super tuesday

There Were Down-Ballot Contests on Super Tuesday, Too

In Alabama, a competition between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville to see who is the Trumpiest. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock

Naturally most of the national media attention devoted to the 14-state megaprimary known as Super Tuesday was focused on the Democratic presidential contest. But in five of those states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Texas) congressional and state and local primaries were held in conjunction with the presidential balloting. And there were some notable results; a few are detailed below:

Alabama: Sessions and Tuberville in a Senate Runoff

Republicans are licking their chops at the clear opportunity they have to take back the Senate seat that Democrat Doug Jones won in a 2017 special election in this deep-red state. But as in 2017, they have some intraparty issues to sort out. Jeff Sessions, whose resignation to become Trump’s Attorney General led to that special election, is trying to win back his old seat. But by the time he decided to run, a strong GOP field had already formed, including 2017 nominee Judge Roy Moore, Congressman Bradley Byrne, and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville.

It turns out Alabamians have finally tired of Judge Moore’s theocratic antics and sketchy personal history, so he hasn’t been a serious factor in this race. But Republicans haven’t extended a welcome mat to Sessions either. The dominant issue in the contest has been, of course, fidelity to Donald J. Trump, and despite his protestations of having been the very first Trump supporter in the U.S. Senate, Sessions has to deal every day with his dismissal by Trump for the terrible sin of recusing himself from his department’s investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. With every candidate swearing eternal fealty to Trump, Sessions’s history stands out. And he wound up finishing just behind Tuberville in the primary, with Byrne running a fairly strong third. Alabama requires a majority vote for major-party nominations, so the former senator and the former coach are heading for a runoff on March 31.

Tubs (as he was nicknamed during his coaching career) made his line of attack on Sessions plain last night:

Trump himself might decide to resolve this fight by making his own endorsement, though his 2017 candidate lost to Moore. In the absence of direction from the mogul, we can expect these two MAGA men to compete with ever-escalating pledges to say and do crazy things in Washington. Tuberville is particularly good at playing the God-fearing rube without the complications Moore brought to the table, as he made clear in a radio appearance early in the race:

“This world and our country has lost it,” the former Auburn University head football coach said. “Thank God, and I do thank God every day that we got Donald Trump elected two years ago. I could not imagine where we would be today had he not got elected …”

“And he has, I’m telling you now, he has got to win. All other elections are off, I mean he has got to win the next election,” he emphasized. “He’s got to get four more years.”

“Then of course, I want to go to the Senate to help him,” Tuberville added, explaining part of his motivation for running. “I’m not a politician, don’t want to be one. I’m an outsider like him (Trump). I’m a Christian conservative. I’m pro-life.”

He then remarked that he wanted the government to “quit spending money.”

Lord have mercy. This race is going to get very stupid, and could give Jones a real chance of survival in November.

Texas: A Democratic Senate Runoff and an Establishment Scare

In a Democratic field crowded with candidates eager to build on Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 effort against Ted Cruz, the longtime front-runner, combat veteran, and impressive 2018 House candidate M.J. Hegar finished first in the Senate primary for the nomination to challenge John Cornyn. But she’s far short of the required majority, and with all but a few votes in, it appears she will face labor organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez in a May 26 runoff.

If that is the runoff field, there could be some ideological tensions among Democrats, as the Dallas Morning News noted:

Tzintzún Ramirez supports Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill and the Green New Deal proposed by New York freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who last month endorsed her.

Hegar, however, opposes Sanders’ health care plan, though she has supported creating subsidies for a Medicare-like “public option” health plan. Hegar also backs “aggressive goals for expansion of renewable, clean energy,” while stopping short of embracing the Green New Deal.

Speaking of ideological tensions, the marquee House primary in Texas involved a very strong challenge to veteran Congressman Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, by another young progressive, as the San Antonio Express-News reported:

Cuellar brought in all the help he could get to retain the seat, including the conservative Koch brothers, whose political action committee spent tens of thousands on mailers supporting him. Oil and pharmaceutical companies, too, poured thousands into the pro-business congressman’s campaign during the final days of the primary. Local businessmen and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce contributed as well, in what ended up as one of the most expensive races in the state, with the total raised and spent in the South Texas district well beyond the $5 million mark.

Still, Cisneros, the 26-year-old daughter of Mexican immigrants who would have been the youngest member of Congress had she been elected, out-raised Cuellar during the final stretch of the race. She was backed by major progressive groups, including EMILY’s List, which supports women candidates, and Justice Democrats, the group that helped Ocasio-Cortez in 2018 defeat a longtime New York congressman who was a moderate Democrat.

Cuellar won by a narrow 52-48 margin, but he and the bipartisan Texas Establishment that backed him got a real scare.

California: Battle to Succeed Katie Hill Goes to Overtime

Freshman California congresswoman Katie Hill, one of the stars of the Class of 2018 who helped Democrats take back the House, was driven to resign late in 2019 by a sex scandal based on what appeared to be her estranged husband’s revenge porn. On Super Tuesday, voters in her Los Angeles/Ventura County district had a special election to fill the rest of her term and also a regular top-two election for the next term beginning in 2021. Democrats nationally and in the district quickly consolidated in support of Assemblywoman Christy Smith, while Republicans were divided between Steve Knight, the two-term incumbent Hill easily dispatched in 2018, and defense contractor Mike Garcia. While a lot of mail ballots are still out, it looks like Smith and Garcia are headed for a May runoff in the special election and a pairing in November for the subsequent term.

Aside from Knight, the other high-profile losers in this contest were self-styled progressive entrepreneur and talk-show host Cenk Uygur, who won about 5 percent after weathering a lot of complaints about his fight against unionization of his own company; and Trump-saga celebrity and convicted felon George Papadopoulos, who won less than 2 percent.

North Carolina: Key Senate Race Set

A much-anticipated high-stakes Senate race in North Carolina proceeded to the next stage as incumbent Republican Thom Tillis brushed off scattered primary opposition and Democrat Cal Cunningham turned back a more serious challenge from African-American State Senator Erica Smith. The Charlotte Observer sums up the campaign so far:

Tillis, 59, avoided a possible divisive and expensive primary when Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker dropped out of the race before the filing deadline in December and no current elected official, including Rep. Mark Walker, opted to challenge him.

The lack of a real challenger allowed Tillis to stockpile cash for the rest of the campaign.

Cunningham, 46, lost in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 2010. But he quickly built support in-state and nationally upon entering this Senate race in June.

He previously had been running for lieutenant governor, but raised $720,000 in his first two weeks in the Senate race and announced dozens of endorsements right away despite not holding elected office since 2003.

Tillis is definitely vulnerable in a state that is expected to be a presidential battleground in November. As of the end of 2019, he had a mediocre 34/37 approval/disapproval rating in the Morning Consult tracking poll. Any serious Democratic path to retaking the Senate probably goes through North Carolina.

There Were Down-Ballot Contests on Super Tuesday, Too