The top 10 primaries of 2014


Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst waves to supporters at a primary election night rally in Des Moines after winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate on June 3. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

For the past several months, The Fix has regularly been cataloging the top 10 primaries in the country.

And for that whole time, this list has been dominated by GOP Senate primaries -- mostly races where, if Republicans get the wrong candidate, and their chances of winning the Senate in November are diminished.

That is starting to change. The GOP has almost without fail gotten the candidates it wanted, and the number of remaining GOP primaries with real Election Day consequences has shrunk. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) survived his primary, Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis cleared important thresholds in order to avoid lengthier nominating contests, and Republicans in Georgia, while still facing a primary runoff, don't have to worry about the two candidates they publicly fretted about being a part of it, Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey.

And then there are Minnesota and Oregon. These are lower-tier targets where the preferred GOP candidates, businessman Mike McFadden and Monica Wehby, respectively, are moving forward. McFadden surprisingly won the all-important state GOP endorsement last weekend, and Wehby won a primary against a more conservative opponent.

FridayLine

Even if you include the still-unresolved Georgia race, there are only three contests on the list below where the primary appears to have a potential impact on the GOP's November chances. And none of them are serious causes for concern -- at least, at this point.

Apart from Georgia, there's Mississippi, which after Tuesday's vote is headed to a runoff. Republicans are still somewhat concerned that former congressman Travis Childers (D-Miss.) could make it a race if state Sen. Chris McDaniel emerges as the GOP nominee over Sen. Thad Cochran -- as appears likely -- but this is still Mississippi, and it's not a top-tier race.

The last of the three -- Louisiana -- is perhaps the most crucial one. But even there, Republicans appear to be getting what they want: Rep. Bill Cassidy remains the clear GOP front-runner to face Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). Tea party candidate Rob Maness's campaign has yet to catch fire, and while there's still plenty of time, things look good for now for the establishment.

(There's also Alaska. While it's not on this list because former attorney general Dan Sullivan appears the clear GOP front-runner, there is some worry that 2010 nominee Joe Miller could gum things up by running as a third-party candidate after the primary.)

Indeed, a lot can happen over the next few months in any of these races. And you never know who the next Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock will be. But for now, Republicans are less and less fearful of that kind of candidate emerging.

From there, it's up to them to capitalize and win the six seats they need to take over the Senate.

To the line!

10. Massachusetts 6th district Democratic primary (Sept. 9): If Rep. John Tierney and Republican Richard Tisei are going to face off in a rematch of their tight 2012 race, Tierney must first get past Seth Moulton, an Iraq war veteran and Harvard graduate who has been outraising him. Tierney is still the front-runner to win the primary, but he's no shoo-in. There's also a third candidate in the primary, immigration attorney Marisa DiFranco, which probably hurts Moulton.

9. Rhode Island Democratic governor primary (Sept. 9): You'd be hard pressed to find another race featuring two rising stars -- Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo -- and the grandson of a former senator/husband of a figure skating star. We're talking about Clay Pell, who is married to Michelle Kwan and whose grandfather is late former senator Claiborne Pell. Polls show a close race between Taveras and Raimondo, with Pell lagging behind. The primary is not until Sept. 9, so there's still time for a shakeup. ​

8. Kansas Republican Senate primary (Aug. 5): Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) might have caught a break with Cochran’s primary going to a runoff. That means, for three more weeks, the Mississippi senator is the focal point of the tea party’s effort to pick off an incumbent. After Cochran (and a key open-seat race in Oklahoma the same day), the likeliest target is Roberts, who has thus far been part of a somewhat sleepy campaign that hasn’t attracted much national tea party attention.

7. Iowa 3rd district Republican convention (June 21): The voters of Iowa made history on Tuesday, setting the stage for a party convention to choose the nominee in this marquee House district. It happened when none of the hopefuls got the necessary 35 percent of the vote in a federal primary for the first time since 2002 and only the second time since 1964. In fact, all of the five main candidates were clustered between 15  and 25 percent – an amazingly crowded race. State Sen. Brad Zaun, businessman Robert Cramer and Secretary of State Matt Schultz led the way Tuesday. The nominee will be chosen June 21 and will be cast into a toss-up House race against former state senator Staci Appel (D).

6. Michigan’s 3rd district Republican primary (Aug. 5): A newcomer on this list, this is a rare case in which the Republican establishment is targeting the tea party incumbent in a primary. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a Ron Paul ally, has irritated the GOP establishment enough that even some members of Congress are publicly backing his opponent, former East Grand Rapids schools trustee Brian Ellis. Worth noting: A similar attempt to unseat libertarian-leaning Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) failed by six points earlier this year

5. Hawaii's Democratic Senate primary (Aug. 9): With the backing of President Obama, a fundraising advantage and a liberal Senate record to run on, appointed Sen. Brian Schatz is doing all the right things ahead of a tough showdown against Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. Schatz's biggest headache might be the man who appointed him to the Senate: Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D). The governor has gotten in some hot water for remarks seen as insensitive to Hanabusa and her ally, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

4. Oklahoma Republican Senate primary (June 24): Former state House speaker T.W. Shannon surged in the early goings of his race with Rep. James Lankford, after gaining some tea party support. Two recent polls show the race is basically a tie ballgame, with less than three weeks to go. The question from here is whether establishment Republicans rally around either candidate – something that really helped Ernst -- or just let it play out. Given Democrats aren't really contesting this race, there's really no reason for Republicans to pick sides.

3. Georgia Republican Senate primary runoff (July 22): Senate Republicans got the matchup they wanted: Rep. Jack Kingston vs. businessman David Perdue. Either of the two candidates would satisfy the NRSC at against Democrat Michelle Nunn in the general election. But the nastier and more expensive the runoff gets, the better it is for Nunn, who has polled neck-and-neck with all comers. Kingston has the Chamber of Commerce in his corner, but Perdue has deep pockets he has shown a willingness to use them. That could mean a brutal runoff.

2. Louisiana open Senate primary (Nov. 4): This might be the most consequential primary when it comes to control of the Senate after this year’s election. Cassidy still looks like the GOP standard-bearer in a likely post-Election Day runoff with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). In fact, tea party candidate Maness was dissed last week by none other than Donald Trump, who suggested he had no chance and turned him down for an endorsement – publicly.

1. Mississippi's Republican Senate primary runoff (June 24): Tea party groups spending big money have promised not to let up moving toward the runoff between state McDaniel and Cochran. And why would they? This clearly is their last best chance to unseat a Republican senator this year. Pro-McDaniel forces outspent pro-Cochran forces by more than $2 million leading up to Tuesday's primary. If that spending disparity continues in the next two-plus weeks, it won't bode well for the six-term incumbent, who is already facing tough odds.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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