On Tuesday, voters in Maryland and Pennsylvania will cast ballots in the presidential primary, but they’ll also be voting in downballot primaries as well. In both states, the Democratic contests for Senate will take center stage, though there are a number of important House primaries and one big mayoral contest in Baltimore as well. Below is our look at the key races to watch. Polls close in both states at 8 PM ET and we’ll be liveblogging the results starting then at Daily Kos Elections.
● PA-Sen (D): Republican Sen. Pat Toomey will be a top Democratic target in the fall, but it’s anyone’s guess who his opponent will be. Ex-Rep. Joe Sestak only lost his 2010 contest with Toomey by 51-49 margin despite the GOP wave, and he’s been preparing for a rematch for years. However, Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, has had an awful relationship with national Democrats for a long time. Six years ago, Sestak went against their wishes and successfully challenged party-switching incumbent Arlen Specter in the primary. While Sestak came close to winning in the general, many Democrats are convinced that he ran an amateurish campaign that cost them a victory. Those same operatives are also skeptical of Sestak’s 2016 campaign, arguing that he’s relying too much on family members instead of professional staff and wasting time on stunts like his 2015 march across the state that few voters remembered months later.
Democratic insiders spent months looking for an alternative to Sestak and finally recruited Katie McGinty, who was serving as Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff. McGinty had only run for office once before, taking just 8 percent in the 2014 gubernatorial primary. However, McGinty has outraised Sestak since she got into the race, and she’s earned endorsements from President Barack Obama, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Wolf, Sen. Bob Casey, EMILY’s List, and numerous unions.
EMILY has spent almost $2 million on ads for McGinty, while the DSCC has also taken the rare step of spending millions in a primary, also on McGinty’s behalf. Sestak has been getting help from a mystery super PAC called Accountable Leadership, but he’s definitely been outspent. However, many Democratic voters favorably remember Sestak from his last campaign and want to give him another shot. What little polling we’ve seen has been decidedly mixed, with a couple of surveys suggesting a McGinty surge but two others showing Sestak still on top, which is where he’d been the whole race. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman is also in the mix, but he’s raised little money and hasn’t polled well. Whoever emerges with the Democratic nod will need to quickly prepare for a tough fight with Toomey, who has amassed a giant war chest and worked hard to dispel his old far-right image.
● MD-Sen (D): Longtime Sen. Barbara Mikulski is retiring, and there’s a competitive Democratic primary to succeed her. Both Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards represent House seats in the DC suburbs, but they’re running very different campaigns. Van Hollen, who is white, has the support of outgoing Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid and many local Maryland power players, and he’s decisively outspent Edwards on the airwaves. Edwards, who is black, is running as the more progressive outsider candidate, and EMILY’s List has spent millions on ads for her. A few polls, including a Van Hollen internal from a few weeks ago, showed a tight race.
However, the race took a dramatic turn in the last two weeks. A pro-Edwards group called Working For Us ran an ad focusing on gun violence that featured a clip of Barack Obama tearfully talking about the children who were murdered at Sandy Hook in 2012; the narrator then charged that "Chris Van Hollen met with NRA lobbyists to craft a loophole that would let the NRA skirt a new campaign finance law." The White House was not happy with Obama's appearance in the ad, nor with the implication that Van Hollen had sided with the NRA over Democrats (while Van Hollen and other House Democrats added an exemption for the NRA into a 2010 campaign finance bill to mitigate the effects of the Citizens United ruling, they had the Obama administration's support), and they called for the spot to be taken down.
The president has not taken sides in this primary and the White House didn’t publicly blame Edwards for the ad, but Van Hollen didn’t waste time running a spot hitting Edwards over the incident. Two recent polls show Van Hollen with decisive leads, though we still only have limited data here. The Democratic nominee should have no trouble winning in this solidly blue state in November.
● MD-04 (D): Three notable candidates are competing to succeed Donna Edwards in this safely blue suburban DC seat. Ex-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who was the Democrats’ unsuccessful gubernatorial nominee in 2014, entered the race with plenty of name recognition. However, many Democrats feel that Brown ran a weak race last cycle, and they’ve been reluctant to help him. Brown’s fundraising has not been good, but his decision to loan his campaign $400,000 of his own money has allowed him to outspend his rivals late in the contest.
Glenn Ivey, the former state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, is also seeking this seat. Ivey is backed by his longtime friend, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. (Most of the district’s Democrats live in Prince George’s.) Also in the race is state Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk. African Americans outnumber Latinos 52-16 in this seat (Brown and Ivey are black while Peña-Melnyk is Hispanic), though Peña-Melnyk may benefit from being the only woman in the contest.
● MD-08 (D): This is the most expensive House race in America, and you can thank one man for it. David Trone, who owns a chain of wine stores, has spent at least $12.4 million of his own money in the last few months. Even after adjusting for inflation, no other candidate in American history has spent this much of his or her personal fortune on a House race. Trone has been airing ad after ad after ad in his quest to win the Democratic nomination for this safely blue suburban DC seat left open by Chris Van Hollen. Trone argues in his numerous commercials that unlike his opponents, he won’t be in the pocket of special interests.
