Senate Democrats mock GOP primary infighting — while facing some of their own

Democrats are about to enter a volatile stretch of Senate primaries — including three in blue states where infighting could hand Republicans momentum or force Democrats to burn money on internecine conflicts.

Even as they mock Republicans’ primary disarray in key battleground states, Democrats are facing their own drama in Maryland, New Jersey and California. That’s on top of senior Democrats’ push to dispatch long-shot challengers to their preferred Senate candidates in Texas and Michigan.

It all starts playing out on Super Tuesday, when voters go to the polls in California and Texas.

In the Lone Star State, Rep. Colin Allred is trying to avoid a May 28 runoff against state senator Roland Gutierrez, which would allow Allred to hammer GOP Sen. Ted Cruz for eight uninterrupted months until the general election. In California, Rep. Adam Schiff and his allies would prefer Republican Steve Garvey to advance to the general election for Senate, but other Democrats don’t mind months more of heavy spending among House members seeking the seat if it means no GOP name on the ballot in November.

Maryland, meanwhile, is already shaping up as perhaps Democrats’ most important Senate primary when it comes to holding a blue seat. The surprise candidacy of former GOP Gov. Larry Hogan has significantly raised the stakes for the May 14 contest between Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. The national Democratic Party is staying neutral for now in a race that pits the wealthy Total Wine and More owner against Alsobrooks, who could be the state’s first Black woman senator and one of a handful to ever serve in the chamber.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Gary Peters (D-Mich.) professes that he’s not worried about Maryland or any of the other Democratic primaries, but both the California and New Jersey primaries hold the real risk of hurting Democrats more broadly in November. In New Jersey, Rep. Andy Kim and the state’s first lady, Tammy Murphy, are warring over the seat held by indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) — who hasn’t said if he’ll run again — and Kim is openly warning that efforts to tip the scale for Murphy could hand the seat to the GOP.

“We have such a razor-thin majority right now and a lot of defense to be played in 2024,” said Kim, who cited Murphy’s lack of electoral experience in an interview. “We should not do anything that puts a seat in jeopardy.”

Still, Republicans face more battleground contests than Democrats, even after National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) labored to land Hogan and avoid tough primaries in Montana and Pennsylvania.

The GOP is navigating challenging primaries in several races, including Ohio and Michigan as well as potentially Wisconsin and Nevada, which Democrats see as more crucial to the balance of power in the Senate.

Last cycle, Senate Democrats stayed out of primaries in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania with mixed results, losing the Badger State but electing John Fetterman (D-Pa.) to the Senate as all their incumbents held on.

“I admire their desire to win. And that I think dominates every decision,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former NRSC chair, said of Democrats. “We have Republicans who like to fight other Republicans rather than Democrats.”

In a break from past chairs — and from Daines’ aggressive primary interventions across the map — Peters is declining to intervene in any primaries for the second straight cycle. He added that his approach could change, but he sees little reason to switch things up at the moment.

Republicans haven’t won a Senate race in New Jersey since 1972 and in Maryland since 1980. Peters called both Trone and Alsobrooks “strong” and said Maryland is “not really a state in play that I worry about.”

The stakes for the May 14 contest between Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) (pictured) and Angela Alsobrooks were significantly raised by the surprise candidacy of former GOP Gov. Larry Hogan.

Others are fretting, though. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who supports Alsobrooks, said in an interview that he understood the DSCC’s position but questioned why the rest of the party is on the sidelines, or even backing Trone.

“It’s very frustrating to me. We have an enormously qualified African American woman running in Maryland, and I wish more people would rally around the cause. Because it would be historic for her to win,” Booker said.

Retiring Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is neutral in the race to succeed him and said the Democratic turnout boost that comes with a presidential race would make it difficult for Hogan to win; the Republican won both his gubernatorial terms in midterm election years.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), whom some Democrats had tried to draft into the race, said he is currently staying out of the primary and keeping his “eyes on the prize” of ensuring the seat stays blue. He and Trone faced off in 2016 for the House seat Raskin now holds.

In New Jersey, it’s hard to fathom a competitive general election as long as Menendez doesn’t win the nomination. But the intrigue surrounding the race is growing.

Kim would be the first Asian American to represent his state in the Senate. But he’s also betting that voters will be looking for a break from the party’s machine politics; Murphy, well versed in the Garden State’s inside game of county Democratic politics, may still have an advantage as a result of it.

Fetterman, who supports Kim, said New Jersey Democrats have an opportunity to break with “the same kind of diseased establishment” that protected Menendez after his indictment on bribery-related charges.

“How is her campaign about anything other than 50 percent nepotism, and 50 percent ballot positioning?” Fetterman said of Murphy. Kim, the Pennsylvanian added, is “not married to somebody who can force people to endorse him. He just did it all himself.”

Murphy spokesperson Alex Altman defended her as “the only candidate in this race that New Jersey can trust to fight for their progressive values” and knocked Kim for “refusing to stand up to Donald Trump.”

Michigan and Texas are likely to be competitive in the general election, but it would be an absolute shock if Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) or Allred struggle to win their respective primaries. Polling shows a close race in Texas between Allred and Cruz, even though Democrats haven’t won a Senate race there since 1988.

Notably, Schumer quietly maneuvered on behalf of both favored candidates even as Peters remained neutral. He donated from his leadership PAC to Allred, Slotkin and former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Florida. He declined to comment for this story.

Hill Harper, who’s been mounting an underdog campaign against Slotkin to succeed retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chafed at the establishment support for his Democratic rival: “The establishment in both parties, of which my opponent is part of, is complicit in this because they don’t want it to change.”

California’s Senate seat, of course, is nearly guaranteed to stay blue next year. But the ramifications of this week’s primary could be wide-ranging: If Republican Garvey can make the top two thanks to the divided Democratic field of Schiff, Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Katie Porter, GOP turnout on his behalf could benefit the party’s candidates in the state’s battleground House races.

“We obviously want as many Democrats to come out as possible for both March and November. That’s the goal,” said Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.), who said that the knock-on effect of the Senate primary is tough to pin down. “So hopefully Democrats will come out in March.”

JC Whittington contributed to this report.

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