5 Things to Watch in Tonight's Primaries in Maine, Nev., N.D., S.C., and Va.
Voters in five states will cast ballots in primaries today. Elections in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Virginia will choose Republicans and Democrats to face off in November. The results will determine whether each party has competitive candidates and may predict whether the GOP or the Democrats will pick up seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.
Polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern in South Carolina and Virginia, at 8 p.m. Eastern in Maine, at 9 p.m. Eastern in North Dakota, and at 10 p.m. in Nevada.
Most of these states have interesting and competitive races, but not North Dakota. The Peace Garden State has two key primaries: one for U.S. Senate and another for U.S. House. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) is almost certain to win the Republican primary to face Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and state Sen. Kelly Armstrong is almost certain to win the Republican primary and the general election for Cramer's House seat.
Update: Cramer and Armstrong indeed won.
Here are 5 things to watch in the primaries tonight.
1. Three governor races.
In Maine, where Trump lost by 3 points in 2016, many Republicans and Democrats are running to replace Gov. Paul LePage (R-Nev.). LePage has a negative approval rating (53 percent disapprove, 41 percent approve), and he blocked the Medicaid expansion despite Maine voters supporting a ballot referendum to expand Medicaid in 2017.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills leads the Democratic primary, but former Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, state Sen. Mark Dion, and Iraq war veteran Adam Cote all present credible challenges. Mills has the support of EMILY's List.
On the Republican side, businessman Shawn Moody leads, with former Maine Heath and Human Services Director Mary Mayhew, Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, and State House Minority Leader Ken Fredette not too far behind. National Republicans have weighed in on the race, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) endorsing Fredette, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) endorsing Mason, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich backing Mary Mayhew. Moody has cast himself as the outsider.
Update: Moody won the Republican primary.
In Nevada, Democrats face a contentious primary that could cost them the victory in November. Hillary Clinton won Nevada by 2 points in 2016, but Republicans stand a good chance of replacing term-limited Gov. Brian Sandoval with another of their own. Former U.S. Navy Lieutenant and current Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt leads the GOP primary polls with more than 50 percent and enjoys endorsements from Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and many local sheriffs.
President Donald Trump also endorsed Laxalt, calling him "smart" and predicting he would "be a great Governor ... fight hard to lower your taxes [and be] tough on crime!"
The Democrat primary seems likely to come down to two Clark County commissioners: Steve Sisolak and Christina Giunchigliani. Both have pledged to fight the National Rifle Association (NRA) and President Donald Trump on gun issues.
The 64-year-old Sisolak chairs the Clark County Commission, and outraised his opponents in the primary. The 63-year-old Giunchigliani, a former state legislator and teacher, has painted Sisolak as too moderate, attacking him for receiving an "A-minus" rating from the NRA in 2012. For her part, Giunchigliani received the support of Hillary Clinton, labor unions, the Sierra Club, and EMILY's List.
Sisolak leads in the polls and would present a steeper challenge for Laxalt in November, but Giunchigliani might inspire more Democrats to turn out.
Update: Adam Laxalt won the Republican primary. Sisolak won the Democratic primary.
In deep red South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster (R-S.C.) faces a crowded Republican primary, but he still has the lead in the most recent polls. Trump has endorsed him, while "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson endorsed businessman John Warren. Catherine Templeton, former director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control, also poses a challenge to McMaster.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. James Smith and technology consultant Phil Noble are tied for the lead, with attorney Marguerite Willis close behind. Smith has racked up impressive endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and the Sierra Club. Noble enjoys the support of Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.).
Update: James Smith won the Democratic primary. McMaster and Warren will go to a runoff.
2. Two big Senate races.
In Nevada, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) is the only sitting Republican senator running for re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. President Trump convinced businessman Danny Tarkanian to drop out of the race, leaving Heller the clear favorite in the Republican primary.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) is the clear frontrunner, endorsed by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Unions and various liberal organizations — EMILY's List, End Citizens United, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and the Sierra Club — have united to support her.
Tonight's Nevada primary is less about who wins and more about how much turnout Republicans and Democrats can muster.
Update: Heller and Rosen won their primaries.
In Virginia, three Republicans are running to face off against Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). No Republican has won statewide in Virginia since 2009, and each of the three Republicans running to face Kaine represents a different part of the party.
Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a former candidate for lieutenant governor (2013) and governor (2017), boasts that he was "Trump before Trump was Trump." A longtime immigration hardliner, Stewart chaired Trump's campaign in Virginia during 2016 — until he was fired for protesting the Republican National Committee (RNC). Stewart championed the state's Confederate monuments, despite the white nationalist riots in Charlottesville last year. Fox News host Laura Ingraham and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed him.
State Delegate and former Green Beret Nick Freitas shot to fame after giving an impassioned defense of the NRA shortly after the Parkland shooting on February 14. A libertarian-leaning Republican, he has racked up an impressive list of endorsements, including Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, state Senator Mark Obenshain, Parkland shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv, and local GOP leader and Leadership Institute President Morton Blackwell. Conservative organizations such as FreedomWorks, the National Association for Gun Rights, the NRA, Students for Trump, and Americans for Prosperity have also backed him.
On the social conservative side, the pastor, attorney, and veteran E.W. Jackson has garnered support from the Family Research Council, former Trump assistant Dr. Sebastian Gorka, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, local GOP leader Ken Blackwell, and Rafael Cruz (the father of Sen. Ted Cruz).
Each of the three candidates represents a wing of the party, and each has fared badly when matched up with Sen. Kaine. While Stewart has led many polls, Freitas also has a good shot at winning, and he would likely give Kaine the most difficult challenge in November.
Update: Corey Stewart won the primary.
3. Long-shot House races Democrats are targeting.
Following the questionable "blue wave" theory, Democrats hope to win House seats in congressional districts that voted for Trump. In many cases, this is just wishful thinking, but Americans should have their eyes on some key races that Democrats wish to convince themselves they can win in November.
Virginia is considered the bellwether state for the "blue wave." While the state favored Hillary Clinton by nearly 5 points in 2016, many congressional districts remain deep red.
In Virginia's 5th Congressional District (R+6), where Trump won by 10 points, Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) stepped down, and the Republicans nominated distillery owner Denver Riggleman while Democrats chose reporter Leslie Cockburn, a supporter of Bernie Sanders-style Medicare-for-all. While the parties have their nominees already, turnout for the Senate primary in this district can help gauge enthusiasm for November.
In Virginia's 7th Congressional District, Democrats are facing off for the opportunity to challenge Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) in November. Former CIA operative Abigail Spanberger and retired military Col. Dan Ward are running in a contested primary. While the 7th Congressional District (R+6) went for Trump by 6 points in 2016, it swung to Democrats in the governor's race last year. If Democrats muster more enthusiasm in this race, it may signal some truth to the "blue wave" theory.
Update: Spanberger won the Democratic primary to face Dave Brat in the general election.
Democrats have also eyed South Carolina's 5th Congressional District as a pickup opportunity, although that race may have been wasted thanks to a #MeToo scandal. Democrat candidate Archie Parnell is running to defeat Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.). Norman beat Parnell by 3 points in a special election last year, so Democrats though they could flip the seat this year.
Parnell has vastly more name recognition and campaign funds than the other three Democrats in the race, but he admitted to abusing his ex-wife 45 years ago. According to 1973 divorce records, Parnell's ex-wife accused him of beating her, even using a tire iron to break into an apartment where friends were shielding her from him. The candidate has refused to drop out of the race, despite the national and state Democratic parties calling for him to withdraw and his campaign staff leaving him in droves.
Update: Parnell won by an outstanding 60 percent.
4. Vulnerable Republicans.
In Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, first-term incumbent Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.), a U.S. Navy veteran, faces challenges from both parties. Former James City Council Chairwoman Mary Jones (R) has attacked him from the right, saying he has not been loyal to President Trump.
Businesswoman Elaine Luria and teacher Karen Mallard are fighting for the Democratic nomination, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) endorsed Luria. While the 2nd Districe (R+3) voted for Trump over Clinton by 3 points in 2016, Democrats are banking on the divisive Republican primary opening a door to victory.
Update: Scott Taylor won the Republican primary, Luria won the Democratic primary.
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) represents Virginia's 10th Congressional District (D+1), where Clinton beat Trump by a whopping 10 points. Making her tough position worse, former Air Force officer Shak Hill has attacked her for being insufficiently conservative. Comstock called for Trump to drop out of the presidential race following the Access Hollywood scandal.
