Primary elections 2018: Arizona, Florida, and Oklahoma, explained

Tuesday brings some of the most anticipated primary elections of 2018 when Arizona and Florida go to the polls. Voters will also finally decide who the Republican nominee for governor will be in the Oklahoma runoff.

In Arizona, there’s a contentious Senate primary for Jeff Flake’s open seat between three Republicans: Rep. Martha McSally, Dr. Kelli Ward, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The Democrat in that race, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, is unopposed and therefore sitting back and letting the Republicans duke it out. There’s also a competitive Democratic primary for governor in the state, as well as two closely watched House races.

There’s a whole bunch of competitive races in Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott is vacating the governor’s mansion to run against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. The Senate race will be drama-free on Tuesday, but there will be plenty of excitement in the race to replace Scott. There’s another establishment versus rising progressive Democrat dynamic playing out in the Democratic primary, while Trump-endorsed Rep. Ron DeSantis is running on the Republican side.

Rounding everything out is Oklahoma, where Republicans Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt are facing each other in a runoff primary election for governor.

Here is every August 28 primary election you should know about, briefly explained.

Arizona

Arizona governor primary elections: Democrats want to replace incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks beside President Trump during a dinner with US state governors to discuss border security in May.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Who are the Republicans? Incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

Who are the Democrats? Former Arizona Department of Education official and professor David Garcia, state Sen. Steve Farley, and Kelly Fryer, the CEO of the YWCA Southern Arizona.

What’s the story? It’s looking likely that Ducey will win the Republican primary, despite a challenge. On the Democratic side, Garcia has maintained a steady lead in the polls, with Fryer in second place. Garcia is running as a progressive; he supports Medicare-for-all and campaign finance reform. (He recently pledged to return almost $7,000 worth of campaign contributions he got from individuals identified as lobbyists after promising to take no lobbyist money.)

Ducey’s approval rating has fallen in recent weeks, and he is facing a tough dynamic with angry and fired-up teachers. Arizona was one of the states with teacher protests, with tens of thousands of teachers marching on the state capitol, demanding better pay. With Garcia’s education background and promises to expand access to early childhood education programs, this could be a boost for him.

Arizona Senate primary elections: a wild three-way Republican primary for Jeff Flake’s open Senate seat

Who are the Republicans? Rep. Martha McSally (the first woman combat pilot in American history), Dr. Kelli Ward, and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Ward and Arpaio are both conservative hardliners.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) addresses the media on the way to the House floor in June 2017.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Who is the Democrat? There’s just one Democrat: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. She’s a former Green Party activist who has fashioned herself as a more moderate Democrat who is in the House Blue Dog Coalition.

What’s the story? Arizona is a key pickup opportunity for Democrats after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake announced he wouldn’t seek reelection. Democratic candidate Sinema stands unopposed while there’s a competitive primary on the Republican side. While McSally is considered the frontrunner, there’s also a bitter competition playing out between Ward and Arpaio, two hardline, Trumpy Republicans (remember, Trump pardoned Arpaio earlier this year for criminal contempt of court, a misdemeanor). McSally, meanwhile, is facing questions about her loyalty to Trump — she didn’t endorse him in 2016 but now calls him a “friend.” Trump hasn’t endorsed in the race.

Going into November, this state is definitely in play for Democrats. A hypothetical polling matchup between McSally and Sinema in June and July shows Sinema ahead by 7 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average. But a lot could happen between now and November. Expect this to be a very expensive race.

Arizona First Congressional District: Democrat Tom O’Halleran tries to hang on in Arizona Trump country

Who are the Republicans? Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers, state Sen. Steve Smith, and entrepreneur Tiffany Shedd.

Who is the Democrat? Incumbent Rep. Tom O’Halleran, elected in 2016. O’Halleran used to be a Republican when he was in the Arizona state legislature, but he left the party in 2014 and ran as a Democrat two years later.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) participates in a news conference on DACA legislation earlier this year.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

What’s the story? The First Congressional District is prime southwestern Trump country. It voted for the president over Hillary Clinton in 2016 while also electing O’Halleran as a Democratic congressman. Given O’Halleran’s former position as a Republican and his moderate stance in Congress, he’s the kind of Democrat that can compete in the district.

