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Smooth sailing: No partisan Super Tuesday battles for these candidates

In a year with marked partisan battles many candidates have no real fight

More than a dozen House and Senate incumbents sailed through Super Tuesday without a primary challenger and will be almost guaranteed to keep their seats in the next Congress, in spite of a competitive election year when billions of dollars could be spent to influence voters. 

For some, winning their parties’ nominations Tuesday was all it took, and even that was a formality since they had no challenger from within their party. A handful of them do not face a challengers from the opposite party in November either.

The rest won uncontested primaries Tuesday and serve in districts with such a strong partisan lean — meaning President Donald Trump won or lost it by 30 or more points in 2016 — that it would take something seismic to keep them from wining their reelection bids in November, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis. 

“After Trump’s win in 2016, there’s a temptation to declare that no seat is safe and all the rules of politics are broken,” Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales said. “But some fundamentals of campaigns remain: You can’t beat somebody with nobody and not every district is at risk of flipping to the other party.”

While anti-establishment sentiment may still exist, “the vast majority of incumbents are going to get renominated and reelected,” Gonzales added. 

The battle for the Democratic presidential nomination got most of the Super Tuesday attention, but five states also held primaries for House and Senate seats: Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina and Texas.

Here’s a rundown of the incumbents who are looking at smooth sailing ahead:

No contest

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton flipped a seat from blue to red in 2014 when he beat Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor by 17 points. Two years later, Trump won the state by 27 points. This year, Cotton not only had no challenger in the Republican primary, no one ran on the Democratic side to oppose him. Three House incumbents were in a similar situation to Cotton, and their districts were even less competitive, based on the 2016 presidential results.

Nevertheless, Cotton has raised almost $4 million for his campaign. That’s perhaps a reflection of his national profile as a Trump defender. Money from Cotton’s leadership PAC, Republican Majority Fund, also went toward keeping potential primary challengers from running, according to the Washington Examiner. 

Cotton is reportedly laying the groundwork for a 2024 presidential bid, with a trip to New Hampshire scheduled in May. 

Elsewhere in Arkansas, Rep. Rick Crawford became the first Republican to represent the 1st District when he beat longtime Democratic Rep. Marion Berry in 2010. The district has become steadily more conservative — it voted for Trump by 35  points in 2016 — and Crawford has easily held the seat since.

In Alabama, Rep. Gary Palmer’s 6th District voted for Trump by 44 points. This is the first time since he was first elected in 2014 that Palmer has not faced a general election opponent. 

But Republicans do not have a monopoly in uncompetitive races. Alabama Democratic Rep. Terri A. Sewell has not faced a general election or primary challenger since she ran for her second term in 2012 and cleared 75 percent of the vote. Her 7th District voted for Hillary Clinton by 40 points. 

California dreaming

California held open primaries Tuesday, which saw the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the November general election. But in six districts, incumbent Democrats faced no opposition from their own party, so the Republican or independent candidate who makes it to the November race against them would face a steep climb. Those incumbents were:

  • Rep. Karen Bass, who is seeking her sixth term. She won in 2018 with 89 percent of the vote, while Trump lost in 2016 by 76 points.
  • Rep. Judy Chu, who is seeking her sixth full term. She won in 2018 with 79 percent, while Trump lost in 2016 by 38 points. 
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, who is seeking his fourth term. He won in 2018 with 74 percent, while Trump lost in 2016 by 49 points.
  • Rep. Barbara Lee, who is seeking her 12th full term. She won in 2018 with 88 percent, while Trump lost to Clinton by 81 points.
  • Rep. Norma J. Torres, who is seeking her fourth term. She won in 2018 with 69 percent, while Trump lost in 2016 by 41 points.
  • Rep. Maxine Waters, who is seeking her 16th term. She won in 2018 with 78 percent of the vote, while Trump lost in 2016 by 62 points.

Also cruising

A few Democrats in North Carolina and Texas also had no opposition in primaries and are running in districts where their party’s candidates are overwhelmingly favored. They were:

  • North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield is seeking his ninth full term. He won in 2018 with 70 percent of the vote, while Trump lost in 2016 by 35 points.
  • Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar is seeking her second term. She won in 2018 with 69 percent, while Trump lost in 2016 by 41 points.
  • Texas Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia is seeking her second term. She won in 2018 with 75 percent, while Trump lost to Clinton by 46 points.

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