POLITICS

8 Down-Ballot Races To Watch On Super Tuesday

Five states are holding primaries for the House, Senate and other races besides the presidential contest.

Fourteen states are holding presidential primary elections on Super Tuesday, but five of those states are also holding critical primary contests for House, Senate and other down-ballot races. 

Some of the key contests on the Democratic side will test whether progressives can defeat candidates with significant fundraising power and establishment support. And perhaps the most-watched Republican primary has candidates competing to prove who has most solidly stood by the side of President Donald Trump.

Here are eight races we’re watching on Super Tuesday: 

Texas’s 28th Congressional District Democratic Primary

Jessica Cisneros is trying to win the Democratic nomination from Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a more conservative member of
Jessica Cisneros is trying to win the Democratic nomination from Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a more conservative member of the House. Cisneros has picked up the backing of progressives including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros’s tough battle to unseat conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas’s 28th Congressional District has become one of the most closely watched primary challenges against an incumbent House Democrat this election cycle. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and with a host of labor, environmental and abortion rights groups have jumped in the race on Cisneros’s side. Meanwhile, the unlikely coalition of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, conservative billionaire Charles Koch’s super PAC Americans for Prosperity Action and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has stepped up to help Cuellar. 

If Cisneros manages to pull off an upset in the socially conservative, working-class district in South Texas, where turnout has historically been low, it could send a signal that no incumbent Democrat is safe from the wave of progressive energy unleashed by Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. A victory for Cisneros also almost certainly depends on higher-than-normal turnout among young Latinos, which is likely to benefit Sanders and portend well for Democrats’ efforts to turn Texas blue in November.

California’s 25th Congressional District Race

California state Rep. Christy Smith (D) is considered likely to proceed to a runoff in the 25th Congressional District campai
California state Rep. Christy Smith (D) is considered likely to proceed to a runoff in the 25th Congressional District campaign.

California’s 25th is a swing district in northern Los Angeles County and eastern Ventura County that went blue for the first time in decades in 2018 when former Rep. Katie Hill (D) pulled off a surprising 9-percentage-point victory over incumbent Republican Steve Knight. Hill resigned in October after apologizing for a sexual relationship with a campaign staffer, which became public when a conservative news site published leaked nude pictures of Hill without her consent

Now voters have two races on their ballot: a special election primary to replace Hill for the rest of the year and a general election primary for the next Congress. Because California uses an open primary system, candidates from all political parties compete in the same primary, and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election. In a special election, a candidate can win outright by receiving more than 50% of the vote.

There are 14 candidates running in the two races — including former Donald Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who served 12 days in prison for lying to the FBI. Democrats’ leaked internal polling shows Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith and Knight — the Republican who lost to Hill in 2018 — as the candidates most likely to proceed to a runoff. 

Smith is the Democratic Party favorite, and she also has backing from Hill. She is facing a challenge from the left from Cenk Uygur, the founder and longtime host of the progressive news network The Young Turks. But the Democrats’ internal polling shows Uygur trailing Smith, Knight and Mike Garcia, a former Navy combat pilot running as a Republican.

Democratic operatives have touted Uygur’s history of offensive comments, many of which he has apologized for and disavowed. And Uygur’s campaign suffered a self-inflicted stumble last month when HuffPost reported that he urged TYT staffers not to unionize

Alabama Republican Senate Primary

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is campaigning to return to the U.S. Senate in Alabama, running for the GOP nomination.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is campaigning to return to the U.S. Senate in Alabama, running for the GOP nomination. If he doesn't get a majority of the vote, he'll head to a runoff election later this month.

The Alabama Senate race is all about President Donald Trump. 

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R), former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) are all vying for the Republican nomination to take on Sen. Doug Jones (D) in November. And it’s a contest to see who can tie themselves closest to the president.

Sessions, of course, was the very first senator to endorse Trump, lending him a bit of establishment credibility during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump rewarded him with a job as attorney general but then soured on him when Sessions refused to act as Trump’s personal protector and recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In Alabama, if no candidate gets a majority on Tuesday, there will be a runoff on March 31. Sessions is expected to get the most votes, but it’s unclear whether he’ll have to compete in a runoff and whether Byrne or Tuberville will join him there. 

Tuberville has been in second place in most polls, and both he and Byrne have been going after Sessions for not being loyal enough to the president. But both Byrne and Tuberville have also criticized the president in the past. In September, Tuberville said he was ”pissed off″ at Trump over veterans’ health care issues, and Byrne said Trump was ”not fit to be president″ after his “Access Hollywood” comments about sexual assault came out in 2016. 

So far, Trump has not weighed in on the race. 

Texas Democratic Senate Primary

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is one of 12 Democrats running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Texas. She r
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is one of 12 Democrats running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Texas. She recently picked up the support of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and many national Democrats have thrown their support behind MJ Hegar, a former Air Force pilot and Purple Heart recipient who ran in a competitive House race in 2016. She lost, but she closed the gap in the GOP district significantly. 

