6 elections to watch in Georgia, Oregon and Idaho

Outside groups have spent big bucks in Oregon’s Democratic primaries for House.

May 20, 2024, 3:21 PM

It's election day — again — on Tuesday, as four states (Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky and Oregon) hold their 2024 primary elections. But perhaps the biggest race on the ballot isn't a primary at all: Liberals appear to have a shot at flipping a Georgia Supreme Court seat in a campaign that could, once again, prove the political potency of abortion at the ballot box. Meanwhile, in Oregon, a pro-Israel group and the Democratic establishment are trying to stop a pair of progressives from heading to the House.

Haven't heard about all this? Well, luckily for you, we've summarized everything you need to know. Read on!


Races to watch: 3rd and 13th congressional districts; state Supreme Court
Polls close: 7 p.m. Eastern

Georgia Supreme Court elections are usually quiet affairs; from 2012 to 2018, not a single one was even contested. But this year, a clash over abortion has thrust one of these races into the spotlight. While ideological control of the court isn't at stake on Tuesday, a win by Democrats' preferred candidate in this contentious race could tell us something about the electoral landscape in Georgia, and the continuing salience of abortion, ahead of November.

Four of the court's nine justices are up for reelection this year, and three are running unopposed. But the court's newest member, Justice Andrew Pinson, drew a challenge from former Rep. John Barrow. Georgia Supreme Court elections are technically nonpartisan, but in this race, the battle lines are clear: Pinson was first appointed to the court by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, and Barrow is a former Democratic member of Congress who has campaigned on the idea that Georgia's six-week abortion ban is unconstitutional.

Barrow's comments on abortion got him in hot water with the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission for taking a position on an issue that he might have to rule on if he is elected to the court. Barrow went to federal court to argue that he had a free speech right to say whatever he wanted in his campaign, but a judge disagreed — and he could face charges, and even be removed from the Georgia Supreme Court should he win on Tuesday, if he continues to speak out on abortion.

Barrow's campaign is undoubtedly hoping that the kerfuffle, and the issue of abortion more generally, will energize liberals to vote for him on Tuesday. But based on the usual metrics, Pinson looks favored to keep his seat. We haven't seen any polls of the race, but Pinson has outraised Barrow $1.5 million to $881,000, and Kemp is spending $500,000 on Pinson's behalf too.

Importantly, a victory for Barrow wouldn't drastically alter the Georgia Supreme Court's partisan makeup; eight of the court's nine justices, including Pinson, were appointed by Republican governors. But Democrats would surely see an upset win from Barrow as more evidence that abortion is a winning issue for them.

We're also watching two congressional primaries in the Peach State. After Rep. Drew Ferguson announced his retirement from Georgia's 3rd District in December, five Republicans threw their hats into the ring for the primary — which will be tantamount to election in a seat former President Donald Trump would have won 64 percent to 34 percent in 2020. The front-runner looks to be Brian Jack, a longtime Trump staffer who helped coordinate the former president's endorsements in downballot races like this one.

It won't surprise you to learn, then, that Trump has endorsed Jack in this race, and Jack has raised the most money as well ($925,000 as of May 1). However, the primary also features two former local elected officials who have raised credible sums too: former state Sen. Mike Crane ($559,000) and former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan ($398,000). The crowded field also raises the prospect that no candidate will receive a majority of the vote, which would trigger a June 18 runoff.

Finally, keep an eye on Rep. David Scott's performance in the 13th District Democratic primary. He hasn't always had the easiest time getting renominated (viz.: his 53 percent primary performance in 2020), and this year he's running in a district that is mostly new to him after court-ordered redistricting. (According to Daily Kos Elections, Scott's current constituents make up just 29 percent of the population of the new 13th District.)

Questions about the 78-year-old incumbent's age and health were likely another factor in attracting a larger field of challengers this year. Six Democrats are running against Scott, including Army veteran Marcus Flowers, who raised a whopping $17 million for his doomed 2022 campaign against Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in the 14th District. In this campaign, though, he's raised only $180,000 to Scott's $936,000, so Scott is probably going to be OK. Again, the main question on Tuesday is whether he's forced into a runoff.


Races to watch: 2nd Congressional District
Polls close: 10 p.m. Eastern for most of the state, 11 p.m. Eastern for the Panhandle

In Idaho, Republican Rep. Mike Simpson has represented the state's solidly red 2nd District since first winning it in 1998, and he seems more likely than not to claim a 14th term in Congress this year. However, Simpson's relatively centrist brand has previously caused him trouble, like in 2022 when he only won 55 percent against a well-funded primary challenger. Now, Simpson doesn't have the same scale of opposition this time around: His main competitor is Scott Cleveland, an Ada County (Boise) GOP central committee member running to Simpson's right who's only raised $100,000. Still, we're keeping an eye on Simpson's vote share because some establishment Republicans this cycle have had weak primary performances against more right-wing challengers, like Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack and Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales (who still has to face his challenger again in a May 28 runoff).


