Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Five Burning Questions for This Week's Primaries

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)

While in the past I have done morning after recaps of the primaries (and I may still do that) this week, thanks to odd election laws in Tennessee and Hawaii, we have six states holding primaries on three separate days.  Therefore, I figured it was more important to pose five questions rather than five responses as we head into the next few days.  The things I’m most curious about…

1. Can Senate Republicans Finish Their Perfect Streak?

While Chris McDaniel is still plotting ways to win that Senate seat in Mississippi, the reality is that no Republican incumbent senator has lost a primary this year, despite oodles of challenges and lots of talk last year after Dick Lugar lost his Senate seat that “candidate X is a RINO and will be next.”  This week concludes those challenges, with Sens. Lamar Alexander and Pat Roberts poised to beat their challengers back.

Of the two, Roberts seems to be in the closer race.  Alexander has an opponent who holds actual office (St. Rep. Joe Carr), but has multiple opponents who will splinter the vote.  Roberts has a massive gadfly candidate in Dr. Milton Wolf, but Wolf’s campaign has been the stuff of GOP nightmares, and he is unlikely to win.  This will be curious to watch considering the sharp divides that have long existed (but are making a lot of news) lately in the Kansas gubernatorial race-how badly will conservatives abandon Roberts in the primary, and what will that mean for Brownback/Davis in the general?

2. Will Hawaii Democrats Keep Abercrombie and Schatz?

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Democrats have yet to lose a congressional incumbent in a primary this cycle, a very rare occurrence if the cycle finishes that way (the last time it happened was 2000).  The best shot anti-incumbent enthusiasts have continues to be Sen. Brian Schatz in Hawaii, who was appointed to the late Sen. Dan Inouye’s seat in 2012.  Polling in Hawaii is notoriously sketchy, and polls have shown him both ahead and behind Rep. Colleen Hanabusa by a considerable margin.  Environmental and gay rights groups have come out strongly in favor of Schatz, who is seen as the more liberal alternative of the two candidates, which may bode well for his reelection chances in a primary, even though Hanabusa is more well-known to voters.  Of all of the races this week that I’m curious to see the results on, this is easily at the top of the list.  Whichever candidate wins would be heavily favored in the general election in this strong blue state, and considering the general loyalty Hawaii has to incumbents, could hold the seat for decades.

The man who appointed Schatz is also in a lot of trouble.  Gov. Neil Abercrombie has been polling behind State Sen. David Ige for weeks now, and is deeply unpopular in the state.  The Republicans have a credible challenger in former Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona, but Aiona probably only has a shot oddly enough if the incumbent wins the primary.  Abercrombie’s approval ratings are decidedly low, but Hawaii has a history of supporting their incumbents and this could mean he wins this week and in November.  Any combination of Ige, Hanabusa, Schatz, and Abercrombie would be believable, so it will definitely be telling on Saturday when we see how this turns out.

3. Can Scott DesJarlais defy all political logic?

Two years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a Republican more certain to be out of Congress next January than Rep. Scott DesJarlais (TN).  A staunch pro-life Republican in a part of the country that agrees with him on both counts, it was discovered that he had pressed his ex-wife to get two abortions and had had affairs with multiple patients, pushing for one of them to get an abortion.  DesJarlais got a top seed challenger in State Sen. Jim Tracy, and most in the GOP caucus are likely cheering for DesJarlais to lose his primary, considering that he could easily be replaced by a scandal-free Republican in a safe district.  However, polling and insider information in the district seem to indicate a very tight race.  It will be extremely telling about the Tea Party and the conservative right if they cannot even take out a scandal-tarred incumbent, particularly in a year where incumbents have been wildly successful at the ballot box despite polls saying this defies common wisdom.

4. Will Kerry Bentivolio become the third House member to lose?

Two years ago, thanks to the bizarre foolishness of Thad McCotter, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio randomly was elected to Congress and has been a bit of a problem for the leadership (he has talked about conspiracy theory investigations while in office, amongst other things).  Bentivolio is being challenged by former congressional aide Dave Trott, and polling shows Trott with a sizable lead.  This seat is theoretically flippable with the right set of candidates, but it’s difficult to see the Democrats doing better than Bentivolio as their general election opponent, so I suspect if Trott wins this seat moves to safe Republican.

5. How hard is a comeback?

In a cycle that has been unusually cruel to former representatives of Congress staging comebacks (Marjorie Margolies and Bob Barr spring to mind), two former members are in competitive primaries that may return them to Congress.  Former Rep. Hansen Clarke, who is running for the open seat held by Gary Peters, got second place to Peters two years ago, but polling has indicated that anywhere between a win and third place would be possible as he takes on Mayor Brenda Lawrence and State Rep. Rudy Hobbs, both of which have considerably more labor support than Clarke in this district (extremely important in this part of Detroit).

In Kansas, former Rep. Todd Tiahrt is running for a non-consecutive fourth term against Rep. Mike Pompeo, and is oddly positioned to his left despite having a perfect score from the Club for Growth in 2010.  Again, this is part of the larger "moderate vs. conservative" battle being waged in Kansas, and considering Tiahrt's stature as a former member of Congress, may well be a better indicator than the Roberts/Wolf race.

And those are my questions-stay tuned this week as we find out the answers!

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