● CA-24: Democrats dodged a hailstorm of bullets in California's 24th Congressional District on Tuesday night, as Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal easily took first place with 33 percent of the vote, ensuring that the party would be represented in the November general election. But that seemingly simple development was no sure thing.
At least a month before the primary—if not much earlier—Democrats began to fear that they might get locked out of the general thanks to the vagaries of California's top-two primary system, despite the fact that Barack Obama won this open seat by a 54-43 margin. That's because a second prominent local Democrat, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, was also running, and private polls (none of which were ever made public) evidently showed that the pair might split the left-leaning vote and allow two Republicans, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and businessman Justin Fareed, to both advance. (Under top-two, all candidates run together on a single ballot, and the two highest vote-getters, regardless of party, win spots in the general election.)
To avoid this fate, the DCCC and the House Majority PAC started pouring in resources to help Carbajal, who had been endorsed by retiring Rep. Lois Capps and had emerged as the clear establishment favorite. Conversely, sensing an opportunity for an automatic pickup, the NRCC ran ads slamming Carbajal as a typical politician while also "attacking" Schneider for being too liberal, a mirror-image attempt to do what Claire McCaskill did to Todd Akin.
Fortunately for Democrats, the GOP's chicanery didn't succeed, and Carbajal easily took first place with 33 percent. Somewhat surprisingly, Fareed currently sits in second with 21 percent while Achadjian, who began the race with far greater name recognition, is out in the cold at 19. (Schneider wound up at 14.) But maybe not too surprisingly, since the HMP's ads attacked Achadjian for his anti-choice views, which might have sent some of his more moderate would-be supporters over to Carbajal—and helped Fareed into the second slot, which is what Democrats would probably prefer for the fall. (The AP hasn't yet called second place, but Fareed's 2,357-vote margin is likely to hold up.)
In hindsight, it's easy to wonder if DC Democrats got too freaked out, since Carbajal did prevail by a dozen points. However, that might have partly reflected the fact that the GOP presidential primary had petered out while the Democratic contest was still generating interest, a development that earlier polls wouldn't have been able to account for. And while the sums spent by the D-Trip and HMP were not insignificant—some $825,000—no amount of money could have saved this race had Achadjian and Fareed both won.
Indeed, had the two Republicans moved on, the accusations of political malpractice levied at Democrats would have been intense—and not undeserved, since the very same thing happened in the 31st District in 2012. The top-two primary is a terrible, terrible system, but both parties have no choice but to play by the rules, and that means spending big to avoid unthinkable outcomes.
With the unpleasantness of the primary out of the way, the question now is whether national Republicans will bother targeting this seat in the fall. Daily Kos Elections currently rates this seat as Lean Democratic, but it's eminently possible that the NRCC will wind up ignoring Fareed, especially since they'll be on defense in so many other seats.
Note: See our special "Primary Recap" section below for a wrap-up of the action in all of Tuesday night's key races.
● CA-Sen: Every single poll of the race for the Senate seat left open by Barbara Boxer's retirement showed two Democrats advancing in the top-two primary, and every single poll was right. State Attorney General Kamala Harris, the frontrunner from day one, led the way with 40 percent of the vote Tuesday night, while Rep. Loretta Sanchez secured the second spot with 19 percent. The nearest Republican, former state GOP chair Duf Sundheim, finished in third with just 8 percent. (Evidently, voters decided they did get enough of that wonderful Duf.)
Now Harris and Sanchez will face off again in November, in the first statewide race in California to feature two members of the same party since the top-two primary was first used in 2012. Harris is the choice of the California Democratic establishment as well as influential national Democrats like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. By contrast, Republicans are rooting for Sanchez, who, as a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, is unquestionably the more conservative of the two candidates.
Harris will almost certainly continue to run a better-funded campaign than Sanchez, but if Sanchez can secure the Republican vote while holding on to just enough Democrats, the race could be quite competitive. That's not going to be an easy tightrope for Sanchez to walk, though, especially since many Republican voters may just decide to skip over a D vs. D contest instead of supporting Sanchez.
