5/24 Primary Watchlist

Senate

In Arkansas, incumbent Republican John Boozman is running for re-election. Boozman should easily win both his primary and general election; this race is rated as Safe Republican, and in a Trump +28 state, it would have been this way regardless of the lean of the cycle.

In Georgia, Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock look set to cruise to victory in their respective races, with the Republican and Democratic primaries being rated as safe Walker and safe Warnock, respectively. This will set up a general election matchup that is likely to be among the tightest in the nation, and Split Ticket rates the November election as a Tossup. While Warnock is an exceptionally strong candidate, the cycle is likely to be fairly Republican, and he will need to outrun Abrams and the national environment by a good bit in order to win. This is not out of the question, and a recent SurveyUSA poll showed Warnock beating Walker by 5, despite Abrams losing to Kemp by 5 in the same survey. But it is a challenging task, and one that gives Republicans an excellent chance at flipping the seat lost in the 2021 runoffs.

Alabama provides perhaps the most intriguing primary matchup, with Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05), former Senate aide Katie Britt (Richard Shelby’s former Chief of Staff), and businessman Mike Durant all vying to fill the seat held by retiring Republican Richard Shelby. The GOP nomination is the de-facto election for this seat, and given that no candidate appears close to cracking the 50% threshold, a runoff appears the most likely scenario.

Although Mo Brooks began as the Trump-endorsed favorite, his candidacy began to lag badly, and he soon began to trail both Britt and Durant. This prompted the former president to pull his endorsement under the pretext of Brooks being insufficiently favorable towards Trump’s baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election. However, as Britt and Durant pivoted to attacking each other, treating Brooks as a non-factor, the congressman suddenly began to surge in the race again. While Brooks still trails Britt in the polls, he has overtaken Durant for second, and he is now one of the two favorites to make it to the runoff for the GOP nomination.

We project that this race is likely to go to a runoff between Katie Britt and Mo Brooks, with Britt finishing first on Tuesday and Brooks finishing second, and Britt being the favorite in a runoff against either Brooks or Durant. Though we think Brooks is currently favored to clinch the second spot in the runoff, Durant has a shot of making it to the runoff and should not be discounted. Republican nominee, though, should easily hold this seat in November, which we rate as Safe Republican.

Governor

Georgia

The Peach State has become one of the most competitive states in the country, dashing over five points between the 2016 and 2020 presidential races to narrowly favor Joe Biden by 0.3%. Likewise, the gubernatorial election in 2018 featured the narrowest Republican margin of victory since their winning streak began in 2002. This is mostly due to Republican decline in the Atlanta suburbs, which had once been the sole Republican base in the state.

The narrow Biden victory in the state presents Georgia Republicans with two issues. The first being the inherent electoral dangers seen in competiting in unfriendly territory. Biden almost certainly got more votes than anyone else in the state’s history, and if trends among white college-educated suburbanites continue, it seems unlikely that Republicans can win the state by double-digits under current coalition configurations.

If Georgia continues to swing towards Democrats, then incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp will need to hope that such trends don’t erase his 1.4% margin of victory over Stacey Abrams from four years ago. Both are presumptive nominees for a rematch for the governorship this year, despite former President Trump’s endorsement of former Senator David Perdue.

This brings us to the second issue: the narrow election result in Georgia resulted in an outbreak of conspiracy theories regarding the integrity of the state’s election. Gov. Kemp’s commitment to the rule of law went against Trump’s wishes to have the result favoring Biden overturned. David Perdue’s subsequent loss in the following January Senate runoff election brought him and Trump together in an attempt to ouster Kemp in the Republican primary.

While Kemp is running the obvious lane as an incumbent governor, Perdue has focused on election integrity, listed by his campaign website as both his top post-Senate accomplishment and top issue as a gubernatorial candidate. Despite his efforts to closely tie himself to Donald Trump, Perdue has been struggling to crack 35% of the primary vote in various polls, while Kemp has seen his polled voteshare soar.

Split Ticket rates this primary race as Safe Kemp and Safe Abrams (who has no competitor in the Democratic primary), with the two presumptive nominees facing each other in a repeat of their 2018 matchup.

Alabama

In the Yellowhammer State, incumbent Kay Ivey faces a splintered primary field featuring four candidates. Despite resting precariously close to 50% in the polls, Ivey benefits from having a divided opposition, and should be easily coast to nomination whether through one or two rounds of voting.

The caveat which complicates her renomination is that Alabama primary rules require that a majority of votes go to a winner. If Kay Ivey falls short of the 50% threshold, she will have to face a second round on June 21st against the second-place challenger.

