Tuesday night’s primaries contained some surprises and some indicators as to where November might wind up. All in all, a good night for Republicans.
First, there was a key primary race for the U.S. Senate seat in Kansas created by the retirement of Pat Roberts. Long-time immigration hawk Kris Kobach , who lost the Kansas governor’s race in 2018 by 5 points to Laura Kelly, was backed by Ann Coulter and Mickey Kaus. Kobach, it might be remembered, was on the receiving end of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ shocking lack of support in 2017 when President Trump had tabbed Kobach to head a voter fraud task force. When Kobach asked for records from several Secretaries of State, including California’s, they refused. At that point, Sessions did nothing, leaving Kobach hanging and opening the door for future vote fraud in the 2020 election.
Kobach ran against Kansas Congressman Roger Marshall, who is generally considered much more of a moderate. President Trump did not endorse either candidate, but the establishment clearly wanted Marshall. Most conceded that Kobach would have lost to Democrat Barbara Bollier, much as he had in the governor election. (By the way, I am sensing that people are getting just a tad fed up with people who constantly run for office. When beaten in one race, they just jump into another. But we’ll see: in Arizona, Lea Marquez-Peterson, beaten for a House seat in 2018, won a Corporation Commission seat).
The Marshall victory took Kansas off the table as a state that the Democrats hoped to flip, meaning their chances of getting the Senate now are slim and none. They “might” hope to defeat Thom Tillis in North Carolina, but even the polls have him solidly ahead. Otherwise, the only targets are Martha McSally (AZ—more about her later), Cory Gardner in CO and Susan Collins in ME.
In IA4, long time congressman Steve King, considered similarly too volatile in his comments, lost to Randy Feenstra. This would be a hold for the House Republicans. The KS2 seat, where Jake La Turner beat incumbent Steve Watkins, is considered another hold. Watkins was battling a vote fraud charge. Peter Meijer in MI3 defeated anti-Trump incumbent Justin Amash, making that a likely hold, but in reality, this is a flip for Trump. Amash, it will be recalled, voted for impeachment, so this might be considered a “half flip.”
Arizona’s Congressman from the 6th District, David Schweikert (no relation) has been under an ethics investigation and was considered vulnerable. Maybe not. Schweikert pulled 84,345 ballots so far with no competition while the contested Democratic nomination pitted Hiral Tipireni against Anita Malik, who combined for 54,409 votes. In other words, despite having no opposition, Schweikart’s totals beat the Democrats’ combined totals by almost 19,000. This cannot be a good sign for Tipireni, who lost a race for the AZ8 seat in 2018.
Of course, the headliner race in Arizona was for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Martha McSally. She had been named to replace John Kyl after losing her 2018 race against Kyrsten Sinema for the seat vacated by Jeff Flake. Kyl, in turn, had been named by Governor Doug Ducey as a temporary placeholder for the deceased John McCain, who died in August 2018. Since her appointment, McSally has been virtually invisible in Arizona, and the seat is generally considered a Democratic pickup in November. Mark Kelly, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ husband, is thought to be the favorite in that race, and polls have him up anywhere from two to six points. However, . . .
In the Republican primary, McSally was challenged from the right by “Demand” Daniel McCarthy, a Kobach/King type firebrand. McSally defeated McCarthy handily, but the two combined for 620,826 votes while Kelly only had 561,787—a GOP advantage of 59,000. Moreover, this took place during a record state primary turnout of 1.226 million ballots cast. (In other words, hard to imagine that in November there will be a significantly different “enthusiasm” factor). Overall, Democrat turnout was about two points higher than Republicans—but Republicans had more voters show up, contrary to expectations. This has led pollster Richard Baris to tell me that Maricopa County, which is the key to Arizona elections is about “plus three to plus four Republican.” Again, that conclusion defied the popular wisdom that Maricopa was turning blue or, at least, purple. Republicans still maintain a statewide advantage of more than 84,000 registered voters. While I’m not ready to pronounce McSally safe for November, it clearly is going to be a much closer race than even I anticipated just a month ago. And make no mistake, this one was considered a “gimme” by the Democrats.
As was Colorado, which did not have a primary, but where incumbent Cory Gardner is locked in a tight race with former governor John Hickenlooper. The Colorado Democrat, considered a shoo-in, instead has confronted one problem after another, including ethics charges. Even Hoax Polls have Gardner gaining on Hickenlooper, and it’s probably a tie right now. Trump, with a great performance, might pull Gardner over, especially if he announces the headquarters of the newly created “Space Force” in Colorado, and then credits Gardner for persuading him of the location.
One of the oddest races of the night was for the Republican nomination of Maricopa County Sheriff to face incumbent Paul Penzone. The reason for the interest in this race was that Sheriff Joe Arpaio came out of his Penzone-forced retirement to challenge Jerry Sheridan. As of this writing, a mere 541 votes separate the two, with Sheridan on top.
This brings up the late counting issue, as votes in this race are still being tabulated. Garrett Archer, the “Arizona Data Guru,” notes that there are still probably between 80,000 to 85, 000 ballots (which he thinks are likely to be about 50/50 split Republican and Democrat). That means there is little likelihood that the McSally or Schweikert results would change, but the outstanding ballots could well shift the Sheriff race.
Finally, though unrelated to the primaries themselves, Echelon Insights produced an interesting study of the impact of vote-by-mail (VBM) in various states, based on the previous years’ partisan lean of VBM. Applying their analysis to the “swing states,” Echelon found that Democrats were likely to benefit more from VBM in the following states at the following rates:
IA (16.7% VBM share)
Republicans stood to gain the most in:
CA (!!) (5.5%)
What stands out here is that Trump won WI, NC, and IA in 2016 and came within a hair of winning NH. He lost CO and NV despite a higher GOP vote by mail share. Moreover, in the 2020 special election for WI07, Republican Tom Tiffany won largely due to VBM ballots. In short, it’s not at all clear that the GOP stands to lose with VBM, and there is even a possibility that President Trump would stand to gain two states he lost while losing none that he already had carried. And, to top it off, two of the states with the highest VBM percentage—WV and AR—were states Trump carried easily in 2016.
All in all, the message of the primaries is that Republicans are probably in a somewhat stronger position than was generally assumed; that the Democrats’ chance of taking the Senate is a long-shot at best; and that turnout numbers seem to suggest that the GOP is outpacing Democrats in key races.
Larry Schweikart is the co-author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, A Patriot’s History of the United States with Michael Allen, the author of Reagan: The American President, and founder of the Wild World of History, a history curriculum website designed to help educators and homeschoolers with high school history programs (www.wildworldofhistory.com).