Races to watch: 3rd and 5th congressional districts
Polls close: 10 p.m. Eastern for most of Malheur County, 11 p.m. Eastern for the rest of the state

Oregon has two primaries of interest, both on the Democratic side. In the Portland-based 3rd District, longtime Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer's retirement has left open a solidly blue seat that his successor might safely hold for many years. Three contenders with progressive brands are competing for the nomination: state Rep. Maxine Dexter, former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal and Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales. At first blush, Jayapal looked to be the front-runner. In her most recent role, which she just stepped down from to run for Congress, she represented close to 30 percent of the 3rd District's overall population — whereas Dexter's constituency barely overlaps with the 3rd District and Morales also represents only a small fraction. Jayapal also sports ties to national progressives via her younger sister, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Yet a late campaign cash bonanza may have turned the race on its head, to Dexter's benefit. Until April, Dexter had lagged behind Jayapal and Morales in fundraising. But pre-primary financial reports through May 1 showed that Dexter had received a massive late boost to bring her campaign total to $919,000, ahead of Jayapal's $773,000 and Morales's $606,000. And from May 2 to May 19, Dexter reported $419,000 in major contributions, far more than her opponents' combined $150,000 in last-minute large donations (during the last 20 days of a campaign, the Federal Election Commission requires candidates to report contributions of $1,000 or more within 48 hours).

Meanwhile, outside groups have spent more than $5 million either supporting Dexter or opposing Jayapal. The 314 Action Fund, a progressive group that supports candidates with science backgrounds, has doled out $2.2 million on ads promoting Dexter (a pulmonologist by trade), more than the group spent in the entire 2022 election cycle across all races. And a new super PAC with unclear ties, Voters for Responsive Government, has now spent $3.2 million on spots attacking Jayapal's record as a county commissioner.

This surge of money has brooked controversy because it appears to be connected to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a bipartisan pro-Israel group opposed to progressive critics of Israel's military action in Gaza. While Dexter supports "a negotiated cease-fire" and Morales has called for aid to Gaza, Jayapal has emphasized her consistent and early calls for a cease-fire — and Jayapal's sister is a well-known Israel critic, so it would follow that groups like AIPAC would prefer that someone else wins. Tellingly, an analysis by Oregon Public Broadcasting found that a substantial portion of Dexter's last-minute donors have a history of giving to AIPAC, and some recently supported notable Republicans such as House Speaker Mike Johnson.

More controversially, The Intercept published reports alleging that AIPAC funneled money to the 314 Action Fund to spend on Dexter's behalf, presumably because more direct intervention by AIPAC could backfire in a progressive-inclined district. The 314 Action Fund has denied the allegations. Jayapal and Morales held a joint press conference in early May demanding that Dexter call for the group to disclose its donors and stop spending in the race, although they could provide no evidence connecting the 314 Action Fund with Republican or AIPAC-aligned donors; the group doesn't have to file its next financial report until sometime today.

We have seen no public polling of this primary contest, so just how the massive spending and the resulting outcry — not to mention views of the Israel-Gaza conflict — have affected voters' preferences is difficult to say. Moreover, Oregon is a vote-by-mail state, so any last-second shifts in preference would not be possible for voters who've already mailed in their ballots.

Oregon's most competitive House race this fall will likely be in the 5th District, which stretches from Portland's outskirts to central Oregon. Republican Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer is defending a seat that President Joe Biden would've carried by 9 percentage points in 2020, making it one of the most vulnerable House seats Republicans must defend. That potential prize has precipitated a highly competitive Democratic primary between state Rep. Janelle Bynum and attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Bynum has led the way in fundraising, bringing in $1.1 million as of May 1, while McLeod-Skinner has raised $726,000. But McLeod-Skinner is better known to district voters, having defeated incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader in the 2022 Democratic primary before losing to Chavez-DeRemer by 2 points in the general election later that year.

Perhaps with this loss in mind, many Democratic officials — including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — are backing Bynum over McLeod-Skinner as the better bet to defeat Chavez-DeRemer this time around. The DCCC has even taken the unusual step of running "hybrid ads" with Bynum that both promote her candidacy and Democrats more broadly, allowing both to save money by splitting advertising costs. Outside groups have also come in big for Bynum by spending around $1.2 million either backing her or opposing McLeod-Skinner, according to OpenSecrets. The 314 Action Fund is part of the story here, too, having spent $474,000 to support Bynum, who is an electrical engineer by trade. But perhaps more notably, Mainstream Democrats PAC has spent $759,000 on ads criticizing McLeod-Skinner over reports that she behaved poorly toward her campaign staff in 2022 while promoting Bynum as someone who'll restore decency in politics. Additionally, EMILYs List has endorsed Bynum, a change from 2022 when it endorsed McLeod-Skinner (albeit after that year's primary).

McLeod-Skinner has not taken this standing down. She's run ads highlighting that Bynum was the only member of the state House of Representatives in 2019 to vote against expanding the statute of limitations for rape survivors to file civil suits in sexual assault cases. Bynum defended the vote at the time, saying "it's not popular to protect the accused, but it is our job." Additionally, an outside group called Health Equity Now has spent about $350,000 on ads promoting McLeod-Skinner as a progressive. However, the group appears to have Republican ties, so it may be a case of GOP meddling to boost a potentially weaker general election candidate — a move we've often seen Democrats make in Republican primaries.

How all of this will affect the outcome remains to be seen, but it certainly looks like a close race. The only polling that we've seen of the primary this year is a late April survey by Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies on behalf of Bynum's campaign that found her a hair ahead of McLeod-Skinner, 37 percent to 34 percent. Whoever wins will face a tough race against Chavez-DeRemer, who has already raised $3.3 million this cycle.

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