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 BidenTucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Joe Biden wins New Jersey primary Biden wins Delaware primary 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.


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 SandersJoe Biden wins New Jersey primary Biden wins Delaware primary Military madness in the age of COVID-19 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.


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 John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' 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 KingColorado GOP Rep. Scott Tipton defeated in primary upset Bottom line House GOP leaders condemn candidate who said black people should be 'proud' of Confederate statues 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 RoveKarl Rove says Trump is 'behind' in presidential race Karl Rove: The days of 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' are long gone Longtime GOP Rep. Steve King defeated in Iowa primary MORE and Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversNational Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus Stronger patent rights would help promote US technological leadership Republicans to introduce House version of Scott police reform bill 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


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 DainesHealth care group launches M ad campaign hitting Trump in battleground states The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's job approval erodes among groups that powered his 2016 victory Senate outlook slides for GOP MORE (R-Mont.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's job approval erodes among groups that powered his 2016 victory Senate outlook slides for GOP MORE (R-Iowa).

In Montana, Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockHealth care group launches M ad campaign hitting Trump in battleground states The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's job approval erodes among groups that powered his 2016 victory Senate outlook slides for GOP 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.