On the Republican side, there’s a Trump loyalty contest going on. Smith is running on his experience as an elected official, but Rogers is garnering a fair amount of name recognition and is running on her loyalty to the president. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates this district R+2 but so far has placed it in the Likely Democratic category.

Arizona Second Congressional District: two Democrats are duking it out for Martha McSally’s open seat

Who are the Republicans? CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Marquez Peterson, veteran Brandon Martin, former Douglas City Councilor Danny Morales, and former Peace Corps member Casey Welch.

Who are the Democrats? Doctor and former Arizona state Rep. Matt Heinz and former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick are the frontrunners. Kirkpatrick has the backing of the DCCC, while Heinz was the Democratic nominee for the district in 2016.

Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick (right) talks with Democratic opponent Dr. Matt Heinz at a campaign office opening in Tucson, Arizona, in 2016.
Rick Scuteri/AP

What’s the story? This is an open seat now that Rep. Martha McSally is running for Senate. The Second Congressional District is very evenly divided between Democratic and Republican voters, making it a key pickup opportunity for Democrats. Cook rates the district R+1 but puts it in the Lean Democratic column.

There’s a bitter fight brewing on the Democratic side of late. Heinz and Kirkpatrick are pretty close in the polls and have been launching negative ads against each other. Heinz recently compared Kirkpatrick’s quest to return to Washington to meth addiction. On the Republican side, Peterson is ahead in the fundraising game — but the Republican primary hasn’t gotten quite as heated.

Florida

Florida governor: the race to replace Rick Scott

Who are the Republicans? Rep. Ron DeSantis and state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam are the two main contenders. DeSantis desperately sought, and outright asked for, President Trump’s endorsement and got it. That might be all you need in a state where you really can’t run too far to the right in a GOP primary. Putnam, the establishment choice, has sought to walk a tightrope of not disavowing Trump entirely while still criticizing DeSantis for being little more than a Trump puppet.

President Trump shakes hands with Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) during a campaign rally at Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa on July 31, 2018.
Evan Vucci/AP

Polling is pretty tight heading into the primary elections, though the Trump endorsement is expected to push DeSantis over the top.

Who are the Democrats? Gwen Graham, a former member of Congress, is the presumed frontrunner. Polling shows her 8 points or more ahead of the three men immediately behind her in the Democratic field. Graham’s dad was a governor and senator, and she has the support of national Democrats like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has attracted a lot of excitement on the left — he supports Medicare-for-all and got the Bernie Sanders endorsement — and some operatives in the state think he could surge late. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and businessman Jeff Greene are also polling in double digits and have a lot of money on hand.

What’s the story? This could be a replay of 2016: Trump-lite DeSantis versus Graham, a center-left woman who isn’t the world’s best retail politician. Any race in Florida these days is going to be close, as in-state operatives constantly remind you. The early general election polling shows the Republicans and Democrats within just a few points of each other. Cook rates it a toss-up.

Florida Senate: it’ll be Rick Scott versus Bill Nelson

Who is the Democrat? Sen. Bill Nelson, first elected in 2000. Noted space traveler.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) speaks with the media before a roundtable meeting in Miami with education leaders from South Florida, in August.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Who is the Republican? There is no drama in Tuesday’s primary: Nelson will face current Gov. Rick Scott.

What’s the story? One of 2018’s most unexpectedly competitive Senate races. Scott is maybe the GOP’s best Senate recruit this cycle: a pretty popular two-term governor with as much money to spend as he wants. His money advantage — he’s outspent Nelson by a 4-to-1 margin thus far — may explain his narrow lead in the polls.

Democrats in the state hope that as Nelson ramps up his own spending, the race will even out. But again, it’s a statewide race in Florida with two credible candidates — it’ll be close. Cook says it’s also a toss-up.

Florida Sixth Congressional District: Ron DeSantis’s empty seat

Who are the Republicans? DeSantis is vacating this seat to run for governor. It’s a competitive race to replace him: Michael Waltz is a combat veteran who’s raised a lot of money, John Ward is a Navy vet who is also fundraising well, and former state Rep. Fred Costello has the endorsement of Florida Attorney General and Trump ally Pat Bondi and the National Rifle Association.

The one survey of the race showed Waltz pretty far ahead at 40 percent, with Ward at 21 percent and Costello at 16. But three-way races with several credible candidates can be hard to forecast.

