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Three Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday

Three Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday
© Greg Nash/Bonnie Cash

With more than a third of all pledged delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is sure to steal the spotlight during the March 3 primaries.

But in Alabama, North Carolina and Texas, there are a handful of nominating contests that will be crucial to determining control of the Senate.

Here are the Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday:

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Alabama’s Republican primary

More than half a dozen Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination to take on Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) in November, but leading the pack is former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOne quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors Biden fills immigration court with Trump hires Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE, who’s looking to take his seat back after it flipped for Jones in 2017.

Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneTrump's Slovenia Ambassador Lynda Blanchard jumps into Alabama Senate race Mo Brooks expresses interest in running for Shelby's Senate seat Ex-Rep. Mike Conaway, former aide launch lobbying firm MORE (R-Ala.) present perhaps the most significant primary challenge to Sessions, who was forced out as attorney general in 2018 amid simmering tensions with President TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE over his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. And the race was thrown a curveball last summer when Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be MORE, the former state Supreme Court chief justice, jumped into the race.

Moore was the Republican nominee in the 2017 special election to replace Sessions. But his campaign was handed a loss after allegations emerged that he had sexually assaulted and pursued romantic relationships with teenage girls decades ago, when he was in his 30s.

The eventual nominee will go on to challenge Jones in the November general election. The Alabama Democrat is widely considered to be the most vulnerable senator up for reelection this year, and a challenge from a well-funded, well-known Republican like Sessions could sound a death knell for Jones’s Senate career.

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For now, there is evidence that the GOP primary could be a tight one. Internal polling from Byrne’s campaign released on Tuesday shows a closer race than previously thought. Sessions led the pack at 31 percent, while Byrne and Tuberville were locked in a statistical tie, taking 26 percent and 24 percent support, respectively.

 

North Carolina’s Democratic primary

The Democratic Senate primary in North Carolina has largely unfolded as a two-way race between former state Sen. Cal Cunningham and state Sen. Erica Smith.

Cunningham has the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and has repeatedly outraised his opponents, raking in more than $1.6 million in the last three months of 2019. Smith, by comparison, raised just under $80,000.

But Cunningham’s fundraising advantage and institutional backing hasn’t translated into an outsize lead in the polls. What little public polling there is in the primary shows a tight race between the two.

One Fox News survey released in November showed Smith leading her top rival 18 percent to 13 percent. Trevor Fuller, a former chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, received 10 percent support in that poll.

More recent surveys from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, however, show Cunningham with a widening lead. One poll from the firm in January put him ahead of Smith by a 10-point margin, and another one released last week showed him ahead by nearly 20 points.

Adding to the intrigue of the race is the involvement of Faith and Power PAC, an outside group with apparent ties to Republicans that is spending upwards of $1 million on advertisements supportive of Smith’s Senate bid.

Whoever emerges victorious from the March 3 primary will take on Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate hears from Biden's high-profile judicial nominees for first time Senate Democrats take aim at 'true lender' interest rate rule Former North Carolina chief justice launches Senate campaign MORE (R-N.C.) in November. Tillis, like Jones, is among the most vulnerable senators facing reelection in 2020. He narrowly avoided a primary challenge of his own late last year when his chief challenger, businessman Garland Tucker, dropped out of the race amid financial strains.

Tillis has the backing of President Trump and may benefit from high Republican turnout in the general election. But Democrats have grown optimistic in North Carolina, as demographic changes and an influx of new residents from out of state have put the Tar Heel State in play.

 

Texas’s Democratic primary

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) brought Democrats closer than they’ve been in years to picking up a Senate seat in Texas in 2018, when he narrowly lost to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate panel deadlocks over Biden pick to lead DOJ civil rights division Yang: Those who thought tweet in support of Israel was 'overly simplistic' are correct CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger MORE (R-Texas). Now, a dozen candidates, encouraged by O’Rourke’s performance, are hoping to seize on the state’s changing political landscape and electoral clout to oust Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger MORE (R-Texas).

Among the top contenders for the Democratic Senate nomination are MJ Hegar, state Sen. Royce West and Annie Garcia, according to a recent Dallas Morning News–University of Texas at Tyler poll. But no candidate has managed to break away from the rest of the pack, and other candidates, like Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, have stepped up their efforts in recent weeks.

Hegar, perhaps the most high-profile candidate in the race, has run a campaign geared more toward the general election against Cornyn. She has significantly outraised her rivals, bringing in nearly $1.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, and has the endorsement of the DSCC.

But Hegar was snubbed this week by The Dallas Morning News’s editorial board, which threw its recommendation behind West and former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards.

Cornyn, however, may prove difficult for Democrats to take down in November. The three-term incumbent has a massive financial advantage over his potential Democratic challengers, raking in roughly $2.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 and finishing the year with more than $12.1 million in the bank.

But Democrats say that, unlike Cruz, few Texans know who Cornyn is, giving them a potential opening this year. A University of Texas–Texas Tribune poll released in November showed Cornyn with a 35 percent approval rating. Nearly a third of respondents — 31 percent — said they either had a neutral opinion of the senator or no opinion at all.

--Updated at 10:40 a.m.