Super Tuesday 2024: The biggest primary elections to watch

The presidential primaries are basically over. But there’s still plenty to learn from California, Texas, and North Carolina.

Senate candidate Katie Porter speaks in front of signs that read “Shape up the Senate” and “Katie Porter for Senate.”

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) speaks to the press during a campaign event on February 24, 2024, in Emeryville, California. Josh Edelson/Getty Images Christian Paz is a senior politics reporter at Vox, where he covers the Democratic Party. He joined Vox in 2022 after reporting on national and international politics for the Atlantic’s politics, global, and ideas teams, including the role of Latino voters in the 2020 election.

Fifteen states conclude their primary voting on March 5, a “Super Tuesday” that ordinarily shapes presidential primaries. This year, however, those presidential primaries are a snoozer: President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are each cruising toward their parties’ nominations, and they’re each favored to sweep Tuesday’s contests.

Still, there are some interesting state contests happening around the country. California and Texas are holding competitive Senate primaries. And in North Carolina, a primary contest will offer the first preview of what will likely be one of the most competitive governor’s races of 2024.

California’s Senate primary

If the polls are right then the Democrat who comes in first after Tuesday’s election concludes is all but certain to be the next person to represent California in the US Senate. That’s partly because this is a primary contest in California (where a Republican hasn’t won statewide since 2006), but it’s also because of the number of high-profile Democrats that crowded the field to succeed the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Democratic voters are choosing among three well-known candidates: Rep. Barbara Lee (a vocal anti-war progressive), Rep. Katie Porter (a wonky anti-trust progressive), and Rep. Adam Schiff (the establishment voice that has been leading just about every poll). That all three have claimed the “progressive” mantle has made it hard for Lee and Porter to differentiate themselves to voters — and the California establishment’s rush to back Schiff has demonstrated who the favorite to win is.

Because California has a top-two primary system (where the two candidates who perform the best move onto the general, regardless of party affiliation), it looked as though this already expensive primary would end in an even more costly Democrat-on-Democrat brawl that would last until November.

Then the Dodgers former All-Star first baseman Steve Garvey, a Republican, decided to enter the fray. Garvey has been surging in the polls, frequently coming in second ahead of Porter and Lee and benefiting not just from his Dodgers-era fame but also from extra spending by Schiff’s campaign to boost GOP voters’ awareness of Garvey.

Steve Garvey waves to a crowd as he rides on a float during an Independence Day parade in Huntington Beach, California, in 2023.

Steve Garvey waves to a crowd as he rides on a float during an Independence Day parade in Huntington Beach, California, in 2023. Mark Rightmire / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register via Getty Images

Should Garvey come in second, Porter and Lee would be eliminated. Garvey, however, has little chance of winning a statewide race, virtually guaranteeing that Schiff, likely to be the top Democratic vote-getter, will be California’s next senator. A shortened race would be a boon for vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents in other states, as donor money would flow to them instead of into California (the three Democrats have raised over $60 million combined, according to FEC filings).

The Texas Senate primary

As Texas Republicans fight over just how conservative the state government should be, Democratic voters are set to decide the kind of Senate candidate they want to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. Leading the pack is the more moderate Rep. Colin Allred — who represents part of Dallas and who has been leading in the polls and in fundraising since he started campaigning in May 2023.

Challenging Allred is state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, seen as the more progressive choice, who attracted national attention after the 2022 Uvalde school shooting for his efforts in getting gun restrictions passed by the state legislature — though that push didn’t get far in the Republican-controlled body.

The stakes for this primary are the chance for Democrats to flip a seat and keep control of the Senate next year: Cruz is an unpopular incumbent — he only won his 2018 reelection by about 2 points — and Texas is one of the few opportunities Democrats have to protect and expand their small Senate majority. If Allred wins, he’s seen as the Texas Democrat with the most realistic chance of beating Cruz.

Still, this is Texas we’re talking about. Democrats have long dreamed of turning Texas blue in federal or statewide elections, but the state’s Republican tilt has always scuppered that possibility. During a presidential election year, a down-ballot upset like this one will be tough for Democrats to pull off.

North Carolina’s governor and attorney general primaries

In North Carolina, a Democratic governor holds power in a Republican-dominated state. That’s a rarity, and it’s one Democrats are desperate to preserve. But Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is term-limited, and on Tuesday, three candidates are facing off in the primary to be his successor.

Leading the pack of Democrats hoping to replace him is the state’s Democratic attorney general, Josh Stein, a more centrist, mainstream candidate. He has a few rivals, like the former state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan, but according to polling, none has posed a serious threat.

Republicans’ top choice appears likely to be the state’s right-wing lieutenant governor, Mark Robinson — a “firebrand” politician who has sought to make culture war issues like abortion, gun rights, and LGBTQ rights his focus. He has a history of incendiary remarks and social media posts, like a 2018 Facebook post arguing that homosexuality would lead to pedophilia “which will be closely followed by the END of civilization as we know it.”

Robinson is running against two comparatively more mainstream Republicans, the state treasurer Dale Folwell and an attorney, Bill Graham. According to state polling, Graham is Robinson’s most credible rival — he’s been running ads critical of Robinson’s history of controversial statements, and Robinson’s campaign has responded with attack ads of their own.

It’s a good time to get familiar with the candidates because North Carolina is shaping up to be one of 2024’s most competitive, expensive, and closely watched governor’s races. It’s also a good time to get familiar with the state’s politics in general as it’s possibly the Biden campaign’s best opportunity to go on offense in the 2024 presidential election.

Voters in North Carolina have tended to side with Republicans in presidential elections — Barack Obama is the only Democratic candidate to have won the state in the last 40 years — but have frequently elected Democratic governors in that time. Ticket-splitting is a frequent occurrence, and the rapidly growing urban and suburban centers in the state have led to an increase in wealthier and better-educated voters — a demographic that has grown more alienated from the national Republican brand during the Trump era.


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