A hodgepodge of states that voted in primaries on Tuesday revealed a surprising amount about the state of Democratic politics these days. In the Northeast, Democratic voters in two states made history: In Vermont, by nominating the nation's first ...and more »
A hodgepodge of states that voted in primaries on Tuesday revealed a surprising amount about the state of Democratic politics these days.
In the Northeast, Democratic voters in two states made history: In Vermont, by nominating the nation's first transgender candidate for governor, and in Connecticut by positioning the first African-American woman to represent the state in Congress. The first Somali-American will almost certainly be headed to Congress from the Minneapolis area, and another Muslim, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), will stand for statewide office this fall.
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In the Midwest, the party opted for more traditional candidates to try to win the governorships in two 2020 battleground states, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Here's are POLITICO's top takeaways from Tuesday's primary elections:
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Democrats bet on boring in the Midwest
As Democrats plot to rebuild the “blue wall” after years of neglect that resulted in Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, the party turned Tuesday to two rather boring candidates to recapture governorships in two crucial, upper Midwestern states.
Tony Evers, who has served as Wisconsin’s public-school superintendent for the past decade, will be the party’s nominee against its political nemesis, Gov. Scott Walker. Evers easily dispatched nearly a dozen rivals in Tuesday’s primary; no other candidate cracked 20 percent.
The Walker-vs.-Evers race is likely to be one of the most compelling — and competitive — governor’s races this year.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Democrats chose Rep. Tim Walz, himself a teacher (and Army veteran). Walz, who compiled a centrist voting record in Congress, cashed on his bet that running in a statewide primary was preferable to seeking reelection in a district Trump carried by 15 points in 2016. He starts as a slight favorite in the general election against Republican Jeff Johnson.
Scott Walker’s machine remains a force
How did Leah Vukmir withstand more than $10 million in spending by Kevin Nicholson and his deep-pocketed allies to capture the GOP Senate nomination in Wisconsin? By running up huge margins in the Milwaukee suburbs, which have been the center of Republican power in the Walker era.
Vukmir crushed Nicholson in Milwaukee and its surrounding counties: She won by 33 points in Milwaukee County, 30 points in Ozaukee County, 28 points in Washington County and 37 points in Waukesha County. That helped offset her losses elsewhere in the state, where Nicholson and groups funded by the arch-conservative billionaire Richard Uihlein blanketed the airwaves.
Walker, who was Milwaukee County executive before becoming governor, didn’t endorse Vukmir, knowing that he would share the ticket this fall with whichever candidate won the primary. But it was clear Vukmir had the governor's machine behind her. Walker’s son, Alex, worked for Vukmir’s campaign. Tonette Walker, the governor’s wife, endorsed Vukmir early in the race. And Vukmir also captured the state GOP’s endorsement over Nicholson.
Voters aren't keen on D.C. lobbyists
When former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — fresh off the embarrassing flame-out of his aborted 2012 presidential campaign — became the financial industry’s chief lobbyist in Washington, most people said his political career was over.
They were right.
Pawlenty’s bid for his old job was snuffed out Tuesday night in the Republican primary, which he lost to Jeff Johnson, the 2014 GOP nominee for the post. And it wasn’t close: When The Associated Press called the race, Johnson led Pawlenty, 53 percent to 44 percent.
Johnson hammered Pawlenty for his leadership of the Financial Services Roundtable and affixed the D.C. label to the ex-governor at every opportunity. Both candidates were forced to backtrack from past criticism of Trump.
"This is the era of Trump, and I don't fit into that very well,'' Pawlenty said after his concession.
In some ways, the man they call T-Paw was prescient about the direction of the GOP. He pitched himself as a “Sam’s Club Republican,” urging the GOP to appeal to blue-collar voters in addition to the well-heeled base. But ultimately it was the bluster of Trump and other populist conservatives that brought many of those voters into the fold — not Pawlenty’s flannel shirts and aw-shucks demeanor.
One other note about how much politics has changed since Pawlenty was a major player: Recall how Pawlenty’s presidential bid ended — with a third-place showing at the Iowa straw poll.
Remember straw polls? Four years later, the anachronistic — and admittedly unrepresentative — surveys would be supplanted by slick, nationally televised debates with Trump, center-stage, lobbing attacks and demeaning nicknames at his opponents while the crowd roared. Pawlenty was ill-suited for the tenor of Republican primaries these days, and it showed in Minnesota.
It's worth noting that another Republican ex-lobbyist running statewide this year, Patrick Morrisey in West Virginia, is also struggling.
A historic night for Democrats
Christine Hallquist became the first transgender candidate to be nominated for a governorship on Tuesday, easily winning the Democratic primary in Vermont. She’s an underdog against GOP Gov. Phil Scott, but the race could be close if Nov. 6 is a great night for Democrats across the country.
Other Democratic primary winners are almost certain to make history in the fall. Jahana Hayes, a teacher, is poised to become the first black Democratic member of Congress from Connecticut; she’s a prohibitive favorite to succeed retiring Rep. Elizabeth Esty.
Notably, Hayes’ victory over Mary Glassman represented a victory for liberals over moderates. Glassman had been endorsed Monday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a rare decision by the Republican-leaning group to pick sides in a Democratic primary.
The groundbreaking candidates didn’t end there. Minnesota state Rep. Ilhan Omar won the nomination for the House seat held by Ellison, who won his own primary for state attorney general. Both Omar and Ellison are Muslim; Omar will be the first Somali-American member of Congress (the district is heavily Democratic), while Ellison will bid to become the first Muslim elected to statewide office.
Omar will also likely join Rashida Tlaib — who won a Democratic primary in Michigan last week — as the first two Muslim women ever to serve in Congress next January.
Ellison’s victory came despite eleventh-hour accusations from his ex-girlfriend’s son that Ellison physically abused the woman. Ellison denied any abuse.
Minnesota is ground zero in the battle for the House
Four of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts are up for grabs this fall, making the state key to both parties’ respective strategies for winning control of the House.
The candidate lineups for the two GOP-held districts were already set. But primaries Tuesday for the two Democratic districts keep those seats firmly in the toss-up category.
In the 1st District, the southern Minnesota seat Walz vacated to run for governor, Democrats nominated Dan Feehan, an Iraq War veteran and former Defense Department official. Feehan will face Jim Hagedorn, who won the GOP nomination for the third consecutive cycle on Tuesday.
Hagedorn defeated state Sen. Carla Nelson — whom some saw as a stronger general election candidate — in the primary.
Meanwhile, national Democrats got their man in Minnesota’s 8th District: former state Rep. Joe Radinovich, who was seen as the party’s best hope to keep another seat Trump carried by 15 points last cycle in the Democratic column. Radinovich will face St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber, a top GOP recruit, in the general election in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range.
One other closely watched primary on Tuesday: the race to replace retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan’s choice for the seat, University of Wisconsin regent Bryan Steil, won the GOP nomination.
Steil will face ironworker Randy Bryce — who goes by the moniker “Iron Stache,” a reference to both his occupation and his prominent facial hair — in the general election. Bryce has raised a staggering $6.3 million for the campaign thus far, but he’s also spent $4.6 million of that, mostly on media and direct mailers that keep his fundraising operation rolling.
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