May 20: 'Super Tuesday' Primary Preview

May 20: 'Super Tuesday' Primary Preview

On Tuesday, voters in 6 states will head to the polls to select party nominees for the general election in November. It’s the first “Super Tuesday” of the 2014 primary season. The results will fill in more lines on the upcoming midterm elections. Here are some particular races to watch.  

1. Kentucky. The highest profile race on Tuesday is the primary between Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and businessman challenger Matt Bevin. Although most tea-party aligned organizations have endorsed Bevin, McConnell is the prohibitive favorite to win the primary. He has simply run a better campaign and has effectively capitalized on missteps by the Bevin campaign. The latest RealClearPolitics poll average has McConnell leading Bevin by 26 points, 56-30.

The real question in Tuesday’s election is the margin of McConnell’s victory. A failure of McConnell to reach 60% would signal that he still has work to do to solidify his support among base Republican voters, those most likely to vote in the primary. Every point above 40% won by Bevin would indicate weakness for McConnell among his base. 

McConnell’s likely Democrat challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, faces three little-known opponents in the Democrat primary. McConnell’s campaign has already been airing ads against Grimes. Anything less than an overwhelming victory in her primary would suggest these ads are hitting a mark. 

2. Georgia. The retirement of GA Sen. Saxby Chambliss opened a floodgate of Republican candidates for his Senate seat. With 5 serious candidates for the nomination, the primary election is likely headed to a run-off between the top two vote getters. Businessman David Perdue has taken pole-position in all polling of the race and is likely to secure one of the run-off slots. The real race is for number 2, which has become a close battles between Rep. Jack Kingston and former GA Secretary of State Karen Handel. National conservatives have rallied around Handel in the closing days of the race, but Kingston, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, has used his fundraising advantage to maintain a slight edge over Handel in the polls. 

The unknown variable is how the other two candidates, Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey effect the race. Broun has strong grass-roots support and Gingrey represents the vote-rich Atlanta suburbs. 

The winner will take on Michelle Nunn, daughter of legendary GA Sen. Sam Nunn. Currently, in the RCP average of polls, Nunn holds a slim lead over all possible GOP candidates except Perdue.

3. Idaho. The primary between Rep. Mike Simpson and attorney Bryan Smith is a microcosm of the purported “civil war” between the GOP establishment and the conservative wing of the party. Long-time incumbent Simpson is a close ally of Speaker John Boehner and has amassed a voting record that belies the R+17 make-up of his district. An appropriator, Simpson has voted for TARP, bailouts and increases in the debt ceiling. 

The race was perhaps one of the better chances conservative and tea party groups had of defeating an establishment Republican incumbent.

The US Chamber of Commerce has spent close to $1 million in support of Simpson. Overall, outside groups have spent $2.5 million in support of Simpson’s campaign. Tea-party aligned groups have spent just $72,000 supporting Smith and a little over $500,000 opposing Simpson. With the exception of Club for Growth, few national tea-party groups have played a prominent role in the primary. An expected Simpson victory will further fuel the establishment “victory” narrative of this primary season. 

4. Oregon. That the Oregon Senate race, where freshman Democrat Sen. Jeff Merkley, is up for reelection is even possibly in-play this fall is testament to the difficult position Democrats face this November. Most of the Republican establishment has rallied behind Dr. Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon, who has made opposition to ObamaCare a central plank of her campaign. She has consistently led her primary opponent state Rep. Jeff Conger in the polls. While Conger is more conservative than Wehby on social issues, he was a strong supporter of the creation of the Oregon healthcare exchange. The exchange was one of the worst performing in the country, despite the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, and has recently been scrapped.

The big variable in this race is a late-breaking “scandal” involving Dr. Wehby and a boyfriend two-years ago. The details are murky, but soon after their break-up the ex-boyfriend was driven to call police on Dr. Wehby, who was trying to get into the boyfriend’s house. The ex-boyfriend is supporting Dr. Wehby’s primary campaign, but Democrats have been trying to amplify the issue. Voting in Oregon is done by mail, so many ballots will have already been cast before news of the scandal broke, however.

Arkansas and Pennsylvania also hold primaries on Tuesday. Dem Sen. Mark Pryor and GOP Rep. Tom Cotton will be their respective party nominees for the Senate seat in November. In Pennsylvania, Democrats will select a nominee to take on GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, perhaps the most embattled GOP Governor running for reelection. All potential Democrat opponents currently lead Corbett in the polls. 

The Democrats’ strongest candidate seems to be businessman Tom Wolf, a political outsider, who has held solid leads in most recent polling of the Democrat primary. He also posts the biggest leads over Corbett. The most interesting aspect of this primary is it is the Democrat version of an establishment v. outsider contest. Wolf’s opponents are political careerists, including a Congresswomen, the State Auditor and a former Clinton Administration official. 

A commanding Wolf victory in the primary would suggest that Democrats, like many Republicans, are also fed up with their political class.