Call it Super Tuesday III: The last big primary day of the season is upon us. Today, millions of voters in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington go to the polls — or, more likely, fill out an absentee ballot — to decide the Republican and Democratic nominees for congressional and state office. There are over a dozen races worth watching today, but here’s the skinny on the most consequential.
Kansas’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate might be the biggest down-ballot primary of the year. Although Kansas is normally a blood-red state, Democrats will have a real shot to win a Senate seat here for the first time since 1932 (their longest drought anywhere in the nation) if the GOP nominates former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
For reasons ranging from his quixotic pursuit of voter fraud to his far-right views on immigration, legal troubles and an incompetent campaign, Kobach is such a weak candidate that he already lost the 2018 race for governor to Democrat Laura Kelly. And internal GOP polling has reportedly found that nearly 30 percent of Republicans would support Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier this November if Kobach is the nominee for Senate. That’s enough to put Kobach and Bollier in a virtual tie in the few public polls of the race we’ve seen recently.
That’s not to say Republicans don’t have an alternative. The problem is, they have two: Rep. Roger Marshall and plumbing and HVAC mogul Bob Hamilton. And thanks to his ability to self-fund, Hamilton had spent the most as of July 15 ($2.7 million), saturating the airwaves with campaign ads — and that’s on top of the years’ worth of kitschy commercials his company is locally famous for.
However, Marshall has the support of the party establishment: In addition to the $2.3 million spent by Marshall’s campaign, the Senate Leadership Fund has spent $1.9 million to help him. Marshall also has the endorsements of a prominent Kansas pro-life group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and retiring Sen. Pat Roberts. But one big name has yet to weigh in: President Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly urged the president to endorse Marshall, but (so far at least) he’s been unwilling to lift a finger against Kobach, his ideological doppelgänger.
A new super PAC with ties to McConnell, Plains PAC, has spent heavily ($3.3 million) this month on negative ads associating Kobach with white supremacists. But the biggest spender in the Republican primary is actually a super PAC with Democratic ties: Sunflower State PAC, which has spent $5.3 million, including on an ad “attacking” Kobach for being “too conservative” and actually attacking Marshall for being “phony” and “soft on Trump.” It’s not unheard of for parties to meddle in the other side’s primary like this to land their preferred opponent, but rarely have they gone so all-in on it.
Public polling of the race has been sparse; the latest data we have is an internal Republican poll (reported by Politico) that put Marshall at 33 percent and Kobach at 30 percent, with Hamilton further behind. But you know what we say about internal polls — and be extra careful with this one; we don’t know which pollster even conducted it.
Remarkably, that is not the only race in Kansas in which a tainted nominee could cost Republicans the election in November. Dogged by allegations of adultery, unwanted sexual advances, campaign-finance violations and inflating his résumé, Rep. Steve Watkins of the 2nd Congressional District was already facing a vigorous challenge from state Treasurer Jake LaTurner, the youngest statewide elected official in the country at age 32. Then, on July 14, Watkins was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor for voting from an address where he does not live. The scandal prompted Watkins to step down from his committee assignments in Washington and neighboring Rep. Ron Estes to endorse LaTurner. (However, Republican brass such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have stuck with Watkins.)
Although this eastern Kansas district voted for Trump by 18 points in 2016, it’s looking competitive this fall — and could be especially vulnerable if Watkins wins the primary. According to a poll from LaTurner’s campaign (mind you, hardly an unbiased source), Democratic Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla leads Watkins 50 percent to 37 percent, while De La Isla and LaTurner are locked in a virtual tie.
In Michigan, there are three interesting House primaries, but the one grabbing the most national attention is probably the rematch in the 13th Congressional District between Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones.
This is a race with a lot of history, too. After the resignation of Democratic Rep. John Conyers in December 2017, the seat hosted two elections in November 2018 — a regular race for Congress and a special election to complete Conyers’s unexpired term. Tlaib and Jones faced off in crowded primaries, with Tlaib ultimately winning the regular primary and Jones the special. Jones tried to mount a write-in campaign against Tlaib last November but lost, meaning Jones represented the district for a few weeks before Tlaib took office.
Now, though, Tlaib and Jones are the only primary contenders, which might help Jones in the majority-Black, Detroit-based district as she is African American herself. In 2018, however, African American voters didn’t coalesce around a single candidate. Instead, Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, came out on top. However, this year Jones has the endorsement of every other Democrat who ran in 2018, and she’s taken aim at Tlaib’s sometimes-controversial national profile as a member of “The Squad,” claiming Tlaib is prioritizing celebrity over her constituents.
For the moment, though, Tlaib appears to have the upper hand, in part because she held a massive 40-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over Jones as of July 15. Tlaib has also attacked Jones for not living in the district, and it probably helps Tlaib that Jones has her fair share of controversies, too, including alleged violations of state campaign finance laws. A July survey from Target Insyghts found Tlaib ahead 52 percent to 24 percent, so it looks as if this is Tlaib’s race to lose.