Two of Trone's rivals, state Sen. Jamie Raskin and ex-Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews (the wife of MSNBC host Chris Matthews), have spent a credible amount of money, though there’s a chance they’re simply getting drowned out by Trone. Raskin’s ads have been emphasizing his progressive record, while Matthews has largely focused on gun violence.
Trone's own poll from mid-March, taken after he'd already spent a few million, showed Raskin leading him 30-25, with Matthews not far behind at 21. A Matthews poll from around the same time gave Raskin a 31-28 lead over her, with Trone all the way back at 13. However, we don't have any data more recent than that, and with the heavy spending in this race, those numbers are likely out of date. A few other candidates, including former Obama administration official Will Jawando and state Dels. Kumar Barve and Ana Sol Gutierrez, are running, but it doesn’t look like they’ll have much impact in the end.
● Baltimore, MD Mayor (D): After last year’s riots following the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray in police custody, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake chose not to seek re-election. There’s a large Democratic field, and it only takes a simple plurality to secure the nomination, which is tantamount to election in this heavily Democratic city. What limited polling there is shows state Sen. Catherine Pugh and ex-Mayor Shelia Dixon far ahead of their numerous rivals. In the final weeks of the campaign, Pugh received some important endorsements, including one from respected Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings. Political elites have been more wary of Dixon, who resigned as mayor in 2010 after she was convicted of stealing gift cards that were supposed to help needy families. The only recent poll gave Pugh a 31-25 lead on Dixon.
● PA-02 (D): Last summer, Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah was indicted on corruption charges, with prosecutors alleging, among other things, that Fattah fraudulently tried to conceal campaign debts and even tried to steer public money to pay off private debts to one of his creditors. Fattah nevertheless insisted on seeking re-election in this safely blue Philadelphia seat, and unsurprisingly, he’s drawn a few primary challengers.
Fattah’s main foe is state Rep. Dwight Evans, a longtime power player in Northwest Philadelphia. Evans has the support of Gov. Tom Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and ex-Gov. Ed Rendell. Evans has been airing ads, though he’s chosen to stay positive and not hit Fattah over his legal issues. Fattah has raised and spent very little money, though he still has the support of some local ward leaders and unions. Two other candidates, ward leader Dan Muroff and local township commissioner Brian Gordon, are also running, and while they likely can’t win, they could take some critical anti-Fattah votes from Evans.
● PA-07 (D): Republican Rep. Pat Meehan hasn't had any trouble winning this 50-49 Romney seat in suburban Philadelphia, but national Democrats are hopeful that pastor Bill Golderer can put up a fight. Golderer, who founded a Philadelphia-area church and helped revitalize another, needs to get past 2014 nominee Mary Ellen Balchunis first. Balchunis badly lost to Meehan two years ago and has little money, but she's won endorsements from the county Democratic organizations, which could cause Golderer problems on Tuesday.
● PA-08 (D): Sticking to a term limits pledge, Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick is retiring from this suburban Philadelphia swing seat and his brother, former FBI agent Brian Fitzpatrick, is hoping to succeed him. Fitzpatrick faces little competition in the GOP primary, but there’s an expensive duel on the Democratic side. Businesswoman Shaughnessy Naughton came close to winning the nomination last cycle, and she’s raised much more money this time around. However, state Rep. Steve Santarsiero has numerous labor groups on his side. Naughton has outspent Santarsiero, though Santarsiero’s initially weak fundraising has improved over the course of the race. The primary took a nasty turn in the final week, with each Democrat airing an ad against the other.
● PA-09 (R): After a decade of easy wins, powerful House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster only took 53 percent of the vote in the 2014 GOP primary for this safely red seat. Shuster’s record of securing appropriations for his rural Altoona-area district hasn’t played so well in the tea party era, and one of Shuster’s 2014 foes, businessman Art Halvorson, is running again. Shuster has spent heavily on ads touting his conservative credentials, and the American Action Network, which is close to House leadership, has also run commercials for him; Halvorson once again has been badly outspent.
However, Shuster also earned some bad headlines over the last year after he helped pass a bill favorable to the airline industry while dating an airline lobbyist, and the story hasn't gone away. Halvorson is Shuster’s only opponent this time, so if the incumbent does just a little worse than he did in 2014, there won’t be a third candidate to split the anti-Shuster vote and save him.
● PA-16 (R): Rep. Joe Pitts is retiring from this red seat in Lancaster County (just to the west of Philadelphia), and state Sen. Lloyd Smucker managed to deter most Republicans from running. However, businessman Chet Beiler, who happens to be Smucker’s second cousin, is also running. Beiler has largely self-funded his campaign, and he managed to outspend Smucker in the leadup to the primary. Beiler is portraying Smucker as a dreaded moderate while arguing that he’s the clear conservative choice. Smucker, by contrast, has focused on a 2000 election law violation from Beiler’s time as Lancaster County party chair. The Republican nominee shouldn’t have much trouble in the fall, though this 52-46 Romney seat could be competitive for Democrat Christina Hartman if there’s a blue wave.