WASHINGTON — Election returns delivered primary verdicts and political surprises from New Jersey to California after polls closed in eight states Tuesday, the biggest primary voting day of the 2018 election cycle.
The most closely watched races were in California, where Democrats remained on edge about a slate of congressional races that will help determine their prospects for winning a House majority come November. With millions of absentee ballots and a glitch that left some voters off the rolls, final results could be delayed in some of the most critical contests.
Across the country, Tuesday’s primaries highlighted tensions in the Democratic Party between progressive and establishment camps — while in many Republican primaries, the leading candidates competed to be the most Trump-like as they wooed conservatives.
In Alabama, questions about GOP fealty to Trump produced one of Tuesday’s most notable results: Republican incumbent Rep. Martha Roby was forced into a runoff against a GOP foe after coming under attack for un-endorsing Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Here are the key races in each state.
Roby failed to dispatch a stiff primary challenge and will face a runoff election against Bobby Bright, a one-time Democratic congressman, in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District.
Roby came under fire from Bright and her other GOP primary rivals for not being loyal enough to President Trump. Her three opponents clambered to position themselves to the right of Roby, and they reminded voters that Roby withdrew her endorsement of then-candidate Trump in 2016 after the Access Hollywood tape revealed his boasts about grabbing women by the genitals without their consent.
Bright ran ads accusing Roby of turning “her back on President Trump when he needed her the most.”
In the gubernatorial race, Gov. Kay Ivey clinched the Republican nomination and now will try to win the office outright after her appointment 14 months ago, when predecessor Robert Bentley resigned in the fallout of a sex-tinged scandal.
She will face Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, who won the Democratic nomination by defeating former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and other candidates.
In campaigning, Ivey emphasized the state’s falling unemployment rate, a robust economy and the quieting of the Bentley scandal.
“I’m proud of all we’ve gotten accomplished in these 14 months,” Ivey said during a Monday campaign stop in Montgomery. “When I became governor, I told the people we would clean up government, restore the people’s trust, and we would bring back our conservative values, and we have.”
Alabama hasn’t elected a Democrat to the governor’s office since 1998, but the party has been energized by a win in December’s U.S. Senate race and seeks a resurgence in state politics.
State Auditor Matt Rosendale won the GOP nomination in Montana’s blockbuster U.S. Senate race; he will face Democratic incumbent Jon Tester
Tester is one of 10 Democrats running for re-election in states that Trump won in 2016, and the Montana race will be a top GOP target this fall.
Tester remains popular in Montana, even though he has voted against several high-profile Trump nominees and helped torpedo the president’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Ronny Jackson. Trump lashed out at Tester via Twitter over the Jackson nomination and suggested the Democratic senator should be defeated over the incident.
For now, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists the race as “likely” to stay in Democratic hands. “Tester, who has built a record as a populist, is a good fit for rural Montana, and will not be easy to beat,” Cook’s most recent analysis states.
In Montana’s only House seat, a clutch of Democrats are competing to face incumbent Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte in November. Gianforte won the seat in a special election after Trump tapped ex-Rep. Ryan Zinke to be his Interior secretary.
Kathleen Williams won the Democratic nomination.
Although Gianforte is favored to win in this conservative state, Democrats hope to put this seat in play — particularly because Gianforte’s special election win was narrow and he stirred considerable controversy after he assaulted a reporter covering that earlier race.
New Jersey voters set up a general election battle for U.S. Senate between a wealthy moderate Republican ex-pharmaceutical executive, Bob Hugin, and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, whose staved off a surprisingly stiff primary challenge from an opponent who raised almost no money.
The 63-year-old Hugin calls himself “pro-choice,” supports a path toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and does not expect the National Rifle Association’s endorsement. He says President Trump has gone beyond being the “disruptor” he was hoping for to occasionally “dysfunctional.”
He’s also dipped into his fortune — his disclosure statement says he earned almost $50 million during the 15 months ending March 31 — to fund ads attacking Menendez’s ethics.
Menendez is trying to move past the corruption charges that he beat last winter, and that led to him being “severely admonished” by the ethics committee. He wants to focus on Hugin’s record as a supporter of President Trump in 2016 and as the former chairman of Celgene Corp., a company Menendez says sought “obscene” profits by marking up the price of cancer drugs.
In key congressional districts, New Jersey will be a key battleground as Democrats seek to win a House majority and the party targets as many as five GOP-held seats in the Garden State.
Tuesday’s results in five House primaries sets up these fall elections:
• Former helicopter pilot Mikie Sherrill, who wowed national Democrats by raising $2.9 million for her campaign, will face former state Republican chairman and Assemblyman Jay Webber in the race for the 11th District seat held by the retiring Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen.
• State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a Democrat who has received an “A” rating from the NRA, will face attorney Seth Grossman in the race for retiring Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s seat in the 2nd District.
• Rep. Leonard Lance, arguably the state’s most vulnerable Republican incumbent, will face former assistant secretary of State Tom Malinowski in the 7th District.
• Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican who won his first race in 1980, will face Navy veteran Josh Welle in the 4th District
• Attorney John McCann won a tight race against Steve Lonegan, a former mayor and national spokesman for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign, for the Republican nomination to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer.
In this Midwestern battleground, the most closely watched contest unfolded in the northeast quadrant of the state, where Democrats believe incumbent GOP Rep. Rod Blum is vulnerable. The conservative GOP lawmaker won re-election by 54 percent in 2016; President Trump carried the district by a slim three percentage points, while former President Obama won here in 2012.
Democratic State Rep. Abby Finkenauer of Dubuque defeated three primary rivals to face Blum in the fall. She raised the most money in the primary — nearly $1.3 million — and heads into the general election with union endorsements and the support of EMILY’s List, which is devoted to electing Democratic women who support abortion access.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hopes to flip this GOP-held seat this fall. But Republicans note that Democrats have targeted this Iowa district before and come up short. They say Blum should not be underestimated.
