These 2018 Primaries Are Worth Watching

The Trump factor figures in upcoming GOP primaries. Democrats, meanwhile, are testing the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playbook for progressive victory.

After a bit of a break in July, candidates and voters are gearing up for the next round of high-stakes races in this year’s primary elections.

Massachusetts, Delaware and Missouri have high-profile Democratic contests coming up, with several newcomers challenging longtime lawmakers in the wake of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s striking victory against incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in New York. Republican primaries will test President Donald Trump’s influence on GOP voters in Michigan and Florida. 

Here are some things worth paying attention to:

The Trump Factor 

Candidates’ relationship with Trump could impact both the Michigan and Florida gubernatorial races.

Michigan: Aug. 7

In Michigan’s GOP primary, state Attorney General Bill Schuette could beat Lt. Gov. Brian Calley after Calley refused to align himself with Trump. Calley renounced his support for Trump after audio of Trump bragging about groping women came out during the 2016 election.

Outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder has endorsed Calley, but that may not be enough, as Schuette regularly reminds voters he received the president’s endorsement. Schuette is currently leading polls.

On the Democratic side in the Michigan gubernatorial race, former Michigan Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer is the front-runner. Abdul El-Sayed, Detroit’s former health director, is a progressive favorite and has been compared with former President Barack Obama for his eloquence in speeches. If elected, El-Sayed would be the country’s first Muslim governor.

Entrepreneur Shri Thanedar is also running on a progressive platform. He spent at least $1.2 million on TV ads as of March — far more than his opponents — and has invested nearly $6 million of his own money into his campaign. However, Thanedar’s past political activity haunts him, including his donation to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, and his attendance at a 2016 rally supporting Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Florida: Aug. 28

Multiple candidates from both parties are eyeing the Florida governor’s mansion. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was initially favored to take the GOP primary, but Trump’s endorsement of Rep. Ron DeSantis could propel him to victory instead. A July poll showed that DeSantis has overtaken Putnam.

Putnam has said he supports Trump’s policies, but could continue to struggle. Trump is scheduled to appear at a rally for DeSantis on July 31.

The Democratic primary is wide open, with former Rep. Gwen Graham, businessman Chris King, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine running. 

Graham, a moderate, has emphasized that it’s “Gwen and the men” in the race, positioning herself among a record number of women running for office in this year’s elections.

Levine is currently the front-runner, in part because of a hefty amount of his own money he’s thrown into the campaign. And while the energetic Gillum holds strong positions that are attractive to progressives, his city hall was wracked by an FBI probe that could call his ethics and leadership into question.

Finding The Next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

After Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning defeat of Crowley, a powerful Democratic leader who had been mentioned as a future speaker of the House, other progressive candidates are trying to follow suit. 

Missouri: Aug. 7

In Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, Cori Bush is challenging longtime Rep. William Lacy Clay. Bush is backed by Brand New Congress, the same group that helped propel Ocasio-Cortez to victory. Bush was one of the first people Ocasio-Cortez thanked after she won, and Ocasio-Cortez has stumped for her friend in Missouri.

Bush, a registered nurse and pastor, has called for Medicare for all, criminal justice reform and raising the minimum wage. But Clay, armed with more money than his opponent and a record of never losing an election, remains confident.

Delaware: Sept. 6

In Delaware, Kerri Harris, backed by the same Justice Democrats that helped Ocasio-Cortez win, is looking to unseat Sen. Tom Carper (D). Harris could be the first woman, the first openly lesbian candidate and the first African-American to serve as a Delaware senator. A 39-year-old Air Force veteran, Harris is running on a progressive platform calling for universal Medicare, more Wall Street oversight and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Harris has said that Carper is beholden to corporate interests. The senator’s vote to confirm Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a D.C. circuit court judge in 2006 could hurt his re-election chances, but he said he will not confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Massachusetts: Sept. 4

Three newcomer women are challenging Massachusetts Democratic incumbents. Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, an African-American Muslim lawyer, is hoping to take Rep. Richard Neal’s seat in the 1st District. Amatul-Wadud has portrayed Neal as someone who works for national donors instead of his constituents. Like Ocasio-Cortez, she has rejected corporate campaign money. Neal, first elected in 1988, is the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and has largely focused on economic policy. 

