June 5 was the biggest primary day of the year — but it may take some time before all the election results are clear. Many of the most-watched races are in California, which closes polls late, counts votes slowly, and uses the unusual “top two” system that means both first- and second-place winners need to be declared — potentially making the proceedings drag on for days.
But seven other states went to the polls Tuesday, and many held primaries with national ramifications. New Jersey, an important state in Democrats’ efforts to take over the House of Representatives, chose its nominees in key races. Montana picked a Republican nominee in a key Senate race the national party is watching closely. Iowa, New Mexico, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Dakota held their primaries too. On top of all that, there was another state Senate special election in Missouri that Democrats could celebrate.
Here, then, are some key winners and losers for the states other than California that had June 5 primaries. (Update: Takeaways from California’s preliminary results can be found at this link.)
Loser: New Jersey Republicans
In a state that’s voted consistently Democratic on the presidential level for decades, Republicans have done a decent job winning some important political offices. Not only did Chris Christie serve eight years as New Jersey’s governor, but Republicans have controlled at least five seats of the state’s 12-member congressional delegation since the last redistricting.
But all that is in danger in the age of Trump. Democrat Phil Murphy won the governorship last November, and now several GOP-held congressional districts are among Democrats’ top targets in the country.
Already, two formidable Republican incumbents who’ve each been in Congress for 24 years — Rep. Frank LoBiondo in the Second District, and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen in the 11th — chose to retire rather than face tough reelection fights this year. Rep. Leonard Lance, in the Seventh, also faces a difficult battle in a district Hillary Clinton won.
Now that the primary results are in, Democrats have gotten the candidates they wanted in these three races. In the Second, they’ll field moderate Jeff Van Drew, who’s represented much of the district for a decade in the state Senate. In the 11th, they’ll put up former Navy pilot and prosecutor Mikie Sherrill, a female veteran who’s been a blockbuster fundraiser. In the Seventh, the nominee will be former Obama State Department official Tom Malinowski.
These outcomes aren’t really surprising. New Jersey has an unusual primary ballot rule in which the county party’s endorsement is actually printed on the ballot, which gives a big boost to candidates with the party’s backing. Still, the party has its preferred nominees, and the national consequences could be big because New Jersey’s House Republicans look likely to face their toughest election races in decades.
Loser: anti-corruption Democrats
Since his indictment on corruption charges in 2015, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has been under a cloud. Accused of using his Senate office to do favors for a wealthy Florida eye doctor in exchange for private jet flights and fancy vacation accommodations, Menendez stepped aside as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As his trial approached in 2017, there seemed to be a high chance that, whatever the outcome, he wouldn’t run for another term.
But in November of last year, jurors couldn’t unanimously agree on a verdict for any of the charges against Menendez. So a mistrial was declared, and the Justice Department ended up dropping the case rather than trying to prosecute him again. Menendez soon got his foreign relations post back and announced he’d run for a third full term.
You might think, then, that Menendez would have drawn a primary challenger running on an anti-corruption (or at least an “I have never been indicted”) platform. But, of course, this is New Jersey we’re talking about, and the state’s hierarchical Democratic machine remained united behind him.
One primary challenger quit the race after failing to raise much money, and Menendez was left with only one little-known opponent, community news website publisher Lisa McCormick, who hadn’t disclosed raising or spending any money at the time of the last campaign finance filing deadline.
Menendez won, of course, but his win wasn’t particularly impressive — at press time, he had 62 percent of the vote to McCormick’s 38 percent. If he had drawn a serious opponent, would he have lost renomination? We’ll never know. Menendez will face wealthy pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin, who’s poured $7.5 million of his own money into his campaign already, in the general election.
Winner: Democrats in special elections, again
Amid all the primaries, there were a few state legislature special elections as well — and in one state Senate contest, in Missouri, Democrats flipped another seat formerly held by Republicans.
Democrat Lauren Arthur, a two-term state representative and former schoolteacher, beat her Republican opponent by about 19 points in a district Donald Trump won by 4. On the one hand, the election was held just days after Missouri’s Republican Gov. Eric Greitens resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations — so GOP voters might not have been thrilled to head to the polls.
