While June 5 was a “Superbowl of primaries” (eight primaries were held last week across the country from New Jersey to California), last night was an important primary night as well, with five states (from Maine to Nevada) holding primaries. And just like with last week’s article, JMC will focus separately on each state for the next few paragraphs.
In Virginia’s statewide primaries last year, it was noticed that there was a surge in primary enthusiasm on the Democratic side, as 60% of Virginia voters voted in the Democratic primary (compared to the 43% who did in the 2016 Presidential primary). Even though only Republicans had a contested Senate primary last night, turnout was 17% lower than it was in the 2017 statewide primaries. Furthermore, Republicans nominated a controversial nominee whose challenge between now and November is to move beyond his party’s base if he hopes to unseat Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine.
The Virginia primary has also revealed another aspect of the 2018 election cycle: whatever President Trump’s popularity numbers are overall, he is overwhelmingly popular among Republican voters, and they are insistent that their elected representatives be loyal to the President. This was initially apparent in Alabama, where Republican incumbent Martha Roby (due to remarks she made after the Access Hollywood incident in 2016) was forced into a runoff against a more “Trump friendly” opponent (and who, ironically, she defeated in 2010 when he was a Democratic incumbent). Similarly, Barbara Comstock represents an affluent suburban district that has steadily moved away from the Republicans. Nevertheless, she was renominated with 61% of the vote – a comfortable (but hardly overwhelming) percentage.
South Carolina politically is an interesting state. While it is stereotypically thought of as an “Old South” state, it has seen a substantial in migration of northern voters to its coastal counties. Those migrants tend to favor a more moderate brand of Republican politics. And while it remained overwhelmingly Republican (74% voted in the Republican primary in 2014, while 60% did last night), there was a Democratic turnout surge: Democratic turnout increased 109% over 2014, while Republican turnout increased 15%.
There was also a Congressional primary where Republican primary voters punished an incumbent who was perceived to be insufficiently loyal to the President: Mark Sanford was defeated 51-47% by a more “Trump friendly” candidate. Rep. Sanford has now become the second Republican primary casualty of this election cycle (Alabama’s Martha Roby may be the third, depending on how she fares in the July 22 Republican runoff).
Maine (UPDATED 6/13 PM)
A surge in Democratic enthusiasm (from the standpoint of increased Democratic primary turnout) was similarly evident in this Democratic leaning state: just like New Jersey a week ago, Democratic statewide primary turnout was much higher than in 2014: Democratic turnout (with 90% of precincts reporting) increased 85%, while Republican turnout was up 42% (when all the votes are counted, JMC estimates that Democratic turnout will be up 105%, while Republican turnout will be up 58%).
North Dakota only saw competitive primaries on the Republican side both for the Senate race and its At-Large Congressional seat, so the picture of partisan enthusiasm here is incomplete. Still, there was (in this state anyway) some Republican enthusiasm: Republican turnout was 39% higher than it was for the 2014 midterm elections. And in a state where its Democratic incumbent Senator (Heidi Heitkamp) faces a stiff Republican challenge, Republicans need every bit of that increased partisan enthusiasm.
Nevada is a state with a slight Democratic lean, due to both a growing Hispanic population and unionized voters who work for the casinos. Both parties had contested statewide primaries last night at the top of the ticket, and Democratic turnout increased 101%, while Republican turnout increased 20%.
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).
So even though Election Day was a week ago, California has since Election Day been counting these “last minute” mail in ballots. Even though only 23 (out of 58) counties have finalized their estimate of outstanding mail in ballots, as of last night, there are 1.76 million uncounted ballots.
Those uncounted ballots also skew Democratic. So on Election 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 for the first 4 million votes that were counted. Approximately 1.47 million votes have been counted since Election Day, and those votes have (so far) been 64-35% Democratic. Assuming that the remaining 1.76 million uncounted votes similarly skew 64-35% Democratic, JMC is estimating that in California alone, Democratic turnout will be 90% higher than in the 2014 primary, while Republican turnout will be 51% higher.
Thus far, 26 states have held primaries. Five more states (Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, and Utah) hold primaries on June 26, then primary season goes on hiatus during the month of July (although there is a July 22 runoff in Alabama), then primary season resumes with Tennessee’s August 2 primary.
Overall, in 17 of 26 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 48% have thus far this year. Or to put it another way, Democratic turnout has increased 61%, while Republican turnout has increased 9% 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). 46 states have concluded their Congressional qualifying. 99% of 235 Republicans have Democratic opposition, while 82% of 180 Democratic held seats have Republican opposition.