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3 things to watch in Colorado, Oklahoma and Utah primaries Tuesday

Some of the most vulnerable House and Senate members are up

Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is running in the Democratic Senate primary in Colorado.
Former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is running in the Democratic Senate primary in Colorado. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Three states hold primaries Tuesday, with two of them well versed in how to process mailed ballots. 

Colorado and Utah are two of the five states that conducted their elections entirely by mail prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Other states have scrambled to adjust to exponential increases in absentee ballot requests from people wanting to avoid voting in person, but these states already have systems in place for smooth vote counting. 

In Colorado, ballots are due to election officials by Tuesday. In Utah, ballots received one to two weeks after the election can be counted as long as they are postmarked by Tuesday. 

Oklahoma does allow voters to cast absentee ballots without providing an excuse, and a record number of voters have filed absentee ballot requests. 

Most of the primaries to watch in these three states will set the matchups for competitive House and Senate races in the fall. But in one battle, the winner will be the strong favorite in November. That’s in Utah’s deep-red 1st District, where four candidates are competing for the GOP nomination to succeed Republican Rob Bishop, who is running for lieutenant governor. 

Here are three things to watch:

1. Another progressive looks for an upset

Progressive candidates saw some encouraging returns in last week’s primaries in Kentucky and New York. And former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is looking to tap into that energy on the left in his Senate race against former Gov. John Hickenlooper. Both men are competing in the state’s Democratic primary to take on Cory Gardner, the most vulnerable Republican in the Senate

While he was running for president last year, Hickenlooper said he had no desire to be a senator. But he ultimately decided to jump into the Senate race and was quickly endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

In the primary, Hickenlooper has an advantage in name recognition and campaign cash. The former governor had more than seven times as much money in his campaign account as Romanoff in the final days of the race, with $5.9 million on hand as of June 10 to $795,000 for Romanoff.

Outside Democratic groups have been spending in the race, mainly to bolster Hickenlooper. Senate Majority PAC, the Democratic super PAC, has spent to boost Hickenlooper while a mysterious new group known as Let’s Turn Colorado Blue has been attacking Romanoff. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also launched early TV ads ahead of the primary, highlighting a recent finding by Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission that Hickenlooper violated the state’s gift ban while in office. 

Hickenlooper has said the attacks are a sign that Republicans view him as the stronger candidate. But some Democrats believe that whoever emerges from the primary will have a good chance of unseating Gardner, since the state has been trending in their direction in recent years. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Senate race Tilt Democratic.

2. Republicans pick opponents to vulnerable Democrats 

Republicans in Oklahoma and Utah will pick challengers to two of the most vulnerable House Democrats, both of whom flipped districts in 2018 that President Donald Trump carried. 

The most competitive of those contests will be in suburban Oklahoma City’s 5th District, a seat Republicans held for more than 40 years before Democrat Kendra Horn’s surprise win by less than 2 points. Trump won the district by 14 points in 2016, and Inside Elections rates the general election race a Toss-up.

Four of the nine GOP candidates are spending enough money to keep the primary competitive, and potentially push it to an Aug. 25 runoff if no one takes a majority Tuesday. But local and national Republicans are consolidating around the two top fundraisers, Stephanie Bice and Terry Neese.

Bice, a state senator who worked to loosen Oklahoma’s restrictions on alcohol sales, had raised $1 million and had $200,000 on hand as of June 10. She has positioned herself as a moderate who could capture independent voters and suburban women from Horn. 

Neese, a businesswoman who was the state’s first female candidate for lieutenant governor, self-funded $450,000 of the $982,000 she has raised for her campaign. She has stressed her allegiance to Trump, saying in a recent debate that he was “the best president we have ever had,” defending his response to the coronavirus pandemic and echoing his repudiation of “mob rule” when asked if she supported the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The anti-tax Club for Growth, which has spent $216,000 opposing Bice, put out an ad last week attacking the candidate for “handing out” Oklahoma tax dollars to “Hollywood liberals” like “convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein.” Bice called the spot an insult to Oklahoma women and put out her own ad in response, saying it was made by “Never Trumper D.C. swamp lobbyists” attacking her because she “stands with Trump.”

Horn, who is expected to easily dispatch primary opponent Tom Guild, had $2.4 million in the bank on June 10.

In Utah’s 4th District, none of the four GOP candidates vying to challenge freshman Democrat Ben McAdams has managed a breakout moment. Even though Republicans had high hopes of winning back a district Trump won by 7 points, spending and advertising in the race has been minimal, according to

Top fundraiser Burgess Owens, a former NFL player, had the lead in a May News 2 poll of likely Republican primary voters. Owens, who also has been a frequent contributor to Fox News, raised $640,000 by June 10 and had $111,000 left in the bank. 

State Rep. Kim Coleman has the backing of several conservative outside groups, including the political arm of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus. She raised $575,000 and had $84,000 on hand at June 10. And former talk show host Jay “JayMac” Mcfarland brought in $166,000 and had $5,000 left. 

Businessman Trent Christensen raised some GOP hopes when he entered the race in the spring because he was once a fundraiser for Mitt Romney. But his campaign has fizzled after raising only $96,000. He had $2,000 left in the bank on June 10. 

The winner will face an uphill climb against McAdams, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary and had $2.2 million on hand. Inside Elections rates the November race Tilt Democratic

Republicans are also targeting freshman Colorado Rep. Jason Crow, a House impeachment manager, who flipped the 6th District in suburban Denver in 2018. Former Colorado GOP chairman Steve House is the sole candidate in Tuesday’s GOP primary. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic.

3. 2018 rematch?

There could be a 2018 rematch in Colorado’s 3rd District if former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush wins the Democratic nomination to take on five-term Republican incumbent Scott Tipton. She lost to Tipton by 8 points last cycle, which was his smallest margin of victory since he unseated Democrat John Salazar in 2010.

Mitsch Busch faces businessman James Iacino, who has Salazar’s backing, in the primary. Iacino has spent more than $340,000 of his own money on the campaign, but Mitsch Bush had a financial advantage in the final stretch before the primary. As of June 10, she had $351,000 on hand to $194,000 for Iacino.

Democrats have targeted Tipton’s seat, with an eye on his shrinking margins and the district’s sizable Hispanic population. But it could still be a tough race for a Democrat, since Trump carried the district by 12 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the general election Solid Republican.

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