Your Guide To The May Primaries

So we’ve had our little teases.  A Texas primary here, an Illinois primary there.  Throw in a couple of special congressional elections.  Nice, but hardly satisfying.

Well, starting this month, the primaries come non-stop:  three states on Tuesday the 6th, two on the 13th and six more on the 20th.  And let’s not forget the Texas runoff on the 27th.  Here’s what’s at stake and what you need to watch:

In Georgia's GOP primary to succeed the retiring Sen. Chambliss, Perdue leads in the polls but Handel has come up strong; Kingston is one of three House members who has given up his seat for the Senate run.
In Georgia’s GOP primary to succeed the retiring Sen. Chambliss, Perdue leads in the polls but Handel has come up strong; Kingston is one of three House members who has given up his seat for the Senate run.

May 6 — Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio

Indiana:  Two years ago everyone was focused on the GOP Senate primary, won by Richard Mourdock over six-term incumbent Dick Lugar.  Hoosier Republicans are still wrestling with that one. Nothing comes close this year; in fact, no Senate or gubernatorial race at all.  And none of the nine House incumbents faces a serious primary challenge.

North Carolina:  The most expensive Senate race in the country, with more money — mostly from outside the state — pouring in.  Republicans think that Sen. Kay Hagan is vulnerable, and she may be.  But first the GOP is going to have to come up with a nominee, either Tuesday or in a July 15 runoff.  The frontrunner is state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who was been the party’s choice from the beginning.  He’s raised the most money and has the most endorsements (Gov. Pat McCrory, Chamber of Commerce, etc.)  Most see him as the strongest opponent to Hagan.  But he is also seen as the choice of the “establishment” — and thus tea party activists are backing physician Greg Brannon, while some social conservatives support Baptist minister Mark HarrisKarl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC is backing Tillis, while Americans for Prosperity, the group backed by the Koch Brothers, has spent millions on ads opposing Hagan.  The Senate Majority PAC, a pro-Democratic group, has put in millions of its own in support of Hagan and in opposition to Tillis.  Few doubt that Tillis will finish first in the primary; the question is whether he can avoid a runoff, which party leaders say is crucial if they are to knock off Hagan in November.

In the 2nd CD, which is solidly Republican and is likely to re-elect Rep. Renee Ellmers, lots of attention has been on the Democratic primary battle between former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken and ex-state commerce secretary Keith Crisco.

In the 3rd CD, 10-term Rep. Walter Jones Jr., an anti-war libertarian Republican who opposes most U.S. foreign policy decisions and had once called for the impeachment of President Bush, is in a very tough fight with former Bush aide Taylor Griffin.

In the 6th CD, being vacated by 15-term Rep. Howard Coble (R), the early frontrunner was thought to be Phil Berger Jr., a local district attorney who is the son of a GOP power broker in the state senate.  But his opponents, led by Greensboro city councilmember Zach Metheny and banker Bruce VonCannon, are trying to force the race into a July runoff.  The district leans Republican, but that hasn’t dissuaded two Dems, Laura Field and Bruce Davis.

In the 7th CD, Rep. Mike McIntyre (D), who won re-election in 2012 over then-state Sen. David Rouzer by fewer than 700 votes, decided to retire this year after nine terms because he was not likely to survive another campaign.  Rouzer’s expected waltz into Congress this year is complicated by a primary challenge from Woody White, who argues that Rouzer had his shot and failed to deliver.  Whoever wins the Republican primary is the likely winner in November.  Mitt Romney carried the district with 59% of the vote in 2012.

The 12th CD, which Rep. Mel Watt (D) — the only inhabitant of the black-majority seat since it was created in 1992 — vacated in January to head up the Federal Housing Finance Agency, will remain in Democratic hands regardless of who wins the primary.  State Rep. Alma Adams, the only woman in the race, is thought to be the leading candidate, but she has stiff competition from state Rep. Marcus Brandon, state Sen. Malcolm Graham, Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board general counsel George Battle III and attorney Curtis Osborne.  The nomination is likely to be decided in a July 15 runoff.

Ohio:  No Senate contest this year and it’s all but certain that the two major-party gubernatorial candidates will be GOP Gov. John Kasich and Democrat Ed FitzGerald.

In the 8th district, House Speaker John Boehner faces three opponents to his right, including first-time candidate J.D. Winteregg, a teacher who got some notoriety for a recent web ad that was designed as a takeoff of a Viagra commercial (and lost his job in the process).  Winteregg hasn’t raised much money but the Tea Party Leadership Fund has pumped in nearly $320,000 on his behalf.

