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A Tough Night for Down-Ballot Outsiders

Establishment candidates mostly fight off insurgent wave in both parties

Duckworth easily won the Democratic Senate nod in Illinois. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Duckworth easily won the Democratic Senate nod in Illinois. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Establishment-backed front-runners won Democratic Senate primaries in Illinois, Ohio and North Carolina, dealing further blows to this year’s outsider down-ballot candidates  and validating the general election messaging already sweeping the airwaves in these states.  

Tuesday was the second major wave of down-ballot primaries, after  Republican incumbents in Texas and Alabama held on to their seats on Super Tuesday two weeks ago .  

In Illinois, Rep. Tammy Duckworth advances to the general election against GOP Sen. Mark S. Kirk, this year’s most vulnerable senator . Her victory changes little in the tenor of this race. Having consistently led former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp and state Sen. Napoleon Harris in both polling and fundraising, Duckworth and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had already begun running a general election campaign against the first-term senator.  

Republicans have long had their sights set on the two-term Democratic congresswoman, too, with Kirk already having run statewide ads against Duckworth for her position on Syrian refugees. Duckworth raised more than Kirk in the final quarter of 2015 and ended the period with slightly less cash on hand, but with the Democratic field now narrowed, her coffers should grow.  

The DSCC easily secured another win in North Carolina, where former Democratic state Sen. Deborah Ross won a four-way primary and will now challenge two-term Sen. Richard Burr in November. Ross and her Democratic competitors all started with low name ID, but with EMILY’s List backing, Ross was the only one to raise significant money and to go on air before the primary.  

Burr won a primary challenge from two-time candidate Greg Brannon, who tried to hitch his wagon to Donald Trump’s in the Tar Heel State. Like Ross, Burr went on the air before the primary, but his spot, which touted his gavel on the Intelligence Committee, was more a preview of the general election fight to come than a primary campaign defense.  

Burr’s campaign cash account and name ID still dwarfs Ross’s, but he’s not especially well liked in the Tar Heel State, and in the right political climate, Ross could have a chance to knock him off.  

The DSCC scored a third victory with former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s win in the Buckeye State. He handily defeated Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld for the right to take on Republican Sen. Rob Portman, and his $12 million bank account, in November.  

Strickland routinely led in fundraising, but for a DSCC-backed former governor, his ability to raise money hasn’t exactly impressed. Just in case Sittenfeld caught any of Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders’ progressive wave, both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. endorsed Strickland ahead of the primary.  

Given Ohio’s competitive nature and the uncertainty at the top of the GOP ticket, the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call moved this race to a Tossup/Tilt Republican contest earlier this month.  

House: Club for Growth Wins The Club for Growth won in Ohio’s 8th District, where it spent $1 million on behalf of businessman Warren Davidson in a crowded GOP primary to fill former House Speaker John A. Boehner’s seat for the rest of the term. The general election is on June 7. Davidson, who was endorsed by House Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, also won the primary for the November general election.  

Boehner congratulated Davidson Tuesday night and called on the party to unite behind him. “My friends, neighbors and former constituents have chosen someone to be on the ballot in June and November who can be counted on to continue the fight for a smaller, less costly, more accountable federal government,” he said in a statement.  

But the Club for Growth lost one of its few chances this cycle to knock off an incumbent Republican in Illinois. Ten-term Rep. John Shimkus, who’s backed by the Chamber of Commerce, defeated a Club-backed primary challenge from state Sen. Kyle McCarter in the 15th District.  

The Club tarred Shimkus as “one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress,” but Shimkus had $1.4 million on hand to McCarter’s $87,000, and should now coast to re-election in his safe Republican district.  

In the northeastern corner of Ohio, GOP Rep. David Joyce defeated repeat primary challenger former state Rep. Matt Lynch, who failed to gain traction with major outside groups.  

Democrats in Illinois  In Illinois, Democratic incumbent Bobby Rush won a primary challenge in the 1st District from Chicago Alderman Howard Brookins, who secured the backing of the state House speaker.  

In the state’s other Democratic primaries, businessman Raja Krishnamoorthi won with 57 percent of the vote to be the Democratic nominee in Duckworth’s safe Democratic 8th District seat.  

Obama twice carried the 10th by double digits, and at the congressional level, it’s one of a handful of tossup districts around the country.  

Former Rep. Brad Schneider, who was backed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, led Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, the pick of the state’s senior senator, Richard J. Durbin, by 8 points.  

Schneider’s victory sets up another rematch with GOP Rep. Robert Dold, who narrowly lost the last time he ran in a presidential year.  

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