Photo: John Fitzhugh/Biloxi Sun Herald/MCT
Voters across the country will once again head to the polls on Tuesday, when Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, and Utah hold the latest round of primary elections. Here are three of the most significant races on the ballot:
The Republican primary in Mississippi’s U.S. Senate election has become the most closely watched political race of 2014, and with good reason. Right-wing state senator Chris McDaniel edged six-term incumbent senator Thad Cochran by just over 1,000 votes in the June 3 primary, necessitating Tuesday’s runoff.
The race has become a proxy battle between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party; outside groups have spent more than $10 million attempting to swing it. The total cost of the campaign has run over $16 million, making it by far the most expensive contest of the cycle.
It has also been marked by constant controversy. Among other incidents, a McDaniel supporter was arrested for breaking into a nursing home and recording video of Cochran’s bedridden wife, and a McDaniel campaign official and two other Tea Party activists were found locked inside a courthouse where primary ballots were stored on election night.
As the runoff entered its final stretch, Cochran took the unusual step of courting black Democrats, who are eligible to vote on Tuesday if they didn’t participate in the Democratic primary, and who would have plenty of reason to oppose the neo-Confederate-linked McDaniel. In response, Tea Party groups are mobilizing independent “election watchers” to “lay eyes on Cochran’s effort to bring Democrats in,” as McDaniel supporter and former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli put it. The move has voting rights advocates understandably alarmed, given Mississippi’s long history of voter suppression.
Polls suggest that McDaniel is the favorite in the runoff, but given the expected low turnout, it could still go either way.
Republicans will also settle a contentious primary in Oklahoma on Tuesday, when U.S. Rep. James Lankford — chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, and the fifth-ranking member of the GOP caucus — faces former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon.
Shannon has the support of some Tea Party groups, although they have not spent as much backing him as they have for McDaniel. The Senate Conservatives Fund did make a significant ad buy on Thursday to air a television spot featuring Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) endorsing Shannon. In addition to Cruz, Shannon is also backed by Tea Party favorites Sarah Palin and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT).
Other Tea Partiers oppose Shannon’s candidacy, however; an open letter signed by several Oklahoma Tea Party groups warned that Shannon, whose father is Chickasaw and mother is black, “has too many masters to serve,” specifically citing “the Indian tribes, Tom Cole [a six-term Republican congressman of Chickasaw descent, with a moderate reputation], big business and the Chamber of Commerce.”
Polls suggest that Lankford has a small lead going into the primary, but it’s unlikely that either candidate will win a majority of the vote on Tuesday. That would send the top two finishers, who will almost certainly be Lankford and Shannon, into an August runoff.
U.S. House (NY-13)
While much of the midterm election cycle has focused on intra-party fighting amongst Republicans, Democrats will also settle a heated primary contest on Tuesday — 22-term Rep. Charles Rangel will face state Senator Adriano Espaillat in a rematch of the 2012 primary, in which Rangel prevailed by just over 1,000 votes.
Espaillat initially appeared to have a strong position in this year’s election. Rangel still fights negative headlines from the ethics scandal that resulted in his censure in 2010. The increasingly Hispanic makeup of New York’s 13th congressional district, which was redrawn last year to include part of the Bronx in addition to Rangel’s home base of Harlem and upper Manhattan, seemed tailor-made to help the Dominican-born state senator. A third candidate for the seat, Michael Walrond — a pastor at Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church — appeared poised to cut into Rangel’s margin among black voters. And Espaillat boasts a long list of influential endorsements, including New York City Council Speaker and East Harlem native Melissa Mark-Viverito, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the United Federation of Teachers, and The New York Times (Rangel boasts some high-profile endorsements of his own, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and former president Bill Clinton).
Polls suggest that it hasn’t worked out that way. The latest survey of the race, from NY1/Siena College, finds Rangel leading Espaillat by a 47 to 34 percent margin, with just 8 percent undecided. Walrond is pulling 7 percent, with no significant racial split.
The survey suggests that Rangel’s extremely negative campaign — he has blanketed the district with direct mail trashing Espaillat as a tool of the GOP, and demanded that Espaillat tell voters “just what the heck has he done besides saying he’s a Dominican?” — has worked. Just 42 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Espaillat, while 25 percent view him unfavorably; by contrast, 56 percent view Rangel favorably.
Despite the tough polls, there is still a solid chance that Espaillat prevails in Tuesday’s election. Turnout for the summer primary is expected to be low, meaning that Espaillat’s extensive labor support could provide him with an invaluable turnout advantage.
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