Harris' 40-19 win also is a pretty good omen for the attorney general. However, she shouldn't get too comfortable: Using the top-two results as a predictor of what will happen in the fall is always fraught with peril. In past election cycles, Democratic candidates up and down the ballot have almost universally won a higher share of the vote in November than in June. But this time could be different, since Donald Trump long ago sewed up the GOP nomination while the Democratic primary for president still held a lot of interest to many voters.
By way of illustration, in 2012, Democrats won just 52 percent of the overall vote in the June presidential primaries, which were virtually uncontested on both sides. This time, Democrats took 69 percent. (Note that the counts are still preliminary, since it takes a long time for California counties to finish tabulating ballots, most of which are cast by mail. However, the topline numbers probably won't budge very much.) In other words, contrary to years past, it's possible that the November electorate will look a bit more conservative than the one that just handed Harris a huge lead over Sanchez.
A couple of polls taken before the primary showed Harris ahead, and for now, she looks like the favorite. But both surveys had substantial numbers of undecideds, and given the unusual contours of this race, it may be a while before we get a clear read on where things are headed.
● CA-21: National Democrats had hoped attorney Emilio Huerta, the son of famed labor leader Dolores Huerta, would advance past the top-two primary to take on GOP Rep. David Valadao, but it looks like he's fallen just short. Right now, Valadao has 58 percent of the vote, while another Democrat, Fowler City Councilor Daniel Parra, is at 21 and Huerta at 20. Huerta hasn't proved to be a particularly strong fundraiser, but Parra's fared much worse on the money front, which is why Republicans tried to boost Parra ahead of the primary—a move that may have worked.
However, the AP has not yet called the race, and many votes remain uncounted. The two Democrats are divided by 467 votes, and it would not be unheard of for that margin to shift. If it doesn't, though, outside Democratic groups are unlikely to show much interest in this seat. Then again, there's the Trump factor to consider: In a heavily Latino district like this one, even a weak Democratic could get sucked into office by The Donald's destructive vortex. At present, we rate this race as Likely Republican.
● CA-25: Unlike in the 21st District, national Democrats got their man in the 25th. GOP Rep. Steve Knight came in first with 49 percent over the vote while attorney Bryan Caforio, who took 29 percent, will join him in November. Former LAPD officer Lou Vince finished out of the money at 15 percent, despite earning the formal backing of the state Democratic Party. Mitt Romney narrowly won this Los Angeles-area district in 2012 by a 50-48 margin, and there's reason to believe it's trending bluer. We rate this race Likely Republican, but Knight is a weak fundraiser and this seat could come into play.
● CA-44: State Sen. Isadore Hall turned in a strong performance on Tuesday, taking 41 percent of the vote in a 10-candidate field, but he'll face fellow Democrat Nanette Barragan, who took 22 percent, in November. Hall had the support of outgoing Rep. Janice Hahn (who is running for a seat on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors), and he'll be the favorite in the fall in this dark blue seat.
But Barragan, a former mayor of Hermosa Beach, has the backing of EMILY's List, and if they decide to play here, we could see a more competitive race. Hall's victory was also marred when his election night party was interrupted by a process server, who served him with a subpoena. However, as jarring as the moment might have been, the case appears to be a civil matter in which Hall allegedly owes some $10,000 in unpaid rent and utilities to his landlord—not, in other words, the stuff that major political scandals are typically made of.
● CA-46: Former state Sen. Lou Correa easily (and unsurprisingly) took first place in the race to succeed Loretta Sanchez, winning 42 percent of the vote. But he won in another crucial way, too: He won't have to go up against a member of his own party in the general election. The two other notable Democrats running, Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen and former state Sen. Joe Dunn, finished in third and fourth place, respectively. The second spot went to utter Some Dude Bob Peterson, a Republican who has raised just $26,000. In this 61-36 Obama district, there's no way Peterson has a prayer here.