Who are the Democrats? Nancy Soderberg, former ambassador to the United Nations, is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue list. Stephen Sevigny, a medical radiologist, and attorney John Upchurch are the other Democratic candidates.

Nancy Soderberg speaking in Northern Ireland in June 2013.
Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

Based on the results we’ve seen so far, it would be surprising if Soderberg, the only woman and the only candidate with the national party’s support, didn’t win on Tuesday.

What’s the story? The Sixth is just on the edge of competitiveness, with no incumbent on the ballot. Cook rates the race as Likely Republican and characterizes the district as R+7. Trump won it by 17 points in 2016. It would take a sizable wave for Democrats to win here.

Florida’s Seventh Congressional District: a district Democrats need to hold

Who is the Democrat? Rep. Stephanie Murphy, first elected to Congress in 2016. She is one of the few incumbent Democrats expected to face even a mildly serious challenge in 2018. She does technically face a primary challenger: Chardo Richardson, who is running a lefty campaign.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), walks down the House steps for the 115th Congress freshman class group photo in November 2016.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Who are the Republicans? It is probably a two-person race: state Rep. Mike Miller, first elected in 2014, versus business leader Scott Sturgill. They’ve both raised six figures for their campaigns. Vennia Francois, a first-generation American whose family came to the United States from the Bahamas, is also on the ballot.

What’s the story? In what should be a Democratic wave year, Murphy is probably safe. The district profiles as evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, which explains why it could be competitive, but Clinton beat Trump by 7 points and Murphy has the incumbency advantage. Cooks says it’s a Likely Democratic win.

Florida’s 15th Congressional District: Dennis Ross is retiring

Who are the Republicans? Rep. Dennis Ross is stepping down. Current state Rep. Ross Spano and former state Rep. Neil Combee look like the favorites for the GOP nod to replace him. Spano is the fundraising leader and notably got endorsements from Sen. Marco Rubio and Bondi; Combee likes to tout that he had a position in Trump’s Agriculture Department.

Florida state Reps. Neil Combee (left) and Ross Spano in Tallahassee. The two men are running against each other in the Republican primary.
Steve Cannon/AP

Who are the Democrats? This also appears to be a two-person race: attorney Kristen Carlson versus Navy vet and business executive Andrew Learned. Carlson describes herself as more moderate and got the Emily’s List endorsement, while Learned has said that he would support Medicare-for-all and received the backing of the Indivisible grassroots group.

What’s the story? This is an open seat that leans Republican, according to Cook. The district is R+6, and Trump beat Clinton by 6 points here. But with a big enough wave and a couple of strong Democratic candidates, it is certainly on the battlefield.

Florida’s 16th Congressional District: the vulnerable Vern Buchanan

Who is the Republican? Rep. Vern Buchanan, first elected to Congress in 2005. He voted for Obamacare repeal and the tax bill last year.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) participates in the House Ways and Means Committee meeting in 2012.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Who are the Democrats? David Shapiro, a local attorney, is another name on the DCCC’s Red to Blue battleground list. His opponent is Jan Schneider, who was the Democratic nominee for this district in 2016 and lost to Buchanan by nearly 20 points. She’s running again.

What’s the story? Election forecasters like Cook have this race in the Lean Republican category. It’s an R+7 district that Trump won by 10 points in 2016. But Buchanan faced some heat for buying a yacht on the same day that Republicans passed their tax bill, and Trump is not especially popular here now. Combined with Shapiro’s strong fundraising, you can see why the 16th should be competitive.

Florida’s 18th Congressional District: Democrats target Brian Mast

Who is the Republican? Rep. Brian Mast, first elected in 2016, voted for Obamacare repeal and the tax bill. He does have a primary to get through against Second Amendment-loving, environmentally conscious Dave Cummings and physician Mark Freeman, who lost to Mast in the 2016 Republican primary.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) leaves the House Republican Conference in February.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Who are the Democrats? Another DCCC favorite is the presumed frontrunner: Lauren Baer, who worked in Barack Obama’s State Department. She has to beat attorney Pam Keith, who ran and lost in the Democratic primary for US Senate in 2016.

