Five things to watch in Tuesday's primaries

Five things to watch in Tuesday's primaries
© Greg Nash

Eight states and the District of Columbia are set to hold primary elections on Tuesday, making it the single biggest day of nominating contests since Super Tuesday in early March.

There’s a lot at stake in the June 2 primaries. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Iowa governor suggests immigrants partially to blame for rising COVID-19 cases Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE will have the chance to formally clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, high-profile Senate match-ups will be decided and vote-by-mail will face a crucial test amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The primaries also come as the nation continues to reel from the pandemic while also facing growing protests against police brutality and racial injustice following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

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Here are five things to watch on Tuesday:

Will Biden finally clinch the Democratic nomination?

Biden is within striking distance of the 1,991 delegates he needs to officially clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, and the June 2 primaries could put him over the threshold.

Some 479 pledged delegates are up for grabs on Tuesday, and Biden currently has somewhere around 1,550. While he’s the only candidate remaining in the race, winning the delegates he needs to secure the nomination on Tuesday may prove more difficult than it seems.

Biden will have to win 89 percent of all delegates up for grabs on Tuesday to get to the 1,991 he needs. But Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWomen's March endorses Nina Turner in first-ever electoral endorsement GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan MORE (I-Vt.), who suspended his presidential campaign in April, will still be on the ballots in remaining primaries, and his allies have urged supporters to vote for him in an effort to amass progressive delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Since Sanders exited the race, Biden has won at least 89 percent of delegates in only one state, Nebraska, where Sanders failed to meet the 15 percent threshold to receive any delegates at all.

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Vote-by-mail faces a big test

Vote-by-mail will get its biggest test since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S. in March on Tuesday.

All seven states and the District of Columbia have encouraged their voters to cast absentee ballots in recent weeks as they scramble to keep people away from potentially crowded polling locations.

In Indiana, for instance, state officials temporarily altered absentee ballot rules to allow all of the state’s voters to cast mail-in ballots. Previously, only certain people those with disabilities, the elderly and those who would be out of town during voting hours, among them were allowed to request mail-in ballots.

Rhode Island has also dramatically expanded mail-in voting since the outset of the pandemic, and the secretary of state’s office has sent absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in the state in an effort to make the June 2 primaries a predominantly mail-in process.

But the efforts to expand mail-in voting has a big opponent in President TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE, who has claimed that increased absentee balloting puts the democratic process at risk of seeing rampant fraud. Elections experts have largely shot down those claims, noting that voter fraud is exceedingly rare in all instances and that using mail-in ballots is the most effective way to combat the spread of the coronavirus at polling stations.

What will voter turnout look like?

The coronavirus outbreak and the stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures it spawned hasn’t taken the kind of toll on voter turnout that many expected at the outset of the pandemic.

In Wisconsin, which moved forward with its April 7 primary and local elections in spite of the pandemic, turnout was largely on par with historical averages. And in Nebraska, which held its primary on May 12, voter turnout actually set a record for a primary election.

In both cases, staggering early and mail-in voting numbers helped keep turnout up, despite public health concerns. Now, with nearly every state in some phase of the reopening process, it’s worth watching to see how voters react.

States are encouraging voters to cast mail-in ballots instead of voting in person. But even with that, there’s still a chance that turnout takes a hit. In Ohio, for instance, which held its primary on April 28 after postponing it from March 17, voter turnout dropped from past presidential election years despite efforts to encourage mail-in voting.

Can Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingGOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Pence to visit Iowa to headline event for congressman Former Steve King challenger on rural voters in GOP states: 'They hate Democrats' MORE hold on to his seat?

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), whose inflammatory remarks on race and immigration have landed him in hot water among his GOP colleagues, is at serious risk of political extinction on Tuesday as he faces his most serious primary challenge in years.

His top challenger is Randy Feenstra, an Iowa state senator who has already won the backing of prominent Republicans including Karl RoveKarl Christian RoveChristie to co-chair fundraising program for Republican governors The Hill's Morning Report: Afghanistan's future now up to Afghans, Biden says The unholy alliance of religion and politics MORE and Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversNew Mexico Democrat Stansbury sworn into Haaland's old seat Retired GOP representative: I won't miss the circus, but I might miss some of the clowns The Hill's Morning Report - Census winners and losers; House GOP huddles MORE (R-Ohio), the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Influential national groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are also supporting Feenstra in the primary. Polls suggest a tight race, with one survey fielded last month by the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies showing Feenstra leading King 41 to 39 percent.

An internal poll conducted for Feenstra’s campaign last month showed King with a narrow 3-point lead over his top rival.

One dynamic that could work to King’s advantage is the fractured nature of the Republican primary field in Iowa’s 4th District. If King’s loyal supporters turn out on Tuesday and lesser-known challengers chip away enough at Feenstra’s support, the longtime GOP incumbent could eek out a win.

Big Senate match-ups will be decided

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Two of the biggest Senate match-ups of the 2020 election cycle will be finalized on Tuesday in Montana and Iowa, where Democrats are vying for the chance to take on Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSenate committee advances bipartisan energy infrastructure bill  Hillicon Valley: Lina Khan faces major FTC test | Amazon calls for her recusal | Warren taps commodities watchdog to probe Google Senators propose bill to help private sector defend against hackers MORE (R-Mont.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund MORE (R-Iowa).

In Montana, Gov. Steve BullockSteve Bullock65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Arkansas, New Jersey governors to head National Governors Association Biden 'allies' painting him into a corner MORE is the favorite to win the June 2 Democratic Senate primary. He has the best-funded campaign and an unmatched name recognition in the state, and Democrats believe that he stands the best chance at taking out Daines in November.

In Iowa, national Democrats are backing real estate executive Theresa Greenfield for the Senate nomination. She has the fundraising advantage in the Democratic field and even out-raised Ernst in the April 1-May 12 pre-primary period.

The races in Montana and Iowa aren’t among the four core contests that are at the center of the battle for the Senate majority; contests in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina currently make up the four “toss-up” races this cycle.

But they have shifted in Democrats’ direction in recent months, with The Cook Political Report moving them from “solid Republican” status to “lean Republican.” Tuesday’s primaries will set the field for what will likely be some of the closest-watched Senate races of the year.