The Top AG Primary Elections to Watch in June
With 31 AG elections in 2018, there could be a dramatic shift in the AG political landscape with new AGs shaping trends in AG enforcement activity and public policy initiatives at the state and federal level. June is the peak of the AG primary election season with 12 primary elections. Of those primaries, five incumbent AGs (D.C., Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, and North Dakota) are unopposed, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, will be their parties’ nominees. The Nevada AG open seat primary is not expected to be competitive, and the presumptive nominees are Democratic State Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford and Republican Wes Duncan. The remaining six AG primaries are truly competitive. Four incumbent AGs are facing viable primary challengers and two races are open seat. The results of these six competitive AG primary elections will provide the business community with a preview of the potential legal and regulatory climate looking ahead post-November.
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Without further ado, here are my top AG primary elections to watch in June listed in chronological order by primary date.
Alabama Republican Primary
(Incumbent) Republican incumbent AG Steve Marshall was appointed in February 2017 following the appointment of former Republican AG Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate. AG Marshall is facing a crowded primary. His challengers are attorney and former Trump campaign official Chess Bedsole, former AG Troy King (appointed in 2004, elected in 2006), and former Acting AG and Chief Deputy AG Alice Martin. Earlier this year, the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) endorsed AG Marshall at their annual Winter National Meeting. Despite RAGA’s endorsement, as of May 12, according to the Alabama Electronic Fair Campaign Practices Act Reporting System, Bedsole leads in fundraising with a balance of $351,257. He is followed by King with $273,580, AG Marshall with $224,792, and Martin with $182,997.
Name recognition will be a significant factor in this primary race. While AG Marshall’s incumbency status should give him a competitive edge, he is facing opponents that are also well known in the state. In April, a survey of Republican primary voters obtained by Yellowhammer News found that King has the highest name identification at 61%, followed by Marshall at 43%, Martin at 32%, and Bedsole at 28%. If no candidate receives a majority (50%) of the primary vote, a runoff election will occur between the top two candidates on July 17. A runoff scenario is a very likely possibility. A recent poll conducted by the Alabama Daily News showed that 59% of Republican primary voters remain undecided. That poll showed AG Marshall winning a narrow victory with 14% of the total vote, followed by King with 13%, Martin with 10%, and Bedsole with 4%.
While not as high-profile, the race on the Democratic side is also perceived to be a toss-up. Trial attorney Chris Christie (no relation to former Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) and attorney Joseph Siegelman, the son of former Governor and AG Don Siegelman, are competing for the nomination. It is too early to predict whether the blue wave of momentum that propelled Doug Jones to be elected to the U.S. Senate in December will last through November. Tellingly, both Christie and Siegelman trail behind their Republican counterparts in fundraising. As of May 12, Siegelman’s balance was $89,894 while Christie’s was $57,592.
California Top-Two Primary Format
(Incumbent) California is interesting because it follows a top-two primary format, which means that all candidates for AG are listed on the same primary ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of political party, will advance to the general election. As a result, it is possible for two candidates of the same party to compete in the general election. Democratic incumbent AG Xavier Becerra has the advantage of state-wide name recognition having served as AG since being appointed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown in December 2016. Before that, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 24 years. AG Becerra has also garnered considerable publicity for joining with his fellow Democratic AG colleagues in numerous lawsuits and letters to federal agencies and Congress challenging Republican President Donald Trump.
AG Becerra will appear on the primary ballot with Democratic Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Republicans retired El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Steven Bailey and attorney Eric Early. Reports indicate that AG Becerra and Commissioner Jones are the favorites to win the top two spots. That said, in February at the California Democratic Party’s State Convention, both candidates failed to reach the 60% threshold required for the party’s endorsement. Commissioner Jones received 56% of the total delegate vote followed by AG Becerra with 42%. Earlier this month, Bailey was endorsed as the Republican nominee at the Republican State Republican Party Convention, with 69% of the total delegate vote; Early garnered only 28% of the vote. However, the Democrats have dominated the fundraising campaign. In the final stretch leading up to the primary, California Secretary of State’s Cal-Access reporting system shows that as of May 24 Commissioner Jones had a balance of $2.3 million and AG Becerra had $1.6 million. In contrast, Early had $28,567 followed by Bailey with $8,977.
South Dakota Democratic and Republican Primaries
(Open Seat) Republican incumbent AG Marty Jackley is term-limited and running for governor. On May 21, two Democratic and three Republican AG candidates submitted their pre-primary campaign finance reports to the South Dakota Secretary of State. These reports help provide a glimpse into who are the potential front-runners, as the lack of polling data and media coverage have made both parties’ primary elections difficult to predict.
