Last night was the “Superbowl of primaries”, with eight primaries held across the country from New Jersey to California. And it was generally a good night for Democrats, particularly in California. Given the number of contests, JMC will focus separately on each state for the next few paragraphs.
There is a “good news/bad news” aspect for Democrats for the New Jersey primary. Primary turnout went from 58% Democratic in 2014 to 65% last night, and Democrats saw a 105% increase in their party primary turnout (compared to 53% for Republicans). However, its incumbent Democratic senator Bob Menendez (who has been under the ethical microscope for some time) only received 62% of the vote in his party’s primary, and while New Jersey’s Democratic tendencies will likely save him, he has some work to do with his party’s base in the immediate future.
JMC had previously discussed the changing politics of the “Old South” and the “New South”, particularly regarding partisan alignments/realignments. Alabama is squarely in the “Old South” category, and accordingly saw robust Republican turnout: 71% of primary voters cast a Republican ballot in 2014, and 67% did last night (Democratic turnout increased 57%, while Republican turnout increased 33%). The interesting race here was a Republican Congressional primary in and around Montgomery, where incumbent Martha Roby defeated (then) Democratic incumbent Bobby Bright in 2010 for voting for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Bobby Bright nevertheless was never comfortable as a Democrat, and he recently changed to the Republican party to seek a rematch against Roby in the Republican primary – Roby had angered some Republican partisans for being insufficiently loyal to President Trump in 2016. Roby got forced into a July 17 runoff last night against Bright, with an unimpressive 39-28% primary lead.
Mississippi is another “Old South” state, and had a relatively quiet primary last night: Republican Senator Roger Wicker (unlike the Cochran-McDaniel race back in 2014) only received minor primary opposition, and sailed to victory with 83% of the primary vote. Accordingly, Republican turnout dropped 52%, while Democratic turnout was only 1% less than it was in 2014 (Democrats have a June 26 runoff to decide their Senate nominee). And while 79% of Mississippi primary voters chose a Republican primary ballot in 2014 (mostly due to the Cochran-McDaniel race), 64% did last night.
Iowa, South Dakota, and New Mexico
These states only saw competitive primary action on one side, so the picture of partisan enthusiasm in these three states is not a complete one. Still, it’s apparent that there was Democratic enthusiasm: Democratic turnout in Iowa was 144% higher than it was in the 2014 primary; while the increase in Democratic turnout in New Mexico was 40%. South Dakota, on the other hand, only saw a contested Republican statewide primary, and Republicans saw a 39% increase in primary turnout relative to 2014.
Both sides saw competitive primaries, although in this situation, Republicans had a contested Senate primary (incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester was unopposed), while for the at-large US House seat, there was a contested Democratic primary (Republican Greg Ginaforte was unopposed). So from these two separate primaries, it’s apparent that Democratic turnout was up 29%, while Republican turnout was down 52%. 58% of Montana voters chose a Republican primary ballot last night, compared to 79% who did in 2014.
California (REVISED 6/6/2018 PM)
Election Night watching in California is an exercise in patience for three reasons: (1) being on the Pacific Time Zone means that first results don’t start trickling in until 11PM Eastern/10PM Central, (2) with a combination of early voting, Election Day voting, and mail in balloting (mail in votes are counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day), it takes up to a month to count all the votes, and (3) California is one of a few states (like Washington and Louisiana) to have an open primary system, where all candidates appear on the same ballot (however, in Louisiana, 50% gets you elected in the first round – California and Washington operate under a “Top Two” system).
Here’s what is known as of the time this article is being written: (1) both the early and precinct vote are counted, (2) mail in ballots that are cast at the last minute tend to be 20-30% of the total vote volume, so there are easily a million uncounted mail in ballots (4 million votes have been cast so far), and (3) last minute mail in ballots tend to skew a few points more Democratic than the early + Election Day vote.
Still, it’s clear Democrats had a good night. In the open Governor’s race (Jerry Brown is term limited), 61% voted for one of the Democratic candidates, while 37% voted Republican, and 2% voted third party. In the Senate race (Democrat Dianne Feinstein is seeking another term), the party split was 62-35% Democratic/Republican (3% voted third party), and the “Top Two” candidates in November are both Democrats (Sen. Feinstein and Kevin DeLeon). To put this partisan performance in perspective, 50% voted in the Democratic primary in 2010 (when there were still party primaries), while 58% voted Democratic in 2014 (when the “open primary” system was applicable). And despite the strong caveat that there are easily a million votes left to count, Democratic turnout (thus far) is up 4%, while Republican turnout is down 14%.
But while Democrats saw robust turnout at the top of the ballot, their Congressional performance was similarly strong: 6 Republican held seats had a Republican party vote of 55% or less, while there were 4 Democratic held seats where 55% or less of primary voters voted for a Democratic candidate – in other words, these 10 U.S. House seats are theoretically competitive this fall. And it’s important to realize that the California delegation is already heavily (39-14) Democratic, so those 6 vulnerable Republican seats represent half of their delegation.
Thus far, 21 states have held primaries. Five states (Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Virginia) hold primaries next week, while five more (Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, and Utah) hold primaries on June 26.
Overall, in the 14 of 21 states that have held contested primaries on both sides of the partisan aisle thus far (including the partial California results), 57% voted in the Republican primary in 2014, while 49% have thus far this year. Or to put it another way, Democratic turnout has increased 41%, while Republican turnout has increased 1% relative to 2014. This is actual partisan voter turnout data that should be considered when evaluating the political temperature of the 2018 midterm elections.
Congressional filing is also steadily progressing to its conclusion (filing for fall races in Louisiana is July 18-20), as 44 states have concluded its Congressional qualifying. 99% of 235 Republicans have Democratic opposition, while 81% of 175 Democratic held seats have Republican opposition.