Political News

Lockout fears and a potential big night for women are the big stories in Tuesday's elections

Posted June 4, 2018 12:32 p.m. EDT

— Tuesday is the biggest day of the 2018 primary season so far. Eight states will be voting. This includes California, the most populated state in the union and where most of the attention will be focused.

Two of perhaps the three biggest questions heading into tonight will be answered entirely in California.

A top two lockout for Democrats in California?

The big question in California has generally been whether Democrats would be "locked out" in any of the seven congressional districts (10th, 21st, 25th, 39th, 45th, 48th and 49th) that Republicans hold and Hillary Clinton won in 2016. By locked out, I mean Democrats not having a general election candidate on the ballot in the fall.

California employs a top-two primary. That means all the candidates regardless of party affiliation run in the primary, and the two top vote getters (even if they are members of the same party) advance to the November election. If more Democrats run than Republicans in a given district that leans in their direction, it means they can split the vote and allow two Republicans to advance, even if the Republicans have fewer supporters.

As I noted on Friday, this splitting has been a concern for Democrats in the California 39th (where Ed Royce is retiring), 48th (where Dana Rohrabacher is running for re-election) and 49th (where Darrell Issa is retiring) districts. Polling though suggests this fear has generally been exaggerated. For instance, a rare nonpartisan poll (from SurveyUSA, which called cell phones, but isn't gold standard) in the 49th released late last week suggests that Democrats are likely to make one of the top two slots.

Even if Democrats got locked out of all three districts (again unlikely), there was no guarantee they'd win all of them in the general election given all the districts also voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Further, there are about 80 Republican-held seats that could be competitive in the fall. Losing three opportunities certainly isn't a welcome sight for Democrats, but it's far from deadly.

A lockout for Republicans in the biggest governor's race?

California has generally been seen as the home to the resistance against President Donald Trump. Outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown has had more than a few tussles with the President.

The leading candidate in pretty much all of the polls is Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. The question in the race has largely centered around who was going to make it into the general election with Newsom by coming in second place on Tuesday.

Republicans have been fearful that Newsom's opponent was going to be former Los Angeles mayor and Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa. Without a Republican at the top of the ticket, the thought was that Republicans would be less likely to turnout for the key congressional races.

The latest polls suggest, however, that Newsom's most likely opponent is going to be Republican John Cox. In an average of polls taken in the last month, Newsom has led with 29% to Cox's 19% to Villaraigosa's 12% and Republican Travis Allen's 11%. Given the general difficulty in polling primaries, it's still plausible that two Democrats will face each other in the fall election. Cox though looks to be in the driver's seat for the second spot.

Will the women surge continue this week?

So far, Democrats have been nominating women in high numbers. In House seats with no incumbent Democrat on the ballot and at least one man and one woman running, women have emerged as the Democratic nominee about 70% of the time. Republicans have been less likely to nominate women. Men have defeated women in non-incumbent House races nearly 80% of the time on the Republican side.

This Tuesday, though, women could win high profile races on both sides of the aisle in a number of states.

In California's 45th and 49th districts, Democrats Katie Porter and Sara Jacobs are hoping to advance to the general election in November. In the 45th, it's likely that Porter would face another woman, Republican Rep. Mimi Walters. In the 49th, Jacobs could face Republican Diane Harkey.

In the state's Senate race, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is currently the most senior woman in the Senate, looks like she'll dominate. Polling has her way ahead of the competition. Feinstein's large lead comes despite delegates to the state party convention preferring Democrat Kevin de Leon. De Leon though may not even make the general election as he has generally polled in the single digits in the primary with a bunch of Republicans with little name identification.

Beyond California, women candidates have chances to score nominations in many contests.

Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey is heavily favored in her primary as she seeks a full term, though there is still some question as to whether she gets over 50% to avoid a runoff.

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds faces no primary competition in her bid for a full term. Democrat Abby Finkenauer is thought to be the frontrunner for the Democrats in Iowa's 1st Congressional District primary. She'd be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, if she would beat Republican Rep. Rod Blum in the fall. Democrat Cindy Axne is thought to be in a tight race to win the Democratic nomination in the third district to take on Republican Rep. David Young. Both Iowa's 1st and 3rd Districts were won by Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.

New Jersey's 11th Congressional District looks like a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats. Trump won it by just a point, and Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen is retiring. Democrat Mikie Sherrill has raised nearly $3 million and has scored the endorsement of every county organization in the district.

New Mexico looks like it could elect its second woman governor in a row. Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is heavily favored to win her primary for governor. In her current congressional seat in the first district, polling has both Deb Haaland and Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez in striking position to win the Democratic nomination. If either win, they'll be heavily favored in the fall in this deep blue district.

Finally, in South Dakota, Republican Rep. Kristi Noem could take a big step in becoming the state's first-ever woman governor. She's in a tight race with state Attorney General Marty Jackley for the Republican nomination for governor.

If Noem wins, women will be a favorite to win the governor's seat four of the five states with a gubernatorial primary this Tuesday.