In the Massachussetts 7th District, Ayanna Pressley is running against Rep. Mike Capuano in the Democratic primary. Pressley is the first woman of color to be elected to Boston City Council. Though Pressley says she would bring a fresh perspective to Congress, Capuano has a solid legislative record and seniority in the House. Capuano is well liked among constituents and is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

In the neighboring 8th District, game developer Brianna Wu is seeking to beat Rep. Stephen Lynch by championing her experience in cybersecurity and technology amid mounting concerns about cybersecurity threats from foreign countries. She was one of the women in the video game industry who was targeted in the harassment campaign known as Gamergate.

Lynch is more conservative than Wu. He has defended Trump, voted against Obamacare and described himself as pro-life, though he says he supports Roe v. Wade. Lynch has the strong backing of labor unions (he was the president of The Iron Workers Union), which is crucial in Massachusetts.

A GOP Civil War

A contentious GOP Senate primary in Wisconsin has caused a rift in the state’s Republican Party. Businessman Kevin Nicholson is running against state lawmaker Leah Vukmir in the GOP primary to take on Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D). A huge outside donor, Richard Uihlein, stepped in to help Nicholson’s campaign, while Vukmir has been backed by Gov. Scott Walker’s political machine.

Vukmir has clearly identified herself as part of the establishment and holds official support from the Wisconsin GOP. In contrast, Nicholson has portrayed himself as an outsider and touts his experience as a Marine ― but he still faces doubts because of his past, which includes being president of College Democrats of America and speaking at a Democratic convention.

Races To Replace Retiring Lawmakers

Wisconsin: Aug. 14

Five Republican candidates are hoping to replace House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is not seeking re-election. Former Ryan staffer and University of Wisconsin Regent Bryan Steil, whom Ryan has endorsed, is favored to win.

But Democrats Cathy Myers, a teacher, and Randy Bryce, an ironworker, are competing to flip the seat. They hold similar positions on the issues, though Bryce has positioned himself as the more progressive of the two. 

Bryce has promised to abolish ICE, whereas Myers has said she’ll seek reform. Bryce seems to have the advantage in the primary, having raised six times more in funds for his campaign than Myers. Bryce has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Arizona: Aug. 28

Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R) retirement has opened up a big competition in Arizona. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is on track to beat Deedra Abboud in the Democratic primary.

The Republican primary, featuring former sheriff Joe Arpaio, Rep. Martha McSally and former state Sen. Kelli Ward, could be more interesting. Arpaio and Ward are splitting the conservative vote, which will most likely allow the more moderate McSally to win.

Additionally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has thrown his support behind McSally. McConnell and his allies have already bought ads to portray McSally as stricter on immigration. She previously defended the DACA program and supported a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who illegally came to the U.S., but has since moved to the right on the issue. 

Republicans watching the primaries think that Ward or Arpaio would lose to Sinema. Sinema would face a tough general election campaign against McSally, though a June poll showed her leading McSally for the seat.

Minnesota: Aug. 14

The race to replace Rep. Keith Ellison, who is running for Minnesota attorney general, includes a crowded Democratic primary. State Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of five candidates, won the state party’s endorsement. Omar’s background as a former refugee and the first Somali-American member of the Minnesota Legislature has made her popular nationally.

Also running are former state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who has extensive legislative experience and often clashed with the Republican governor, and state Sen. Patricia Torres Rey, the first Latina woman to serve in the Minnesota Senate. Less experienced candidates include activist Jamal Abdulahi and Frank Drake, both of whom have never held office. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the date of the Minnesota Democratic primary to replace Rep. Keith Ellison as Aug. 24. and the Wisconsin primary as Aug. 14. The article has also been corrected to reflect that Harris is 39, not 31.