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:

ADVERTISEMENT

 

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 SessionsDo people think ill of Jeff Sessions merely based on the sound of his voice? Appeals court rules Trump administration can withhold grants from 'sanctuary cities' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman 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 ByrneRepublicans root for Sanders nomination in battle for House Trump looms as flashpoint in Alabama Senate battle Alabama Senate contender hits Sessions in new ad: 'Hillary still ain't in jail' 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 John TrumpTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump nods at reputation as germaphobe during coronavirus briefing: 'I try to bail out as much as possible' after sneezes 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 MooreTrump looms as flashpoint in Alabama Senate battle Alabama Senate contender hits Sessions in new ad: 'Hillary still ain't in jail' The Hill's Campaign Report: Rising Klobuchar, Buttigieg face test in diverse states 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: What to watch for in Nevada Top GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate 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 CruzSteyer calls for Senate term limits to pass gun control legislation Cruz targets California governor over housing 'prescriptions' This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime 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 CornynCongress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Hillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates 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.