LOS ANGELES – Holding hopes of a “blue wave” in November, Democrats fought to shape the political battlefield in primaries across eight states Tuesday, none more important than California and New Jersey where control of Congress may well be decided this fall.
It was a big night for women. And neither party immediately appeared to suffer major setbacks. Yet the winners and losers in California’s most competitive races could take days to sort out given the state’s unique election laws.
Republicans were concerned but breathing a bit easier as results came in in the race to succeed California’s term-limited Democratic governor, Jerry Brown. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom won the top spot and the right to run in the general election this fall, while the competition for the second spot featured Democratic former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Republican business executive John Cox.
Cox seemed headed for that second spot, avoiding a situation in which the Republicans would have no one at the top of the ticket to drive turnout for congressional and other races.
That could have had a profound impact on several suburban House races, where Democrats see a prime opportunity to steal some of the 23 seats needed to retake the House.
Roughly half of that total could come from districts in California and New Jersey.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein seized her party’s nomination for another term, as widely expected. It was still unclear whether a Republican would earn enough votes to oppose her on California’s November ballot.
Three thousand miles away from California, former federal prosecutor and Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill bested a field of party rivals in the race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. The favorite of Washington Democrats will take on GOP Assemblyman Jay Webber in one of several New Jersey races Democrats view as possible pickups.
Much of the day’s drama focused on women, who fought to make history in some cases and to avoid disaster in others.
In Alabama, four-term Republican Rep. Martha Roby was forced into a runoff election next month after failing to win 50 percent of her party’s vote. She will face former Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright in Alabama’s conservative 2nd district – where Trump loyalty has been a central issue.
Roby was the first member of Congress to withdraw her endorsement of the Republican president in 2016 after he was caught on video bragging about grabbing women’s genitals.
In New Mexico, Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham won her party’s nomination in the race to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. If Grisham wins, she’d be the state’s second Latino state executive.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey fended off three GOP challengers, while South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem became the first female nominee for governor in her state.
In Iowa, 28-year-old Democratic state Rep. Abby Finkenauer was trying to become the youngest woman to serve in Congress. And in New Mexico, former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland, a tribal member of Laguna Pueblo, won her primary and could become the first Native American woman in Congress if she wins this fall.
Haaland said in her primary victory statement: “Donald Trump and the billionaire class should consider this victory a warning shot: the blue wave is coming.”
In Mississippi, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker won his primary contest as did New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat who faced federal bribery charges last year. The jury deadlocked, but Republicans hope to use Menendez’s legal troubles to tar other Democrats like Sherrill across the state.
Republican businessman Bob Hugin claimed the Republican nomination Tuesday and will face Menendez this fall.
Much of Tuesday’s focus was on California.
Recognizing the high stakes, Trump sought to energize his supporters in a series of tweets praising his preferred California Republican candidates earlier in the day.
“In High Tax, High Crime California, be sure to get out and vote for Republican John Cox for Governor. He will make a BIG difference!” Trump tweeted.
Yet frightening scenarios existed for both parties.
Because of California’s unusual primary system, all candidates appear on a single primary ballot, with the top two vote-getters regardless of party advancing to the November election. That allows the possibility of two candidates qualifying from the same party – and neither from the other.
National Democrats spent more than $7 million trying to curb and repair the damage inflicted by Democrats attacking each other in districts opened by retiring Republican Reps. Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, and the district where Republican Dana Rohrabacher is facing challenges from the left and the right.
Trump will not be on the ballot this year. But he was on the minds of many voters.
Francine Karuntzos, a 57-year-old retiree from Huntington Beach, California, said she has deep concerns about the Republican president – particularly his recent declaration that he could pardon himself. She said she isn’t a member of a political party, but she voted Democratic on Tuesday.
“I’m really, really worried about our Constitution being ruined by this presidency,” Karuntzos said after casting her ballot at a local community center.
Across the country in Montclair, New Jersey, Lynnette Joy Baskinger, a psychotherapist, said she’s fed up with the GOP.
“I still consider myself an independent, but I just won’t vote Republican because of what’s going on,” she said.
It was a different story in Mississippi, where 66-year-old Gladys Cruz wasn’t sure which Republican she would support in the state’s Senate primary, but she wants whoever wins to firmly support Trump.
The president “touches my heart,” she said.
A key Senate race took shape in the heart of Trump country as well.
Montana Republicans were picking a candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, one of the most vulnerable senators in the nation. The GOP struggled to recruit top-tier candidates, leaving the most likely nominees as state Auditor Matt Rosendale or retired Judge Russ Fagg.
Democrats have aimed their most aggressive attacks at Rosendale, seizing on his background in Maryland and questions about his experience as a rancher.
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