August 28th Sees Some of Nation’s Most-Watched Contests Come to a Head in Florida and Arizona
(OpenSecrets) While the summer may be coming to a close, primary season is not quite done yet – and two of our nation’s warmest states will see a number of competitive primaries on August 28th. Voters in Florida and Arizona, two states being watched closely by prognosticators, will head to the polls Tuesday and choose their nominees for a pair of competitive Senate races and several GOP-held House seats that are seen as “flippable” by Democrats.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fl.) is facing one of the toughest battles of his career. While he is facing no major challenges in the Democratic primary, he faces a powerful opponent in Republican Governor Rick Scott. Scott, a former Healthcare executive, has been able to fund his campaign largely through his own personal wealth. Of the roughly $31.1 million dollars he has raised, more than $20.7 million, or 66%, has come from his own pockets. He currently has just over $3.3 million on hand. Nelson has only self-funded to the tune of $310, out of a grand total of $19.7 million – with more than $14 million on hand.
A number of outside groups have also spent significantly on this Senate race with three groups already surpassing the $1 million mark. They include the Democratic leadership-aligned Senate Majority PAC, the New Republican PAC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. New Republican PAC was actually founded by Scott himself in 2017, with the stated aim of re-inventing the Republican party to promote President Donald Trump’s agenda and appealing to young, Hispanic voters. But the committee rebranded itself into a pro-Scott group the day he declared his candidacy, leading liberal groups to accuse him of exploiting loopholes in federal campaign law.
Florida’s 6th Congressional District, which stretches along the northeastern coast, has an open contest this year since incumbent Republican Ron DeSantis is running for Governor – and Democrats smell an opportunity in this open seat. Three candidates in this race have already surpassed $1 million in fundraising. Democrat Nancy Soderberg, an Obama administration official, leads the pack with over $1.6 million raised (with more than $1 million left on hand), while Republicans John Ward and Michael Waltz have also topped the $1 million mark. The FiveThirtyEight House forecast rates this contest as “Likely R.”
Democrats see another chance for a pickup in two more open Florida Districts. In the 15th District, the April retirement announcement of Republican Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fl.) has kicked off an open contest where two Democrats, Andrew Learned and Kristen Carlson, lead the pack in spending. Republican state Rep. Ross Spano is bringing up a close third. FiveThirtyEight rates the contest as “Lean R.”
In the Miami-based 27th District Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.), the longest-serving member of Florida’s delegation and the most senior woman in the House, is retiring, leaving her district – which voted for Hillary Clinton by a 20 point margin in 2016 – open. Three Democrats, state Rep. Donald Richardson, former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and Knight Foundation program director Matt Haggman have all raised over $1 million, with Richardson leading the pack with $2.2 million raised and $566,477 cash on hand, as of last reporting. Despite the seat being currently held by a Republican, the race is rated “Safe D.”
Also expected to be competitive in November is Florida’s 26th District, which covers the southern tip of the peninsula and the Keys. Rated “Lean R,” the district is Represented by Republican Carlos Curbelo (R-Fl.), who has raised over $3.7 million this cycle and has over $2.5 million left on hand. His likely Democratic challenger, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, has raised over $1.8 million and is backed by EMILY’s List, and is on the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” list of high-priority races.
Two Florida districts not expected to be competitive in November nonetheless have competitive primaries. The 9th District (rated “Solid D” by FiveThirtyEight) sees a competitive primary on the Democratic side, with incumbent Darren Soto (D-Fl.) facing off against former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fl.), who held the seat until 2016 when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. That year, Soto defeated Grayson’s wife Dena in a competitive primary in this district. Soto currently leads in fundraising, $1.1 million to $717,000 – though Grayson has a significant leg up when it comes to cash on hand. When it comes to outside spending, Soto has received significant support from a number of groups, most notably Progress Tomorrow and the Latino Victory PAC. In the open 17th District (rated “solid R”) state Rep. Julio Gonzalez, state Senator Greg Steube and retired veteran Bill Akins face off in the Republican primary. Steube leads in fundraising, with Gonzalez close behind. This district is also seeing a decent amount of outside money, with Club for Growth Action backing Steube and the Conservative Leadership Alliance supporting Gonzalez.
One of the most-watched races in the fall will be the Senate race in Arizona, where Democrats see the retirement of Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as a key pickup opportunity in a state that is increasingly trending purple. Outside spending on the race has already surpassed $6.8 million – with much of that going toward influencing the competitive Republican primary.
Three Republicans will be competing for their party’s nomination on Tuesday. Establishment pick Rep. Martha McSally leads the trio in fundraising with over $7.6 million raised and just under $2 million on hand. She is backed by Maggie’s List among other GOP groups. DefendArizona, the outside group spending the most on the race, has spent over $3.1 million backing McSally and attacking former state Senator Kelli Ward. Ward, who entered the race as a challenger before Flake announced his retirement, has raised just under $3 million and has over $250,000 on hand. KelliPAC, a super PAC, has spent more than $1 million on expenditures supporting Ward, with most of that money coming from mega-donor Robert Mercer. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned last year by President Donald Trump after being found guilty of criminal contempt for disregarding a court order in a racial-profiling case, trails in fundraising with just over $1.3 million raised and about $147,000 on hand.
On the Democratic side, likely nominee Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has been able to stockpile resources while her opponents waste funds duking it out in the more competitive Republican primary. She’s raised over $10.5 million this cycle and is backed by EMILY’s List and the DSCC. She’ll face attorney Deedra Abboud in the primary, who has raised just over $81,000 this cycle.
On the House side, the most competitive Arizona district is the one being vacated by McSally: the 2nd Congressional District located in the southeastern part of the state located on the Mexican border. This district voted for Hillary Clinton by 5 percentage points in 2016, and Democrats see the open race as a chance to reclaim the district once held by Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.). Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick(D-Ariz.), who represented the 1st District until 2016 when she ran an unsuccessful challenge to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), leads the fundraising with more than $1.9 million raised and over $335,000 on hand. She has received endorsements from the DCCC and EMILY’s List. Her top primary opponent is former state Rep. Matt Heinz, who unsuccessfully challenged McSally in 2016. Heinz has raised over $888,000 and has more than $76,000 on hand. The top Republican in the race, Lea Marquez Peterson, trails both Heinz and Kirkpatrick in fundraising, with just over $773,000 raised and about $245,000 on hand. FiveThirtyEight’s forecast rates the race as “Likely D.”
Also with the potential to be competitive in November is Arizona’s 1st District (“Likely D”), where 1st term Democrat Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) has raised over $1.8 million in his efforts to defend his seat in a district President Trump narrowly won in 2016.
Bonus – Oklahoma Runoffs
Also on Tuesday, Oklahoma will hold runoff elections for a number of state and federal level positions in which no candidate was able to nab 50% of the vote in the June 26th primary. Both parties will see runoffs in the open race for the 1st Congressional District, which is expected to stay in Republican hands.