Battle for Congress Begins As Five Super Tuesday States Hold Congressional Primaries

March 3, 2020 by Dan McCue
A voter makes her choice during the Democratic Presidential primary voting Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

While most of the attention on this Super Tuesday is focused on the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, voters in four of the 14 states and one territory will also be casting ballots in congressional primaries.

The four states — Alabama, California, North Carolina and Texas — are considered battlegrounds that could determine which party controls the House and Senate next January. The following are some of the key races.

California

In California, the most high profile race after the presidential contest is in the 25th Congressional District, where a special election is being held to fill the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Katie Hill last year.

Hill stepped down after nude photos of her were released online amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a campaign staffer. Hill admitted to the relationship, but denied that she also had an affair with a House staffer.

The election is particularly important because Hill was part of the wave of Democrats who flipped congressional districts from red to blue in 2018, giving the party control of the House. Heading into the race, polls suggest the district will remain in Democratic hands.

The frontrunner of the Democratic side is state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who is facing progressive political commentator Cenk Uygur.

On the Republican side, the top two candidates are former GOP Rep. Steve Knight, who Hill defeated in 2018, and Navy veteran Mike Garcia. Also running is George Papadopoulos, foreign policy adviser for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

If a candidate receives a majority of the vote, he or she would win the special election outright and serve out the rest of the term, until January 2021. But that is not expected to happen since there are a dozen candidates on the ballot.

If no one wins a majority of the vote, the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, advance to a May 12 runoff.

However, there is a wrinkle to this race — the primary for the full term to represent the district in the next Congress is also on the ballot on Tuesday, which has raised some concerns about voters being confused by having to vote twice in the same congressional district.

Aside from the special election to replace Hill, there are numerous other primaries in California’s 53 congressional districts. The Democrats alone will compete in 27 primaries, while Republican candidates will appear in 25 of those races.

State and congressional primaries in California are nonpartisan, and all candidates are on the same ballot and the top two, regardless of party, run against each other in the general election.

Of these races, the most notable include the contest in the 16th congressional district in which Blue Dog Coalition member Rep. Jim Costa is facing a stiff challenge from Fresno City Councilwoman Esmerelda Soria.

In addition, former Republican Rep. David Valadao is hoping to make a comeback in the 10th congressional district, as is former GOP Rep. Darrel Issa, in the 50th congressional district.

Issa’s chief rival is former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio. They are running for the seat vacated by  former GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, who resigned at the beginning of the year after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds.

Because California counts mail-in ballots postmarked up to and including Election Day, it could be some time before final results are known. Counties have until April 3 to certify their votes.

Texas

In the Lone Star State, Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar is facing a primary challenge from civil rights attorney Jessica Cisneros, who has the backing of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Cuellar, a Blue Dog Democrat, is supported by both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and groups that typically lean Republican, like the Americans for Prosperity Action.

Given that Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the district by 20 points in 2016 — a year in which Trump carried the state as a whole by 9 points — the district is safe bet to stay in Democratic hands come November.

The other primary in Texas on Tuesday is in the 12th Congressional District, which includes Fort Worth and is currently represented by Republican Rep. Kay Granger.

The fiscally-conservative Club for Growth is backing Granger’s challenger, Chris Putnam, believing the incumbent has done nothing to curb rampant government spending.

President Donald Trump has endorsed Granger in the race.

Like California, it could be a while before the winners in the Texas contests are known, as the state requires the top two winners to advance to a runoff election if no one wins a majority vote. If that happens in one or both of the races, the runoff in Texas will occur on May 26.

In addition to the races above, there is also a hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate this year, with Republican incumbent John Cornyn running for reelection.

Cornyn is expected to cruise to victory in the GOP primary over four challengers.

Barring something totally unforeseen, Mary Jennings Hegar, an Air Force veteran and businesswoman is expected to secure a spot in the Democratic runoff to challenge Cornyn.

To do so, she has to beat 11 other contenders in the contest. The four who have a shot at joining her in the runoff are, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, Austin-based labor activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, former Houston council member Amanda Edwards and former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston.

Texas has a total of 36 congressional districts and voters in the state can choose to participate in either party’s primary elections. The Democrats have primaries in 24 of the 36 districts, while the GOP has primaries in 26 districts.

Former GOP Rep. Pete Sessions is also looking to return to the House, running for the open seat in Texas’ 17th congressional district and former White House physician Ronny Jackson is running in 13th congressional district. Both races are expected to go to a runoff.

Elsewhere in Texas, former state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014, is running to take on Republican Rep. Chip Roy in the 21st District. Davis is expected to avoid a runoff since only one other Democrat is running.

Alabama

Former Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions is running in a primary for his old Senate seat, which is considered one of the GOP’s best chances for picking up a Senate seat this year.

Democratic incumbent Doug Jones is widely viewed as the most vulnerable senator on the ballot this year.

But to get his old seat back, Sessions will have to defeat a crowded GOP primary field that also includes Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville.

Like Texas, Alabama’s election rules mandate that the top two candidates advance to a primary runoff if no one wins a majority of the vote. If that happens, the Alabama runoff will be March 31.

The state has a total of seven congressional districts, three of which will hold Democratic primaries Tuesday, and two of which will hold Republican primaries.

Alabama does not have partisan voter registration, and voters are allowed to vote in either major party primary.

North Carolina

Retiring North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows recently endorsed activist and evangelical Christian Lynda Bennett, the only woman in the crowded, 12-member GOP primary field, to replace him as representative of the 11th congressional district.

The state has 13 congressional districts. Eight of those districts will hold Democratic primaries Tuesday, and five will be the site of Republican primaries.

Unaffiliated voters in North Carolina can participate in either major party primary.

Significantly, North Carolina is also holding two major statewide races this year, for governor and U.S. Senate. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis are each running for reelection.

Tillis faces three opponents in the GOP primary, and an additional four candidates are running in the Democratic primary.

As for the governor’s race, Cooper is facing one opponent in the Democratic primary. His opponent, Ernest Reeves was a 2019 Democratic candidate for North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, but he lost in the primary last year.

The GOP is also holding a gubernatorial primary Tuesday, featuring Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and state Rep. Holly Grange.

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