Predictions are flying about the likelihood of the House and Senate changing hands in November's midterm elections. But before parties can plan their agendas for the next congressional session, their candidates first have to make it through their primaries. After Tuesday, the last big day of the 2010 primary season, nearly all of the nominees for the general election will be chosen. Altogether, voters in seven states plus the District of Columbia will on Tuesday finalize their November ballots for 61 House seats, six Senate seats, and six gubernatorial races. Only the Hawaii primary and a House runoff primary in Louisiana will remain after this.
The Democratic primary in New York's 15th District is sure to be one of Tuesday's most-watched races. In this race, five Democratic candidates are challenging embattled Rep. Charles Rangel, who has been charged with 13 ethics violations and stripped of his position of Ways and Mean Committee chair. But incumbency has its privileges, as Rangel has raised substantially more in campaign funds than all of his challengers combined.
The winner of the Democratic primary is almost certain to win the seat in Novemberin this overwhelmingly Democratic district, which favored President Obama with 93 percent of the vote in 2008 and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 with 90 percent of the vote.
Rangel enjoys the usual incumbent fundraising advantage, with nearly $2.7 million in total receipts this cycle. By contrast, Rangel's five Democratic opponents and the sole Republican in the race have combined to raise around $388,000. However, money does not necessarily reflect voter support. A New York Times poll published on September 3 showed that 66 percent of voters in New York City, where the 15th District is situated, think Rangel should either resign or not run for reelection. Yet whether Rangel can be ousted in the primary remains to be seen. He has historically been very popular in his district, sometimes winning reelection by margins of over 80 points.
State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV is the biggest name among Rangel's Democratic challengers. Aside from being known in New York for his nine years in the state Assembly, Powell also is a member of a prominent New York political family. His father served in the House from 1945 until 1971, when he was defeated in the Democratic primary by Rangel. While Powell may have the advantages of name recognition and political legacy, the New York Times last week endorsed a less-known candidate, Joyce Johnson. Johnson has served in the New York City government in many capacities, including working in the Mayor's Office of Children and Families and the New York City School Chancellor's office. Johnson's Times endorsement may help her overcome her severe financial disadvantage. Johnson has raised $44,401, of which only $10,000 remains in the bank. Powell, meanwhile, has over $128,000 in receipts, with nearly $40,000 in his coffers. The challenger who has been most successful at fundraising is activist and writer Jonathan Tasini, who has taken in $171,000 this cycle. Tasini is perhaps the most liberal of all of the candidates, with a platform that includes same-sex marriage rights, abortion rights, and the decriminalization of marijuana use.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Michel Faulkner, a Christian minister and former director of U.S. programs at international aid organization World Vision. Aside from the challenges of running as a Republican in a strongly blue district, Faulkner is at a fundraising disadvantage to almost any Democratic candidate that might emerge. Faulkner has raised just over $27,000, with only $5,200 in his campaign account as of August 25.
On a statewide level, New York is in the unusual position of having both of its Senate seats on the ballot this year. On Tuesday, New York Republicans will choose their candidates for the seats currently held by Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Two are vying for the GOP candidacy in Schumer's race: retired CIA agent Gary Berntsen and political consultant Jay Townsend. Berntsen has taken in nearly $180,000, including $50,000 in loans from himself. He has spent much of this on his primary battle, and had $61,000 in his campaign account as of August 25. Townsend has likewise exhausted most of his resources on his primary campaign. Townsend's campaign has had similar fundraising success, with $162,000 in receipts. Townsend has also outspent his Republican opponent in the run-up to the primary, and has only $10,600 on hand. Both Republican candidates include cutting government spending as a major part of their platforms, and both also support a repeal of the new healthcare reform law.