● IA-Sen: As the late polling predicted, former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge defeated state Sen. Rob Hogg for the Democratic nomination, winning 48-39, with a couple of former legislators taking single digits. While Hogg had several labor groups and most of Iowa's Democratic state legislators on his side, Judge was the only candidate who ran any TV spots. Judge, who had the endorsement of the DSCC, will now move on to face Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. While Grassley has rarely faced a stiff challenge, his role as chair of the Judiciary Committee in leading the GOP blockade of the Supreme Court has hurt his image at home and could make him vulnerable. Daily Kos Elections rates this race as Likely Republican.
● IA-01: Two years ago, former state House Speaker Pat Murphy beat Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon 37-24 in the Democratic primary, before going on to lose to Republican Rod Blum in the fall. In their rematch on Tuesday night, Vernon turned things around and completely crushed Murphy, 68-32, after outraising him by a wide margin. Vernon was also the preferred candidate of the DCCC, and beating Blum, a freshman with a YOLO attitude about his re-election prospects, will be a top priority for the committee this fall. We currently rate this race a Tossup, but Barack Obama won this district 56-43, so we could see this contest move in the Democratic direction.
● IA-03: When competing campaigns release dueling internals that each paint a different picture of a given race, you expect that the truth either lies in between, or that at most one of them is off-base. You do not expect both to be wrong—but that's precisely what happened in the Democratic primary in Iowa's 3rd Congressional District on Tuesday night. Not long before the election, wealthy investor Mike Sherzan released a survey from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner showing him with a 43-29 lead on Iraq vet Jim Mowrer, who had run against GOP Rep. Steve King in the neighboring 4th last cycle. Mowrer then responded with his own poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, that gave him a super-slim 36-35 edge.
So what happened? Mowrer wound up punishing Sherzan by a 50-36 margin. It's impossible to say what went down here (a late attack ad by Mowrer alleging Sherzan had tried to undermine the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms probably could not have moved that many voters), or why two respected pollsters both missed the mark so badly. But regardless, Mowrer now gets to take on freshman GOP Rep. David Young in November. Obama carried this seat 51-47. We currently rate this race Lean Republican.
● IA-04: Iowa's all-important ethanol industry was reportedly pissed at Republican Rep. Steve King's decision to back Ted Cruz, who never shied away from expressing his hostility toward ethanol subsidies on the presidential campaign trail. However, if state Sen. Rick Bertrand thought that these titans would finance his primary campaign against King, he was badly mistaken. King defeated Bertrand, who raised very little money and got almost no outside support, 65-35. This seat is Safe Republican.
● NC-02: In an outcome both predictable and predicted, Rep. George Holding utterly smashed fellow Rep. Renee Ellmers by a 53-24 margin in the Republican primary after new congressional lines implemented under a court order threw the two into the same district. Holding had represented far more of the redrawn seat than Ellmers, and while Ellmers got her start as a tea party outsider, she infuriated conservatives at all ends of the spectrum, including the anti-tax Club for Growth and anti-abortion activists like the SBA List.
And Ellmers enemies followed their words with deeds: The Club, as well as a super PAC backing Holding, ran ads here, while Ellmers got very little outside support. As a result, Ellmers never stood much of a chance, which made Donald Trump's last-minute endorsement of the congresswoman utterly futile. (No, Trump didn't do her in, but his decision to get involved here highlights his political acumen—or rather, his unsurprising lack thereof.) Holding is a lock in November in this Safe Republican seat.
● NC-03: Rep. Walter Jones has often pissed off his members of his own party thanks to his iconoclastic foreign policy views, and last cycle, some establishment Republicans banded together behind a challenge issued by former George W. Bush aide Taylor Griffin, who held Jones to a dicey 51-45 win. Griffin was understandably motivated to try again, but this time around, for whatever reason, he was left to twist. Jones sailed, taking 65 percent of the vote, while Marine vet Phil Law finished second with 20. Taylor came in a distant third with only 15 percent. Jones is safe for re-election.
