Decision 2018: “Super Tuesday III”, and waiting on California III

While June 5 was a “Superbowl of primaries” (eight primaries were held three weeks ago across the country from New Jersey to California), last night was an important primary night as well, with five states (from New York to Utah) holding primaries, and South Carolina/Mississippi holding runoffs. As with all multistate primary nights, JMC will focus separately on each state for the next few paragraphs.

New York

New York is unique in that it has separate primary days for both federal and state offices. Last night was primary night for the federal offices (the “state primary” is September 13). The big surprise here was that three incumbent US House Democrats from New York City were closely pressed in their primaries, and one (20-year incumbent and Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley) was defeated by a 28 year old Latina who was also a Bernie Sanders organizer and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Rep. Crowley, despite outspending his opponent 18:1 (his opponent shrewdly framed the contest as “being about people versus money – we’ve got people, they’ve got money’), was also clearly the victim of demographic changes in this New York City district (which according to the 2010 Census was 24% non-Hispanic white). 


Maryland has always been a heavily Democratic state: even in the 2010 and 2014 Republican landslides, 63 (in 2010) and 69% (in 2014) of primary voters voted in the Democratic primary. Still, Democrats saw another increase in turnout relative to 2014, as 77% of primary voters picked a Democratic ballot. Democratic turnout increased 16%, while Republican turnout decreased 21% relative to the 2014 primaries. This turnout surge won’t help Democrats very much in this state, however: 9/10 of the Congressional delegation is Democratic, and its incumbent Republican Governor is fairly popular.


Stereotypically, Oklahoma is thought of as a Republican state: in the last four Presidential elections, Republicans have carried all 77 of the state’s counties. However, the oil bust of 2014 has hurt the state’s economy, and the state’s Republican governor is unpopular. That combined with several Democratic special election victories in recent legislative races suggests a more favorable climate for Democrats this year. Both sides had contested primaries for governor, and there was clearly a turnout surge for the Democrats: Democratic turnout increased 142%, while Republican turnout increased 69% relative to the 2014 primaries. Plus, what was a 62% Republican primary electorate in 2014 shrank to 53% last night.


In recent elections, Colorado has leaned Democratic due to a combination of an increasing Hispanic population and a liberal urban constituency in and around Denver. Still, Colorado participated in the national Republican surge both in 2010 and 2014. In 2014, 64% of Coloradans voted in the Republican primary. Due to an 174% surge in Democratic turnout (and only a 24% turnout increase for Republicans relative to 2014), 55% voted a Democratic ballot last night (Colorado is one of a handful of states to conduct its elections entirely through mail in ballots).


There was only one interesting race on the ballot last night: former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was on the Republican ballot for the US Senate race. Despite trailing his opponent in the nominating convention that normally is the vehicle for selecting party nominees in Utah, Romney easily won the primary 72-28%, and should be a cinch in this heavily Republican state to succeed retiring US Senator Orrin Hatch in November.

California counting

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 three weeks ago, California has since Election Day been counting these “last minute” mail in ballots. Only 35 (out of 58) counties have finalized their counts, and as of last night, there are still 274 thousand 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 2.78 million votes have been counted since Election Day, and those votes have (so far) been 64-35% Democratic. Assuming that the remaining 274 thousand uncounted votes similarly skew 64-35% Democratic, JMC is estimating that in California alone, Democratic turnout will be 85% higher than in the 2014 primary, while Republican turnout will be 48% higher. 

2018 midterms

Thus far, 31 states have held primaries. 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 20 of 31 states that have held contested primaries on both sides of the partisan aisle thus far, 57% voted in the Republican primary in 2014, while 46% have thus far this year. Or to put it another way, Democratic turnout has increased 76%, while Republican turnout has increased 16% relative to the 2014 primary season. This is actual partisan voter turnout data that should be considered (and be of concern to Republicans) 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). 47 states have concluded their Congressional qualifying. 99% of 235 Republicans have Democratic opposition, while 81% of 191 Democratic held seats have Republican opposition.