Regardless, her strong standing in the polls compared to her competitors allow Split Ticket to categorize this race as Safe Ivey. Given Alabama’s strong preference for Republicans, we can also categorize this race as Safe Republican.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of former governor Mike Huckabee, faces token opposition to securing her party’s nomination for Governor. She’s a lock for nomination, as she has the endorsement of former President Trump, all of her state’s congressmen, and a whole host of Arkansas’ political establishment. This primary should be Safe Sanders.

On the Democratic side, Chris Jones, a former director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a nonprofit organization, seems to command a majority of Democratic primary voters according to a single public poll. This primary should also be uncompetitive; we’ll rate it as Safe Jones.

Despite being home to former President Clinton, Arkansas has long since abandoned its blue hue in favor of the Republican Party. This governor’s election is shaping up to be Safe Republican.

House

Alabama

Congressman Mo Brooks is retiring from the Safe Republican 5th district to run for Senate. Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong is considered the front-runner to replace him because the Huntsville area packs the biggest electoral punch. Strong led by 26 points in the only public poll of the race, but his 33% ceiling would not have been enough to avoid a runoff. Split Ticket expects the nomination to be decided in the second round, with Strong facing either Casey Wardynski or St. Sen. Paul Sanford. 

Georgia

Georgia’s black-majority 2nd district is represented by Democrat Sanford Bishop, an incumbent with a record of stimulating his black base and attracting white crossover support. Though traditionally Democratic, Republicans came within 3 points of winning here in 2010. Expecting an auspicious national environment in the fall, the GOP is playing for the 2nd once again. 

The top GOP candidate is Columbus veteran Jeremy Hunt, one of multiple black recruits running in competitive districts this cycle. Split Ticket expects him to lead going into a runoff, but we are not certain which challenger he will face. Potential runner-ups include Macon politician Wayne Johnson, attorneys Rich Robertson & Chris West, and Vivian Childs. 

Trump’s currently-immaculate House endorsement record will face major tests in the Safe Republican 6th and 10th districts. Jake Evans (GA-06) and Vernon Jones (GA-10), the former President’s preferred candidates, are both underdogs. Jones is not even expected to make the runoff round.

In the Atlanta area 6th district, GOP legislators forestalled ongoing Democratic trends by drawing in exurban portions of Forsyth and Cherokee counties. The front-runner in the redrawn district is 2020 GA-07 nominee Rich McCormick, endorsed by the Club for Growth. He led Evans 38-13 in a recent Public Opinion Strategies poll and has outraised the rest of the field.

Two other candidates have also gathered attention despite polling deficits: teacher Mallory Staples and Stefanik-endorsed ex-St. Rep. Meagan Hanson. Split Ticket expects a runoff between McCormick and Evans based on the data available.

Just like in the 6th, the 10th’s free-for-all GOP primary is tantamount to victory. Congressman Jody Hice is retiring this year to wage a Trump-endorsed primary challenge to SoS Brad Raffensperger. Trucking executive Mike Collins is the leading replacement candidate in terms of polling, fundraising, and name recognition. The son of ex-Congressman Mac Collins, he was the runner-up to Hice in 2014.

Split Ticket expects Collins to advance to a runoff against ex-Congressman Paul Broun, businessman David Curry, or St. Rep. Timothy Barr. Trump’s candidate, Vernon Jones, is expected to lose badly. Perhaps Trump’s riskiest endorsement of the 2022 cycle, the former Atlanta Democrat has no connections to the district and has been vociferously attacked by Collins and company for his off-color past.

The only closely-watched Democratic primary in Georgia is the 7th district double-bunking between Congresswomen Lucy McBath (GA-06) and Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA-07). McBath is the senior incumbent by a single term, but Bourdeaux has more territorial connections to the new Gwinnett County-based district.

Local Democrats seem to prefer McBath, who has adopted the progressive lane in the race to her own benefit. Polling also suggests that McBath is the favorite, although St. Rep. Donna McLeod could force the front-runner into a runoff against Bourdeaux unless she garners a majority of undecided voters.

Far-right lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene is a strong favorite to win renomination in her solidly Republican northwestern Georgia district. The race in the 14th is only worth discussing because it is one of the few GOP primaries in the country in which an incumbent is being challenged from the left.

Greene’s top opponent is Jennifer Strahan, a businesswoman running on a more mainstream brand of conservatism. Despite her gaffes and colleague Madison Cawthorn’s loss last week, Greene does not appear that vulnerable. Split Ticket does not expect her to be forced into a runoff.

