Tuesday, June 5, 2012

CA / NJ / SD / NM / MT Primary Preview

Originally published in Red Racing Horses.

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Five states go to the polls today for primaries. Here are some races to watch in each state.

California

In the presidential race, there is a chance that Ron Paul could win a congressional district or two in an upset. Despite the presence of a large phonebank center in Los Angeles for Paul, the populous state is a bad fit for the grassroots-style campaining of his followers, so expect something close to a Romney sweep.

It is uncertain if a Republican will even make the ballot to take on Senator Barbara Boxer (D), with a crowded field of anonymous candidates.

Consult our own Left Coast Libertarian's excellent three part preview of the US House primaries in California. Essentially, Republican turnout is surprisingly high without any prominent Republican contests to drive turnout.

One thing to watch for are the efforts of independent candidates. There are one or two races where they could make runoffs, backed by a California super PAC and abetted by split votes in the top two primary. These include Chad Condit in CA-10 (son of former Rep. Condit), former Republican Bill Bloomfield in CA-33 (who has spent $1 million on his race), former GOP Assemblyman Anthony Adams in CA-08, and Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks in swingy CA-26. Of the four, I see Bloomfield having the strongest shot at a runoff, with Parks in a more contested primary contest but also having significant resources.

Other races feature legitimate de facto primaries. These include CA-30, with Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman (D) battling each other in a multi-million dollar race. Republican Mark Reed threatens to make the ballot with both splitting Democratic votes, but both could squeeze into the general election as well. If Reed is in, the Democrat left standing will have won this safe Democratic district long before November.

CA-08, a safe and open Republican seat, is also worth watching, with a crowded field of legitimate Republicans but no real Democratic candidates. Frontrunners include Assemblyman Paul Cook, San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfet, and Victorville Mayor Ryan McEachron.
Other races to watch include CA-47, where former Rep. Steve Kuykendall (who has struggled with fundraising) faces fellow Republican and Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong and Democratic frontrunner Alan Lowenthal in a likely Democratic seat.

With two clear frontrunners, also worth watching is CA-41 with Democrat Mark Takano (who has raised significant money from the national LGBT community) and Republican Mark Tavaglione, a member of Riverside County's Board of Supervisors. Their margins will preview the November election.

CA-02 features a contest between Democratic State Assemblyman Jared Huffman and Netroots favorite Norman Soloman, who has attracted money from that community. CA-52 is a swingy seat with two Democrats jockeying for a runoff berth, Scott Peters and Lori Saldana.

New Mexico

The action here is all on the Democratic side. The Republican Senate contest is all but wrapped up, with conservative Greg Sowards ineffectively attacking former Rep. Heather Wilson from the right. On the Democratic side, Rep. Martin Heinrich seems like the likely Democratic nominee. State Auditor Hector Balderas has run a strong campaign working to position himself as a reformer, but the two candidates agree on too much to draw much of a contrast. Heinrich should win the Democratic nod tonight.

More contested is the Democratic primary in NM-01, Heinrich's soon to be open seat. State Senator Eric Griego faces Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham. Griego has outside help from prominent progressive groups, while Grishma surged from the back of the pack, much of it at the expense of early frontrunner Chavez. Griego and Grisham have hammered each other in mailings and in television advertising. The relatively moderate former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez has avoided much of the infighting, focusing on GOTV and limiting his attacks on the other candidates.

South Dakota

The presidential primary here is the only one that is really interesting tonight. Ex-Paul staffers from nearby states have opened offices in Sioux Falls and canvassed, phonebanked, and generally run a pre-primary effort in two weeks by raising $25k for a PAC, South Dakota for Liberty. The effort is not tied to the campaign and will probably help Paul reach 20% to win delegates in proportional South Dakota, but Romney should still win the contest.

Also of interest is the Democratic primary between Matt Varilek, a former aide to Senators Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle, and Jeff Barth. Barth, you may recall, is the eclectic candidate and county commissioner whose latest web ad is just odd and went viral (it features ostriches and explosions; watch it here). There are also clear fault lines in the race- Barth supports the Bush tax cuts, while Varilek opposes them; Barth supports gay marriage, which Varilek opposes. Varilek has the establishment backing and much more money than Barth, but his campaign has just gotten interesting in the last few weeks. With a low-profile race, anything can happen.

Montana

Montana is known as a libertarian-leaning state, but with little organized Paul effort don't expect Romney to face a serious challenge.

The biggest primary action is in the gubernatorial race. Former Rep. Rick Hill is seen as the frontrunner for the Republican nod. A crowded field hopes to outflank Hill in a race that has garnered little attention. Most prominent among the challengers is State Senator Corey Stapleton, who has gone on the air to attack Hill. Hill has hit back at Stapleton, and with the biggest warchest in the race he has the resources to push back his opposition. Also in the race are social conservative State Senator Ken Miller and Choteau County Commissioner James O'Hara, among others.

Businessman Steve Daines leads the race for the Republican primary with a huge cash advantage, while Democrats have a crowded but fairly anonymous field including Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier.

New Jersey

There is one big primary here: NJ-09. Representative Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell, Democrats, were both drawn into the same district. Rothman had the initial edge with his base in Bergen County, which outnumbers Pascrell's base in Passaic County. The fight has been nasty and bitter, with Pascrell being particularly acrimonious toward Rothman. Rothman has the (non-explicit) support of President Obama, while President Clinton has campaigned for Pascrell in the district. The race has absorbed millions of dollars and is expected to be close, even if featuring uninspiring turnout.

Another contest to watch: the Democratic primary in NJ-10. After Rep. Donald Payne passed away, a number of local Democratic politicos entered the race to succeed him. The frontrunners are Donald Payne Jr. (a local political force in his own right), State Senator Nia Gill, Newark City Councilman Ron Rice, and Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith. Payne should do well in Essex while Rice does well in Newark and Union County. Nevertheless, the edge goes to legacy and Payne Jr.

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