9 Races To Watch On The Biggest Primary Day Of 2024 So Far

From California to Alabama, parties are picking their nominees in crucial races.

Don’t expect any major upsets in the relatively uneventful presidential primaries on Super Tuesday, when 15 states plus one U.S. territory will hand out delegates to each major party’s presidential nominees. The real action will be farther down the ballot.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will continue their steady marches toward their party’s nominations when states including Alabama, Colorado, California, North Carolina, Utah and Vermont head to the polls. (Also in the mix: American Samoa, the one territory that Michael Bloomberg managed to win during the former New York mayor’s doomed 2020 quest for the Democratic presidential nomination.)

Biden faces only nominal opposition from Rep. Dean Phillips, whose home state of Minnesota votes today. Biden’s so far won all 206 Democratic delegates up for grabs.

Trump, meanwhile, still faces a challenge from former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. Trump has amassed 244 delegates to Haley’s 43, nearly half of which she won in last weekend’s GOP primary in Washington, D.C.

But though Trump is expected to collect the roughly 1,200 delegates he needs to clinch the Republican nomination before the end of the month, Haley might do unexpectedly well in states like Vermont and Utah that have either open primaries where Democrats can vote for her or more moderate GOP bases that may reject Trump.

Haley might need only a few victories to prolong Trump’s pursuit of the nomination, precious days and weeks putting him and the Republican National Committee further behind Biden and the Democratic National Committee in fundraising.

Haley has only committed to staying in the race through Super Tuesday, so it’s not entirely out of the question the former South Carolina governor might suspend her campaign following Tuesday’s elections, at which point it’s not clear whether she might walk back her attacks on the former president and endorse him.

The make-or-break races, however, will be in critical House, Senate and gubernatorial primaries, including the massive intra-party brawl among Texas Republicans; a fight to determine whether progressives have a shot at succeeding the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California; indications of how Israel’s war in Gaza is playing in Democratic primaries; and a race in which a Trump-backed conspiracy theorist is favored to win the GOP nomination for governor.

The Divisive, Trump-Backed Conspiracy Theorist In North Carolina

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaks Saturday before Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, appears at a campaign rally in Greensboro, North Carolina.
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaks Saturday before Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, appears at a campaign rally in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a conspiracy theorist who has claimed that Beyoncé is “satanic,” the 1969 moon landing may have been fake and there is a ruling class of secretive reptiles, is on track to win the Republican nomination for governor in North Carolina.

Robinson, who has been endorsed by Trump, is poised to take on Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein. The current governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, is term-limited out.

Even when compared to recent extreme GOP nominees, Robinson’s record of sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia is particularly ugly. He’s mocked kids who survived school shootings as “immature media prosti-tots” for advocating gun safety reforms. He’s claimed that homosexuality leads to pedophilia. He’s referred to former first lady Michelle Obama as a man.

Despite all of that, Robinson has risen politically for one reason: He’s fashioned himself in the mold of Trump. They have endorsed each other, and last weekend, Trump attended a rally with Robinson and declared that he is “Martin Luther King on steroids.”

Of course, Robinson has insulted King in the past, too. He said the civil rights leader was an “ersatz pastor” and a “communist” and that the 1960s civil rights movement was “crap.”

North Carolina will have the biggest and most expensive governor’s race nationwide. It’s a crucial swing state in the presidential election, and of the 11 gubernatorial elections this year, just two are in swing states: North Carolina and New Hampshire. Beyond that, if Robinson wins in November, the GOP will have total control of the state’s government.

At least one local political analyst previously speculated to HuffPost that Robinson’s extremism will backfire on him in the November election.

“We have seen ever since the elevation of Trump, Republican primary voters, again and again, time and time and time again, choosing the candidate who makes an awful general election candidate in a purple state,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “My presumption is Mark Robinson will fall right into this pattern.”

Jungle Primary Brawl In California’s Senate Race

Centrist Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff is almost certain to nab the leading spot in California’s top-two “jungle” primary contest for the open seat previously held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but all eyes will be on progressive Rep. Katie Porter and her bid to secure second place over the Republican candidate in the race, former baseball player Steve Garvey.

