Democrats hope for big push from 8-state primary night
LOS ANGELES — Holding hopes of a “blue wave” in November, Democrats fought to shape the political battlefield in primaries across eight states Tuesday, none more important than California and New Jersey where control of Congress may well be decided this fall.
In New Jersey, Mikie Sherrill, a former federal prosecutor and Navy pilot and now the Democratic establishment favorite, bested a field of party rivals in the race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. She'll take on GOP Assemblyman Jay Webber in one of several races Democrats view as prime opportunities in their effort to retake the House.
Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to seize control of the House in November.
Part of their path is likely to run through southern California, where the winners and losers in several of the most competitive races may take days to sort out given the state's unusual election laws.
The state's primary system offered potential nightmare scenarios for both parties. Between California and New Jersey, Democrats were getting a glimpse of whether their much-discussed momentum and enthusiasm were holding.
Significant contests also played out elsewhere on Tuesday.
Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker won his primary contest as did New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat who faced federal bribery charges last year. The jury deadlocked, but Republicans hope to use Menendez's legal troubles to tar other Democrats like Sherrill across the state.
Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein won renomination, although it was unclear whether she'll face a Republican or a Democrat in November.
Much of the day's drama focused on women, who fought to make history in some cases and to avoid disaster in others.
In Alabama, four-term Republican Rep. Martha Roby was forced into a runoff election next month after failing to win 50 percent of her party's vote. She will face former Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright in Alabama's conservative 2nd district — where Trump loyalty has been a central issue.
Roby was the first member of Congress to withdraw her endorsement of the Republican president in 2016 after he was caught on video bragging about grabbing women's genitals.
In New Mexico, Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham won her party's nomination in the race to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. If Grisham wins, she'd be the state's second Latino state executive.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, the state's first female governor, fended off three GOP challengers, while South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem became the first female nominee for governor in her state as well.
In Iowa, 28-year-old Democratic state Rep. Abby Finkenauer was trying to become the youngest woman to serve in Congress. And in New Mexico, former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland, a tribal member of Laguna Pueblo, was making a bid to become the first Native American woman in Congress.
Haaland said in her primary victory statement: “Donald Trump and the billionaire class should consider this victory a warning shot: the blue wave is coming.”
Much of Tuesday's focus was on California, however.
Recognizing the high stakes, Trump sought to energize his supporters in a series of tweets praising his preferred California Republican candidates.
“In High Tax, High Crime California, be sure to get out and vote for Republican John Cox for Governor. He will make a BIG difference!” Trump tweeted.
Yet frightening scenarios exist for both parties.
Because of California's unusual primary system, Trump's party faces the embarrassing prospect of not qualifying any candidate for the governor's race or the U.S. Senate. Democrats, meanwhile, could be shut out of a handful of competitive House races because they ran too many primary candidates and diluted their vote.
Under California's system, all candidates appear on a single primary ballot, with the top two vote-getters regardless of party advancing to the November election. That allows the possibility of two candidates from the same party qualifying.
In the race to succeed term-limited Democrat Jerry Brown, two Democrats, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are leading the pack. For the GOP, the Trump-backed Cox, a business executive, has the best chance at earning a spot.
It's also possible Republicans may not secure a nomination spot in the challenge against 84-year-old Feinstein.
On the other hand, Democrats could be shut out in a handful of House races, which would be a massive blow to the party's fight to claim the House majority this fall.
National Democrats spent more than $7 million trying to curb and repair the damage inflicted by Democrats attacking each other in districts opened by retiring Republican Reps. Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, and the district where Republican Dana Rohrabacher is facing challenges from the left and the right.
Trump will not be on the ballot this year. But he was on the minds of many voters.
Francine Karuntzos, a 57-year-old retiree from Huntington Beach, Calif., said she has deep concerns about the Republican president — particularly his recent declaration that he could pardon himself. She said she isn't a member of a political party, but she voted Democratic on Tuesday.
“I'm really, really worried about our Constitution being ruined by this presidency,” Karuntzos said after casting her ballot at a local community center.
Across the country in Montclair, New Jersey, Lynnette Joy Baskinger, a psychotherapist, said she's fed up with the GOP.
“I still consider myself an independent, but I just won't vote Republican because of what's going on,” she said.
It was a different story in Mississippi, where 66-year-old Gladys Cruz wasn't sure which Republican she would support in the state's Senate primary, but she wants whoever wins to firmly support Trump.
The president “touches my heart,” she said.
Significant developments played out across the country.
In New Jersey, Menendez earned the Democratic Party's nominee for a third term despite being tainted by a hung jury in his recent federal bribery trial. Republican businessman Bob Hugin claimed the Republican nomination Tuesday and will face Menendez this fall.
In Montana, Republicans will pick a candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who is among the most vulnerable Democratic senators in the nation. The GOP struggled to recruit top-tier candidates, leaving the most likely nominees as state Auditor Matt Rosendale or retired Judge Russ Fagg.
Democrats have aimed their most aggressive attacks at Rosendale, seizing on his background in Maryland and questions about his experience as a rancher.