Looking Ahead to Tuesday’s Not-So-Thrilling Primary Battles

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Looking Ahead to Tuesday’s Not-So-Thrilling Primary Battles

Boy, hype it much, USA Today?

Perhaps they don’t mean this coming Tuesday.

As a campaign correspondent, I’m arguing against interest by telling you that Tuesday’s primaries probably aren’t going to be that surprising or earth-shattering, but . . . come on. I can’t lie to you.

USA Today writes, “Senate contests in Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky are critical to determining who will control the Senate next year.” Okay, sure. But Tuesday’s primaries aren’t what make them critical.

In Kentucky, here’s the last Bluegrass poll before the primary:

The poll found that 55 percent of likely GOP voters support McConnell, while 35 percent favor Bevin. Three other Republican candidates split 5 percent of the vote, with the remaining 5 percent undecided.

But the poll found that McConnell is in a statistical dead heat with a November showdown looming, with 43 percent favoring her and 42 percent backing McConnell, a five-term incumbent. McConnell would do slightly better in a head-to-head match-up with Grimes than Bevin would.

Cheer up, Bevin fans — that 20-percentage-point ;margin for McConnell is his smallest lead yet! But, er . . . it’s pretty tough to make up that much ground in the final days.

As for the general election, that one-point lead for Grimes is the first she’s enjoyed since February, and only the second poll showing her ahead since . . . December 2012. McConnell’s no slam-dunk, but his sharp-elbowed, well-funded campaign went to work making sure Matt Bevin never amounted to a serious primary threat, and it appears to be on the verge of success. Let’s just see what happens when all of that advertising, organizing and volunteer firepower gets concentrated on his Democratic opponent.

Moving farther south, USA Today notes, “In Arkansas, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican challenger Rep. Tom Cotton will clinch their respective nominations in a state considered one of the GOP’s best chances for a pickup because of the conservative lean of the state.” So again, there’s nothing dramatic or meaningful about Tuesday’s primary.

That race currently features a weird split in the polls. Three of the last six polls say incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor is doing fine — up 10 or 11 points. But the other three point to a close race — Pryor by 1, Cotton by 3, Pryor by 3. Undoubtedly, Cotton’s going to need to kick it up a notch in his television advertising — and most of his ads have been pretty darn good!

Finally,

In Georgia, a crowded seven-way Senate primary will be whittled to two for a July 22 runoff as no candidate is likely to earn the 50% necessary to clinch the nomination. The eventual winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, who Democrats have touted as their best 2014 recruit.

The runoff will probably go to David Purdue (former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General) and Representative Jack Kingston. (Karen Handel has a shot to make the runoff, but not a great one.) Purdue polled well against Nunn until very recently. This is Georgia, where Democrats last won a statewide race in 1998. Democrats are getting their hopes up about Nunn’s ability to run on her father’s reputation, but notice this little wrinkle:

Under Georgia law, any race in which no candidate clears 50 percent on Nov. 4 heads to a runoff between the top two candidates. And thanks to a court ruling delaying any federal runoffs so that overseas voters have sufficient time to cast their ballots, there will actually be two separate runoffs, if needed: one on Dec. 2, for the governor’s race, and another on Jan. 6, for the Senate contest. . . . 

The 2008 elections offer a relevant illustration. Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss was just barely forced into a runoff after receiving 49.8 percent of the vote in November, while Democrat Jim Martin narrowly trailed with 46.8 percent. But in December, just a month later, turnout dropped by a hefty 43 percent, from 3.7 million to 2.1 million, and Chambliss triumphed by a wide margin, 57 to 43.

Could a Democrat beat a Republican head-to-head in a runoff election in Georgia? Sure, it’s possible. Just very, very, very difficult.