Mary Ottilie “MJ” Jennings Hegar on September 15, 2018 in Georgetown, Texas.
Suzanne Cordeiro | AFP via Getty Images
The latest primaries set the stage for three of the Senate races that will determine which party controls the chamber after the November election.
In Alabama, Maine and Texas, voters on Tuesday chose challengers who will run in some of the country’s most closely watched races this fall in campaigns changed by the coronavirus pandemic. Results in those states, along with a handful of others, will determine whether Republicans or Democrats have a Senate majority next year — and will help to shape the agenda the next president can pursue.
- Former college football coach Tommy Tuberville defeated Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s GOP Senate runoff as the ex-senator and attorney general tried to reclaim his old seat. Tuberville will face Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, Sessions’ successor and the most vulnerable member of his party running this year.
- Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon won her Democratic primary and will take on longtime Republican Sen. Susan Collins.
- Air Force veteran MJ Hegar won the Texas Democratic Senate primary runoff and will run against GOP Sen. John Cornyn in November.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning Democrats would need to flip a net four seats to control the chamber. They have a favorable map this year: The GOP has to defend 23 Senate seats, while Democrats have only 12 up for grabs.
Races in states such as Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina will also decide Senate control.
The Senate’s partisan composition will play a huge role if presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden beats President Donald Trump in November. A Democratic Senate would give Biden an easier path to passing policies such as a health insurance public option or $15 an hour minimum wage. A GOP majority would give Republicans a buffer against those plans in a Biden administration or more leverage in a second Trump term.
Tuberville, who coached Auburn from 1999 to 2008, defeated Sessions with support from Trump, who has thrashed his former attorney general for years. The president blames Sessions for special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election because he recused himself from the probe.
Jones, who won a 2017 special election to complete Sessions’ term after the senator left for the Justice Department, has potentially the most difficult path of any senator to keeping his seat. Trump won Alabama by nearly 30 percentage points in 2016.
In a victory speech Tuesday night, Tuberville portrayed Jones as too liberal for Alabama and criticized him for his votes against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and for Trump’s conviction and removal from office in the Senate impeachment trial.
“Doug Jones’ Alabama is not the conservative state that we love and embrace and defend. It’s a liberal fantasy,” he said.
In a statement Tuesday night, Jones said he has “passed seventeen bipartisan bills signed into law by President Trump.” He added that the “choice before the voters is an unprepared hyper partisan that will add to the divide in Washington, or my proven track-record to find common ground and get things done.”
Jones’ campaign raised $2.7 million in the second quarter, ending June with $8.8 million on hand, according to a Federal Election Commission filing. Tuberville’s campaign had raised about $667,000 through June 24 and had roughly $450,000 in the bank.
Collins has also tried to build a centrist brand during her four terms in the Senate. She enraged both the right and left during Trump’s first term with her pivotal votes against Obamacare repeal and for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, respectively.
In response to her GOP nomination Tuesday night, Collins said “I can assure you that I will continue to fight hard for the state of Maine each and every day.”
In a state where Democrats have performed well in recent statewide elections, liberal opposition to the GOP senator has fueled a fundraising boom for Gideon. Though she has not yet filed full second-quarter financial details with the FEC, her campaign said this month that it raised more than $9 million during the period.
The haul gives her a substantial fundraising advantage over the incumbent, who had raised about $3 million and had roughly $5 million on hand as of June 24.
In victory remarks Tuesday night, Gideon criticized Collins for her votes for many of Trump’s judicial nominees and the 2017 Republican tax cuts. She said the senator has become part of a “broken system” in Washington.
“Susan Collins has changed, and Mainers deserve better,” she said.
Hegar defeated Democratic state Sen. Royce West in the runoff Tuesday to win the Democratic nomination.
“Together, we are mounting a Texas-sized winning campaign that will take down Senator Cornyn and deliver real results on health care, racial justice, economic opportunity, climate change, immigration, and gun violence,” she said in a statement Tuesday night.
But of the Alabama, Maine and Texas senators, Cornyn appears to have the best chance of keeping his seat — despite an ongoing blue drift in the Lone Star State.
Cornyn has a financial edge over Hegar, after his campaign said it raised $3.5 million in the second quarter and had $14.5 million in the bank. The Democratic challenger raised more than $1.7 million in the second quarter and ended it with about $900,000 on hand, according to filings.
In a statement responding to Hegar’s nomination, Cornyn’s campaign highlighted the senator’s work on issues including hurricane relief and gun background checks. It also criticized Hegar for her support of a Medicare public option, saying it could lead to a single-payer “Medicare for All” system.