In 2012, the surprise winner in the 14th CD was David Joyce, a Republican who was put on the ballot after the unexpected post-primary retirement announcement by Rep. Steven La Tourrette.  Now Joyce is being challenged in the primary by state Rep. Matt Lynch, a tea party favorite.

May 13 — Nebraska and West Virginia

Thought to be the two leading GOP Senate candidates in Nebraska.
Thought to be the two leading GOP Senate candidates in Nebraska.

Nebraska:  Sen. Mike Johanns (R) is retiring.  The leading Republican candidates are former state Treasurer Shane Osborn and Ben Sasse, a former Bush administration aide who is president of Midland University.   Three other Republicans, including banker Sid Dinsdale, are also in the race.  With the winner of the GOP primary the all-but-certain next senator, the race has become extremely negative.  Sasse, a first-time candidate, has the backing of Club for Growth, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan.  Osborn is thought to be the choice of the party establishment.  David Domina will be the Democratic nominee.

Gov. Dave Heineman (R) is term limited.  The six-candidate Republican field is led by businessman/2006 Senate nominee Pete Ricketts and state Attorney General Jon Bruning (a two-time Senate candidate himself), whose race has become personal and nasty.  Also running are state Auditor Mike Foley, attorney Bryan Sloane and state Sens. Beau McCoy and Tom Carlson.  The Democratic nominee will be former University of Nebraska regent Chuck Hassebrook.

West Virginia:  No state has gone longer without electing a Republican to the Senate — it’s been 58 years since the last time.  But that’s expected to change this year, with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) favored to win the seat being vacated by Sen. Jay Rockefeller after five terms.  Her Democratic opponent is likely to be Natalie Tennant, the secretary of state, who got in the race after every other leading Democrat declined.

The 3rd CD, being vacated by Capito, features a seven-candidate GOP race that includes former state Sen. Steve Harrison, ex-International Trade Commission official Charlotte Lane and former Maryland state Sen. Alex MooneyNick Casey, the former state Democratic Party chair, is the favorite for his party’s nomination.

May 20 — Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania

Arkansas:  The Senate lineup is certain, as Sen. Mark Pryor (D) will face freshman Rep. Tom Cotton (R) in November.

In the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Mike Beebe (D), the clear primary favorites are two former congressmen:  Mike Ross (D) and Asa Hutchinson (R).

In the 2nd CD, where two-term Rep. Tim Griffin (R) is retiring, businessman French Hill is thought to be the leading Republican candidate.  The Democratic nominee will be Patrick Henry Hays.

In the 4th CD, being vacated by Senate candidate Cotton, state House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman leads the GOP pack.  The likely Democratic candidate is former FEMA director James Lee Witt.

Georgia:  Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R), a conservative who has nonetheless crossed swords with conservative groups, is retiring after two terms.  He was a likely tea party target had he decided to run again.  The Republican primary to succeed him, which is almost certainly going to be decided in a July 22 runoff, has become a battle to see who can appeal to the most right-wing elements of the party — and some think this could prove to be an opening for Michelle Nunn, the leading Democratic candidate and daughter of ex-Sen. Sam Nunn, who is making her maiden effort as a candidate.  Nunn would be a total political unknown were it not for her last name, but Democrats hope that will be enough.  Her main opponent in the Dem primary is former state Sen. Steen Miles, who is black.  Three House Republicans — Reps. Jack Kingston, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey — are running, along with former Dollar General Corp. CEO David Perdue (a cousin of ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue) and former Secretary of State Karen HandelMitt Romney carried the state in 2012 by a 53-46% margin over President Obama.  Democrats point out that the demographics are changing here, with a steady influx of African Americans and Latinos.  Georgia may still be several cycles away from electing Democrats to statewide office.  But they have hopes that a GOP candidate so far to the right may give them that shot.  Recent polls show Perdue, Handel and Kingston atop the GOP field.

In the race for governor, the likely primary winners are incumbent GOP Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.  National gun control groups have targeted Deal for his support of a far-reaching bill that allows guns to be carried in public, including in many government buildings.  The bill also lessens or eliminates penalties from those who are found with guns at airport-security checkpoints.  Democratic opponents call it the “guns everywhere” bill, but Carter was among those who voted in favor of it.

In the 4th CD, Rep. Hank Johnson is threatened in the Democratic primary by former DeKalb Co. Sheriff Tom Brown.

