Five primary night questions

Greg Nash

Will Oklahoma head to overtime? 

Mississippi’s Senate runoff has pushed the Oklahoma GOP primary out of the national spotlight — and might have boosted the establishment’s favored candidate, Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), in Tuesday night’s undercard Senate race.

Lankford is hoping for an outright win in the primary to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), but blocking his path is former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who would be the chamber’s second African-American Republican if elected. 

Their duel has become a secondary priority for national conservative groups, who are backing Shannon, but a third candidate, state Sen. Randy Brogdon (R), could force an August runoff, letting groups re-engage. 

ADVERTISEMENT
There’s not much room to Lankford’s right, but the anti-establishment groups have taken aim at his position in leadership, even as the congressman has gotten local and state Tea Party support, according to sources. 

Recent polling shows Lankford in the lead, having blunted the momentum Shannon had in the race until the last few weeks. The big question is whether he can reach the 50 percent threshold needed, or whether he gives Shannon a chance to regroup for Round 2. 

The congressman began the race with much higher name recognition and a huge campaign war chest, benefitting from the fundraising connections he’s built as a junior member of House leadership. But Shannon netted endorsements from Tea Party stars, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), and has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending from the Senate Conservatives Fund.

The race was shaping up to be the latest high-profile battle between Tea Party hard-liners and establishment conservatives. But when the Mississippi race between Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel was forced into overtime, Oklahoma was bumped off the national stage. That put Shannon, who’s struggled with fundraising and has been heavily dependent on outside help, at a disadvantage.

Both sides say Mississippi’s runoff has had a huge effect on the race.

“A lot of the conservative groups that are playing in Mississippi would have been focused on Oklahoma exclusively, rather than the situation now, where their attention is somewhat divided,” said one Shannon ally. “It’s hard to fight a war on two fronts.”

“The lucky thing for us is no one’s talking about Oklahoma,” said a source close to Lankford’s campaign.

Lankford, now in the less-heated atmosphere, has also benefitted from kind words from Coburn. The retiring senator, who’s beloved by the GOP base in Oklahoma, put out a statement blasting the outside groups attacking Lankford and called him “a man of absolute integrity.” While it wasn’t an outright endorsement, Lankford has used Coburn’s comments heavily in advertising in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Both sides are preparing for a runoff, which could advantage Shannon, as it would give outside groups a chance to recharge and help boost him going forward.

“We’re probably looking at a runoff scenario, which is kind of scary,” said one pro-Lankford source.

Republicans will also narrow the field for a nominee for Lankford’s heavily Republican open House seat. The crowded primary, featuring several local politicians and state legislators, is likely headed to a runoff.

Can Rangel get one more term?

Cochran isn’t the only incumbent on the ropes this week, either. In Harlem, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) is in a tough fight for his final term against a challenger he only edged two years ago by 1,086 votes. 

The 84-year-old, in a tough rematch against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D), is battling perceptions about his age and influence in a rapidly changing district that now has more Hispanics than African-Americans. 

A recent Siena College poll found Rangel with a double-digit lead, but most observers of the race expect a closer finish.

The 22-term incumbent needs big numbers from Harlem’s African-American community, while Espaillat needs to get his coalition of Dominican and other Hispanic voters, along with younger voters, to the polls.

The congressman has taken steps — quite literally, at times, dance steps — to dispel any notion that he’s unhip or out of touch.

This weekend in Harlem, he danced the “Wobble” after being endorsed by a founding member of the Fugees at an event that also featured a customized rap about the congressman.

And now his campaign is driving a sound trucks around the district, blasting a trap-style rap written by a supporter telling Harlem voters “If you go and vote, you go and vote for the Rangel.”

The three-minute rap features autobiographical details — one lyric explains, “at 16, he worked a lot of low-paying jobs, so he knows what means just to be poor” — and anthemic endorsements, like the lyric that calls him “a stand-up guy ... he’s super fly, if you’re a Democrat, that’s the guy” and “the [Original Gangster] next to my pop.”

The Dominican-born Espaillat is hoping turnout and passion can topple the longtime incumbent. On Saturday, a campaign caravan of 60 cars or more and an estimated 400 supporters and volunteers wound nearly four miles through upper Manhattan, belying his double-digit deficit in the Siena College/NY1 survey.