Minnesota

Based along Minnesota’s Iowa border, the 1st district is a Republican-leaning seat that has been vacant since the death of Congressman Jim Hagedorn earlier this year. The GOP is expected to win the August special election comfortably regardless of nominee, but a victory by a certain elephant in the room could force it to divert otherwise-unnecessary attention from more pressing targets.

That elephant in the room is Jennifer Carnahan, the controversial widow of the late Hagedorn who is now contesting a seat that she doesn’t even live in. Her main opponents are St. Reps. Jeremy Munson and Brad Finstad, both of whom hail from the district’s hinterlands.

Munson is the candidate of the Freedom Caucus, while Finstad has the support of more establishment Republicans like G.T. Thompson. An April Remington Research poll showed Carnahan leading outside of the margin of error, reinforcing the possibility that a divided opposition could allow her to win from behind. Split Ticket rates this primary Tossup and expects businessman Jeff Ettinger to win the Democratic nomination.

Texas

Before analyzing the most watched district of the night, runoffs in TX-15 and TX-30 should be mentioned. In the South Texas 15th, an open Trump seat, Split Ticket expects attorney Ruben Ramirez to mobilize his Hidalgo County base to defeat progressive opponent Michelle Vallejo. He would face Monica de la Cruz in a general election rated Likely Republican (flip).

In the Dallas-area 30th, a Democratic vote sink, St. Rep. Jasmine Crockett should have an easy path to victory against Jane Hamilton. Crockett is endorsed by retiring Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and finished with just shy of 50% in the first round.

Today’s most-watched House primary is the 28th district Democratic runoff. In their third consecutive matchup, Split Ticket expects embattled conservative incumbent Henry Cuellar to defeat his progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros in a Leans Cuellar race. 

Our previous analysis suggests that turnout will be the single most important factor in deciding tonight’s outcome. Although both candidates technically reside in Webb County (Laredo), the first round of voting showed a stark coalitional divide between mostly college-educated progressives in the Bexar (San Antonio) and Guadalupe County portions of the 28th and more traditional Cuellar voters further south along the Rio Grande. 

In most instances, increased rates of educational attainment correspond to higher levels of voter participation. If true, that logic would bode well for Cisneros. But universally applying this assumption to a district like the 28th might discount the persistence of Cuellar’s base and the fickleness of younger Cisneros supporters.

Following that reasoning, Split Ticket considers higher levels of voter attrition between rounds one and two among progressives in the northern half of the district both likely and critical to a Cuellar victory. In other words, because runoff participation rates tend to be lower than those registered in first rounds, the spoils of victory go to the candidate whose base suffers the lowest proportional drop in turnout.

As partners Lakshya Jain and Leon Sit have pointed out, it is important to remember the nature of Cuellar’s support when poring over pre-election data like early vote statistics. Compared to Cisneros’s, the incumbent’s base is generally older and more rural.

Both of those classifications, combined with the results of the initial primary, suggest that Cuellar will once again benefit from the district-wide election day vote. It is for that reason that Split Ticket cautions against preemptively dooming Cuellar simply because the drop in early vote participation between rounds one and two has thus far been largest in his neck of the 28th.

The final noteworthy piece of the puzzle is progressive Tannya Benavides, a candidate previously viewed by some as having spoiled the race against Cisneros. But prior research by Split Ticket suggests that her presence on the 1st round ballot actually hurt Cuellar, a claim that seems counterintuitive on its face but logical when one considers that the incumbent would’ve needed just 700 of Benavides’s 2,324 votes to win outright. 

Even if most Benavides voters break for Cisneros this time around, a reasonable claim on its own, there is a strong possibility that many of her first round supporters might not turn out at all. Therefore, Benavides’s absence from tonight’s ballot stands to help Cuellar.

The winner of this primary will likely face Cassy Garcia, assuming she beats Sandra Whitten in her runoff. District 28 is trending rightward like much of South Texas, and Cisneros’s unrestrained progressivism could make the difference between a Tossup and Leans Republican rating at a relatively-early stage of the cycle.

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or harrisonwlavelle1@gmail.com

I’m a software engineer and a computer scientist (UC Berkeley class of 2019 BA, class of 2020 MS) who has an interest in machine learning, politics, and electoral data. I’m a partner at Split Ticket, handle our Senate races, and make many kinds of electoral models.

I make election maps! If you’re reading a Split Ticket article, then odds are you’ve seen one of them. I’m an engineering student at UCLA and electoral politics are a great way for me to exercise creativity away from schoolwork. I also run and love the outdoors!

You can contact me @politicsmaps on Twitter.

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