The following Bottom Lines have been updated following this week's Senate primaries in California, Mississippi, Montana and New Jersey.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein took 44 percent of the vote in the state’s top-two primary June 5. While she has gotten some criticism for not getting at least a majority of the vote, it is worth remembering that there were 32 candidates on the Senate primary ballot. She will face fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon, the state Senate Pro-Tem, in the general election. De Leon is running to Feinstein’s left and managed to win the party endorsement, which generated a lot of attention for his campaign and caused some (misplaced) hand-wringing about Feinstein’s prospects. But, de Leon only took 11 percent in the primary, which has to be a major disappointment to progressives and damages his prospects in November. Without a Republican in the general election, the seat has nowhere to go but the Solid Democratic column where Feinstein is the favorite to win a sixth term.
Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker had no trouble winning the primary in his bid for a second full term. He took 83 percent of the vote to 17 percent for businessman Richard Boyanton. Democrats will host a run-off on June 26 between state House Minority Leader David Baria and political newcomer Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist married to actress Sela Ward. Sherman finished first with 32 percent in the June 5 primary while Baria got 31 percent; only 790 votes separated the two. The remaining 37 percent was split between five minor candidates. Regardless of the outcome of the Democratic run-off, the race is in the Solid Republican column.
State Auditor Matthew Rosendale won the June 5 Republican primary for the right to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in November. He took 34 percent to 28 for former Yellowstone County District Judge Russell Fagg, and 19 percent each for USAF veteran and storage company CEO Troy Downing and state Sen. Albert Olszewski. Democrats immediately attacked Rosendale as a carpetbagger, dubbing him “Maryland Matt,” and accusing him of wanting to develop public lands. Meanwhile, Tester has stressed his ability to work across party lines, boasting the day after the primary that President Trump signed the 15th piece of legislation that he had sponsored. Tester, who has built a record as a populist, is a good fit for rural Montana, and will not be easy to beat. The onus is on Rosendale to make this race competitive. The contest will stay in the Likely Democrat column.
On November 16, 2017, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s trial on 14 federal counts of corruption, including bribery, conspiracy and making false statements ended in a mistrial and prosecutors opted not to retry him. At the end of April, the Senate Ethics Committee released a four-page letter that “severely admonished” Menendez for the same actions that were the subject of his trial and ordered him to pay for the travel that was at the heart of the case. The trial and the severe admonishment have left voters disillusioned with the incumbent. Nearly two-thirds of voters consistently tell pollsters that the incumbent doesn’t deserve re-election and his job approval rating is in the low 30s. Voters expressed their displeasure with Menendez in the June 5 primary as activist Lisa McCormick, an unknown who spent no money on the race, took 38 percent of the vote to 62 percent for the incumbent. This provided a glimmer of hope to Republicans and pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin, who won his party’s nomination with 75 percent of the vote. But, New Jersey remains a very blue state and the political environment still favors Democrats, even a damaged incumbent. Hugin has already put $7.5 million of his own money into the race and may loan his campaign as much $20 million. Democrats plans to attack Hugin’s career in the pharmaceutical sector as well as his ties to President Trump. Hugin plans to keep his focus on Menendez and his ethics problems. Menendez maintained his innocence throughout his trial, but the Ethics Committee made it very clear that he broke Senate rules. Interestingly enough, the incumbent hasn’t apologized to voters for that. While Menendez remains the clear favorite as the general election gets underway, his problems make this race worth keeping an eye on. The contest is in the Likely Democrat column.