Porter, who rose to prominence in Congress for grilling fossil fuel industry and Wall Street CEOs, has faced a multimillion-dollar barrage of television advertising funded by wealthy donors who are seeking to deny her a spot in the runoff. Separately, Schiff’s campaign has spent heavily to elevate Garvey in conservative media in hopes of boosting his appeal and ensuring that Schiff faces an easily beatable Republican candidate in California, a Democratic stronghold, instead of Porter.

Polls have found Porter struggling to keep even with Garvey for second place in the race even though his campaign has barely spent any money of his own on advertising. Meanwhile, Rep. Barbara Lee, the other major progressive candidate in the race, trails in third place, splitting the left in yet another advantage for Schiff’s establishment-backed campaign.

The Fight For The Right To Take On Ted Cruz

Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) is favored to advance in Texas’ Democratic Senate primary and face GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in November.
Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) is favored to advance in Texas’ Democratic Senate primary and face GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in November.
Emil Lippe via Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) is facing off against Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez for the Democratic nomination to run against one of the most polarizing Republicans in Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz.

Cruz came close to losing to his Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, in 2018 and remains unpopular in Texas.

Allred is a mild-mannered former NFL player who has boasted a fundraising and polling advantage since announcing his candidacy last year. Gutierrez’s district includes Uvalde, site of a horrific elementary school massacre in May 2022, and he has pushed for stricter gun control as a state legislator and an unapologetic progressive.

During a debate in January, Allred defended his moderate voting record, including his support for a symbolic resolution condemning President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I’ve built broad coalitions in my campaigns,” Allred said. “That’s how you win tough races.”

There are seven other candidates in the race, and the winner needs 50%, so the biggest question may be whether Allred can win outright or will wind up in a runoff against Gutierrez, who should do well among the state’s large Latino population.

AIPAC’s Big Gambit In California

Everyone knew that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee would be spending big money in Democratic primaries this year, but the mammoth pro-Israel group’s decision to make California state Sen. Dave Min its first target of the cycle has puzzled observers across the spectrum. Min, who is competing against attorney Joanna Weiss, also a Democrat, for the chance to succeed Rep. Katie Porter in California’s 47th Congressional District, has not called for a cease-fire in Israel or for restricting U.S. aid to Israel.

But AIPAC’s super PAC, the United Democracy Project, has still spent $4.7 million on ads blasting Min. The TV, digital and direct-mail campaign has cast Min as a general-election liability against a likely Republican opponent due to his arrest in May for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Min maintains that AIPAC is trying to beat him because he, like Biden, has been critical of Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. “Maybe AIPAC wants a rubber stamp. I’m not going to be a rubber stamp,” Min told Semafor.

Min, a former banking law professor who is the sole Korean American in the state legislature, has the support of Porter; Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.); the AAPI Victory Fund, which supports Asian American and Pacific Islander candidates; organized labor; and many of his fellow state lawmakers.

But Weiss, who founded a local Democratic club, has an outside money advantage. Two super PACs affiliated with EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, have spent nearly $1 million on her bid.

Punishing Texas Republicans Opposed To Private School Vouchers

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is backing primary challenges against 10 of the Texas state House Republicans who voted against the creation of a private school voucher program, helping to kill the proposal. School vouchers have long been a white whale in Texas, one of the only Southern states that does not already have such a program.

The overwhelmingly right-wing proponents of vouchers, who insist that they give parents mobility when a local school isn’t cutting it, have blamed the mostly rural Texas Republicans opposed to the program for being too close to teachers unions. In reality, those lawmakers say they oppose the voucher plan for fear it would deplete enrollment at rural schools with little room to lose funding.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) is backing his own slate of primary candidates against House Republicans who voted to impeach him on corruption charges in May, and he has endorsed several who stood by his side as the state Senate acquitted him.

Paxton’s efforts have less money behind them, but in at least one case, they conflict with Abbott’s preference. Paxton is supporting state Rep. Travis Clarty, a rural Republican opposed to vouchers, while Abbott has endorsed a pro-voucher challenger against Clarty.

