Data for Progress (@DataProgress) uses data to illuminate the most important stories in the country. To that end, we’re working with Robert Wheel (@BobbyBigWheel) on a new series, “data for politics,” that provides comprehensive coverage of the primaries. Read the first installment here. Data for Progress co-founder Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) offers insights from the data.
The Big Picture (@SeanMcElwee):
Women Still Over-Performing In the (Democratic) Primaries
Look, if you’re a man in a competitive primary with a credible woman challenger, you’re best bet is cutting your losses, saving your time and your donors’ money, and bowing out. Tuesday night (as predicted), Deb Haaland, Xochitl Torres Small, Cindy Axne, and Abby Finkenauer all advanced in Iowa and New Mexico. Katie Hill and Katie Porter did the same in California (also as predicted). Despite the best efforts of No Labels, a far-right organization that works to oppose women’s representation in Congress, women continue to over-perform in Democratic primaries.
California Is Not the “Second Chance” State
Primary voters were not willing to give candidates in the 10th, 25th and 49th a second shot, thwarting comeback bids from Michael Eggman, Bryan Caforio, and Doug Applegate.
Defund ICE Is Real
With Deb Haaland’s win in New Mexico’s 1st, there will officially be a candidate on the ballot in November who supports defunding ICE. She’ll almost certainly be in the 116th Congress. Ilhan Omar also endorsed defunding ICE. If she wins her primary, that would make at least two defund-ICE members of congress in the 116th Congress.
The Revolution Is Down-ballot
Yes, I’m going to shamelessly plug my Huffpost piece on the down-ballot revolution. But we saw it Tuesday night: progressive Working Families Party–backed candidate Susan Herrera beat Debbie Rodella in a New Mexico state House race. Rodella opposes abortion rights, gun control, and expanding voter registration, while supporting payday lenders. She is one of three centrist members of the New Mexico House to lose to progressives. In Iowa, millennial, gay rights advocate Zach Wahls won a primary to represent the 37th Congressional District. There will be more upsets, particularly in the New York State Senate.
Democrats Are Looking Strong
Not sure why Washington Post framed these results this way since this is a story that actively makes readers less informed about the world as it exists. The author notes that the data is preliminary. But we know the incoming ballots will lean left, so why write the piece at all? Mostly because pooh-poohing D chances induces rage clicks. The reality is these numbers look fantastic for Democrats and will only look better as late ballots (which will likely lean Democratic) trickle in. There is a decent shot at a sizeable number of very juicy pick-up opportunities.
Democrats Avoid Shutout
I was correct in my prediction that Democrats would not get shutout in any of the ten districts they are targeting.There have been more than a hundred House primaries since the introduction of top-two and in exactly one competitive House primary has a top-two shutout occurred. Given Democratic enthusiasm and $$$, they were favored to avoid a shutout. Looking forward, top-two is quite popular and I think it’s here to stay, so Democrats need to continue building up processes to avoid shutouts. At the same time, given that we’ve now tested top-two in a wide range of scenarios, it does seem like the possibilities of shutouts have been over-hyped.
The Races (@BobbyBigWheel):
Alright, Sean, let’s start with the state that’s front of mind: California, where the party seems to have avoided the top-two lockout (though, as many have noted, in California it can take a long time to tabulate votes because it’s a vote-by-mail state and the incoming ballots will skew left).
Some districts were closer than others. In the 48th, it’s still not clear who will finish second But the good news is it will be a Democrat since Republican spoiler Scott Baugh was unable to leapfrog Hans Keirstead and Harley Rouda. Rouda is presumed by many to be the stronger candidate and national Democrats are hoping he pulls ahead (it’s currently coin-flip close), but Keirstead could beat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, too. Rohrabacher is deeply flawed, making Democrats mostly relieved that someone, anyone will be facing off against him. He’s the little piggy most likely to be roasted this fall.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you lawn signs don’t work. In the 39th, Republican also-ran Phil Liberatore shockingly finished third thanks to an assist from Democratic Super PACs. This siphoned votes from better-known Republicans Shawn Nelson and Bob Huff and let Gil Cisneros comfortably finish second, avoiding a shutout. He’s up against a talented Republican in Young Kim, the only person of color I’m aware of that could become a freshman Republican congresswoman next year. I suspect that Cisneros will ultimately win in November because of the district’s Democratic lean...but this race isn’t a gimme.
