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 SessionsTrump's policies on refugees are as simple as ABCs Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status White House officials voted by show of hands on 2018 family separations: 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 ByrneBottom line Jerry Carl wins GOP Alabama runoff to replace Rep. Bradley Byrne Jeff Sessions loses comeback bid in Alabama runoff 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 TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally 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 MooreVulnerable Senate Democrat urges unity: 'Not about what side of the aisle we're on' Sessions hits back at Trump days ahead of Alabama Senate runoff Judge allows Roy Moore lawsuit over Sacha Baron Cohen prank to proceed 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 TillisTrump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Vulnerable GOP incumbents embrace filling Supreme Court seat this year 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 CruzVideo of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Democrat on Graham video urging people to 'use my words against me': 'Done' 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 CornynCalls grow for Biden to expand election map in final sprint Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection 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.