The Fix’s top 10 primaries of 2014

November 22, 2013

Liz Cheney, who is involved in a heated primary against Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). (Matt Young/AP)

The primary landscape is heating up.

Since we first ranked the most interesting primaries on the map in early October, there have been several notable developments across the landscape, ranging from national groups and figures taking a keener interest to a campaign staff shakeup to a family feud that has intensified.

Below is our rundown of the top 10 primaries, in alphabetical order. As a reminder, some races stand out because of deep rivalries or candidates looking for redemption or what they will say about the Democratic or Republican Party. Others matter because the winner could increase or decrease a party’s odds of winning in the general election.

Debuting on our list: GOP Senate races in Nebraska and Mississippi and the GOP primary in Florida's 13th district special election. Moving off the list for now: Democratic gubernatorial races in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and the GOP primary in Tennessee's 4th district.

To the Line!

Alaska's Senate Republican primary:  If a potentially competitive race between Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan isn't enough to pique your interest in this race, maybe the presence of Joe Miller, the disastrous 2010 Republican nominee, will do the trick. If this race gets heated, Democrats are the ones who stand to gain here. Sen. Mark Begich (D) is among the cycle's most vulnerable incumbents and will need every break he can get.

California's 31st district race: As the saying goes, fool me twice, shame on me. Democrats here were felled by the state's newly installed top-two primary system last year when an intra-party vote split yielded only Republicans — including Rep. Gary Miller — as the final two choices. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee backs Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, who ran in 2012. But he's got company from from other Democrats, making this race one to watch and a contest that will demonstrate whether or not Democrats can adapt to electoral changes that have already stung them.


Florida's 13th district GOP primary: The March special election to replace late-Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R) stands out this cycle because it is happening in a swing district. (The 2013 House specials have been on safely Democratic or Republican territory.) As such, it stands to receive a great deal of attention as a potential bellwether for the 2014 fall election and an early testing ground of the resonance of national issues like Obamacare. Democrats have coalesced around Alex Sink, the 2010 gubernatorial nominee. But Republicans have a primary on their hands featuring former Young aide David Jolly, state Rep. Kathleen Peters and retired Brig. Gen. Mark Bircher. The primary is in January and it's crucial for Republicans to have a nominee ready to compete in this district that voted for President Obama in 2012.  An ugly and expensive primary is the last thing the party needs.

Georgia's Republican Senate primary: Rep. Phil Gingrey's campaign staff shakeup was a sign of the hard times his campaign has been experiencing. And it added to the uncertainty in a race that holds deep implications for the general election. Rep. Paul Broun and Gingrey are the two most dangerous nominees for the GOP, given their knack for stoking controversy with their comments (especially Broun). If Broun is the nominee, the odds of an upset by Democrat Michelle Nunn would improve substantially. Rep. Jack Kingston's strong fundraising quarter and David Perdue's impressive haul, plus money from his own pockets, put pressure on former secretary of state Karen Handel, Gingrey and Broun to raise more money. But in this crowded and unpredictable race, money may not be the deciding factor.

Hawaii's Democratic Senate primary: Sen. Brian Schatz outraised Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the third quarter, illustrating the financial challenge Hanabusa faces. This race is shaping up as an intense contest between Gov. Neil Abercrombie's hand-selected replacement for the late-Sen. Daniel Inouye and the congresswoman who Inouye wanted to replace him. The campaign is the latest iteration of a longstanding divide in the Hawaii Democratic Party. It remains to be seen how much of the bad blood will spill into the campaign tactics, though: Hawaii is a state where overly negative hits are not typically well-received by voters.

Idaho's 2nd district Republican primary: Mitt Romney recently endorsed Rep. Mike Simpson. And in a state with a large Mormon population, the backing could matter. Simpson has drawn a tea party-backed challenger, Bryan Smith, who boasts a Club For Growth endorsement. This is a race that is likely to pit the business wing of the GOP against the tea party, making it among the most interesting of 2014.

Kentucky's Republican Senate primary: Mitch McConnell is still the favorite here. This race has grown ever more heated since the Senate Conservatives Fund weighed in on behalf of businessman Matt Bevin, but it remains to be seen how much of an influence the group will yield. McConnell has also drawn a solid Democratic opponent in Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. The messier the primary gets, the better it will bode for Grimes. If McConnell can make quick work of the businessman, however, it will be good news for his general election chances.

Mississippi's Republican Senate primary: The big question here is whether Sen. Thad Cochran will run for another term. He plans to announce his decision this month. Either way, there will be primary intrigue. State Sen. Chris McDaniel is beloved by national conservative groups, which would make him a force in a primary against Cochran. And if Cochran doesn't run, the allure of of an open seat could mean serious competition for McDaniel.

Nebraska's Republican Senate primary: The Club and SCF back  Midland University President Ben Sasse, as does Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). His opponent is state Treasurer Shane Osborn. Nebraska's Senate primary was a nasty establishment-versus-Republican affair in 2012 which yielded an unlikely winner who was not part of the back-and-forth: Now-Sen. Deb Fischer. It looks like 2014 could be just as heated.

Wyoming's Republican Senate primary: Most Republican voters and strategists canvassed on the question by The Fix over the course of a couple of days in Wyoming this week didn't think the issue of gay marriage would be a big deal in the race. So in that sense, Liz Cheney's public spat with sister Mary Cheney isn't going to matter. But in another sense it already has. It's become the latest distraction for Liz Cheney's campaign, as she seeks to focus the conversation on Sen. Mike Enzi's record and where she differs from him. It's really early in this campaign — the primary is not until next August — but it's already shaping up as one of the country's nastiest races. The contest holds no real implications for the general election — Democrats don't even have a candidate — but it will speak volumes about the Cheney brand and how it fits into Republican politics these days. It will also test the strength of the family's alliances, and of Enzi's.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Aaron Blake · November 22, 2013