“I’m gonna win. I’m not going to contemplate a scenario where that’s not the result,” Espaillat insisted.

Can Republicans tame the Tea Party in New York?

New York Republicans are hoping their preferred candidates will beat back challengers in two races that could have a big impact on House control. 

In the 1st District, they’re crossing their fingers that state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R) wins his primary against 2010 candidate George Demos (R) to face Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) in his slightly Democratic-leaning Long Island district. 

Even if Republicans do get their wish, Democrats maintain Demos has pushed Zeldin further right, helping them in the general election. National GOP observers say they still think Zeldin has the edge, but the Democratic-backed Patriot Majority USA has been meddling in the primary and hitting Zeldin, hoping to get Demos through instead.

They also hope former Bush administration official Elise Stefanik (R) will beat out businessman Matt Doheny (R), who lost races in 2010 and 2012 against the now-retiring Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.). The GOP-aligned American Crossroads has come in with big for Stefanik, spending more than $750,000 on air hammering Doheny to boost the 29-year-old. It’s a rare move for a group that usually targets Senate races, and the only House race it’s played in a primary for this cycle too, underscoring the important GOP pickup hope in the swing district. 

In both cases, both Zeldin and Stefanik will already be on the ballot, even if they lose, having secured the Conservative Party line, while Doheny has the Independence Party line. Republicans worry that, if the GOP is split, it could advantage a Democrat — just like what happened in a 2009 special election and a subsequent 2010 election to boost Owens. 

Centrist Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) is also looking to fend off a primary challenge from Tea Party candidate and New York state Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney (R) in a swing district that Democrats failed to a land a recruit for. Tenney has the backing of the Susan B. Anthony List as well as Citizens United, which is running a robocall featuring former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) on her behalf. Meanwhile, the pro-gay-rights American Unity PAC, backed by billionaire Peter Singer, has spent more than $650,000 attacking Tenney and boosting Hanna. The congressman supports gay marriage rights, while Tenney voted against legalizing gay marriage in the legislature. 

Both parties will also pick their nominees for retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s (D-N.Y.) Democratic-leaning seat, where Nassau County prosecutor Kathleen Rice (D) is the favorite in both the primary and general election.

Can GOP avoid a Tancredo headache? 

Colorado’s close GOP primary for governor has some national Republicans sweating. 

Former Reps. Bob Beauprez and Tom Tancredo, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former state Sen. Mike Kopp are vying for the GOP nomination to face incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). It’s the second time for both Beauprez and Tancredo after unsuccessful first attempts, and the two are close in the scant polling that’s been done on the race.

National Republicans are pulling for Beauprez — or anyone but Tancredo — to be their nominee to face incumbent Hickenlooper. If Tancredo is the nominee, they worry the quixotic former presidential candidate’s hard-line stances on immigration and other social issues wouldn’t just lose the race but would be a drag on other candidates in the state’s competitive Senate and House races.

The race to succeed Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who’s running for Senate, is also a competitive contest among four candidates: Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, former Rhode Island Mayor Steve Laffey, state Sen. Scott Renfroe and 2010 Senate nominee Ken Buck. 

There has been no polling on the race, but Buck seems to be the favorite due to his fundraising ability and name recognition. Whoever wins Tuesday’s primary race will hold a significant advantage in the largely Republican district headed into the general election.

In another GOP primary to watch, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) will face off against retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bentley Rayburn for the third time in the 5th District primary.

Will Brown be the country’s next black governor?

In Maryland, all eyes will be on the state’s Democratic primary for governor, where Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown leads his two main challengers, Attorney General Douglas Gansler and state Del. Heather Mizeur. A recent Washington Post survey found Brown polling with 46 percent support, and his closest challenger, Gansler, with 23 percent. 

Whoever wins the nomination is the heavy favorite to succeed term-limited Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

If Brown wins, as expected, he’d be the nation’s only African-American governor starting in 2015, as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), the only current African-American governor, retires at the end of the year. Brown would also be Maryland’s first African-American governor.  

Alexandra Jaffe contributed. 

More in Presidential races

Bush, Walker top Fox '16 poll

Read more »