The Cryptocurrency Industry Is Making A Multimillion-Dollar Splash

The cryptocurrency industry is funding a super PAC spending billions to attack Democratic Rep. Katie Porter in an effort to knock her out of California’s Senate race.
The cryptocurrency industry is funding a super PAC spending billions to attack Democratic Rep. Katie Porter in an effort to knock her out of California’s Senate race.
Josh Edelson via Getty Images

The cryptocurrency industry, which profits from investment in digital forms of money, is putting a lot of actual dollars in the hat to avoid the kind of federal regulation that might affect profits as it faces intense scrutiny.

In the California Senate primary, Fairshake, a super PAC funded by leading crypto players, including Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, has spent more than $10 million trying to sink Porter, a proponent of stricter banking rules and protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Protect Progress, a separate super PAC with a nearly identical list of donors, has spent $1.7 million to support Shomari Figures, a former Biden and Obama administration official running on Tuesday in a competitive Democratic primary in Alabama’s newly redrawn 2nd Congressional District.

In October, a federal court ordered the creation of Alabama’s 2nd, where the voting-age population is nearly half Black, after finding that the previous districts had suppressed Black political power. Figures’ strongest Democratic rivals are state Reps. Anthony Daniels and Napoleon Bracy. Should no Democrat get an outright majority on Tuesday, there will be a runoff on April 2. Democrats are strongly favored to pick up the seat in November.

And in Texas, Protect Progress has spent nearly $1 million in support of state Rep. Julie Johnson, who is running to succeed Rep. Colin Allred, a Senate candidate, in a district representing a large share of Dallas and its suburbs. Johnson is running against Dr. Brian Williams, a trauma surgeon and former Air Force officer.

Republican-On-Republican Battle Over Immigration

Immigration is consistently the top issue for GOP voters in public polling, and a primary for a U.S. House district along the U.S.-Mexico border will test whether Republicans are willing to make a statement on the border crisis using one of their own.

GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales is facing four primary challengers who argue he’s out of step with the MAGA wing of the party on a host of issues, including border security, marriage equality and gun rights. Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which stretches along the southern border in western Texas from El Paso to San Antonio, contains the city of Uvalde, site of the 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman killed 17 children and two teachers.

In the wake of the massacre, Gonzales supported stricter gun safety rules, a move that earned him a censure from the Texas Republican Party and other grassroots groups. And challengers including local GOP activists and a retired U.S. Border Patrol agent soon lined up to take out the incumbent representative, arguing he isn’t tough enough on the border at a time when the country is seeing a deluge of migrant crossings.

Gonzales, who came into office in 2020 after a close race against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, downplayed his chances of losing the party’s nomination in the primary.

“Anybody who wishes to challenge me — it’s a fool’s errand. I’ll run you into the deep end of the pool every single time and drown you. So, I welcome it,” he said.

Fading Lockout Fears In The Central Valley

California’s 22nd Congressional District, located in the state’s agricultural Central Valley, has long frustrated Democrats. In majority Latino district where Democrats have a massive registration advantage, low turnout has meant Republican Rep. David Valadao has won five of the last six congressional races.

This cycle, the party looked to have an even worse problem: It was possible neither of the two Democrats running for the seat ― former state Rep. Rudy Salas and state Sen. Melissa Hurtado ― would advance in the state’s top-two primary system. Though Valadao was a lock to advance, his support for Trump’s impeachment would generate just enough intra-party opposition for another Republican to qualify instead.

The problem set off a round of backbiting within the party, with Democrats grumbling about EMILY’s List working to recruit Hurtado, whom they ultimately never endorsed. National Democrats, who prefer Salas as their candidate, have spent $1.3 million to back Salas, and newer rounds of data show the chances of a lockout fading. Still, it’s $1 million the party would prefer not to spend this far from November.

A Three-Decade Member Of Congress Under Threat

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) is one of Congress’ longest-serving members, first entering office in 1985. Over the years, she’s developed a reputation as a leading progressive and member of the Congressional Black Caucus ― and for churning through staff at record levels. Her treatment of staff member helped doom her run for Houston mayor last year.

Now she’s trying to hold on to her House seat representing a majority-Black district surrounding Houston against a challenge from former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, 42, who began running while Jackson Lee was still campaigning to be mayor. The race against the 74-year-old Jackson Lee has been an old-fashioned generational showdown.

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