On Tuesday, voters in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin will cast ballots for their state’s downballot primaries. Below is our look at the key races to watch. The first polls will close at 7 PM ET in Vermont, and as always, we’ll be liveblogging all the results at Daily Kos Elections and tweeting as well.
● MN-02 (R): Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by just a 0.1 percent margin in this suburban Minneapolis swing seat, but Democrats have never had much luck going after Republican Rep. John Kline. However, Kline finally decided to retire this cycle, and a disastrous GOP candidate may cost Team Red everything here if he wins the primary.
Former conservative radio host Jason Lewis is not the GOP’s ideal choice, but he’s a Democratic opposition researcher’s dream. In his long career, Lewis has said, among other things, that the “white population" has been "committing cultural suicide” by not reproducing fast enough; that rape allegations come out of consensual sex “all the time;"and perhaps best of all:
“You've got a vast majority of young single women who couldn't explain to you what GDP means. You know what they care about? They care about abortion. They care about abortion and gay marriage. They care about 'The View.' They are non-thinking.”
However, despite—or perhaps because of—his appalling commentary, Lewis won the state party's endorsement in May. That's not the same thing as winning the Republican nomination, but many voters and elected officials take the endorsement process very seriously, and many candidates often pledge to drop out if they aren’t chosen by the party.
Some, however, invariably refuse to abide by the results of the convention and forge on to the primary, which is precisely what happened here. Businesswoman Darlene Miller did just that, with the the support of Kline, who has starred in a TV ad for her. But neither Miller nor Lewis has raised or spent a massive amount of cash: From July 1 to 20, Miller outspent Lewis just $65,000 to $37,000.
A third candidate, ex-state Sen. John Howe, also stuck around after the convention, but he seems to have given up. Howe has spent very little, and while he initially loaned his campaign $643,000, he quietly repaid himself $250,000 of it before the primary. That’s left this largely a race between Miller and Lewis, but given the grassroots enthusiasm Lewis’ reptilian mouth has earned him, he stands a very good chance of winning among Republicans a second time.
But whoever emerges as the GOP nominee faces Democrat Angie Craig, a wealthy former healthcare executive who has stockpiled a huge $1.8 million warchest, far more than all the Republicans combined. If Miller makes it through the primary, national Republicans are likely to help her raise cash for what will be a tough race. However, if they have to deal with Lewis, they may just focus their attention elsewhere.
● VT-Gov (D & R): After barely winning re-election in 2014, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin is retiring, and both parties have primaries to succeed him. On the Democratic side, ex-state Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter and former state Sen. Matt Dunne, who took a close fourth place in the 2010 primary, look like the main candidates. Ex-state Sen. Peter Galbraith, who has also served as a diplomat, is also in, but he doesn’t have many major allies or the same amount of resources as Minter or Dunne. Minter has focused on her work helping the state recover from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, while Dunne says he will bring Sen. Bernie Sanders’ revolution to Vermont. (Sanders is not publicly supporting anyone here.)
The final week of the contest has been dominated by a nasty controversy over, of all things, wind energy. Dunne angered environmentalists when he called for allowing towns to hold referendums to veto wind power projects. Dunne then argued that his stance amounted to the same as Shumlin's own, but the governor quickly rejecting that assertion and all but accused Dunne of lying. The contest wrapped up in bizarre fashion with Galbraith, who had oddly enough praised Dunne’s about-face on wind power, berating him on the record as a “fucker” for going back on a pledge not to self-fund his campaign. We haven’t seen any polls, but after an ugly finish like this, Minter could emerge as the unmuddied alternative.
Vermont is a reliably blue state in federal races, but Republicans have had much more luck in gubernatorial contests. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is the favorite of the GOP establishment, and both parties agree that he can win in November. However, Scott needs to get past wealthy former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman first. Lisman has outspent Scott, and he’s run ads arguing that Scott is too close to Shumlin and has profited from state contracts, but again, there have been no polls of this primary either.
● WI-01 (R): After Speaker Paul Ryan initially refused to support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Sarah Palin made news when she endorsed Paul Nehlen, Ryan’s little-known primary foe. In the past week, Trump drew more attention when he pointedly refused to back Ryan, and even gave Nehlen a shout-out on Twitter. (Trump belatedly announced his support to Ryan in the same way a political hostage declares his love of whatever dictator his kidnappers work for.)
Still, it’s very tough to see Ryan losing. To start with, this southern Wisconsin seat isn’t exactly Trump country: Ted Cruz carried the 1st by a 51-32 margin in the April presidential primary. Ryan has also avoided some of the mistakes that felled then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor two years ago. The speaker has run a series of positive ads ahead of the primary, and unlike Cantor, there’s no indication that Ryan has ignored his constituents. A recent poll from Remington Research shows Ryan defeating Nehlen by a thermonuclear 80-14 margin, meaning that this will either be a quiet primary or one of the single worst polling debacles in world history.
● WI-08 (R): Republican Rep. Reid Ribble is retiring from this competitive Green Bay seat, and two notable Republicans are competing to succeed him. Ribble is supporting Mike Gallagher, a retired Marine who served as Gov. Scott Walker’s foreign policy advisor. Gallagher is well-connected, and he’s decisively outspent state Sen. Frank Lasee (which unfortunately is not pronounced like everyone’s favorite hero dog). The winner will face Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, a top Democratic recruit.