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Super Tuesday’s super storylines

Congressional campaigns fly under the presidential race radar

ANALYSIS — If members of Congress seem a little preoccupied as of late, it’s not just the coronavirus. For Super Tuesday is upon us, and although the Democratic presidential primary sucks the oxygen out of any room, March 3 also is the day for scores of House and Senate primaries and one special election.

Among the 14 states, American Samoa and Democrats Abroad presidential contests, five states host congressional primaries, including mammoth states like California and Texas, as well as Alabama, where that most sentimental of stories, the comeback, is playing out.

Not all that many of these congressional primaries are competitive.

But March 3 represents a kind of rite of spring: the first set of congressional contests in this general election year — like when pitchers and catchers report for Major League Baseball’s spring training in Arizona and Florida.

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We’re turning a page, and things are getting real.

Amid all the arm flapping about the presidential contest, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reminded folks that she has other things on her mind.

“My responsibility is to make sure that those we elected last time return to Congress, keep the majority, and add to our numbers. The presidential is its own race,” she said at her weekly news conference on Feb. 27.

So what’s all at stake on Super Tuesday, outside the presidential contest?

Let’s start with Texas, where Democrats are looking to build on their success in 2018, when they flipped two GOP House seats on their way to picking up 40 nationwide.

This time, they’re targeting seven House seats held by Republicans. On the Senate side, Republican John Cornyn is running for reelection, and Democrats, buoyed by former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s close-but-no-cow-chip race against Republican Ted Cruz in 2018, think they can give Cornyn a run for the money.

Republicans are on defense in the House, where political handicappers keep downgrading their chances of winning the majority, and in the Senate, where far more Republicans are on the ballot and vulnerable than is the case with Democrats.

So any path to the majority for the GOP in either chamber depends on Republicans holding their own in Texas, a rapidly growing and expensive place to run with 36 House seats.

Speaking of expensive places to run, consider California, home to 53 House seats, their respective primaries and one special election.

House Democrats cleaned up in 2018, knocking off several Republican veterans. Some of them are looking for a return trip to D.C., including David Valadao, who lost to Democrat TJ Cox, and Steve Knight, who lost to Democrat Katie Hill.

Last year Hill resigned amid a sex scandal that spurred an ethics investigation, opening up her Simi Valley-area seat.

Knight wants that seat back and is running in the special election to fill it, as well as for the 2020 general election.

Another possible come-backer: Republican Darrell Issa, who didn’t run for reelection in 2018 but wants to return in 2020 and is running for a San Diego-area seat vacated by Republican Duncan Hunter, who quit this year after being convicted in federal court of corruption charges.

Issa is part of a trend of former members running in different districts than they previously represented.

He was California’s 49th District man in Washington, barely won in 2016 and did not run in 2018. When Hunter, who represented the more Republican-agreeable California 50, found himself in federal court, Issa threw his hat into replacing Hunter.

In Texas, Republican Pete Sessions, who lost to Democrat Colin Allred in the 32nd District in 2018, is running for the open, GOP-friendly 17th District. Social mobility in action!

Meanwhile, on the country’s other coast, North Carolina has a Democratic Senate primary to determine the opponent of vulnerable Republican Thom Tillis.

On the House side, the courts have signed off (at least at this point) on a slightly less gerrymandered congressional map that is expected (again, at this point) to hold for 2020. That will likely make things more competitive and clear the way for Democrats to possibly win two more seats.

Back to the Gulf Coast, there’s another comeback story, mixed in with college football and an accused pedophile.

That’d be Alabama, where the House seats are all safe but Republicans have been salivating to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who squeaked out a win in 2017 over the aforementioned accused pedophile, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore.

Jones and Moore faced off in a special election because long-time GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions was tapped to be attorney general. Sessions, having fallen from President Donald Trump’s graces, quit that post in 2019 and wants to return to the Capitol’s friendlier confines.

But to finish his restoration tale, Sessions first would need to beat Moore, Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville in the primary. No small feat.

So yes, there’s a little more going on than just the presidential races on Tuesday.

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