Hegar has also raised the most money ― more than $3.8 million, which is more than all the other candidates combined. 

Hegar has been polling ahead and is expected to do well, but if she doesn’t get a majority, she’ll head to a May 26 runoff with the other top-two vote-getter. 

There are five other candidates in the 12-person race vying for the second-place spot: former state Rep. Chris Bell, Houston City Councilmember Amanda Edwards, activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez and state Sen. Royce West. 

Tzintzún Ramirez has emerged as a progressive alternative to Hegar, receiving a boost recently when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) endorsed her. The campaign said Ocasio-Cortez’s support led to $20,000 and 3,000 new donors. She’s the only one in the top tier of candidates who supports “Medicare for All” and a Green New Deal. 

California’s 50th Congressional District Race

Former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is attempting to return to Congress after retiring in 2018. He previously represented the
Former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is attempting to return to Congress after retiring in 2018. He previously represented the 49th District, which became more heavily Democratic over time.

Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter vacated this seat this year, resigning after pleading guilty to stealing $250,000 in campaign donations to pay for things like fancy vacations, extramarital affairs and airfare for his pet rabbit.

The race to replace him is crowded with nine candidates, but the tentative front-runners, according to recent polling, are Ammar Campa-Najjar, the only Democrat remaining in the race, and former Rep. Darrell Issa. When Issa was in Congress, he led several investigations targeting the Obama administration, including probes into the 2012 embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya, the supposed IRS targeting of conservatives, and the Fast and Furious gun trafficking scandal. 

Campa-Najjar nearly flipped the conservative San Diego district blue in 2018, when he ran as a relatively unknown first-time candidate. He faced a series of Islamophobic ads from Hunter, who falsely accused him of being a national security threat with links to terrorism. 

Because of California’s open primary system, in which the top two vote-recipients advance to the general election regardless of political party, it is possible (but unlikely) for two Republicans to compete against each other in November.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Race

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has come under fire from civil rights and criminal justice reform activists
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has come under fire from civil rights and criminal justice reform activists and is facing two progressive challengers.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is facing two progressive challengers: former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and former public defender Rachel Rossi.

Lacey, who ran unopposed for reelection in 2012, is extremely unpopular with civil rights activists and criminal justice reform advocates. She has opposed nearly every criminal justice reform measure that’s come up during her time as district attorney. Her office has prosecuted only one case involving a police officer killing a civilian — despite more than 500 people dying at the hands of law enforcement under her watch.

On Monday, the day before the election, Lacey’s husband pointed a gun at a Black Lives Matter activist who showed up at their house to request a meeting and to protest Lacey’s record. 

The two candidates with the most votes will proceed to the general election. Gascón, who is endorsed by the Los Angeles County Democrats, is expected to outperform Rossi, who, despite attracting support from people typically skeptical of prosecutors, lacks Gascón’s name recognition.

Los Angeles’ police union has poured money into labeling Gascón as dangerously lenient on crime. It’s unclear to what extent Monday’s gun incident will hurt Lacey, but a progressive win in America’s second-biggest city would represent a major achievement for the nationwide progressive prosecutor movement.  

North Carolina Democratic Senate Primary

Former North Carolina state Rep. Cal Cunningham (D) is widely expected to win the Democratic primary to challenge Sen. Thom T
Former North Carolina state Rep. Cal Cunningham (D) is widely expected to win the Democratic primary to challenge Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020. Tuesday’s Democratic primary is largely between Cal Cunningham, who is an Army veteran and former state lawmaker, and state Sen. Erica Smith, who is African American. Cunningham is widely favored to win, and he has the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Cunningham has raised more than $4.7 million, compared with Smith’s $238,000. 

Republicans have meddled in the race, with a super PAC funded exclusively by a group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dumping $3 million in to help Smith ― an indication that the GOP sees Cunningham as the bigger threat. Smith has denounced the “assistance” from the super PAC, but she has also said she’s disappointed that national Democrats decided to weigh in on behalf of Cunningham.

Polling has shown Cunningham with a growing lead, and he’s likely to win more than the 30% of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff. 

California’s 16th Congressional District Race

Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) is facing a challenge from Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, a progressive.
Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) is facing a challenge from Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, a progressive.

Young progressive Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria is running a competitive campaign against Blue Dog Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.). 

Costa has outraised Soria nearly by $1 million and received endorsements from establishment Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein.

But Soria has received several local union endorsements and has the backing of labor leader Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the American Farmworkers Association with Cesar Chavez. Soria also received the endorsement of the California Young Democrats. 

A Soria win would advance the idea that young progressives could take on entrenched, more conservative Democratic incumbents and win.

Costa has skipped three opportunities to debate his challenger, and in February, he released two negative ads that struck a chord among diverse Fresno community members.

Jenavieve Hatch and Daniel Marans contributed reporting.

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