The 2018 primary season roars through Wisconsin and Minnesota, two states where President Trump’s appeal among working-class voters threatens to upend decades long political trends. (Aug. 14)
WASHINGTON — Tuesday’s primaries in four states teed up competitive races this fall while positioning several women candidates to make history.
Here are some takeaways from races in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Connecticut and Vermont:
Game on, Wisconsin
Democrats are energized to make inroads in two key Wisconsin elections, but it won’t be easy.
They nominated iron worker Randy Bryce – known as the “Iron Stache” – to compete for what would be a trophy: retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat, which he has held since 1999.
Bryce, who made a splash last year with his viral campaign announcement video, is in a good financial position to compete, with nearly $1.7 million on hand. But his history of arrests, including operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol in 1998, could be problematic. He also faces a Federal Election Commission complaint from his primary opponent, claiming he converted campaign funds to personal use.
Republicans were eager to pounce on his record.
“You’d need a Boeing 747 to fit all of the baggage Randy Bryce is carrying into November,” said Chris Martin, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman.
Bryce’s GOP opponent University of Wisconsin regent has $630,000. He is Ryan’s former staffer and an attorney for a manufacturing company.
Democrats have long been vying for the chance to take out Wisconsin’s GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who became a national political figure shortly after his first election in 2010 for his plan to eliminate nearly all of public workers’ collective bargaining rights. He has been re-elected twice, including in a recall election forced by Democrats, and is running for a third term.
State Schools Superintendent Tony Evers emerged the winner from a field eight Democratic primary candidates. While analysts say the race leans Republican in the fall, polls suggest Walker is vulnerable.
Tuesday’s primaries positioned several candidates to make history.
Minnesota State Rep. Ilhan Omar, the nation’s first Somali-American legislator who once lived in a Kenyan refugee camp, is now likely to break that same barrier for Congress after winning the Democratic nod to compete for a safe blue House district in Minneapolis. If she wins, Omar and Democrat Rashida Tlaib, who will run unopposed in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District in November, will be the first Muslim women in Congress.
In Connecticut, political newcomer Jahana Hayes, who was the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, defeated former Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman in a two-way Democratic primary for a House seat. If she wins in November, Hayes will be the state’s first black Democrat and first black woman elected to Congress.
And Vermont Democrats made history Tuesday night, nominating Christine Hallquist, the nation’s first transgender gubernatorial candidate from a major political party. Hallquist, a former utility CEO, now faces Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, who is seeking his second term.
Where both parties could flip seats
Tuesday’s primaries teed up four Minnesota House races that are considered toss-ups in November by the non-partisan Cook Political Report. Two are held by Democrats and two by Republicans.
Democratic Reps. Tim Walz and Rep. Rick Nolan left open two of Democrats’ most vulnerable districts in the country – each voted for President Donald Trump – to run for statewide office.
In Walz’s southern Minnesota district, Democrats nominated former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Dan Feehan, while Republicans nominated 2014 and 2016 nominee Jim Hagedorn, who came within a point of beating Walz in 2016.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary nod in Nolan’s Iron Range district went to Nolan’s 2016 campaign manager and former state Rep. Joe Radinovich. Republicans nominated St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber.
Meanwhile, Democrats are making a play for two Republican-held districts – those of GOP Reps. Erik Paulson, whose suburban Minneapolis district Clinton won, and Jason Lewis, who has come under fire recently for making anti-gay and misogynistic comments on radio shows in the past. CNN reported he once complained that it’s no longer acceptable to call women “sluts.”
Democrat Angie Craig, a former medical device executive and openly LGBTQ candidate, was uncontested in her bid to take on Lewis. And Democrat Dean Phillips, a Minnesota liquor heir, will challenge Paulson. Both are on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red-to-Blue” program, which gives top-tier candidates organizational and fundraising support.
Surviving Trump bashing
Wisconsin Republicans were willing to look beyond a recently emerging 2016 video of state GOP Sen. Leah Vukmir bashing President Donald Trump as “offensive to everyone,” even after attack ads portraying her as anti-Trump.
Vukmir beat Marine Corps veteran and first-time candidate Kevin Nicholson for the chance to take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is favored to win in the fall.
GOP voters in Wisconsin overwhelmingly support Trump now, but most didn’t have a favorable view of him back in 2016, voting instead for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the primary.
Vukmir was the establishment favorite endorsed by the state party, while Nicholson portrayed himself as a conservative outsider. He was endorsed by conservative organizations, including Club for Growth, though he was once a rising star in the Democratic Party.
The video of Vukmir at an event hosted by “Never Trumper” Charlie Sykes emerged in an article on Breitbart.com, the conservative website once run by Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon. Vukmir was forced to defend herself against ads from outside groups and a digital ad from Nicholson saying Vukmir was “wrong on Trump.”
Minnesota GOP voters also heard about Trump bashing in the GOP gubernatorial primary between former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, against party’s 2014 nominee, Jeff Johnson, now a county commissioner. But in that case, both candidates took heat for comments in 2016. Pawlenty called him “unhinged and unfit,” and Johnson called him a “jackass.” Johnson won the GOP nod in that race.
Vermont bucks trends
Vermont broke barriers by nominating Hallquist in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
But in a historic year for women candidates, Tuesday’s primaries also ensured the Green Mountain State won’t soon shed its status as the only state that hasn’t sent a woman to the Senate or House.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch won their primaries and neither faces tough opposition in November.
Vermont became the last remaining state with this distinction this year, when Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., was appointed to fill a vacancy in April.
It may seem surprising, given that the state ranks first among state legislatures for its proportion of women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The state has elected a female governor – Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat – and women lieutenant governors among other statewide elective executives. And Kunin is the only woman elected to serve three terms as governor.
Vermont has only one at-large member of Congress. Other states with small delegations have sent women to Congress, but Vermont is not alone in taking its time. Only last year, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester took her oath of office as Delaware’s lone congresswoman, becoming the state’s first African-American and woman to serve in Congress.
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