● NC-09: Whoa baby! In what was the closest, most exciting, and most unexpected result of the night, GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger finished just 142 votes ahead of megachurch pastor Mark Harris, a margin of 34.96 percent to 34.42. Ex-Union County Commissioner Todd Johnson was very close behind with 30.62 percent of the vote. What explains Pittenger's weakness? For starters, his former real estate company has been under investigation by the FBI and IRS for over a year in connection with loans he made to his first congressional campaign in 2012. But redistricting also left him with a seat where 60 percent of voters were new to him, giving his opponents an additional opening. Neither Harris nor Johnson spent very much money but while the wealthy Pittenger outspent each of them, the $151,000 he deployed leading up to the primary was a relatively small sum, and his complacency almost cost him everything.
Unsurprisingly, Harris' campaign says it intends to seek a recount, aptly noting that 65 percent of the district voted against the incumbent. But while the margin between the two candidates might seem small, history shows that a 142-vote gap is an enormous one to overcome, so Pittenger is likely to hang on. As for the general election, this district is safely Republican on paper, but four years ago, Pittenger won with a surprisingly soft 52-46 margin over Democrat Jennifer Roberts, who is now mayor of Charlotte. This time, Democrats are only fielding Some Dude Christian Cano, but if Pittenger is the nominee and the feds were to close in around him, things could get crazy—just like they did on Tuesday.
● NC-12: Even though redistricting swept her home base of Greensboro out of the revamped 12th District, Democratic Rep. Alma Adams handily turned back state Sen. Malcolm Graham by a 42-29 margin on Tuesday. State Rep. Tricia Cotham finished third with 21 percent. Adams is safe for November.
● NC-13: What happens when mid-decade redistricting creates an open seat and 17 candidates charge into the GOP primary? You wind up with the victor prevailing with just a fifth of the vote—and in America, that's more than good enough. On Tuesday, gun range owner Ted Budd finished in first with 20 percent, while a trio of opponents each took 10 percent, including state Rep. Julia Howard, the primary sponsor of North Carolina's notorious new anti-LGBT law. Budd started the contest looking like just another Some Dude but the powerful Club for Growth picked him out of obscurity and spent a hefty $400,000 on his behalf.
While in theory this is now the most competitive district in the state, Democrats aren't putting up much of a fight here. Budd should win handily in the fall, and assuming he does, he'll walk into Congress with one of the smallest primary pluralities in recent memory.
● NJ-01: While Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross flashed a couple of surprising signs of concern late in the game—he secured a rare endorsement from Barack Obama and also loaned his campaign a few hundred grand—he easily turned back a challenge from 25-year-old activist Alex Law, 70-30. If there was any particular reason for Norcross' stepped-up efforts, they were probably aimed at deterring stronger opponents in future years. This seat is safely Democratic.
● NJ-07: Republican Rep. Leonard Lance escaped with just a 54-46 win against Some Dude David Larsen in 2014, and he didn't do any better in terms of his share of the vote on Tuesday night, once again collecting just 54 percent. However, while Larsen ran again (his fourth stab at the seat), this time he only managed 33 percent, because a third candidate, Craig Heard, took 13. If a stronger Republican ever wants to challenge the "moderate" Lance in a future primary, he could very well be doomed. Despite his close scrape, though, Lance will be the overwhelming favorite in November.
● AK-Sen: This week, Dan Sullivan endorsed Lisa Murkowski over Dan Sullivan. That is to say, Dan Sullivan, Alaska's junior senator, is backing Murkowski, the state's senior senator, in the August GOP primary over her last-minute challenger, former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Sen. Sullivan acknowledged that the ex-mayor "has one of the best names in Alaska politics," but the he cited the importance of Murkowski's position as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee as his reason for wanting to see her re-elected. (It's also pretty unusual for a sitting senator to support a primary challenge to another senator, especially one from your own state, similar names nonwithstanding.)
