On Tuesday night, primaries took place in eight states: Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Primaries have so far taken place in 21 states, and the nationwide map of the candidates for November’s election is beginning to fill in.
Of Tuesday’s primaries, California’s was probably the most-watched, due to the impact the state could have on the House of Representatives, as I discussed in my previous article. The state’s top-two system meant that both parties were battling to avoid being shut out of various races across the Golden State. It appears now that the Republicans will be shut out of the Senate race, and so Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de Leon will go on to make an all-Democrat Senate election in November. However, the Republicans will be on the ticket for the Gubernatorial race: businessman John Cox will take on California’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom for the Governor’s Mansion. However, the California Governor’s race is still rated as safe for the Democrats by Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
The primaries for California’s House elections were fairly positive results for the Republicans: of the four districts (10th, 29th, 39th and 48th) rated as toss-ups by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, as well as the 49th District which is rated as a Democratic pickup, the Republican candidates all topped the primary polls. Whilst this doesn’t tell us much on its own about how well both parties are likely to do in November, this is at least a positive starting point for the Republicans heading into November.
Leaving California, Montana’s primary included the selection of candidates for the state’s closely-watched Senate race in November. Democratic Senator Jon Tester is seeking a 3rd term, and as a red state Democrat he is looking to be locked in a tight battle for re-election. The Republicans have selected Matt Rosendale, a rancher and the State Auditor of Montana, as their Senate candidate.
As with other red state Senate Democrats up for re-election in November, it could be suggested that pressure is on Tester to be seen to support President Trump in some areas. According to KTVH – an NBC affiliate in Montana’s state capital of Helena, Montana – Tester voted with the President 51% of the time in 2017. Tester also supported the Republicans’ rollback of some of the Dodd-Frank banking regulations. Tester is ranked as the fourth most conservative Democrat Senator in Congress according to GovTrack, behind three other red state Democrats: Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND). Tester’s support for the 2nd Amendment also adds to his conservative credentials; as a farmer and former butcher, Tester as stated an appreciation for the nuances of gun culture in the US, especially in rural Montana.
However, Tester has earned the ire of the President and the Republican Party for his opposition to Trump’s nomination of Ronny Jackson to the role of Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. Rosendale has attacked Tester for opposing the President’s tax cuts and “kowtow[ing] to Nancy Pelosi”. Rosendale himself is cutting a conservative stance, describing himself as “pro-life in all circumstances”, and as a supporter of the 2nd Amendment and of Donald Trump’s immigration plan and border wall. Morning Consult’s quarterly presidential approval poll from April (the most recent at the time of writing) gave President Trump an approval score of +4, with 50% approving and 46% disapproving. Seeing as Trump commands a positive approval rating in Montana, it will remain to be seen if voters will look for a Senator in November who they can align more with the President.
It’s going to be a long road to November’s election, and despite no real polling to speak of in Montana, the pundits are giving Tester the advantage at this stage: Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates Montana’s Senate race as Lean Democrat, with Inside Politics rating it as just Tilt Democratic. The Cook Political Report is more confident for Tester, however, rating the race as Likely Democrat. Montana is an interesting state psephologically, having voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and gave John McCain a winning margin of just 2.4% in the 2008 Presidential Election. In this year’s Senate election in Montana, anything could still happen.
The 2018 midterms are a huge test for Donald Trump, but with polling so far being as limited as it is, a lot of focus for punditry will be on the candidates who emerge as successful through the primaries, what they stand for and how that reflects the political narrative of their individual states. When more polling starts to come through, especially in Montana, we will be able to see how the races are shaping up, and the affect (if any) Trump is having on the re-election hopes of red state Democrats.
The next primaries of the season will be in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia on June 12th, with primaries in Colorado, Maryland, Oklahoma and Utah along with Mississippi’s runoff election taking place later this month.