Hill attacked Comstock for voting against an amendment that would have barred the Pentagon from paying for transgender "treatments." He described her as a "rabid Never Trumper" and a member of "the swamp." Comstock hit back, calling Hill a "perennial failed candidate."
No fewer than six Democrats are running for a chance to beat Comstock: scientist Julia Biggins, former State Department official Alison Friedman, state Senator Jennifer Wexton, Army veteran Dan Helmer, former Department of Veterans Affairs official Lindsey Davis Stover, and former federal prosecutor Paul Pelletier. Friedman has raised the most money, while Wexton came in second — and has the endorsement of Governor Ralph Northam — and has the highest name recognition.
Update: Wexton won the Democratic primary, Comstock won the Republican primary.
Also notable in the 10th Congressional District, independent Nathan Larson will appear on the ballot. Larson has described himself as "quasi-neoreactionary," and said he is running because voters have become "bored and dissatisfied with politics." He supports white supremacy, opposes the war on drugs, defends the Second Amendment, and advocates for isolationism. He has also expressed concern for the plight of involuntary celibates (or "incels") in a feminist society. He also has identified as a pedophile.
Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) is running for re-election in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District (R+10). The district voted for Trump by 13 points in 2016, and Sandford has criticized some of the president's rhetoric and policies. State Rep. Katie Arrington has challenged him in the Republican primary, attacking him as "a disloyal Never Trumper."
Trump weighed in on the race Tuesday, tweeting his endorsement for Arrington and saying Sanford is "better off in Argentina."
On the Democratic side, candidate Toby Smith declared himself a "protest candidate." Smith said, "I’m protesting the upsurge of racism. I’m protesting the sexism. I’m protesting that the America I know is becoming something very different." Smith's competition, local attorney Joe Cunningham, said he would oppose House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) if he won election to Congress.
Most likely, neither Democrat stands a real chance to defeat Sanford or Arrington in the general election, although the tough Republican primary could give them a slightly greater chance.
Update: Cunningham won the Democratic primary. Arrington won the Republican primary.
5. Close races.
Nevada's 3rd Congressional District should be a true toss-up. Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) has abandoned the seat to run for U.S. Senate, and the Democrats have rallied around Susie Lee. Lee leads in fundraising and endorsements, and enjoys the backing of Rosen, Sen. Harry Reid (R-Nevada), and former Vice President Joe Biden. Executive Jack Love and computer programmer Michael Weiss will likely lose to her tonight.
There are no fewer than 9 Republicans running, but Danny Tarkanian, who dropped out of the Senate race at President Trump's request, will likely prevail. He leads in fundraising, and has the endorsement of Adam Laxalt and the National Right to Life Committee. The NRA endorsed state Senator Scott Hammond.
Rep. Rosen beat Tarkanian for the seat in 2016. Nevada's 3rd Congressional District leans R+2, and Trump won it by one point. Tarkanian may be able to pull off a win in November if he wins tonight.
Update: Susie Lee won the Democratic primary. Tarkanian won the Republican race.
Nevada's 4th Congressional District has gone back and forth between Republicans and Democrats since it was first created in 2010. Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) announced he would not seek re-election, following reports that he had solicited sexual favors from a female staffer. While the district leans D+3, six Republicans and six Democrats have jumped in.
Former Reps. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) and Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.) are favored to win their respective primaries, and due to Kihuen's scandal, Democrats have a slight disadvantage.
Update: Horsford won the Democratic primary. Hardy won the GOP primary.
Maine's 2nd Congressional District (R+2) favored Obama heavily in 2008 and 2012, but Trump won there by 10 points in 2016. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) came under fire for supporting Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
Three Democrats are vying for the chance to face Poliquin. State Rep. Jared Golden, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and former staffer for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), leads in fundraising, along with conservationist Lucas St. Claire, who is the son of Burt's Bees founder Roxanne Quimby. Democrats are reportedly focusing on using health care as a wedge issue to defeat Poliquin.
Upate: Golden won the Democratic primary.
On a side note, Maine is implementing a "ranked choice" voting method, allowing voters to select multiple candidates, assigning them a number. This avoids a runoff, as candidates with the most first and second choice votes will win.