March 12, 2020 236 days to Nov 03, 2020
Hot Seats

Slate’s guide to the seven races everyone is talking about this week.

Welcome back to Hot Seats, our weekly column about the seven most Hot Seats–esque state and local races in the country! This week we’ll be checking in on a couple more progressive vs. establishment Democratic primaries—maybe eleven thousandth time’s the charm for the lefties, ha-ha?—as well as chuckling at Jeff Sessions’ misfortune and marveling at the rugged good looks of Montana’s newest Senate candidate. And finally, California’s vaunted Fraud District—the Fraudin’ 50th—may have found its new, fraud-affiliated champion.

Dan Lipinski.
Rep. Dan Lipinski. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Raquel Zaldivar/Chicago Tribune/TNS/ABACAPRESS.COM.

Rank 1

1. Illinois’ 3rd District

Dan Lipinski vs. Marie Newman: The Rematch: The Revengening.

Chicago-area Rep. Dan Lipinski is incumbent enemy No. 1 on progressive activist lists across the country. Despite representing a safely blue seat, the Democrat has voted against abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, the 2010 DREAM Act, and even the Affordable Care Act. In 2018, Lipinski—a classic machine politician whose seat was previously held by his father—came within 2 percentage points of losing to Newman, a progressive with a background in advertising. And now, in Tuesday’s primary, they’re doin’ it again. Recent events in the presidential sphere would suggest that headwinds are blowing against Newman, as does last week’s win by conservative Democratic Texas incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar, who narrowly beat 26-year-old progressive Jessica Cisneros. On the other hand, as a repeat challenger, Newman is starting from a stronger position than Cisneros did—and, unlike, Lipinski, such victorious establishment figures as Cuellar and Joe Biden did not vote against Obamacare.

Rank 2

2. Alabama Senate

Trump tips Tuberville.

As was expected, former failed University of Cincinnati football coach Tommy Tuberville and former Sen./Attorney General Jeff Sessions finished neck and neck in the ’Bama Republican Senate primary on Super Tuesday. Now both are headed to a March 31 runoff for the right to face Doug “Big Doug”* Jones in November. As was sort of expected given that it was the most obnoxious possible option, Donald Trump has endorsed Tuberville on the grounds that Sessions—who was the first senator to endorse Trump, and who essentially supplied him with his entire immigration agenda—didn’t do enough justice obstruction on Trump’s behalf during the Mueller investigation. Tuberville, Trump wrote, is a “REAL LEADER who will never let MAGA/KAG, or our Country, down.” KAG apparently stands for Keep America Great (cause Trump already made it great in his first term), and obviously you can not let KAG down if you want Trump’s endorsement.

 *Not his real nickname.

Rank 3

3. Ohio’s 3rd District

Morgan Harper vs. recent results elsewhere.

And here we have another one of these younger progressive-challengers-taking-on-a-more-moderate-Democratic-incumbent situations. So many younger Democrats out there, getting frisky! What’s their deal, anyway? Don’t they like living through never-ending high-stakes crises and not being able to afford anything? Aaaaaanyway, the challenger in Ohio’s 3rd, which covers most of Columbus and many of its suburbs, is Harper, a 36-year-old who (per her campaign bio) was placed in a Columbus foster home as a newborn before being adopted, eventually graduating from Stanford Law School, and getting a job at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama administration. The incumbent Dem is Joyce Beatty, 69, who has been in Congress since 2013 and previously held a state House seat that she took over from her husband, Otto. (Otto is an underrated name!) Harper has raised $670,000 in small-donor money and generated positive press coverage, but—stop me if you’ve heard this one before—she’s running against a well-entrenched Democrat who has long-standing connections to numerous local organizations. Beatty also hasn’t taken any particularly apostatic positions or been involved in a big scandal. Who will win? I don’t know, since there isn’t any public polling available!

Rank 4

4. Montana Senate

It’s Steve vs. Steve with the United States Senate in the balance.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock entered the presidential race in 2019 armed with rugged good looks, a great campaign ad, and a record of winning elections in a super-Trumpy state without compromising basic Democratic values or being a corporate pushover. Then ... nothing; he went nowhere in the polls, only qualified for one debate, and dropped out two months before the Iowa caucuses were even held.* And people said, Steve—why aren’t you running for Senate instead? Steve, why don’t you take on incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines, given that your unique popularity in your state would give Democrats a great opportunity to flip a seat? And Steve said he didn’t want to, so people mostly forgot about it—but not Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer, whose continuing efforts to persuade Bullock to run paid off on Monday when he announced that he will in fact challenge Daines. The Game of Steves is on!

Rank 5

5. Arizona Senate

Looking good for the spaceman.

Arizona was once the domain of hard-eyed, reactionary Republicans who didn’t want to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. with a holiday but did want to be able to stop any vaguely Hispanic-seeming person on the street to demand citizenship papers. Now the state is, well, still the domain of many of those people but also of many of the vaunted diverse and socially liberal suburban voters who are providing hope to Democrats in otherwise dark times. Those voters’ candidate in the race to unseat Republican Martha McSally this fall is almost certainly going to be Mark Kelly, the ex-astronaut who is married to former congresswoman and gun violence activist Gabby Giffords. (The Dem primary isn’t’ until Aug. 4, but he doesn’t have any serious competition.) Kelly has raised more money than any Senate candidate in the country, and a poll released this week found him leading McSally by 7 points. Analysis: Mark Kelly is doing well in this race.

Rank 6

6. North Carolina Senate

Mayyyyyybe????

Recent poll results that say that Cal Cunningham, an Army vet/business lawyer/former state senator who won North Carolina’s Democratic Senate primary on Super Tuesday, leads incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis by 5 points. However! Other, equally recent poll results say that Tillis leads Cunningham by 2 points. From this, we can conclude that this is going to be a closely watched, very expensive race in a state that is also expected to be closely contested by America’s beloved presidential candidates. And from that we can conclude that this is going to be a good election cycle for national political reporters who have a fondness for Carolina barbecue’s characteristic vinegar-based sauces.

Rank 7

7. California’s 50th District

Issa’s back!

The 50th—which, as currently drawn, extends from San Diego’s suburbs out into some beautiful but unforgiving desert country where two friends of mine once got married—was once represented by Republican Duke Cunningham, who resigned in 2005 after pleading guilty to having received more than $2 million in bribes from defense contractors. Other parts of the San Diego area that are now included in the district were once represented by Republican Duncan L. Hunter, who was found to have written 399 checks for money he didn't have during the 1980s “Rubbergate” scandal. (He was never charged with a crime.) Hunter was succeeded in Congress by his son, Republican Duncan D. Hunter; Hunter won reelection in the 50th in 2018 despite being under indictment for egregious personal misuse of campaign funds but accepted a plea agreement and resigned this January. In California’s March 3 “jungle primary,” one of the two candidates who qualified for November’s runoff to fill the seat was Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who lost to Hunter by just 3 percentage points in 2018. The other ... was longtime San Diego–area congressman Darrell Issa, who was once convicted of carrying an unregistered handgun, indicted (but not convicted) for stealing a car, and suspected (but never charged) of burning down a car alarm factory for the insurance money. Campa-Najjar should probably consider robbing a bank just to show his potential constituents that he means business.

Correction, March 12, 2020: This piece originally misstated that Steve Bullock did not qualify for a debate. He qualified for one debate.