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MAGA might and happy leaders: Super Tuesday takeaways

Gonzales faces runoff, but Jackson Lee pivoted easily back to House

Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, faces a runoff against a social media Second Amendment activist after Tuesday's primary.
Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, faces a runoff against a social media Second Amendment activist after Tuesday's primary. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The landscape for congressional races this November began taking shape Tuesday, as voters in five Super Tuesday states chose their nominees for House and Senate races. 

On a night where the outcomes in the presidential primaries felt largely predetermined — former President Donald Trump’s near sweep led to rival Nikki Haley’s withdrawal from the race on Wednesday and got Trump the endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — the results in primaries for congressional races were less so. 

In Alabama, Republican voters picked a House Freedom Caucus member over a member of the Appropriations Committee in a rare member-vs.-member primary. Other incumbents beat primary challengers, although Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales, who bucked the GOP on gun legislation after a school shooting in his district, must now compete in a May 28 runoff because he didn’t clear a 50 percent threshold on Tuesday. 

While votes were still being counted in some states on Wednesday, especially in open seats with Solid Democratic ratings in the fall, Republicans appeared to get their preferred candidates in some races that will determine which party wins control of the House in November. But other runoffs could also hone the sharp edges that now divide the House GOP conference.

[Key results from congressional primaries on Super Tuesday]

Senate Democrats saw results that could help them save their resources for November. Texas Rep. Colin Allred won with enough support to avoid a runoff and can start focusing solely on GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in what his party hopes will be a top-tier Senate race. In California, the party will avoid a costly general election featuring two Democrats that could have pulled outside resources away from states where Democrats are on defense, although that also meant two progressive House members were looking at the end of their tenure in the House. 

Here are six takeaways from Tuesday night. 

Happy leaders

The field of competitive House seats is small, so Laurie Buckhout’s primary win in North Carolina’s 1st District is a coup for the GOP campaign arm, which considers Democratic Rep. Don Davis a top target. Buckhout had backing from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to House GOP leadership, in her race against Sandy Smith, who lost to Davis two years ago and was dogged by allegations of domestic abuse, which she denied.

“Laurie’s victory makes this race a top pickup opportunity for Republicans, and we look forward to ensuring she makes Don Davis a one-term congressman and flips this seat red in November,” Dan Conston, CLF’s president, said in a statement. 

After redistricting, the 1st District is set to be North Carolina’s sole competitive House race this year, and gives Republicans a chance to flip as many as four seats in the state. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as a Toss-up. 

Democrats signaled they’ll attack Buckhout for only recently moving to the district.

“After spending a decade in Virginia after retiring from military service, she moved to North Carolina to run for office. Laurie is an anti-abortion extremist, insurrection apologist, and transplant opportunist only looking out for herself,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Suzan DelBene said in a statement. 

CLF’s spending also may have paid off in California, where the super PAC spent $880,000 to support Rep. David Valadao, who was leading in the all-party primary in the 22nd District with 31 percent of the vote counted on Wednesday afternoon. Democrat Rudy Salas, who lost to Valadao in 2022 and was backed by CLF’s counterpart, House Majority PAC, was running second, which would set up a rematch this fall if those results stand. 

On the Senate side, Democrats will avoid messy and expensive intra-party battles in Texas and California. Allred, the Dallas Democrat who is taking on Cruz, had to dip into his campaign war chest to dispatch state Sen. Roland Gutierrez and seven other Democrats in the primary, but he easily avoided a runoff. 

In California, Rep. Adam B. Schiff angered fellow Democratic Rep. Katie Porter by running ads that boosted their Republican rival, former Major League Baseball player Steve Garvey. But the gambit paid off: Schiff and Garvey came in first and second and will face one another in November. Last year, it appeared the race was setting up to be a battle between Schiff and Porter that would attract millions of donor dollars but in the end not change the partisan balance in the Senate. Porter and her fellow Democrat in the House, Rep. Barbara Lee, did not make the final ballot and will be out of Congress when their current terms end in January.

What happened to incumbents?

In California, progressives lost two standard-bearers. Porter is one of the left’s highest-profile members of Congress and Lee has been advocating for liberal values in the House since 1999. 

Meanwhile, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee announced a year ago she was giving up her safe blue House seat for the chance to become Houston’s mayor. But after she lost that race, she pivoted back to Congress, declaring in December that she would seek reelection. Her former intern, attorney Amanda Edwards, was already running and had a decisive fundraising advantage. But Jackson Lee easily won Tuesday’s primary.

Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack beat back a Republican primary challenge from state Sen. Clint Penzo, who got into the race after Womack voted against Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan’s bid to be House speaker in October. Womack won by about 8 percentage points, a much closer margin than other primary challenges Womack has faced during his seven terms in the House. 

Two House colleagues are set to face off for North Carolina’s attorney general. Republican Dan Bishop was unopposed in his primary Tuesday, while Jeff Jackson won the Democratic primary. 

