A number of progressive primary candidates — most notably state Rep. Charles Booker challenging retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath in the Kentucky Senate primary and educator Jamaal Bowman running against House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel in New York — could be a test for how progressive candidates of color fare against more moderate candidates.
In New York City, Bowman may have the best chance of replicating progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise 2018 win against a powerful member of Congress. Engel has faced criticism for not spending enough time in his district, which has been hard-hit by Covid-19. Further south in Kentucky, Booker is still considered the underdog candidate in his Senate primary against McGrath, but massive protests over police brutality in Louisville have propelled the young black state lawmaker forward. Kentucky voted for Trump by 30 points in 2016 and may not be the most friendly environment for policies like Medicare-for-all and a Green New Deal. The biggest Democratic win statewide there recently was the successful campaign of Gov. Andy Beshear, who ran on a moderate agenda. But Booker is projecting confidence he can win the primary and beat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (arguably the most powerful man in the Senate) in the general election.
“People are rising up,” Booker told Vox in a recent interview. “They’re looking at structural issues, they’re looking at the fact that poverty is generational and we criminalize poverty. It’s going to surprise folks to know you can lean into issues that address poverty, issues that are progressive, and build an incredible coalition of support.”
The other primary to watch in Kentucky is on the GOP side, where libertarian Rep. Thomas Massie is facing a serious Republican challenger in attorney Todd McMurtry. Massie could be on thin ice this year after Trump called him a “third-rate grandstander” and said he should no longer be in the Republican party after Massie held up a massive coronavirus aid bill by calling for a recorded vote and forcing lawmakers to return to Washington, DC, in the midst of a pandemic.
In Virginia, a slate of Republicans is competing to see who will challenge Sen. Mark Warner in the fall (a seat that’s expected to stay Democratic). Republicans are also vying to take on a handful of moderate House Democrats who flipped districts blue in 2018.
It could take time to know for sure who has won competitive primaries this year. Due to Covid-19, there are huge numbers of absentee votes that need to be counted, meaning some races likely won’t be called on Tuesday night.
Vox is covering the results live, with our partners at Decision Desk HQ.
The primary contest between Democrats Amy McGrath and state Sen. Charles Booker — both vying to compete against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the fall — is without a doubt the marquee race in Kentucky this summer. McGrath is the moderate Marine veteran who has become a fundraising juggernaut, despite narrowly losing a Kentucky House race in 2018, and she has a serious challenge from the more progressive Booker.
While the Senate contest will be the most closely watched race on Tuesday night, there are other primaries playing out for congressional districts around the state. Republicans are competing to be the nominee to try to take down longtime Rep. John Yarmuth, the only Democratic member of the Kentucky congressional delegation and the powerful chairman of the House Committee on the Budget. Democrats and Republicans alike are competing to challenge embattled Rep. Thomas Massie, an outspoken member of the House Freedom Caucus, and there are also primaries in both parties for the Sixth Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Andy Barr.
For more detail on all the state’s most interesting races, Vox has you covered.
Kentucky Democratic Senate and House primaries
Kentucky Republican Senate and House primaries
While the Engel-Bowman showdown may be the most closely watched New York primary this year, it certainly isn’t the only one that’s competitive or interesting. Reps. Yvette Clarke, Carolyn Maloney, and Jerry Nadler are all facing significant challengers, though of those, Clarke’s seat appears to be the only one that might be at risk. And the crowded primaries to fill the open seats of Reps. Jose Serrano and Nita Lowey, neither of whom are running for reelection, have uncertain outcomes. The race in Serrano’s district is an interesting test; it’s a chance for progressive candidates to prove they can win open seats in addition to primarying establishment incumbents.
Many of New York’s congressional districts encompass diverse communities with significant splits along socioeconomic and racial lines, which will also come into play on Tuesday. The 16th District, which Engel represents, contains parts of both the Bronx and Westchester County. And New York’s entire delegation is emblematic of the inequalities of New York: both the richest congressional district in the country — Maloney’s, District 12 — and the poorest — Serrano’s, District 15 — are seeing competitive races right now.
There are also competitive Democratic and Republican House primaries in upstate New York, including both a special election and primary for former Rep. Chris Collins’ open seat in the 27th Congressional District, outside Buffalo.
For more detail on all the state’s most interesting races, read Vox’s coverage here.
New York Democratic primaries
New York Republican primaries
The 2018 midterms saw a number of Virginia battleground House districts flip from red to blue. This year, many of those first-time lawmakers will have to fend off attempts to flip those districts back.
One main Republican House primary to watch is in the state’s Second Congressional District, which was flipped by Rep. Elaine Luria in 2018. Voters will pick Luria’s competitor for the battleground district, which is located on the state’s eastern border encompassing Virginia Beach and Williamsburg. Republicans will also vote on which candidate they’d like to see take on Sen. Mark Warner, who is running for his third term. Republicans in the Seventh Congressional District still have to decide who’s going up against moderate first-term Rep. Abigail Spanberger who flipped Republican David Brat’s seat last cycle, too, but that will happen at a party convention on July 18, rather than a primary.
Democrats, meanwhile, are weighing in on a contested primary in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, an open seat that’s currently held by Rep. Denver Riggleman that has become more competitive because the GOP is running a hardline social conservative this cycle.
For more detail on all the state’s most interesting races, read Vox’s coverage here.
Virginia’s Republican Senate and House primaries
Virginia’s Democratic House primaries
North Carolina 11th Congressional District runoff
On Tuesday, Republican voters in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District will go to the polls — again — to pick a replacement for White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who represented the district in Congress until this year. Though the state held its presidential and congressional primaries on March 3, a crowded field meant that no Republican in the 11th district broke the 30 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff. Now, Republicans Lynda Bennett and Madison Cawthorn will go head to head for the seat.
Bennett led the first round of the primary with 22.7 percent of the vote, but Cawthorn came in a close second with 20.4 percent support. The two candidates represent a generational divide far more than an ideological one — as Roll Call’s Chris Cioffi points out, both are “fiscally conservative, pro-Trump, anti-abortion, and a hard-liner on immigration.” However, Bennett, whom Meadows has endorsed as his successor, is 62, whereas Cawthorn, a motivational speaker, is just 24.
Whoever wins Tuesday will face Democratic nominee Moe Davis for the seat in November, but the true competition is happening today. While North Carolina’s congressional map was redrawn late last year, the Cook Political Report still considers the 11th district to be Solid Republican.
Mississippi Second Congressional District runoff
On Tuesday, two Mississippi Republicans will vie for the chance to challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson in November. In Mississippi’s Second district, Brian Flowers led Thomas Carey in the March 17 primary by less than two points, which could point to a close race in Tuesday’s runoff.
Flowers is a Navy veteran who currently works a nuclear power plant; Carey was a GOP Senate candidate in 2014 who made headlines after he won a tiny fraction of the vote — less than 2 percent — but may have played a role in forcing the race into a runoff.
Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, all signs point to it not being a close race in November. Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee and has served in Congress since 1993, won his district with more than 71 percent of the vote in 2018, and the race isn’t considered competitive by the Cook Political Report.
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