J.D. Scholten of Sioux City, a former professional baseball player, won the Democratic nomination for Congress Tuesday in Iowa’s 4th District and will face U.S. Rep. Steve King in November’s general election.
Scholten, a long-shot candidate for the general election, was in an ecstatic mood Tuesday night. He said he was looking forward to barnstorming throughout the 4th District in his Winnebago campaign vehicle over the next five months.
“This is what is signed up for. This is the main event,” Scholten said in an interview. He said he recognizes that King has repeatedly fended off Democratic challengers, but he believes there is an opportunity for an underdog like himself to win the race this fall.
In the gubernatorial race, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham won a three-way Democratic primary. She will face another member of Congress — GOP Rep. Steve Pearce — in that top-of-the-ticket race this fall.
If Lujan Grisham were to win in November, she would become the first Democratic Latina elected governor.
In New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, Pearce’s decision to run for higher office has made this once GOP stronghold look more competitive.
Four Republicans competed for the GOP nomination in a race that turned nasty ahead of Tuesday’s voting. The two leading contenders jockeyed for the conservative mantle: Monty Newman, a former mayor and state party chairman, was endorsed by tea party darling and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, while state Rep. Yvette Herrell tried to align herself with Trump’s hardline immigration agenda. She went even further than the president in calling for the deportation of DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Meanwhile, Democrats rallied behind Xochitl Torres Small, an attorney who specializes in water-rights issues and worked as a former district staffer for Democratic Sen. Tom Udall.
Small is a first-time candidate with an up-from-the-bootstraps story: The daughter of a teacher and a social worker, Small worked her way through college and graduated with honors from Georgetown University.
The Golden State’s primaries were Tuesday’s political Super Bowl, particularly for Democrats who hope to win a House majority in November.
Overall, Democrats need to flip at least 23 GOP-held seats. California holds the most promise for them, with seven Republican incumbents in seats that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 presidential race.
But Democrats were worried they might get shut out of the general election in several critical congressional races, because of California’s open primary system — under which the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation.
If voters spread their support so thin among the various primary contenders, two Republicans could emerge as the top vote-getters. That would mean no Democrat gets onto the November ballot.
As of Wednesday morning, this seemed possible in at least one race, for California’s 39th Congressional District. The Democratic Party favorite in that race is Gil Cisneros, a lottery-winner-turned-philanthropist and former Navy officer. He is facing a stiff challenge from another millionaire, former insurance executive Andy Thorburn, as well as two other lesser-known Democrats.
If Democrats get shut out of House races in California, it will narrow their path to winning a House majority.
“Democrats’ route to the House majority runs through California more than any other state,” David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, in a June 4 analysis of the California contests.
Republicans worried they could get shut out of the top-tier races in California — for governor and U.S. Senate. But in the governor’s race, Democrat Gavin Newsom snagged the first slot to advance to the general election followed by Republican John Cox.
Tony Cárdenas advanced to the November election in California’s 29th congressional district, despite an allegation he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl in 2007. Cárdenas has said through his lawyer that the allegation is “100 percent, categorically untrue.”
In the Senate race, incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein sailed to a first-place finish, but early Wednesday Eastern time it was not yet clear who her opponent will be come November: Democrat Kevin De Leon, the former state Senate leader who is challenging Feinstein from the left, or one of the 11 Republican candidates in the race.
“The key question for several of these races is not who the winner is but who the No. 1 is,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.
In the South Dakota, Rep. Kristi Noem won the Republican primary in a bid to become state’s first female governor, defeating state Attorney General Marty Jackley.
Former Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson won the GOP House nomination by 18 percentage points. The former chief of staff for Gov. Dennis Daugaard won 48 percent of the vote, putting him ahead of Shantel Krebs (30 percent) and Neal Tapio (22 percent).
“We’re transforming the way that this country looks at the rule of law in a positive way,” Johnson said to supporters from downtown Sioux Falls on Tuesday night.
Republicans Michael Guest and Whit Hughes are headed to a runoff in the GOP primary for Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District, based on incomplete, unofficial results.
In a crowded field of six Republican candidates and relatively low voter turnout, Guest was leading with 45 percent and Hughes second with 21 percent with 93 percent of precincts reporting from the 24-county district. No candidate receiving more than 50 percent forces a June 26 runoff.
The two GOP primary leaders were trailed by businessman Perry Parker, state Sen. Sally Doty, health care executive Morgan Dunn and educator Katherine Tate.
State Rep. Michael “Big Country” Evans of Preston won the Democratic primary early Tuesday night, with the Associated Press calling his race against Navy veteran and police officer Michael Aycox — the state’s first openly gay congressional candidate — within two hours of polls closing.
Evans said he’s looking forward to the general election but admitted it was an “uphill battle.” The seat is expected to remain Republican.
“I feel good about the win tonight. I’m glad my supporters came out but, like I told them, winning is June does good but if you don’t win in November, you really ain’t accomplished anything,” he said. “I think we have a legitimate shot of winning in November. The numbers are there to win we just have to get the numbers out to vote.”
In the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, incumbent Roger Wicker easily won the nomination over a little-known candidate, Richard Boyanton, according to the Associated Press.
Wicker will face David Baria or Howard Sherman, who are headed to a Democratic runoff. Wicker is heavily favored to win the general election.
Contributing: Dana Ferguson and Rebekah Tuchscherer, (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Argus Leader; Sarah Fowler, (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion Ledger; Herb Jackson, The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record; Melissa Brown, Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser; William Petroski, The Des Moines Register; and the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta, all part of the USA TODAY NETWORK, plus the Associated Press.
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