A handful of closely watched congressional primaries in California will remain that way for a while longer. Votes are still being counted, as of Wednesday morning, but Democrats appear to have dodged a bullet in several House districts where they were in danger of being left off the November ballot.
California’s “jungle” primary, which allows only the top two candidates to advance, regardless of party, made for some heated primaries in Southern California, as Democrats clawed for second place. But even in the nastiest race of them all, the party is currently clinging to at least second place. If those results hold, the party would have a fighting chance of flipping all those contested seats in November, which could be crucial to retaking the House. Several races remain too close to call—and may remain that way for as long as a week, given how slowly the state tends to count absentee and provisional ballots.
But after a busy Tuesday, during which eight states held primaries, here’s what we can say about the results as the dust is still settling out West.
Republicans Escaped California’s “Jungle”
The Republican who mattered most managed to make it out alive of California’s top-two nominating contest on Tuesday. John Cox, a San Diego venture capitalist backed by Trump, prevented an all-Democratic gubernatorial race by beating former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for the second spot on the November ballot, alongside Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who cruised to a first-place finish.
Republicans also got some good news in Southern California, where the party appears to have successfully recalled state Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat who supported the state’s gas tax. The state GOP is banking on a statewide ballot measure to rescind the gas tax to drive turnout in November, and Newman’s defeat suggests the issue could buoy some Republicans in close races.
The GOP nearly stumbled into a stunning second-place finish in the race to unseat Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Republican James Bradley—a first-time candidate few had heard of and even fewer had donated to before Tuesday—was running neck and neck with Democratic state Senate leader Kevin de León for much of the night. Bradley eventually slipped a few percentage points behind de León, whose progressive challenge to Feinstein appears to have won him second place, but with a disappointing 11 percent of the vote. The race for second hasn’t been officially called, but it appears Republicans will have to settle for one candidate and one big issue at the top of the statewide ticket.
Democrats Had Another Solid Night
House Democrats had good reason to celebrate in some other states on Tuesday. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee went five for five in contested primaries outside California that are also central to its plan to retake the House, including three for three in New Jersey, a state where Donald Trump is deeply unpopular and so is the GOP tax overhaul. Among the Garden State winners backed by the DCCC: state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a moderate who has voted against gun restrictions, same-sex marriage, a minimum-wage hike, and combatting man-made climate change. He beat three progressive challengers to win the nomination in the 2nd District, where GOP Rep. Frank LoBiondo is retiring.
The DCCC’s preferred candidates also posted commanding victories in Iowa’s 1st District, where state lawmaker Abby Finkenauer won the right to take on GOP Rep. Rod Blum in a district that Obama won twice; and in New Mexico’s 2nd District, where water attorney Xochitl Torres Small will now face off with a House Freedom Caucus–backed state lawmaker in the state’s only congressional district currently held by a Republican.* The lack of surprises was welcome news after some scares in earlier contests.
Bernie Sanders Is Struggling
Despite his popularity on the left, Bernie Sanders hasn’t been much of a kingmaker in congressional primaries this year, and Tuesday was no different. In Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, Pete D’Alessandro, a former Sanders aide, finished a distant third in a three-way race, roughly 40 points behind winner Cindy Axne, a small businesswoman who had the backing of EMILY’s List.
D’Alessandro is a longtime political operative in Iowa, but he’s best known for his role helping Sanders to a near-upset in the Iowa Caucus two years ago. Bernie returned the favor with an endorsement, a political rally, and a TV ad during the primary. But Bernie’s blessing wasn’t enough, and D’Alessandro now joins a growing number of Sanders-backed congressional candidates who have lost in contested races this year.
Elephants Never Forget
In Alabama, Rep. Martha Roby struggled to reconnect with Republican primary voters, two years after she said she couldn’t support Donald Trump following his Access Hollywood boasts about sexually assaulting women. Roby paid a political price almost immediately that year, when her former GOP primary rival launched a write-in campaign in the general election that year that attracted somewhere around 10 percent of the vote.
Despite the support of House Republicans and her subsequent work with the White House, Republicans still haven’t forgiven her. Roby fell short of the 50-percent threshold needed win the nomination outright on Tuesday. Instead, she’ll proceed to a runoff against former Rep.
Bobby Bright, who held the seat before Roby as a Democrat but who’s since rebranded himself as a Trump Republican. (Campaign slogan: Make District 2 Bright Again.)
Senate Democrats Have a New Headache
Sen. Bob Menendez, already wobbly after his federal corruption trial ending in a mistrial last year, will now enter the general election badly limping after barely mustering 60 percent of the vote running against an unknown challenger in the Democratic primary.
Menendez will now face Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive who won the GOP nomination on Tuesday by roughly 50 points. Hugin has already given his campaign more than $7 million, and is expected to keep investing in the race after Menendez’s lackluster performance. While Menendez has never struggled with fundraising, it’s unclear whether he can match Hugin’s spending. If the national party is forced to shore up Menendez in New Jersey—one of the most expensive media markets in the country—the race could become a sinkhole for money that the party would prefer to spend almost anywhere else.
Correction, June 6, 2018: This story initially misstated that Iowa’s 1st Congressional District is represented by Rep. David Young. It is represented by Rep. Rod Blum.