● PA-Sen: PPP gives Republican Sen. Pat Toomey a small 41-38 edge over Democrat Katie McGinty, which isn't too different than the 45-44 Toomey edge Quinnipiac found just after the April Democratic primary. PPP gives Toomey a negative 29-41 approval rating, which isn't a good sign for him in what's normally at least a light blue state. However, Toomey and his allies have been bombarding McGinty on the airwaves for the last month, and PPP gives her a 26-34 favorable score.
And indeed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is out with another spot aimed at dragging McGinty down further. For the second time, their ad features a hamster, because why not? This time, the hamster runs on a wheel as the narrator accuses McGinty of trying to tax every energy source she can, as well as backing cap-and-trade. "As of now," the narrator intones as the hamster continues to trot, "this is just about the only energy source she hasn't tried to tax in Pennsylvania. Keep running, little guy. We're gonna need ya." According to Politico, this commercial is airing only in the Pittsburgh media market, while the Chamber's other offering only went up in Philadelphia.
● MO-Gov: Ex-U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway has now joined her rivals in the August GOP primary on TV. Hanaway narrates the ad, saying that as a mom, she's worried about preserving conservative Midwestern values, so she "fought to protect the unborn." Hanaway also notes her record as a prosecutor and that she passed conceal carry. She ends by bemoaning "career politicians" who are "failing Missouri." Concludes Hanaway, "It's time for a prosecutor, a mom, to make Missouri safe and strong." The ad strategically doesn't note that Hanaway used to be the speaker of the state House. There is no word on the size of the buy.
● ND-Gov: While most of the North Dakota GOP establishment is supporting Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem over businessman Doug Burgum in next week's primary, Burgum does have ex-Gov. Ed Schafer in his corner. Schafer, who left office in 2000 and served as secretary of agriculture in the final year of the Bush administration (how's that for an impossible trivia question?), stars in a new spot for Burgum. Schafer calls Burgum an outsider and "conservative business leader." It won't be easy for Burgum to beat Stenehjem, but Burgum's financial advantage will help. The local blog Say Anything reports that, as of Friday, Burgum had outspent Stenehjem $2 million to $602,000 on broadcast TV.
Stenehjem also has a new TV spot out. Stenehjem lays out some bland platitudes about how honored he's been to be attorney general, as his wife says he'll be "a governor we can all be proud of." Stenehjem keeps enunciating the word "your," which is a little distracting. (The ad is useful, though, for helping people figure out how to pronounce "Stenehjem"—something like "sten-jem.")
● VT-Gov: On Tuesday, ex-state Sen. Matt Dunne picked up an endorsement from the Vermont State Employees' Association, which joins the Vermont State Labor Council AFL-CIO in his corner. The VSEA, which is one of the state's largest labor groups, had looked likely to back Democratic primary rival Peter Galbraith a few days ago but instead went with Dunne.
● HI-01: Candidate filing closed Tuesday for Hawaii's Aug. 13 primary, and the state has a complete list of candidates available here.
Freshman Democratic Rep. Mark Takai announced a few weeks ago that he would not seek another term in order to concentrate on his treatment for pancreatic cancer. Ex-Rep. Colleen Hanabusa left this seat behind to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014, and she narrowly lost the Democratic primary to appointed Sen. Brian Schatz. Hanabusa is running for the 1st again, and her only notable primary foe is ex-state Rep. Lei Ahu Isa, who says she "will not have fundraisers, nor ask for campaign donations." Isa took just 26 percent in a 2012 state House primary against a Democratic incumbent, and Hanabusa shouldn't have much problem against her. A couple of well-known Republicans had considered bids, but none opted to go for it in the end.
● NV-03: The conservative group Ending Spending, which is funded by wealthy Republican donor Joe Ricketts, is spending $650,000 on two TV spots ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary. One commercial boosts state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, the guy that the GOP establishment wants as their standard-bearer in this swing seat. The narrator praises Roberson as "a conservative reformer for change," and mentions a few of his accomplishments.