Runoffs ahead

The fields in several key House races remain unsettled and will be decided by runoff elections.

In Texas’ 23rd District, Gonzales’ chances of a third term rely on winning a runoff in May against YouTube Second Amendment activist Brandon Herrera. Gonzales topped the five-candidate field with 45 percent to Herrera’s 25 percent in ongoing tallies on Wednesday.

And in Texas’ 12th District, state Rep. Craig Goldman, chairman of the Republican caucus in the state House, will meet in a runoff against investor John O’Shea, who was endorsed by state Attorney General Ken Paxton. They finished ahead of three rivals in the battle for the Republican nomination to the seat left open by Rep. Kay Granger’s retirement. 

In North Carolina’s redrawn 6th District, Addison McDowell, a lobbyist backed by Trump, advanced to a May 14 runoff against former Rep. Mark Walker. Walker, a former three-term congressman who lost a Senate primary in 2022, faced nearly $1 million in opposition spending by the Club for Growth, which backed fourth-place finisher Bo Hines in the race. 

Walker said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he hoped McDowell would debate him ahead of the runoff. 

At least one other House race in the Tar Heel State was set to advance to a runoff. Republican attorney Kelly Daughtry won the most votes in the open 13th District, capturing 27 percent while former federal prosecutor Brad Knott finished second with 19 percent. The AP made the call for Knott on Wednesday afternoon. 

In the 8th District, Republican Mark Harris, who won a 2018 House race that was never certified and was ordered to be run over again, just cleared the 30 percent threshold to avoid a runoff in a six-candidate primary and won the nomination for what is now Bishop’s seat. The Associated Press called the race on Wednesday afternoon. 

MAGA might

In Texas, Brandon Gill, who founded a conservative news outlet and helped his father-in-law, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza, make “2000 Mules,” a film that promotes election conspiracies, won the nomination in the 22nd District to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Michael C. Burgess in a Dallas-area district. He edged out 10 other Republicans, including a state legislator and former congressman’s son, to win the GOP nomination for the safe red seat. 

Likewise in Alabama, Rep. Barry Moore emphasized his House Freedom Caucus bona fides in his 3-point win over fellow GOP Rep. Jerry Carl. That included Moore campaigning with Jordan, a co-founder of the group, and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a former member and Trump ally. In a bright-red district, both ran to the right, but that may have been more natural for Moore, who touted his opposition to funding for Ukraine, suggesting in one ad that “if we just put America first, we could have the roads and bridges we need.” 

An Auburn University at Montgomery poll of likely Alabama Republican voters in the district from late February found that 55 percent of respondents thought the U.S. had provided “too much support” to Ukraine and 15 percent said the U.S. hadn’t provided enough. Of those who said the U.S. had provided too much support, 43 percent said they supported Moore, while 37 percent said they supported Carl. Those who said the U.S. had provided about the right amount of support for Ukraine or not enough were more likely to support Carl. 

Money doesn’t buy happiness

Some big-spending California candidates saw their dreams stall Tuesday night. In the 49th District, Republican businesswoman Margarita Wilkinson invested nearly $1.5 million of her own money in her bid to secure one of two spots on the November ballot. But with 59 percent of the vote counted at 4:12 a.m., Wednesday, she was running third behind fellow Republican Matt Gunderson – who put in $700,000 of his money – and Democratic Rep. Mike Levin.

In the open 30th District, a deep-blue seat currently held by Schiff, “Boy Meets World” actor Ben Savage put more than $1.3 million of his own money into the race as loans and contributions. But tallies of an estimated 61 percent of the vote Wednesday showed Savage, a Democrat, was running seventh in the field of 15 candidates with just 4 percent. He trailed the two front-runners, Democrat Laura Friedman and Republican Alex Balekian.

In Northern California, Democrat Peter Dixon, the co-founder of a cybersecurity company, put $1.4 million of his own money into the race to succeed retiring Rep. Anna G. Eshoo. But Dixon lagged behind former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, with 51 percent of the votes counted at 5:24 a.m., Wednesday.

Not ‘Minnesota nice’ for Phillips 

Haley wasn’t the only candidate to suspend her campaign after Super Tuesday. Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, who gave up a safe House seat and a spot as co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee to run for president, ended his campaign Wednesday afternoon. 

Phillips said he ran for president to be an alternative to Trump and that Americans “were demanding an alternative, and democracy demands options.”

“It is clear that alternative is not me. And it is clear that Joe Biden is OUR candidate and OUR opportunity to demonstrate what type of country America is and intends to be,” he said on X

While voters say they are concerned about Biden’s age, Phillips’ White House campaign failed to gain traction. That included in his home state, where he took less than 8 percent of the vote on Tuesday, behind Biden and “Uncommitted,” which got nearly 27,000 more votes than he did. 

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