Voters in eight states did not defeat any sitting members of the House or Senate in Congressional primaries for the 2018 mid-term elections on Tuesday, but they did deliver some strong messages to a few lawmakers in voting that went from coast to coast, with Election Day now less than five months away.
It was the most active primary day this year, with balloting in Alabama, New Jersey, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, California and South Dakota, as both parties jockey for advantage in the fight for control of the U.S. House and Senate.
Here’s some of the highlights:
1. Trouble for Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). After a hung jury allowed him to escape federal corruption charges last year, Democratic leaders in New Jersey closed ranks behind Menendez for his re-election bid – but voters in their party clearly were not happy, as Menendez struggled to win 62 percent of the vote against Lisa McCormick, a completely unknown candidate, who filed no fund raising documents, had a campaign website featuring most recent events from 2017 – and yet, she still won six different counties. Menendez will now face Republican Bob Hugin, who cruised with 75 percent of the vote, in November. While the Democratic Senator will be the favorite this was not a good sign for his party.
2. Alabama Republican forced into runoff. Another surprise from Tuesday night was in the South, as Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) was forced into a July runoff against former Congressman Bobby Bright – who was first elected as a Democrat, and then changed sides to the GOP. Unlike Menendez in New Jersey, Roby had no ethics problems, and has been a very reliable conservative vote. So, what’s the problem? It’s what she did before the 2016 elections, when she condemned Donald Trump after the release of the Hollywood Access video with Billy Bush. That is still causing her problems, and when you only get 39 percent in a primary, sometimes that can spell trouble for the runoff. We’ll see if she can keep her job.
3. GOP shut out of U.S. Senate race in California. California does things differently than most other states, as the Golden State uses a “Top Two Primary,” where all candidates are put in the same pot, and those getting first and second place move on to the general election in November. Sometimes, it means that one party might be able to grab both slots, and that seems to have happened in the race for U.S. Senate, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will face Kevin De Leon – another Democrat. Six different Republicans filled the third through eighth place slots, but couldn’t get past De Leon, who received 11 percent of the vote. California takes a long time to count the votes – but right now, this Senate race looks like it will be a Democrat-versus-Democrat affair. Also, two Democrats have the top two spots for Lieutenant Governor as well.
4. Trump help keeps GOP in California Governor’s race. While the GOP was seemingly shut out in the race for U.S. Senate, they were able to win one of the “Top Two” slots in the race for Governor, to replace Jerry Brown. President Trump had used his bullhorn on Twitter a number of times in recent weeks to press the candidacy of John Cox, and it may have helped make the difference, as Cox finished a strong second behind leading Democrat Gavin Newsom, the current Lieutenant Governor. In third was Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles – the nightmare scenario for the GOP was a Newsom-Villaraigosa exacta, but the numbers weren’t close, as Newsom had 33 percent, Cox 26 percent, and Villaraigosa trailed with 13.5 percent. For his part, the President spent some of Wednesday morning touting his party’s chances to hold both the House and Senate in November. “the political pundits just don’t get what is going on out there,” the President tweeted, “or they do get it but refuse to report the facts!”
5. Still some House shutouts possible in California. Because it takes so long for all the mail-in and absentee votes to come in from California, there’s still a chance for a few close races to turn into one-party affairs for the Congress in that state. But as of this morning, there are 10 of 53 U.S. House seats in California where Republicans will not have a candidate, while there is just one race where the Democrats are shut out, that’s in District 8, where Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA) might face another Republican, as Tim Donnelly (R) leads Marjorie Doyle (D) by less than 1,000 votes. (Again – these numbers can still change). Democrats have a narrow lead for the second slot in the 10th District, where Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) easily led the field. Predictions that the Democrats might not even be able to field a candidate in several southern California districts did not seem to play out.