Do you know where Democrats are looking really likely to pick up a seat? California’s 49th District, where they nominated the candidate with the least baggage, Mike Levin, and Republicans nominated one with plenty in Diane Harkey. I suspect Democrats will win this district even if they lose the House. Notably, the only Democratic woman in the race, Sara Jacobs, failed to advance to the top-two. I suspect the issue here is that the 49th had a ton of activist energy very early on and Levin was able to capture that, while Jacobs joined the race relatively late and only recently moved back to San Diego. Moreover, the billionaire’s granddaughter was easy to portray as out-of-touch, often with her own words. Being a female Democrat is a plus but it’s no panacea.
Democrats faced a surprisingly close shave in Modesto’s 10th where Josh Harder still leads third-place Republican, Ted Howze, by a mere 850 votes. It’s unlikely Howze overtakes him, but Democrats perhaps underestimated the unabashed Trumpist appeal of Howze due to his shoestring campaign. They also underestimated just how fractured their own field would be. All three of their top candidates had weaknesses: Harder is a former Silicon Valley VC who just moved back to the district; Michael Eggman’s a past nominee who got into the race late and seemed to be attempting to coast on existing name recognition; and Virginia Madueno faced distrust from the activist base for flirtations with running to the center and a divisive tenure as mayor of Riverbank. Moreover, she wasn’t the only female Democrat here, as Sue Zwahlen siphoned a surprising number of votes from her. Harder’s not an ideal nominee but you can’t argue that he’s obviously worse than any of the Democrats’ other potential choices.
I’m giddy about the result in the 25th north of L.A., where progressive millennial Katie Hill, one of the most talented recruits of the cycle, is leading 2016 nominee Bryan Caforio in the race to take on Rep. Steve Knight. I was worried heading into the night that Hill would split the female vote with Jess Phoenix,whose cache on social media always seemed to outweigh her voter appeal. But Hill was talented enough to overcome that. The 25th is a decent bellwether for 2018, though I suspect that Democrats can win it without winning back the House.
Sean, I know you got the result you wanted in the 45th, where former Warren aide Katie Porter finished ahead of former Schumer aide David Min. They reflected their former bosses ideologically and Porter is going to try and prove you can win a progressive campaign in a Romney-Clinton district in Orange County. I see some people say she would be a weaker candidate than Min, but I don’t really buy that. It’s one thing if you’re an actual Sandinista, but Min would’ve been attacked as a socialist even though he doesn’t support single payer like Porter does.
By the way, as of right now, here’s where we stand on Republican-Democratic vote percentages in the seats that Clinton won.
Considering late votes will skew Democratic, and the blanket primary electorate is more conservative than the general one, Democrats have to feel great about their chances in six of those seven districts, especially because the last five seats listed here are Romney-Clinton seats. It appears those presidential topline shifts may be sticking down the ballot. The 49th, in particular, looks like a two-foot putt.
But the 21st is cause for alarm. It voted for Clinton by 15 points, but Republican David Valadao is far ahead of TJ Cox there. I wonder how much of this is the result of Cox and Valadao, being the only two candidates listed. This is unlike any other races, could be leading to a ton of undervotes, and probably disincentivizes Cox from campaigning very hard leading up to the blanket primary. Party resources were certainly better spent elsewhere. Once we can calculate statewide races by congressional district, I’d like to dive into the 21st a little more to see just how bad that undervote was.
As for three reach seats - the 4th, 22nd, and 50th - Republicans still managed to get close to 60 percent in each of the districts. The Republican incumbents all got closer to 50 percent in the 4th and 50th (the 22nd’s incumbent is flawed as well), which shows that the Democratic nominee in each will need to get a substantial number of disaffected Republicans in order to win.
