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What Went Down In Colorado, Oklahoma And Utah

Colorado, Oklahoma and Utah held primaries on Tuesday, and with the help of mail-in balloting and absentee ballots, these states largely held seamless elections. The contests in these states helped decide the nominees in a pivotal Senate race and a handful of competitive House districts, shaping the November matchups that will play a role in deciding which party controls Congress. One other state — Kentucky — also reported results from the primary it held last week; for New York, we’re going to have to wait a little while longer on full results.

First up in Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff by nearly 20 points, 59.6 percent to 40.4 percent. Hickenlooper had been a heavy favorite from when he first entered the race last summer, but a number of missteps in recent weeks, including saying “every life matters” in response to a question on what Black Lives Matter means to him, gave Romanoff a possible opening. Romanoff tried to run to Hickenlooper’s left by embracing a progressive agenda — including support for the Green New Deal, which Hickenlooper opposes — but his campaign just didn’t catch on. So now Hickenlooper, who once said, “I’m not cut out to be a senator,” starts the general election campaign as a slight favorite against Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in a state that will likely back Joe Biden in November.

[Related: Our 2020 National Polling Averages]

The GOP primary in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District was more of a surprise, however, with President Trump’s backed candidate Rep. Scott Tipton losing to restauranteur Lauren Boebert by about 9 points, 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent. Tipton is now the fourth House incumbent to lose renomination this year,1 and his defeat could make this Republican-leaning seat — Trump won it by 12 points in 2016, according to Daily Kos Elections — highly competitive in November. Boebert ran to the right of Tipton, drawing on her background as a gun-rights activist (she runs a restaurant where servers are allowed to openly carry firearms). But she’s raised very little money so far, and has attracted controversy for her views on QAnon, a far-right movement labeled a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI last year that promotes false conspiracy theories. So Boebert may struggle to turn her upset primary victory into real traction in the general election. Democrats have nominated former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, hoping she can win after losing to Tipton by 8 points in 2018.

Next door in Utah, the marquee race was the GOP primary for governor, and it lived up to the hype — as of 8 a.m. eastern, there is still no call. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox narrowly leads former Gov. Jon Huntsman by around 3 points, 37.0 percent to 34.3 percent, and former state House Speaker Greg Hughes in third with 20.7 percent. We may not know the final result for a few days either. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, voters could postmark their ballots on Election Day — normally they have to do so the day before — and counties are quarantining mail ballots for 24 hours before counting them, so last-minute votes won’t be immediately counted as they arrive. But regardless of who wins — Cox or Huntsman — the victor will almost certainly be the next governor in this strongly Republican state.

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Down the ballot in Utah, the crowded 1st Congressional District Republican primary also remains uncalled as businessman Blake Moore holds a razor-thin edge over Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson, 30.2 percent to 29.6 percent. And similar to the gubernatorial contest, the winner of this primary will also likely win the deep red seat in November. There was less drama in Utah’s 4th Congressional District GOP race, however, where former NFL player Burgess Owens defeated state Rep. Kim Coleman and two other candidates, winning 44 percent of the vote based on partial results. Owens will now face Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams in a competitive but traditionally Republican-leaning seat in November, where election handicappers give McAdams a small early advantage.

In Oklahoma, the main event of the evening was a ballot measure on whether to expand Medicaid. The final margin was slim, 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent voted in favor, but with its passage, at least 200,000 more Oklahomans will now be eligible for Medicaid benefits. Just 13 states have now not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. As for Oklahoma’s most notable race of the evening — the Republican primary in the 5th Congressional District — no candidate won a majority, so there will now be an Aug. 25 runoff between businesswoman Terry Neese and state Sen. Stephanie Bice. Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn is an endangered Democrat, too, having pulled off an upset victory in 2018 in a seat Trump carried by 13 points in 2016. So either Neese or Bice will likely find themselves in a competitive race with Horn. Either Neese or Bice would help the GOP increase its slim share of women representatives, too. At present, only 13 of the 197 Republicans in the House are women.

[Related: Elections In Kentucky And New York Are High-Stakes For The Progressive Movement]

Kentucky also reported results yesterday after delaying the full release of returns from its June 23 primary because of a huge number of absentee ballots, and in its marquee race, the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, the final results showed a very close race. Former fighter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate Amy McGrath only narrowly edged out progressive state Rep. Charles Booker by about 3 points, 45.4 percent to 42.6 percent. McGrath was able to hold on despite Booker’s surge in the final days of the campaign, but considering the $41 million she raised ahead of the primary, her showing was a bit underwhelming. She now heads to the general election as a significant underdog against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

As for New York, the other state with a delayed June 23 primary count, we’ll have to wait a bit longer for results. Election officials said they won’t begin counting absentee ballots until today, and some counting will be delayed until after the July 4 holiday weekend. This leaves a number of important Democratic House primaries in doubt for a little while longer.

But overall, the June 30 primaries seem to have avoided any major hiccups. Colorado and Utah both have traditions of vote-by-mail elections, so they were well-equipped to hold a primary in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. They also took additional precautions like ballot quarantining in Utah. Oklahoma still relied heavily on in-person voting, but they took a number of precautionary measures, such as social distancing and personal protective equipment at polling places. The state board of elections also sent out a record-number of absentee ballots. It’s unclear how this would scale for November or work elsewhere, but at least there were some signs on Tuesday that elections in the midst of a public health crisis can be held successfully.



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Footnotes

  1. New York Rep. Eliot Engel trails badly in his June 23 primary but his race has not been called yet because of the delay in counting absentee ballots there.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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