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Wake up! We’re finally rolling toward the midterm elections. After months of special elections, and months of, well, nothing, we’re having our first big primary day today. According to Fox News, “Eight states – Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota – will hold primaries Tuesday to pick candidates to run in the midterm general elections Nov. 6.”

Let’s begin in New Jersey, which Politico says could be the most competitive in November.

Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Rodney Frelinghuysen, two Republican incumbents who have held their districts without serious challenges from the right for more than two decades, are retiring, while a third GOP incumbent — Rep. Leonard Lance — who for the last decade has had to worry more about primary challenges than the general election, is considered particularly vulnerable. . .

On the Democratic side, some barely-funded long-shot liberals are hoping to harness grass-roots energy to defeat organization-backed candidates, some of whom have been raising money hand over fist.

On the GOP side, voters are facing a choice between pro-Trump, down-the-line conservatives or more establishment Republicans some feel have a better shot in traditionally Republican districts where President Donald Trump’s unpopularity threatens to loosen the party’s grip.

Fox News notes that the senate seat held by Bob Menendez is “likely safe” for Democrats, despite the senator’s corruption and bribery case.

Hopping over “flyover country,” RealClearPolitics says Dems have a possible catastrophe in the works in California.

Republicans would ordinarily dread an intra-party challenge to one of their most endangered incumbents in an already difficult election year. But in California’s 48th District, it’s an oddly welcome scenario — one that could even help them maintain control of the U.S House of Representatives.

The coastal Orange County district, represented by 15-term Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, is one of seven Republican strongholds in California that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, a group of seats seemingly primed for Democrats who see the Golden State as their gateway to taking over the lower chamber in this year’s midterms. Rohrabacher’s 30-year tenure, penchant for controversy, and a warmness to Russia that earned him the label “Putin’s favorite congressman” made him among the most tantalizing targets — so much so that seven Democrats signed up to challenge him. Not only that, but five Republicans also have thrown their hats into the ring. . .

The state’s June 5 primary operates on the so-called jungle system, which means the top two finishers regardless of party affiliation advance to the general election. And in districts like CA-48, Democrats are growing increasingly concerned that their candidates could cut into one another’s vote share, enabling two Republicans to advance to the November ballot. Therefore, Rohrabacher’s challenge from within his own party could be a saving grace for the GOP. . .

USA Today points out two other important races, beginning with Iowa.

In this Midwestern battleground, the most closely watched contest is unfolding in the northeast quadrant of the state, where Democrats believe incumbent GOP Rep. Rod Blum is vulnerable. The conservative GOP lawmaker won re-election by 54 percent in 2016; President Trump carried the district by a slim three percentage points, while former President Obama won here in 2012. . .

Republicans note that Democrats have targeted this seat before and come up short. And they say Blum should not be underestimated.

He’s a “different kind of Republican” with an independent streak that appeals to voters, said Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa.

New Mexico is also in play this year.

At first blush, New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District would not seem like a good investment for Democrats. Incumbent GOP Rep. Steve Pearce won a 7th term with 63 percent of the vote in 2016, and President Trump carried this sprawling, mostly rural seat by 10 percentage points.

But Pearce is leaving Congress to run for governor, and Democrats think they have a star-in-the-making in their leading contender: Xochitl Torres Small, an attorney who specializes in water rights issues and worked as a former district staffer for Democratic Sen. Tom Udall. . .

Meanwhile, four Republicans are vying for the GOP nomination in a race that has turned nasty ahead of Tuesday’s voting. The two leading contenders seem to be competing for the most conservative mantle.

Then, there’s Alabama. FiveThirtyEight says you don’t expect surprises in Alabama politics, but this year, there may be one.

No Alabama elections are expected to be close in November. Most aren’t even expected to be competitive in the primary. . .

But the 2nd Congressional District could be an exception. There, Republican Rep. Martha Roby could become the next congressional incumbent to lose a primary this cycle … though probably not until July. Roby put a target on her back in 2016 when she announced she would not support Donald Trump in the aftermath of the “Access Hollywood” tape; furious Trump supporters waged a write-in campaign against her that dramatically cut down her margin of victory. Roby has taken pains to cozy up to the White House since President Trump’s win, but she has still drawn serious primary opposition from two diehard Trumpists: Rich Hobson, Roy Moore’s former campaign manager. . .

This race could tell us a lot about the importance of absolute loyalty to Trump in today’s GOP — even more than other primaries this cycle in which candidates have tried to out-Trump each other, since Roby’s anti-Trump stance was what inspired this primary in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi congressional race will be a snooze.

This race could tell us a lot about the importance of absolute loyalty to Trump in today’s GOP — even more than other primaries this cycle in which candidates have tried to out-Trump each other, since Roby’s anti-Trump stance was what inspired this primary in the first place.

However, Fox says the governor’s race in New Mexico is worth watching.

Democrats are hoping to turn New Mexico blue with the gubernatorial race this year with an electorate that has been tilting progressive. Susana Martinez, the current Republican governor, cannot seek re-election due to term limits. . .

Democrats already control much of New Mexico politics, including the legislature and other statewide offices. A win for Democrats in this race could shut out Republicans from redistricting decisions made in 2021.

Clinton took New Mexico with 48 percent of the vote, compared to Trump’s 40 percent.

Let’s move out of the South, and far from the coasts, to Montana.

Although incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, has emphasized his record of voting for more than a dozen bills signed into law by Trump, November’s general election is considered a toss-up by Fox News.

Four Republicans are vying for the Republican nomination. . .“It’s all been a competition to see who can be the most aligned with Trump. It’s a reflection of where these candidates think the Republican Party is in Montana,” Dr. Robert Saldin, a University of Montana political science professor, told Fox News.

Trump won Montana with about 56 percent of the vote in 2016. In comparison, 2008 Republican nominee John McCain garnered about 50 percent.

Next door, in South Dakota, there’s a race for governor, but after Tuesday, the race is over.

The primary is a close one: a recent poll from The Argus Leader and KELO-TV has [Rep. Kristi] Noem ahead by only one percentage point.

Whoever wins the GOP primary will likely face state Sen. Billie Sutton, a Democrat who is running unopposed. The seat is currently held by Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who is term-limited.

In the presidential election, Trump won 62 percent of the vote, compared to Hillary Clinton, who won 32 percent.

There has been a lot of talk of a “Blue Wave” this November, but with the economy heating up, and Trump making unorthodox moves in foreign policy, the dynamic could quickly change. Trump’s own favorability has been rising steadily. Here’s a chart we put together from the RCP average of polls. Note the steady decline most of the first year, the trough last fall, and the solid rise in Trump’s numbers since December.

Trump Favorable Trend

The Washington Examiner says Democrats should not be overconfident (again).

First, they note that despite having a 60 percent unfavorable rating on Election Day 2016, Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton, a result that still has many GOP pollsters scratching their heads.

Second, with the economy improving and the 2017 tax cut settling in, many voters have something other than Trump’s approval ratings to focus on that is helpful to the GOP, which controls the House and Senate. . .

[GOP pollster David Winston ] and his colleague Myra Miller said that to prevent losing the House, where Democrats need to pick up just 24 seats for control, Republicans have to get voters to focus less on Trump’s approval numbers and more on how the economy is helping them.

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Filed in: 2018 Midterms Tagged in:
Goethe Behr is a Contributing Editor and Moderator at Election Central. He started out posting during the 2008 election, became more active during 2012, and very active in 2016. He has been a political junkie since the 1950s and enjoys adding a historical perspective.

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