Mixed Results in First Primaries for Congressional Comeback Bids

Election night vote counting will continue into Wednesday in the two biggest states in the country, where a House incumbent is clinging to a narrow lead and a marquee comeback bid hangs in the balance.

In Texas, where both a House Democrat and Republican faced competitive challenges, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) led immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros (D) by 3 points with less than half of precincts reporting, while Rep. Kay Granger (R) was renominated with 58% of the vote. Meanwhile, former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), running in a more favorable district than the one he left behind in 2018, is in a tight race to make the top two and advance to November.

On a big night for former Vice President Joe Biden, who appeared likely to carry 10 of the 14 states up for grabs and emerge from Super Tuesday with a lead in delegates, the down-ballot primary headlines include a pair of Senate races heading to runoffs, a political scion coming up short, and several general-election showdowns that could determine the House majority taking shape.

Senate Results

Issa’s political future isn’t the only one that remains cloudy among the former members of Congress who want back in. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions will face former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville in a March 31 Republican runoff in Alabama to take on Sen. Doug Jones (D). Tuberville narrowly led Sessions with most precincts reporting, while Rep. Bradley Byrne took a quarter of the vote and Roy Moore, who lost to Jones in a 2017 special election, was mired in single digits.

In Texas, the party-endorsed MJ Hegar emerged from a Democratic Senate primary a dozen deep, but with only 23% of the vote she’ll face state Sen. Royce West in a May 26 runoff to take on Sen. John Cornyn (R).

In North Carolina, the priciest congressional primary on the map resulted in a 20-point win for former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D), who now faces Sen. Thom Tillis (R) in a race Democrats likely have to win to take back the majority.

Sharon Steinmann/Bloomberg
Voters stand in line to enter a polling station in Field Elementary School in Houston on March 3, 2020.

Safe Open Seats

The House race docket also included several open-seat primaries in very partisan districts that will all but decide the next members of Congress.

Two in Alabama are headed to runoffs, as are a pair of big-name primaries in Texas. Former Rep. Pete Sessions, who like Issa migrated to friendlier territory, advanced to a Republican runoff, though who he’ll face isn’t yet clear. And Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician, finished a distant second to lobbyist Josh Winegarner.

Among those who won outright and are likely headed to Capitol Hill are Democrats Kathy Manning and Deborah Ross in North Carolina, and Republican August Pfluger in Texas.

Comeback Bid Ups and Downs

In the two other Republican comeback bids in California, former Rep. David Valadao ended election night with a majority of the vote against the Democrat who unseated him in 2018, Rep. TJ Cox, while former Rep. Steve Knight was running in third in the concurrent special and regularly scheduled elections for the seat he lost in 2018, though there were still plenty of votes left to count.

Leading in the vacant 25th District were state Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D) and defense contractor Mike Garcia (R). The top two will face off in a May 12 special election to fill the remainder of former Rep. Katie Hill’s (D) term and in November for the seat’s next term.

November Showdowns

Texas and California will be action-packed in the fall.

Republicans hope to flip back some of the combined nine seats Democrats won in those states in 2018. In California, that includes targeting the 39th and 48th districts in Orange County, where 2018 candidate Young Kim (R) and Michelle Steel (R), a county supervisor, advanced to November to face Democratic freshman Reps. Gil Cisneros (D) and Harley Rouda (D), respectively.

Meanwhile, Democrats have an expansion plan for their footprint in Texas.

In Texas’ open 22nd District, 2018 nominee Sri Preston Kulkarni (D) will face either Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls or businesswoman Kathaleen Wall, depending on who emerges from the May Republican runoff. Pierce Bush, the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, finished third.

Elsewhere, 2018 nominee Gina Ortiz Jones (D) also must wait a few months to learn her opponent in the open 23rd District, one of three seats Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 that is currently held by a Republican.

2014 governor nominee Wendy Davis (D) will face off as expected against Rep. Chip Roy (R), while Iraq War veteran Wesley Hunt (R) will take on Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D).

As of 6 a.m. Wednesday, outstanding results and likely runoffs kept many other general-election matchups to watch still to be determined.

Read more: CONGRESSIONAL RACE WRAP: Sessions Forced Into Alabama Runoff

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg also is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg is the majority owner of Bloomberg Government’s parent company.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Trygstad in Washington at ktrygstad@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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