The other ad goes after wealthy perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian, Roberson's main primary foe, and it's unsurprisingly the more entertaining offering. The narrator takes a cue from Roberson's ads and argues that scandal follows Tarkanian around. The spot hits Tarkanian for his role in his family's disastrous development scheme, noting that Tarkanian filed for bankruptcy after a $17 million judgment was leveled against them. The commercial also accuses Tarkanian of failing to pay his taxes.
It's pretty surprising to see Ending Spending getting involved so late in the primary. Early voting, which always plays a big role in Nevada politics, has been going on for a while, so a significant proportion of votes are already banked. But it's likely that a measure of fear is motivating this move: Tarkanian has been outspending Roberson, so it may be that Ending Spending is worried about Roberson's chances. These ads would have been a lot more useful even a week ago when there were more votes still up for grabs, but better late than never for Roberson, if he truly needs the help.
● NY-01: With two weeks to go before the Democratic primary, venture capitalist Dave Calone is out with a negative spot aimed at intra-party rival Anna Throne-Holst, a former Southampton town supervisor. The ad starts with a clip of Throne-Holst declaring that she's "been a Democrat for pretty much all of my life" before the narrator says that she only joined the party last year. (Throne-Holst was a member of the Independence Party until she ran for this seat.) The spot goes on to say that Throne-Holst donated three times to New York's Conservative Party, which supports Donald Trump, and argues that Democrats can't trust her.
In a statement, Throne-Holst's team said that she made those Conservative Party contributions so that she could attend their fundraisers. Why? Because "as town supervisor, she attended tons of events throughout the community." That's a pretty unconvincing defense: It's not as though Throne-Holst attended some non-partisan community event that just happened to feature Conservative Party leaders or something like that. Still, influential Democrats like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand are backing Throne-Holst, which could help her fend off attacks on her Democratic bona fides. The Democratic nominee will face freshman GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin.
● Honolulu, HI Mayor: Mayor Kirk Caldwell faces two notable opponents in the Aug. 9 non-partisan primary: ex-Mayor Peter Carlisle and ex-Rep. Charles Djou. All the candidates will face off in the Aug. 13 non-partisan primary, and if no one claims a majority, the top two vote-getters will advance to the November general. We don't have any horserace polling, but a February Merriman River Group survey gave Caldwell a 40-38 approval rating.
Caldwell is a Democrat while Djou is a Republican and Carlisle identifies as an independent. However, the candidates' views on the controversial $8 billion Honolulu Rail Transit Project are likely to be the major fault line here. Rail supporters have argued that the project will help alleviate Honolulu's traffic problems and help the environment. Opponents say the already-expensive project will cost even more than rail advocates say, and that the system won't be utilized enough to make it all worthwhile. At this point, most rail opponents concede that the project is too far along to stop, and they're instead hoping to shorten the route.
Both Carlisle and Djou are arguing that Caldwell, a rail supporter, has done a poor job managing the project. However, Carlisle is a prominent proponent of the program and says that the professionals should just be left to do their jobs; Carlisle has also made it clear that he wants the rail line to stop at its planned endpoint at the Ala Moana Center and doesn't want to make the route shorter. By contrast, Djou opposed the project when he served on the city council. However, Djou acknowledges that it's too late to halt it now, and he instead says he wants to spend the allocated resources and nothing else. Perhaps in a bit of a contradiction, though, Djou also says that it wouldn't be a good idea to stop the rail line before Ala Moana.
Djou has the support of ex-Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor as the anti-rail candidate in 2012, and ex-GOP Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, who mulled a bid this year but decided to defer to Djou. In 2012, Carlisle took third place in the primary and immediately endorsed the pro-rail Caldwell over Cayetano. Several unions are backing Caldwell.
● Sacramento, CA Mayor: On Tuesday, Darrell Steinberg, the former Democratic leader of the state Senate, defeated City Councilor Angelique Ashby 59-26 in the contest to replace Mayor Kevin Johnson. Because Steinberg won a majority in this non-partisan race, he does not need to go through a November general election. Steinberg had a huge spending edge over Ashby, though the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's PAC ran ads against him.