What’s the story? The R+5 18th leans Republican in 2018, Cook says. Trump won it by 9 points in 2016, but Obama did score a narrow win here in 2008. The district is a little more diverse (less than 75 percent white), and Mast has only been in Congress for one term.

Florida’s 25th Congressional District: Mario Diaz-Balart versus Mary Barzee Flores

Who is the Republican? Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is a noted moderate in the Republican caucus: He voted for Obamacare repeal and the tax bill, but he breaks from his party often on immigration.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) leaves a House Republican Conference meeting in 2015.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Who is the Democrat? There is no primary to speak of on Tuesday: Mary Barzee Flores, a former federal judge, is running unopposed.

What’s the story? This is an interesting collision of national headwinds with a particularly strong GOP incumbent. There is a simple way to understand the Florida 25th: Hillary Clinton nearly beat Donald Trump here, losing by just 2 points, but Diaz-Balart won by 25 points in his reelection bid. The question is whether the national environment becomes too toxic even for an entrenched moderate Republican to survive in this R+4 district.

Florida’s 26th Congressional District: Democrats want to oust Carlos Curbelo

Who is the Republican? Incumbent Rep. Carlos Curbelo, elected in 2014.

Who are the Democrats? DCCC-backed candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who works in nonprofits, and Ret. Navy Commander Demetries Grimes.

Surrounded by family and supporters, Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (left) announces she is running against Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Miami in August 2017.
Jose A. Iglesias/El Nuevo Herald/TNS via Getty Images

What’s the story? Curbelo has represented this D+6 rated district since 2015 and was reelected even as the district voted for Hillary Clinton by 16 points in 2016. He’s a moderate Republican who has made headlines trying (and failing) to spur action on immigration reform within the House GOP. Democrats badly want to flip this seat, and they’re planning to go after his record on immigration, tax cuts, and health care.

Mucarsel-Powell is an immigrant from Ecuador who has been hitting Curbelo hard on the issue of immigration. But she is also facing questions about her husband’s financial ties to wealthy Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky. The Democrat has shrugged off the reports as old news and said it has nothing to do with her campaign.

Florida’s 27th Congressional District: a massive field of candidates line up for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s open seat

Who are the Republicans? Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, former Vice Mayor of Doral Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera, veteran Elizabeth Adadi, songwriter and Latin Grammy award-winner Angie Chirino, veteran and entrepreneur Michael Ohevzion, educator Maria Peiro, journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, and documentary filmmaker Gina Sosa.

Who are the Democrats? Bill Clinton’s former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, state Rep. David Richardson, former Miami Herald reporter Matt Haggman, Miami Beach Commissioner Rosen Gonzalez, and former University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala sits with former US Sen. Bob Dole as President George W. Bush speaks in the Rose Garden in 2007.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

What’s the story? Florida’s 27th District in Miami is rated D+5 by Cook, and it voted for Hillary Clinton by a whopping 20 points in 2016. That was enough to make incumbent Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen head for the exits. This is a very good pickup opportunity for Democrats, but first they have to choose a nominee from a five-person field. Shalala is looking like the Democratic frontrunner, but she’s fielding serious challenges from Richardson and Haggman.

Meanwhile, there’s an absolutely massive field of Republicans, none of which have amassed serious name recognition or funding. Some more established Republicans have dropped out or declined to run because the challenge seems so daunting. Cook puts this race in the Lean Democratic category.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma governor race: Republicans Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt are facing each other in a runoff election

Who are the Republicans? Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa business executive Kevin Stitt. Cornett has leaned into his government experience, while Stitt is running as more of an outsider.

Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City speaks at a press conference in 2013.
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Who is the Democrat? Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson already won the Democratic primary in June.

What’s the story? Current Republican incumbent Gov. Mary Fallin is term-limited. Cornett and Stitt emerged out of a crowded, 10-person primary to replace her, but they will first compete in a Tuesday runoff. Fallin is pretty unpopular, given her botched oversight of the state budget, which resulted in drastic cuts to public school funding. Oklahoma is one of the states that saw teacher strikes protesting low pay and spending cuts.

Whoever wins on Tuesday will face Edmondson, the scion of an Oklahoma political family. The Democrat unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2010 and is trying again. He easily clinched the Democratic nomination but will face a much tougher battle in the general election, given how Republican the state is. Cook rates this race Solid Republican.

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