The two Democratic candidates may share similar political views but they have very different personas. Deputy State’s Attorney of Oglala Lakota County Tatewin Means is a Native American woman and a single mother, while Randy Seiler is a 71 year-old former U.S. Attorney with a distinguished career as a federal prosecutor and Air Force veteran. Seiler leads Means in fundraising with an end balance of $61,219 versus $5,974. The Republican candidates are Lawrence County State’s Attorney John Fitzgerald, Union County Deputy State’s Attorney and Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserves Jason Ravnsborg, and State Senator Lance Russell. Ravnsborg leads his competitors in fundraising with an end balance of $64,269 followed by Fitzgerald with $12,384 and Senator Russel with $8,113. Name recognition will likely play a significant factor in both parties’ primaries.
South Carolina Republican Primary
(Incumbent) Republican AG Alan Wilson is seeking a third term. He is being challenged in the primary by State Representative Todd Atwater and attorney William Herlong. Media reports suggest that AG Wilson is the front-runner but also speculate that he may be vulnerable in the primary due to his alleged ties to the targets of an ongoing State House corruption probe. AG Wilson has been endorsed by RAGA and leads his competitors in campaign fundraising.
According to the South Carolina State Ethics Commission, as of April 10, AG Wilson had a balance of $1.1 million, which is more than his opponents have combined—Herlong and Representative Atwater reported $537,818 and $520,618, respectively. If no candidate receives a majority (50%) of the primary vote, a runoff election will occur on June 26. In South Carolina, political parties are responsible for overseeing the runoff process. On the Democratic side, the only candidate to have filed before the filing deadline is Constance Anastopoulo, a professor at the Charleston School of Law and a former litigator, and thus she will be the Democratic nominee. On April 10, she reported a balance of $21,391, most of which was loaned to her campaign.
Colorado Democratic Primary
(Open seat) This is an open seat race, as Republican incumbent AG Cynthia Coffman decided not to seek re-election and instead run for governor, an effort that came to an end in April when she failed to qualify for the primary ballot at the Republican State Assembly Convention. The Democratic primary race for AG, once a crowded field of candidates, has evolved into a competitive showdown between State Representative Joe Salazar and the former Dean of Colorado University Law School and Obama Administration official Phil Weiser. At the Colorado Democratic State Assembly in April, Weiser received 53% of the total delegate votes, while Representative Salazar earned 37%.
Perhaps the starkest contrast between these two AG candidates is the size of their campaign war chests. According to the Colorado Secretary of State’s campaign reporting system for the reporting period ending on May 2, Weiser’s balance was $887,521 versus Salazar’s $7,127 (this is not a typo). Despite Representative Salazar’s massive fundraising disadvantage, he still has managed to remain a viable contender as a result of his legislative experience, strong grassroots following, and name recognition. While he is not related to former Colorado U.S. Senator and AG Ken Salazar, the Salazar last name is an asset in the state. Notably, Representative Salazar recently picked-up the endorsement of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders who similarly has a strong base of fervent supporters that will come out to vote on June 26. In an effort to counter Salazar’s statewide name recognition, Weiser reportedly spent $316,000 on television advertisements.
The Democratic nominee will face Republican George Brauchler in the general election. Brauchler is the only Republican candidate on the primary ballot. Brauchler’s balance on May 2 was $235,312. He has name recognition in the state as the 18th Judicial District Attorney and prosecutor of the Aurora theatre shooter.
Oklahoma Republican Primary
(Incumbent) – Republican Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter was appointed by Republican Governor Mary Fallin in February 2017 following the confirmation of former AG Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator. What was predicted to be a relatively easy bid for AG has quickly escalated into a competitive and rhetoric-intensive Republican primary election. Tulsa attorney and businessman Genter Drummond poses the greatest challenge to AG Hunter. Drummond came out swinging early, challenging AG Hunter’s legal residency—a challenge that was unanimously rejected by the Oklahoma Election Board. Drummond also issued a challenge to AG Hunter to follow his lead by refusing to accept campaign contributions from lobbyists or special interest groups. AG Hunter has called Drummond’s efforts “political stunts.” Public defender Angela Bonilla is also running for the Republican nomination but is reportedly not viable.
AG Hunter has been endorsed by RAGA and has amassed an impressive war chest. According to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission at the end of the first quarter of 2018, AG Hunter had a balance of $408,902. Drummond and Bonilla declared their candidacies after the first quarter of 2018 and their pre-primary campaign finance report is not due until June 18. As the only Democrat in the race and with the campaign filing deadline having passed, attorney Mark Myles will be the Democratic nominee.