In the three districts where GOP incumbents are leaving to run for the Senate — the 1st (Kingston), 10th (Broun) and 11th (Gingrey) — we may not know who the Republican nominees will be until the July runoffs.

Idaho:  Sen. Jim Risch (R) is assured of renomination, along with Dem opponent Nels Mitchell, an attorney making his first run for office.

Gov. Butch Otter faces state Sen. Russ Fulcher and two others in the GOP primary.  The likely Democratic nominee is A.J. Balukoff.

In the 2nd CD, Rep. Mike Simpson, a moderate eight-term Republican and a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner, faces attorney Bryan Smith, who has the support of tea party groups and the Club for Growth.  Simpson, who was an early tea party target, was not caught sleeping and has rallied establishment Republicans behind him.  The district went for Romney with 64% in the 2012 presidential race; both Romney and his running mate, House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), are backing Simpson.

Wolf is Dems' leading hopeful in Pa.; Jones is in trouble in GOP  primary in N.C.; McConnell has opponents on the left and right in Ky.
Wolf is Dems’ leading hopeful in Pa.; Jones is in trouble in GOP primary in N.C.; McConnell has opponents on the left and right in Ky.

Kentucky:  Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) has had to fight for re-election in the past, but this is the first time he’s faced a battle for his own party’s nomination.  Businessman Matt Bevin has been endorsed by many tea party and conservative groups, in Kentucky and around the nation.  Since his last contest — six years ago, when Obama won the White House — McConnell has been accused by his more conservative GOP critics that he has been too willing to compromise his principles.  McConnell supporters argue that he has been forced to step in and make deals to keep the government functioning.  Assuming he survives his primary challenge from Bevin — which is looking more and more likely — his likely Democratic opponent will be Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was not yet six years old when McConnell won his first Senate race. 

Oregon:  Some think Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon and a moderate Republican, could give Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) a run for his money.  But first she’s going to have to win the GOP primary, where she faces conservative state Rep. Jason Conger, among others.

Pennsylvania:  Gov. Tom Corbett (R) may be the most vulnerable governor in the country this year, with miserable approval ratings.  But he has nothing to worry about in the primary, as his longshot challenger, businessman Bob Guzzardi, was ruled off the ballot for failing to file his statement of financial interests on time with the State Ethics Commission.  The leading Democratic candidate is businessman Tom Wolf, who has poured in some $10 million of his own money into his campaign.  And it seems to be working; the first-time candidate, who went up early with TV ads, has held a huge lead in the polls for a couple of months.  His leading opponents in the Dem primary are 13th CD Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord and former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty.  Much has been made about Schwartz’s aggressive support of the Affordable Care Act — a seeming anomaly for Democrats this year — but it makes sense.  Unlike other Democrats, whose lukewarm support for the ACA is in response to polls showing Obamacare to be a drag on the party, Schwartz is trying to rally the party base for the primary.

In the 6th CD, where Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) is retiring, the likely nominees are Ryan Costello (R) and Manan Trivedi (D).

In the 9th CD, tea party activists were initially high on Art Halvorson, who is challenging Rep. Bill Shuster (R), but observers say that Shuster is prepared and should not be in any jeopardy.

In the 13th CD, vacated by gov. candidate Schwartz, Marjorie Margolies — a Democrat who held the seat for one term in the 1990s and who is Chelsea Clinton’s mother in law — is trying for a comeback.  But she’s in a tough primary race that includes state Rep. Brendan Boyle and state Sen. Daylin Leach.

May 27 — Texas runoff.  Two veteran Republicans under assault from tea party opponents are in serious jeopardy.  Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who was outgunned by Ted Cruz in the 2012 GOP Senate contest, ran 13 percentage points behind state Sen. Dan Patrick in the initial March primary.  Patrick is thought to be well ahead in the runoff.  Dewhurst, in office since 2003, has seemingly never recovered from his loss to Cruz.  The Democratic nominee will be state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte.

Another longtime Republican officeholder may lose as well.  Rep. Ralph Hall, who at 91 is the oldest member of the House, faces former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe, who is 48 and backed by the Club for Growth.  Hall, who failed to clear the 50% mark in the March primary, is one of just two World War II veterans still in Congress (the other, Michigan Democrat John Dingell, is retiring this year).

In the Democratic runoff for agriculture commissioner, Jim Hogan, a little-known cattle rancher, faces Kinky Friedman, the singer/humorist/pot legalization advocate.  Hogan surprisingly led the Dem field in the March primary but has done little campaigning for the post since then. Friedman is a former gubernatorial candidate.

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