Seven primary races to watch in 2018

Seven primary races to watch in 2018
© Greg Nash

A historic number of candidates and an all-out fight for control of the House means 2018 will feature a number of closely contested primaries. 

Here are seven primaries to watch in the new year.  

Illinois's 3rd District — Rep. Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiLiberal group backs challenger to Engel in Democratic primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Campaigns scale back amid coronavirus threat Dan Lipinski defeated in Illinois House primary MORE (D)

On paper, Lipinski looks to be a sure thing for reelection in his Chicago-land district. He inherited the district from his father in 2005, and he’s rarely faced competitive primaries or difficult general election challenges.

But Lipinski is opposed to abortion rights, a position that has prompted groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America, MoveOn.org and the Human Rights Campaign to support his opponent, Marie Newman. Newman also has support from Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSenate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE (D-N.Y.) through her leadership PAC.

The challenge facing Newman is a steep one — Lipinski is far outpacing Newman in fundraising, and his string of reelection wins suggests his constituents aren’t hungry for change. But the primary is a microcosm of Democrats’ larger battle over abortion, making the race one to watch.

Kentucky’s 6th District — Rep. Andy BarrAndy Hale BarrHouse GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19 Put entrepreneurs, workers and flexibility in next stimulus package McCarthy unveils new GOP-led China task force MORE (R)

This Kentucky district is set for a clash between two strong Democratic candidates looking to win the right to face Barr.

Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Amy McGrath burst onto the scene this year with a viral announcement video that recounted her path to becoming one of the first female Marine combat fighter pilots. The video helped her net more than $800,000 through the first three fundraising quarters.

But McGrath no longer has the race to herself now that Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has jumped in. Gray lost a Senate bid last year against Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSecond senator tests positive for coronavirus antibodies Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Tim Kaine tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies MORE (R) by 14 points, but he did narrowly win the 6th district during that race, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. His support within the district’s largest city will be an electoral asset. 

Barr’s district is considered a relatively safe one for Republicans — Trump won the seat by 15 points in 2016. But Democrats are hopeful that whoever makes it through the May 22 primary could give Barr a race.

North Carolina’s 9th District — Rep. Robert PittengerRobert Miller PittengerBottom Line North Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race North Carolina board calls for new election in contested House race MORE (R)

Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon has mostly avoided backing primary challenges to House Republicans. But that might change in North Carolina’s 9th district, where Republicans will go to the polls on May 8.

Pittenger faces Mark Harris, a former pastor who lost to Pittenger in a 2016 primary by just 134 votes.

Bannon’s camp has considered backing Harris’s campaign, while House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump to return to Florida for rescheduled SpaceX launch Pence names new press secretary House leaders take vote-counting operations online MORE has not ruled out endorsing Harris in his bid, according to a source familiar with the situation. The incumbent has responded by touting his votes in support of the Trump agenda.

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Pittenger has a narrow lead in cash on hand, with $263,762 compared to Harris’s $184,000. While it’s always difficult to knock off an incumbent, Harris is in good position for another close race.

This is another relatively safe seat for the GOP, one Trump won by about 11 points. But the red-leaning seat won’t be a general election cakewalk, with Democrat Daniel McCready gearing up for a fight with $700,000 in the bank.

Texas’s 7th District — Rep. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonBottom line Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm Bottom line MORE (R)

This Houston-area district has had only three representatives since the 1966 elections — all Republicans. Culberson himself has held the district since 2001. Yet Democrats feel hopeful that the party’s improved standing in the suburbs can put this district into play.

Both of the district’s top Democratic challengers — Alexander Triantaphyllis and Elizabeth Pannill Fletcher — have more money in their campaign accounts than Culberson.

Triantaphyllis has $535,500 banked away, while Pannill Fletcher has $403,200. Culberson closed the third fundraising quarter with $389,00 in his account.

On top of that, The New York Times reported last week that Culberson still lacks a full-time campaign manager, adding that “the ingredients seem right for an upset.”

Triantaphyllis, a Harvard Law educated lawyer, founded a Houston nonprofit that provided services for immigrants and refugees. Pannill Fletcher, who has been endorsed by pro-abortion rights group EMILY’s List, is a trial lawyer who has received accolades in her own state.

Democratic voters will choose between the field of candidates on March 5.

Minnesota's 1st District — Open

This southern Minnesota district is one of the dozen Democrat-held seats that Trump won in 2016. And longtime Rep. Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzOmar says some protestors 'felt terrorized by the presence of tanks,' National Guard Trump says National Guard should have been used in Minneapolis two days ago: 'No games' Military units placed on four-hour recall status to assist Minnesota authorities with protests MORE’s (D-Minn.) decision to run for governor gives Republicans a great shot to take back the district, which Trump won by 15 points.

The GOP primary features a familiar face in Jim Hagedorn, whose father served in Congress in the 1970s and early 1980s. The younger Hagedorn has run against Walz twice — losing handily in 2014, before falling short by less than 3,000 votes in 2016. 

Hagedorn will face state Sen. Carla Nelson, who’s served in the state Senate leadership, in the primary. Nelson hasn’t been in the race long enough to file a campaign finance report, but is expected to mount a serious campaign against Hagedorn, who has $237,000 in his account. 

Democrats have a wide-open field, with eight candidates vying in the Aug. 14 primary. 

Four Democratic candidates had $100,000 or more in their campaign accounts, as of October.

Virginia’s 10th District — Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockLive coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings Gun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats MORE (R)

Comstock has been targeted by Democrats since her first election in 2014, but so far she’s managed to hang on in her Northern Virginia swing district. 

Democrats view this district as one of their top offensive opportunities, since suburban voters appear to be trending blue in recent elections. Trump lost the district by 10 points, while the Republican gubernatorial nominee lost the seat by 12 points last month, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch

But Comstock has won in difficult environments before, outpacing Trump by 16 points in 2016. Democrats face a crowded and expensive primary that could lead to uncertainty — or at least bleed some campaign accounts ahead of the general election. 

Four Democrats have more than $200,000 in their accounts, with anti-human trafficking activist Alison Friedman leading the fundraising race with $553,000 in the bank. Army Veteran Daniel Helmer, whose light-hearted ad spoofing “Top Gun” went viral earlier this year, follows with $398,000. 

Primary day in Virginia is June 12.

Florida’s 27 District — Open

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenWomen are refusing to take the backseat in politics, especially Latinas Watchdog groups call for investigation into Ros-Lehtinen's foreign lobbying work Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE’s decision to retire next year set off a scramble for this Democratic-leaning district that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Van Jones: A 'white, liberal Hillary Clinton supporter' can pose a greater threat to black Americans than the KKK Taylor Swift slams Trump tweet: 'You have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence?' MORE won by 20 points in 2016.  

On the GOP side, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro is beginning to pull away. He has a strong fundraising lead over the GOP field, one of his top opponents dropped out in November and another candidate drew headlines for her assertion aliens visited her. 

The Democratic primary is less certain ahead of the Aug. 28 primary. Six candidates have $200,000 or more in their campaign accounts, keeping a pace so far for a big-money primary.