attorney General Bill Schuette leads Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, 36-23%.

Nevada: The aforementioned Mellman Group poll (see NV-Senate above) also tested the open Nevada Governor's race. The poll paired Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the likely Republican nominee, and Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D), and then fellow Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani (D). Against Commissioner Sisolak, Mr. Laxalt jumps out to a 43-37% edge. If Ms. Giunchigliani becomes the Democratic nominee, the Laxalt lead would diminish to 40-38%.

Rhode Island: In addition to former Senator Lincoln Chafee potentially challenging Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in the Democratic primary, Gov. Gina Raimondo, suffering from poor approval ratings, is also drawing a Democratic primary challenge it was learned yesterday.

Former Secretary of State Matt Brown, who was indicating he would enter the Governor's race as an Independent, changed course and announced Thursday that he will challenge the first term Governor in the Democratic primary. Therefore, with challenges to both Whitehouse and Raimondo on the political horizon, the September 12th Democratic primary is unfolding as a major electoral contest.