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3 key Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday

Alabama, North Carolina, and Texas all have contentious races.

Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Presidential candidates aren’t the only ones on the ballot on Super Tuesday.

Voters in both parties will also be weighing some contentious Senate primaries in a handful of pivotal states. In Alabama, former Sen. Jeff Sessions — who left his long-held seat in 2017 for a year-and-a-half stint as President Donald Trump’s attorney general — is attempting to stage a comeback. Voters there have seven candidates to choose from as they determine which Republican they’d like to see take on Doug Jones this fall.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, Democrats are looking to pick a candidate who can unseat Republican incumbent Thom Tillis, one of their top targets this cycle. And similarly in Texas, Democrats are trying to go after Sen. John Cornyn, though that’s more of a long shot.

Vox will be covering the results of these three key Senate races live Tuesday night in partnership with Decision Desk.

Several other states that are voting on presidential candidates on March 3, including Colorado, Massachusetts, and Maine, won’t hold their Senate primaries until later this year.

For those taking place this month, however, the results could have major implications for Democrats’ attempts to retake the Senate — and Republicans’ efforts to keep it.

Alabama: Republicans are trying to take on Doug Jones — by touting their Trump bona fides

Update: Decision Desk is projecting that former Sen. Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville are headed to a Republican primary runoff, set to take place later this year.

A crowded field of Republicans are vying to go up against Jones, the sitting Democratic senator who won a special election for Sessions’s seat in 2017 — thanks in no small part to the failings of his then-opponent, Roy Moore. Moore, who became infamous for fielding multiple allegations of sexual misconduct toward underaged women, is running again in 2020, as is Sessions himself. Jones is running unopposed on the Democrats’ side.

In the Republican primary, Sessions is one of two favorites: A February Alabama Daily News poll has him up at 31 percent, beating former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville by just two points. The two men are trailed by Rep. Bradley Byrne of the state’s First Congressional District, and Moore, who was previously an Alabama chief justice. The entirety of the Republican field, which includes seven candidates, has sought to align themselves as closely as possible with President Donald Trump, touting policy priorities like border security throughout the primary.

If no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, the Republican race will head to a run-off. Whoever ultimately wins that run-off will compete in this fall’s Senate election, which is set to be one of the most competitive races in the country. Cook Political Report rates the seat as “Lean Republican,” a sign that Jones is in for a tough fight.

North Carolina: Democrats will decide who goes up against Thom Tillis in a close race

Update: Decision Desk is projecting former state Sen. Cal Cunningham as the winner of the Democratic primary.

North Carolina is one of the states Democrats are eyeing most closely as they try to flip the Senate this cycle.

The seat is currently occupied by Tillis, who has increasingly tried to tie himself to Trump on issues like the president’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border and impeachment. And there are primaries on both sides of the aisle, though the Democratic one is poised to be more competitive.

Tillis faces primary challenges from former ad business owner Larry Holmquist, small-business owner Sharon Hudson, and former Superior Court Judge Paul Wright, but carries Trump’s endorsement. On the Democratic side, the party’s national campaign arm has endorsed army veteran and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham for the seat, and he is up against several Democrats, including progressive Erica Smith.

There hasn’t been a ton of polling on the race, so it’s not immediately clear where all the candidates stand. Tillis and Cunningham, however, have led their respective fields in fundraising by wide margins. The threshold to win these primaries is 30 percent of the vote: If a candidate fails to hit this mark, the race will go to a runoff.

Currently, Cook Political Report rates the seat as “Lean Republican,” and it remains one of Democrats’ biggest fall targets.

Texas: Democrats try to break through in a crowded primary

A massive field of 12 Democrats is vying to compete against Cornyn in the general election this fall.

According to a recent poll by Emerson University, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and Texas state Sen. Royce West lead the Democrats with 16 percent and 11 percent support, respectively, followed by labor organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez and former gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell. Hegar, a candidate who had previously tried to flip Texas’s 31st Congressional District in 2018, has received the backing of the Democrats’ national campaign arm. A hefty proportion of voters — 39 percent — said they remained undecided in the weekend ahead of the election.

Cornyn, too, faces some competition on the Republican side, including attorney John Castro and business owner Dwayne Stovall — though he maintains a strong fundraising advantage. Candidates need to secure 50 percent support in order to avoid a run-off. Cook Political Report has dubbed the race “Solid Republican,” but Democrats are still looking to Texas and the changing demographics of its electorate as a major opportunity. Here’s who will have the chance to try to flip the state:

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