Election 2020

5 Big Races to Watch in Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania Tonight

The second round of 2018 May primaries takes place tonight. Democrats and Republicans in Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania will cast their votes to determine the face of their local parties — and these selections can have national ramifications.

Competitive primaries include races for the House of Representatives in Nebraska and Pennsylvania, a U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, and governor’s races in all four states.

Below follow five key races and what they mean for the Republican and Democratic Parties.

1. Idaho’s primaries for Governor.

Idaho Republicans face a choice between an establishment candidate, a wealthy businessman, and a conservative champion. Gov. Butch Otter (R-Idaho), first elected in 2006, will not seek a fourth term.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who has served under Otter since 2009, represents the GOP establishment, and has racked up political endorsements from Otter and from many big business interests. While conservative, he has been billed as a “pragmatist” on environmental and education issues. In the last few weeks, however, he has attacked the competition as “liberal” on immigration.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) is a former immigration lawyer finishing up his fourth term in the House of Representatives. A conservative stalwart, he founded the conservative Freedom Caucus. Labrador champions social conservatism, small government, school choice, and a tough immigration stance. He firmly opposes Obamacare and has pledged to overturn a Medicaid expansion initiative even if voters passed it in November.

Tommy Ahlquist, a former physician and wealthy commercial real estate developer, set a new state record for the most cash raised in a year for a governor’s race. An outsider, Ahlquist has outspent the other two, pouring $2.16 million into the race, $1.87 million of which came from his own pocket.

Little raised more than $1.2 million in 2018, with an $800,000 loan. Labrador has spent the least at $471,296. None of these candidates backed Donald Trump in Idaho’s 2016 primary, and Ahlquist — who claims the Trump-style “outsider” mantle — did not even vote for Trump in the general election.

The Republican candidate is likely to win in this R+34 state, but the Democratic primary might prove quite revealing. On the left, businessman A.J. Balukoff, who was the Democratic nominee in 2014, represents the more mainstream compromising Democrat. Idaho Democrats largely back him, but national liberal organizations like Planned Parenthood and Democracy for America endorsed his competition, state Rep. Paulette Jordan, who would be Idaho’s first female governor and the first female Native American governor in U.S. history.

While neither Balukoff nor Jordan would likely prevail in November, their race should reveal something important about which side of the Democratic Party can prevail in red states: the national identity politics branch or the local organization.

2. Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District.

Like Idaho, Nebraska is a solid red state (R+27) where Democrats are not likely to defeat Republicans in the races for U.S. Senate and governor. Both Democratic primaries are not particularly competitive, but the 2nd Congressional District proves interesting.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) represents an R+6 district, but he only won by 1 percent against then-Rep. Brad Ashford (D-Neb.). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have endorsed Ashford, and he has raised $571,000.

Many state and local leaders have endorsed Ashford’s competition, nonprofit executive Kara Eastman, who has wholeheartedly endorsed the anti-Trump #Resistance. Eastman has endorsed the single-payer healthcare system proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), while Ashford is campaigning on compromise.


3. Oregon’s Republican primary for Governor.

Oregon is a blue state, but Democrat Governor John Kitzhaber resigned amid a corruption scandal in 2015 and his replacement, Kate Brown, has a 45 percent approval rating amid a budget crisis. Republicans hope that Oregonians are ready for a change after 32 years, even though Trump is unpopular in this liberal state.

State Rep. Knute Buehler has long been considered the Republican frontrunner, but the primary may be tighter than previously expected. Buehler has sold out conservatives on abortion, sanctuary cities, and gun control — in an attempt to win in a blue state.

Sam Carpenter, a consultant, adopted the slogan “Make Oregon Great Again” and teamed up with former Navy Pilot Greg Wooldridge to attack Buehler. In response, the establishment candidate spent twice as much money in broadcast advertising as his opponents, combined. The more liberal Buehler may be the only one who can defeat Brown in November, but Republicans will have to decide if his liberal positions are acceptable.

4. The Pennsylvania Republican primary for Governor.

Three Republicans are facing off to challenge Governor Tom Wolf (D-Pa.) in November, and the primary has become particularly bloody.

Health care consultant Paul Mango launched a wide-ranging attack ad against state Sen. Scott Wagner, calling him a “slumlord,” a “sleazy bail bondsman,” “toxic,” “greedy,” and a “deadbeat dad.”

The state GOP, which had formally endorsed Wagner, called on Mango to pull the ad, but he refused. Wagner’s daughter Katherine filmed an ad attacking Mango as a “disgrace.” “Dragging me into his dirty campaign is beyond the bounds of decency,” the daughter declared. “Mr. Mango, you’re not half the man my father is. Take down your disgusting ads and apologize.”

Amid this brutal onslaught, attorney Laura Ellsworth has launched a bid to pull through the negativity. While she has experienced an impressive launch in the polls, she still stands in third (18 percent) behind Wagner (37 percent) and Mango (23 percent).

Each candidate stands for broad conservative positions: against abortion, for the Second Amendment, for school choice, and for smaller government. Wagner supports increasing the minimum wage, however, while Mango opposes Right to Work. Ellsworth and Wagner support anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, while Mango warned that such laws might compromise freedom of conscience. Ellsworth did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016, but wrote in Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Polls have shown that Wagner enjoys the strongest position against Gov. Wolf, but every candidate starts with a disadvantage against the incumbent.

5. Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District.

Pennsylvania has many competitive U.S. House of Representatives races this year, since the state’s Supreme Court struck down the Republican-drawn congressional map and imposed one much friendlier to Democrats. This move essentially reset the House races this year. A full seven of the 18 congressional districts have no incumbent running. The state has no fewer than 21 contested congressional primaries, with a dizzying 84 candidates.

Perhaps the most interesting race may be the 7th Congressional District, most specifically in the Democratic primary.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli is a vanishing breed: a pro-life Democrat on guard against “illegal aliens” and “the far left” who sought a job in the Trump administration! He has attacked the far left for promising “free tuition, free health care, free lunches, free everything.” In short, he represents a Democratic Party that has woken up, realized how bad socialism and identity politics are for the country, and puts America ahead of anti-American ideology.

Democrats may not like Morganelli, but they seem unable to agree on anyone else. The abortion group Emily’s List has fallen behind Allentown City Solicitor Susan Wild. Bernie Sanders has endorsed pastor Greg Edwards, who has raised the most cash.

The 7th district voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump (48.7 percent fo 47.6 percent), but the state only has a D+0.04 tilt. Marty Northstein, an Olympic gold medalist in cycling in 2000, faces off against Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning in the GOP primary.

There are many more primaries taking place on May 15, but these should be the most interesting. Will negative ads enable Laura Ellsworth to defeat Wagner and Mango in the Pennsylvania GOP primary for governor? Will a liberal Republican pose a credible threat to Oregon’s Democrat governor? Will Idaho’s GOP favor an establishment Republican, a businessman like Trump, or a stalwart conservative?

Finally, will a Democrat whose openness to conservatism rivals that of Kanye West actually win a Democratic primary in Pennsylvania? Stay tuned to PJ Media’s liveblog to find out.

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