Tuesday night tests for GOP establishment

Getty Images

Voters from coast to coast head to the primary polls in eight states on Tuesday. 

In Iowa and New Jersey contests, the GOP establishment hopes they land their preferred nominees to improve their chances in competitive November contests. In California, too, the national GOP hopes a polarizing candidate for governor won’t advance and drag other Republicans with him. 

Both parties will pick nominees in House and Senate races in Alabama, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota as well. Here’s the The Hill’s breakdown the top races to watch tonight. 

IOWA 

By uniting the oft-warring Tea Party and establishment sections of her party, Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) is on the verge of clinching the GOP Senate nomination to face Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa). 

Two new polls out this week showed Ernst surging well past businessman Mark Jacobs (R) and above the 35 percent support she’ll need to win the primary and avoid a party convention.

Even if she doesn’t win the nod outright Tuesday though, she would still have the inside track at a convention later this month, according to state observers.  

ADVERTISEMENT
The Iraq War veteran’s campaign caught fire with her head-turning hog-castrating first ad, which has earned endorsements from across the ideological spectrum. Since then she’s campaigned with everyone from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to former presidential nominee Mitt Romney (R).

Despite spending millions on TV ads, Jacobs never caught fire. And former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker (R) and former conservative radio host Sam Clovis (R) never raised the money to compete. Now, Ernst looks like she’ll cruise to victory and face Braley in what could be a marquee race this fall.

Iowa voters will also pick nominees for the seats left open by Braley’s Senate run and Rep. Tom Latham’s (R-Iowa) decision to retire. A clown-car field of GOP candidates looks to be heading to a June party convention in Latham’s swing district, while both parties may settle on nominees for Braley’s Democratic-leaning district. State Rep. Pat Murphy is the favorite in the Democratic primary, and Democrats are expected to hold the seat this fall. 

CALIFORNIA

Both parties are hoping none of their preferred candidates get lost in the jungle in California.

The Golden State has the highest concentration of competitive House races this fall, and its unusual "jungle primary" system lets the top two candidates advance no matter what party they belong to. 

After flubs from both sides in the system’s first run in 2012, Republicans and Democrats alike are nervous.

Democrats are keeping a close eye on retiring Rep. Gary Miller’s (R-Calif.) seat, where they hope either Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar (D), backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes (D), who has EMILY’s List support, emerges. 

Their nightmare would be a repeat of two years ago, when two Republicans advanced to the general election even though President Obama carried the district. Liberal groups have been working to keep that from happening — the League of Conservation Voters has put out mailers attacking former Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), who has been shunned by his former colleagues, while the House Majority PAC has been attacking former Miller staffer Lesli Gooch (R) to make sure she doesn’t get any traction and a Democrat gets through the primary alongside businessman Paul Chabot (R). 

Republicans have their own headaches. They’re praying former Treasury Department official Neel Kashkari (R) advances to face California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) rather than controversial firebrand Tim Donnelly (R), who they think could hurt down-ticket Republicans. They’re also hoping former Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) will emerge to face Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) over conservative former Hill staffer Igor Birman (R) or fringe candidate Elizabeth Emken (R). The House Majority PAC has been running ads attacking Ose, a sign Democrats are hoping to stop him in the primary.

Both parties are expecting to get their preferred nominees in other top-targeted races, against Democratic Reps. Scott Peters and Raul Ruiz and Republican Reps. David Valadao and Jeff Denham.

Voters will also narrow their choices in crowded, safe seat races to replace retiring Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), George Miller (D-Calif.), Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Calif.), Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and John Campbell (R-Calif.). Same-party challengers to Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) are expected to advance.

NEW JERSEY

Former Randolph Mayor Tom MacArthur looks poised to pull out a win in the Republican primary for New Jersey’s 3rd District on Tuesday night over Tea Party favorite Steve Lonegan, delivering his party its best shot at retaining retiring Rep. Jon Runyan’s (R) seat.

Democrats are expected to nominate Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, a top recruit believed to have a stronger shot at the swing district now that Runyan is retiring. But if MacArthur does nab the nomination, as expected, he gives Republicans a solid candidate for the challenge.

His battle with Lonegan, a former Senate nominee and gubernatorial candidate, for the nomination has been one of this cycle’s nastiest, with candidates exchanging charges of dishonesty. Runyan himself called it “ugly as hell.”

But MacArthur invested $2 million of his own money into the race to make his case, and said if he wins the nomination he plans to invest more.

“Yes, I will invest more, and we’re also raising funds. We will have the funds to make our case to the people in this district very very vocally,” he told The Hill.

Democrats in New Jersey will also be watching the primary in the state’s 12th District, where state Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and state Sen. Linda Greenstein are facing off for a shot at retiring Rep. Rush Holt’s (D) seat, which is expected to stay in Democratic hands.

MONTANA

Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) and Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) will likely cruise to nomination, setting up a race to succeed former Sen. Max Baucus (D) for a full term that leans Daines’s way.

Republicans will also choose from a crowded GOP field to replace Daines in a race Democrats hope former Hill staffer John Lewis (D) can make competitive this fall.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Former Gov. Mike Rounds is expected to cruise to victory in the South Dakota Republican primary on Tuesday night and is the heavy favorite to flip the seat of retiring Sen. Tim Johnson (D) to the GOP. 

Though he faced the threat of a conservative challenger, none of Rounds’s four opponents — physician Annette Bosworth, lawyer Jason Ravnsborg, state Sen. Stace Nelson and Larry Rhoden — never gained much traction in the race, after spending much of the primary attacking Rounds.

Democrat Rick Weiland was far from the his party’s first pick, but he has pledged to make the race competitive nonetheless. Still, national Democrats haven’t yet indicated they plan to spend on the race — an asset he’ll likely need, as he had about half the cash on hand Rounds posted last month. 

ALABAMA

Alabamans could see yet another Tea Party vs. Establishment runoff in Alabama after the Republican primary for the 6th District is decided.

Operatives in the district, left open by Rep. Spencer Bachus’ (R-Ala.) retirement, say state Rep. Paul DeMarco is the frontrunner, and two third-party polls of the race show him in the lead but far below the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. 

The big question Tuesday night will be whether national Tea Party help for surgeon Chad Mathis can boost the lesser-known candidate to a second or even first-place finish.

If the race heads to a runoff, the top two vote-getters will face off again on July 15. The eventual nominee is expected to easily retain the seat this fall.

NEW MEXICO

Democrats will choose between five long-shot candidates to face Gov. Susana Martinez (R), while Republicans will choose which dark-horse candidate will face Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).