One last California thought: EMILY’s List’s great run of endorsements hit some turbulence here. They got their woman in the 25th and 45th, but endorsees in the 10th, 39th, and 49th fell short. I think you can argue that the pressure on the party to land on a nominee without going to a primary works against women in California. For example, if the 39th were a normal, closed primary, women’s groups almost certainly would’ve spent money on Tran instead of leaving her out to dry for fear of cutting into Cisneros’s support. Likewise, female candidates Rachel Payne and Laura Oatman wouldn’t have been forced to drop out in the 48th. Considering the success of women elsewhere during this primary season, you can't help but conclude that the top-two system works against women, mostly by enforcing the idea that voters need to line up behind candidates who've gotten existing power structures behind them.
When the revolution comes it will bypass New Jersey. Bernie Sanders did worse there than any other state outside the South, and the state’s primary ballot puts a thumb on the scale for candidates endorsed by county parties. It should therefore come as no surprise that Jeff Van Drew, Tom Malinowski, and Mikie Sherrill won easily, with none of their leftist opponents getting more than 20% of the vote. Van Drew and Sherrill are running for open seats that national Republicans seem unlikely to contest heavily. But Malinowski will have a tough fight against Leonard Lance, who’s kind of stiff as a candidate but nevertheless a political survivor. If the left wants to win in New Jersey, it needs to take over the county parties. It has to be a real ground-up movement.
In Iowa, Abby Finkenauer cruised to predictable victory in her primary, but nobody expected Cindy Axne to win by more than 30 percent. The year of the woman continues apace. The only poll of that race naively showed her neck-and-neck with Eddie Mauro. The one Iowa exception was in Steve King’s districtwhere JD Scholten beat Leann Jacobsen. Scholten had far more resources and institutional support than Jacobsen. Women aren’t shoe-ins in 2018 primaries but a good rule of thumb (one that you abide) is that if you’re not sure, go with the woman.
The biggest House primary upset of the night followed the same rule. Grant Kier and Bobby Heenan were the two frontrunners in the Montana House primary to take on reporter-assaulter Greg Gianforte in November. But former state representative Kathleen Williams narrowly beat them to become the nominee. Williams is still an underdog against Gianforte, but at a recent debate she showed she was well-versed and quick on her feet.
Shifting to New Mexico, another race where I’m mostly relieved but should actually be excited is NM-01, where Deb Haaland will almost certainly be the first ever Native American woman elected to Congress. She beat a No Labels-backed Democrat in the race, making the nefarious anti-immigrant group 1-for-3 in Democratic primaries this year. To boot, Haaland won by more than expected. Hopefully it’s a sign that a No Labels endorsement is political poison. If they really want centrists, Democrats have enough of those. Go play in GOP primaries, guys.
To the south, in the open, Republican-leaning 2nd District, Democrats nominated Xochitl Torres Small while Republicans, for only the second time this cycle, nominated a woman, Yvette Herrell, for an open seat that leans their way. Herrell’s got a reputation as a far-right legislator so Small probably got the opponent she wanted.
If it’s the year of the woman on the Democratic side, the opposite is true across the aisle, where the number of Republican women in the House will actually go down. There are 23 Republican women in the House today but six are retiring or running for other offices. They’ve nominated four women (Herrell, Carol Miller (WV-03), Diane Harkey (CA49), and Young Kim (CA-39)) for winnable seats so far but only Herrell and MIller could currently be called favorites. Looking ahead, there are four more Republican women who seem to have a decent chance at winning their primaries: (Lena Epstein (MI-11), Caryn Tyson (KS-02), Carla Nelson (MN-01), and Lea Marquez Peterson (AZ-02)). None are for safe seats, however, as all four districts are considered toss-ups or leaning Democrat. There is one woman running in South Carolina’s 4th District primary next week but she’s raised far less than her male competitors.
Moreover, of the 17 Republican women who are running for re-election, two (Claudia Tenney and Barbara Comstock) are among the party’s most endangered incumbents and four (Mia Love, Cathy McMorris Rogers, Mimi Walters, and Karen Handel) seem due for tough races. There’s a nonzero chance that there will be only eleven Republican women in the House come 2019, half as many as there are today.