On the other hand, this adds to a lengthy list of special elections in which state legislature seats have flipped from Republican to Democratic. And Missouri’s an important state for Democrats this fall, with Sen. Claire McCaskill facing a tough reelection challenge from Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Loser: Republican politicians who criticize Trump
In October 2016, after the tape leaked in which GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump bragged that he liked to “grab” women “by the pussy,” Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) had had enough. She withdrew her endorsement of Trump weeks before the election, saying, “Donald Trump’s behavior makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president, and I won’t vote for him.”
But of course, Trump won. And this year, Roby, now running for a fifth term in the House, came under fire for her criticism of him. At press time, she only had about 39 percent of the vote in her GOP primary — meaning she’d head to a runoff against Bobby Bright (who, oddly enough, held the seat before Roby as a Democrat but has since switched to the GOP).
Meanwhile, up in New Jersey, longtime conservative activist Steve Lonegan hoped to secure the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer in the Fifth District. But Lonegan had harshly criticized Trump back in 2016 — and luckily for his opponent John McCann, there was footage of Trump firing back that he could put in his ads. (“I’ve known Lonegan for 25 years, he’s a loser!” Trump had said.) Lonegan lost.
So with Lonegan losing and Roby facing a runoff, it’s a reminder that in today’s Republican Party, if you stick your neck out and criticize President Trump too much, GOP voters may very well punish you.
Winner: Deb Haaland
New Mexico’s First Congressional District, which includes Albuquerque, has an open seat race this year because the incumbent is running for governor. And the winner of the three-way Democratic primary was Deb Haaland — who’s now the favorite to become the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress.
Haaland chaired the state’s Democratic Party and worked for the Obama campaign in 2012. Joshua Holland interviewed Haaland for the Nation recently, and the candidate said her top policy priorities would be fighting climate change, supporting a “renewable energy revolution,” and Medicare-for-all. Trump lost this district by more than 16 points, so Haaland starts the general election as the obvious frontrunner and likely will make history this fall.
Winner: Rep. Kristi Noem
Back in 2010, Kristi Noem defeated a Democratic incumbent to become South Dakota’s sole representative in the US House. Since then, she’s been viewed as a rising star in the GOP. Shortly after the 2016 election, she announced she’d run for governor, hoping to become the state’s first female governor.
But to win the GOP nomination, she had to get past the state attorney general, Marty Jackley. And the campaign got very ugly indeed, with accusations flying over whether Jackley delayed a settlement payment to a sexual harassment victim because of her connection with Noem.
In the end, Noem won, making her candidacy a rare bright spot in a series of troubled attempts by House Republicans to seek higher office this year. She’ll be up against state Sen. Billie Sutton (D) in the general election, but she’s the overwhelming favorite in the deep-red state.
Winner: Conservative outside groups
Montana’s Jon Tester is one of five Senate Democrats running for reelection in a state Trump won by double digits, so his race is one of the most important in the country for control of the chamber. But Republicans ended up having a crowded primary for the right to take him on.
State auditor Matt Rosendale, a darling of the national conservative wing of the GOP, won the backing of senators like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee, and outside groups like the Club for Growth spent big money on his behalf.
Having already missed out on recruiting a top-tier candidate into the race, national Republican leaders were okay with Rosendale as a potential nominee. But many state GOP politicians backed retired judge Russ Fagg instead, arguing that Rosendale, who’s only lived in Montana for about 16 years, was beholden to outside interests rather than the state.
In the end, Rosendale won — showing the power, once again, of the GOP’s conservative wing. But Tester isn’t necessarily too upset about this outcome, since he can attack Rosendale for his relatively weaker ties to the state.
Tester is generally viewed as among the best-positioned of the five deep red state Senate Democrats on the ballot in November. However, he did infuriate Trump by publicizing allegations that helped sink Ronny Jackson’s nomination at VA Secretary, so he’ll have to weather some tough attacks to win a third term this fall.