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2020 primaries: 4 things to watch in Tuesday's down-ballot races

Jon Ossoff, who entered the national spotlight during a 2017 House election, is challenging Republican Sen. David Perdue for his Senate seat in Georgia.

Posted: Jun 9, 2020 10:40 AM


Former Vice President Joe Biden has officially secured the Democratic nomination for president, CNN projected on Saturday, but there's still plenty of down-ballot primary action this year as some of the most competitive House and Senate races take shape.

Five states vote on Tuesday -- Georgia, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and West Virginia. Georgia and West Virginia moved their primaries from earlier this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Much of the most consequential primary action is in Georgia, where Democrats are hoping to make inroads in 2020 up and down the ballot. But there are trends and candidates to keep an eye on in the other states, too.

Here are four things to watch Tuesday night:

Will Georgia Democrats nominate a familiar face for a possible pickup opportunity?

Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator in 20 years. But Democrats are hopeful that they will defeat two Republican senators in 2020, driven by the divisiveness of President Donald Trump, growth of the Atlanta suburbs and voter expansion efforts led by former state House minority leader and 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.

Georgia Democrats may come one step closer to their goal on Tuesday, when they pick their nominee against Republican Sen. David Perdue, who has acknowledged that the Peach State is in play.

The seven Democrats running against him include Jon Ossoff, the CEO of a documentary production company whose failed congressional bid in 2017 was the most expensive House race in history. Ossoff has raised by far the most money among the Democratic candidates and boasts the high-profile endorsement of Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon. He is attempting to avoid a runoff, recently putting $450,000 of his own money into the campaign, while emphasizing his more progressive positions on criminal justice and attacking Perdue for trading stocks during the pandemic. Perdue has responded by pointing out that his advisers made the transactions and that they will no longer trade in individual companies.

The other top-tier Democratic candidates include Sarah Riggs Amico, the 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor and executive chair of a trucking company, and Teresa Tomlinson, a former Columbus mayor and attorney who has distinguished herself by supporting the Green New Deal and other progressive priorities. Tomlinson also has some high-profile endorsements from former Sen. Max Cleland and former Ambassador Andrew Young. If none of the candidates receives a majority on Tuesday, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held on August 11.

Democrats are also trying to defeat Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to Georgia's other Senate seat in December after Sen. Johnny Isakson announced his resignation. That election will be decided by an unusual format, in which all of the candidates will be on the same ballot in November. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two finishers will advance to a January runoff.

Remember the closest House race of 2018? It's now an open seat

Georgia Democrats also have their sights on a few House seats in the metro Atlanta area, the types of upwardly mobile suburbs and diversifying communities Democrats won across the country to take back the House in 2018.

They came up short in Georgia's 7th District, northeast of Atlanta, which was the closest race in the country in 2018. Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux came about 400 votes shy of unseating GOP Rep. Rob Woodall in a recount. Bordeaux is running again, but Woodall, a five-term congressman, has decided to call it quits. Now that it's an open-seat race, plenty of other Democrats are running too, as are seven Republicans who think they can keep this territory in GOP hands.

Bourdeaux, a Georgia State University professor who also has the backing of Lewis, is the fundraising leader in the entire field. She is facing a handful of Democrats, including state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero and Nabilah Islam, who was endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezof New York, the progressive firebrand.

Among the Republicans running to replace Woodall are emergency room physician Rich McCormick, state Sen. Renee Unterman and former Home Depot executive Lynne Homrich. The conservative Club for Growth PAC has endorsed McCormick, while former Gov. Nathan Deal has endorsed Unterman, the sponsor of the state's controversial "heartbeat" bill, which aimed to ban abortions as soon as six weeks after pregnancy.

Will more women win GOP primaries?

Republican women, who have traditionally struggled to win primaries, are having a good year. Five women won GOP nominations for potentially competitive House races in primaries last week, and several more have the chance to win their party's nomination on Tuesday for what will likely be competitive seats in November.

That's a big deal for a party that currently has only 13 women in the House compared with Democrats' 88. (Republicans are down 10 women from the previous sessions of Congress, when there were 23 in the House.) And at least two of those 13 women aren't coming back next year because they've decided not to seek reelection.

Ahead of Tuesday's primaries, former GOP Rep. Karen Handel has consolidated support in Georgia's 6th District for the right to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, who narrowly defeated her in 2018. Handel, who first won the seat in a high-profile 2017 special election, faces a handful of other Republicans on Tuesday, but she's running with the support of President Donald Trump, Gov. Brian Kemp and most of the state's GOP congressional delegation.

Besides Georgia's 7th District (see above), another competitive district where a woman could emerge as the GOP nominee on Tuesday is South Carolina's 1st District, which flipped from red to blue in 2018. Republicans have made freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham a top target in 2020, and two of the four Republicans on Tuesday's ballot are women.

State Rep. Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, is running with the backing of the Club for Growth PAC and is touting her support for the President. Mace, who lost a Senate primary to Lindsey Graham in 2014, made headlines last year for telling her own story of rape on the state House floor when advocating for a rape and incest exemption in an anti-abortion bill. Mount Pleasant town councilwoman Kathy Landing is also running -- and, unsurprisingly in a GOP primary in a Trump district -- also trying to closely ally herself with the President. If no one receives a majority, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff later this month.

Richard Ojeda is running for office (again)

Richard Ojeda burst onto the national scene as a 2018 Democratic House candidate in West Virginia who had voted for Trump. The tough-talking retired Army paratrooper had soured on the President since 2016, though, and he argued that Trump was exploiting coal country. It was a potentially compelling message for a Democrat in Trump country, but it didn't work in the face of outside money nationalizing the race.

A week after his double-digit loss in November 2018, Ojeda announced he was running for the Democratic nomination for president and later resigned his state Senate seat. That didn't last long -- he ended his presidential campaign in late January 2019. A year later, he announced a bid for the US Senate.

Ojeda is facing off against two other Democrats who have run for office before. Paula Jean Swearengin, who challenged Sen. Joe Manchin in the 2018 Democratic primary, has reported raising the most money -- about $359,000. Former South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb, who's run for governor and the House, has not reported raising any money to the Federal Election Commission.

Despite the national support he eventually received for his 2018 House race, Ojeda's candidacy hasn't attracted much attention this year. He reported raising only about $31,000 for the race by the end of the pre-primary reporting period on May 20.

That's because whoever wins the Democratic nod will take on GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. The Republican senator isn't in much danger come November. She won her 2014 election by nearly 30 points, and the state has shifted more Republican since then. Even Manchin -- a well-known former two-term governor -- only narrowly held on to his Senate seat in 2018.

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