Over in western Michigan, we’re also keeping an eye on the Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District, a Grand Rapids-based seat currently held by Rep. Justin Amash, a Libertarian and former Republican who isn’t seeking reelection. The principal GOP contenders are state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis and Peter Meijer, a U.S. Army veteran and scion of the family that owns the eponymous Midwestern retail chain — which probably helps with his name recognition.
Meijer appears to have the upper hand, too, as he has support from House Republican leaders and leads the money race. As of July 15, he had raised a little over $1 million in contributions, compared to Afendoulis’s $625,000. Not to mention, he had a $400,000 to $140,000 cash edge for the home stretch (Meijer has also loaned his campaign $475,000; Afendoulis has given hers $256,000). Still, Afendoulis argues she’s the only candidate with legislative experience and is the only conservative for the job, having earned an endorsement from Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights. She’s also questioned Meijer’s loyalty to Trump and the GOP, slamming him as a “Never Trumper” who helped Democrats by working for With Honor, a bipartisan group that aims to elect veterans to Congress.
A mid-June survey from Meijer’s campaign found him ahead of Afendoulis by 24 points, 41 percent to 17 percent, although we should take internal polls with a grain of salt. Ultimately, the Republican winner will advance to face attorney Hillary Scholten, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary. And although Trump carried this district by about 10 points in 2016, 52 percent to 42 percent, election handicappers only give the GOP a narrow advantage in the race.
In the last district we’re watching, three Republicans are vying to replace retiring GOP Rep. Paul Mitchell in Michigan’s 10th District, which lies north of Detroit in “The Thumb” and is the most Republican-leaning seat in the state.
First up, state Rep. Shane Hernandez has enjoyed the backing of groups promoting limited government like the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity. The Club’s political arm has spent about $1.5 million to help Hernandez, which includes ad buys featuring Mitchell endorsing Hernandez and emphasizing Hernandez’s support for Trump. Meanwhile, businesswoman Lisa McClain had spent $1.6 million on the race as of July 15 — about four times as much as her opponents — and has run ads calling herself a conservative outsider and pro-Trump Republican. McClain has also questioned Hernandez’s Trump bona fides by running an ad claiming that Hernandez opposed Trump and the idea of building a border wall in 2016. A super PAC backing McClain has also spent nearly $500,000 boosting her. A third candidate, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Doug Slocum, has little outside support, but he’s stressed his early support for Trump and his extensive military service as a pilot in the Air Force and as commander of Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County, which is in the district.
The only recent survey of the race comes from Hernandez’s allies at the Club, which in mid-July found him narrowly leading McClain by 6 points, 33 percent to 27 percent, with Slocum in a distant third at 10 percent.
Progressive challengers have already unseated incumbent Democratic congressmen in two districts this year — could Missouri’s 1st Congressional District be next? A Clay — either current Rep. Lacy Clay or his father, Bill — has represented St. Louis in Congress continuously since 1969, but registered nurse and Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush is determined to bring that streak to an end. Clay defeated Bush 57 percent to 37 percent in the Democratic primary here in 2018, but it’s a much fairer fight this time around: Instead of being outspent more than three to one like she was in 2018, Bush has spent nearly $442,000 this year to Clay’s more than $548,000 (as of July 15).
In addition, outside group Fight Corporate Monopolies has dropped six figures on an ad attacking Clay for fighting the Obama administration on Wall Street reform. Generally, though, Clay has a pretty progressive voting record: He’s more liberal than 83 percent of Democrats in the current Congress, according to DW-Nominate, and, like Bush, supports both single-payer health care and the Green New Deal. On the other hand, the nationwide movement against police violence may help Bush, as she first rose to prominence amid the 2014 protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, which is in the district. But whoever wins the primary will likely punch their ticket to Congress, since the 1st District is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Missourians statewide will also vote on Amendment 2, a ballot measure that would make Missouri the 39th state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. In the face of opposition from Republican governors and legislatures, proponents of Medicaid expansion have had a lot of success recently at the ballot box — Idaho, Nebraska and Utah passed it in 2018, and Oklahoma did so just a month ago — and Missouri looks like it could follow suit. A June poll from Remington Research Group found Amendment 2 leading 47 percent to 40 percent, and as of July 27, supporters had outraised opponents by the shocking margin of $10.1 million to less than $112,000. If the amendment passes, an estimated 230,000 people would newly become eligible for Medicaid starting in 2021.
There are also several races we didn’t have room to cover — like an “accidental congressman’s” comeback attempt in Michigan’s 11th District and the question of whether Washington state will elect its first Black representative or a protégée of Bernie Sanders in the open 10th District. Feel free to follow us on Twitter tonight for full coverage up and down the ballot. However, as usual, it could be several days before we get final results. And if any of those results have an effect on who’s favored in November (lookin’ at you, Kansas), we’ll cover it for you right here on FiveThirtyEight.com.
CORRECTION (August 4, 2020, 11:45 a.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated which candidate was trailing Marshall and Kobach in an internal Republican poll. It was Hamilton, not Marshall.
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