5 things to watch in Tuesday's primaries

Voters are casting ballots for critical primary elections in New York, Kentucky and Virginia on Tuesday amid high anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic and protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

Progressives have the momentum and may be on the cusp of monumental victories in key races in New York and Kentucky. Democratic incumbents are on edge across New York, as most lawmakers face competitive primaries in a volatile and uncertain time. The results may not be known for days or even weeks.

Here are five things to watch for on Tuesday:


Progressives eye signature victories

The two most closely watched races on Tuesday involve progressive African American men taking on the Democratic establishment.

In New York’s 16th District, liberal energy around middle school principal Jamaal Bowman has 16-term Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelLawmakers on hot mic joke 'aisle hog' Engel absent from Biden address: 'He'd wait all day' Bowman to deliver progressive response to Biden's speech to Congress Liberal advocacy group stirs debate, discomfort with primary challenges MORE on the ropes.

If Bowman triumphs over Engel, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, it will be the second consecutive cycle that a senior member of the House Democratic Caucus was ousted by a younger, progressive challenger.

In 2018, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Energy: Update on Biden administration conservation goals | GOP sees opportunity to knock Biden amid rising gas prices | Push for nationwide electric vehicle charging stations The Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won Ocasio-Cortez, Levin introduce revised bill to provide nationwide electric vehicle charging network MORE (D-N.Y.) rocketed to stardom after defeating then-House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).

Engel is backed by New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoBroadway to fully reopen in September Mets, Yankees to open vaccination sites to fans before games Cuomo signs legislation restoring voting rights to felons upon release from prison MORE (D), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHow to fast-track climate action? EPA cutting super pollutant HFCs On The Money: How demand is outstripping supply and hampering recovery | Montana pulls back jobless benefits | Yellen says higher rates may be necessary Senate Democrats announce B clean bus plan MORE (D-N.Y.) and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights Hillary Clinton: Biden less 'constrained' than Clinton and Obama due to prior administration Biden's unavoidable foreign policy crisis MORE, a former senator from New York.


But Bowman, who has the support of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray: Biden campaign promises will struggle if Republicans win back Congress Biden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers McConnell sidesteps Cheney-Trump drama MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands DNC gathers opposition research on over 20 potential GOP presidential candidates MORE (D-Mass.) and Ocasio-Cortez, outraised Engel in the second quarter. A recent poll conducted by the progressive firm Data for Progress found Bowman leading by 10 points.

A similar story is playing out in the Kentucky Senate Democratic primary, where state Rep. Charles Booker has clear momentum in the primary against Amy McGrath in a contest that will determine who faces Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won Biden: GOP in the midst of a 'mini-revolution' Ernst defends Cheney, calls for GOP unity MORE (R) in November.

McGrath has been running for a full year and has raised enormous sums of money with support from Democrats in Washington.

Booker only joined the race in January, but he’s made up ground by making the case that he’s best suited to address the issues of race and policing that have become a top concern for voters.

A recent Data for Progress survey found Booker ahead by 8 points, although the race is expected to be very close.

The left also believes it has a rising star in Mondaire Jones, who leads a crowded primary pack of eight Democrats vying to replace Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue Lowey Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Biden needs to tear down bureaucratic walls and refocus Middle East programs Committee chairs continue their lawmaking decline MORE in New York’s 17th District.

Jones would be the first black and openly gay member of Congress if he’s elected.

New York Democratic incumbents sweat

Engel is easily the most vulnerable House member up for reelection on Tuesday, but others may feel they’re on thin ice in this volatile time.

Rep. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeBiden administration, Congress unite in effort to tackle ransomware attacks Hillicon Valley: Twitter will not allow Trump account archive on platform | Commerce Dept. still weighing approach to Huawei, TikTok | Dating apps work to reinvent amid COVID-19 pandemic Key House leader to press for inclusion of cybersecurity in infrastructure bill MORE (D-N.Y.) faces a rematch against community activist Adem Bunkeddeko, who fell short to her by only about 2,000 votes in 2018. The New York Times endorsed Bunkeddeko over the seven-term lawmaker this month. Several other candidates are also on the ballot.

Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyHuffPost reporter: DCCC will help Dems fend off progressive challengers to 'keep them happy' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Chauvin conviction puts renewed focus on police reform Liberal advocacy group stirs debate, discomfort with primary challenges MORE (D-N.Y.) is also facing a 2018 rematch with Democrat Suraj Patel, who got more than 40 percent of the vote in their last match-up. Progressive Lauren Ashcraft is also running, and her campaign says she has the most small-dollar donations and more than 650 volunteers.

Rep. Grace MengGrace MengSenate locks in hate crimes deal, setting up Thursday passage Jim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing Senate aims to pass anti-Asian hate crimes bill this week MORE (D-N.Y.) is facing her first-ever primary challenge, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerA historic moment to truly honor mothers Britney Spears to discuss conservatorship in court Schumer waiting for recommendation on Supreme Court expansion MORE (D-N.Y.) has attracted several challengers, although he has support from mainstream Democrats and progressive alike.

Meanwhile, progressive star Ocasio-Cortez is taking her challenge from news anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera seriously.


Caruso-Cabrera has the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which usually endorses Republicans. Caruso-Cabrera has a big profile from her time as a correspondent for CNBC. She has raised more than $2 million and has plowed $1 million of her own money into the campaign.

Still, Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign team and fundraising abilities are nearly unmatched in the House. She has spent more than $6 million this cycle defending her seat.

It could be days or weeks before we know the results

Don’t expect a quick resolution to the races in Kentucky and New York. A higher-than-usual volume of absentee ballots means that elections officials may not be able to count some votes for days, leaving potentially close races hanging in the balance.

In both states, absentee ballots need only be postmarked by Election Day, as long as they are received by election officials by June 27 in Kentucky and June 30 in New York. Some counties won’t report any results until after their state’s deadline. That includes Jefferson County and Fayette County in Kentucky, the two most populous counties in the state.

Absentee ballots in New York won’t be counted in their entirety until a full week after the primaries. In particularly close primary races, tens or even hundreds of thousands of late-arriving ballots could hold the potential to swing the outcome of a contest.


Processing and counting absentee ballots can also be labor intensive given that elections officials examine those ballots to decide whether to accept or reject them.

Voting drama in Kentucky

Kentucky officials have come under sharp criticism from voting rights advocates in recent days over their decision to drastically cut the number of in-person voting sites for Tuesday’s primaries.

In Jefferson County, where the state’s largest city, Louisville, is located, only one polling place is open, at the Kentucky Expo Center. In Fayette County, the home of Lexington and the second-most populous county in the state, the University of Kentucky’s football stadium is the only polling site.

All told, fewer than 200 polling sites are open in Kentucky on Tuesday. For context, Jefferson County alone usually has upward of 200.

Officials say that expanded voting options in the state  easier access to absentee ballots and in-person early voting  have reduced the need for large-scale in-person voting on Election Day. But the limited number of polling sites open on Tuesday have put voting rights advocates on high alert, especially after election snafus in Georgia and other states that included long lines, confused and sometimes absent poll workers and technical hiccups.


Open seats are up for grabs

While the Democratic primary fights in New York’s 16th District and Kentucky’s Senate race have taken center stage, several elections on Tuesday are set to determine the fate of open House seats.

In New York’s 17th District, just a few miles north of Engel’s district, a crowded field of Democrats is vying for the nomination to replace retiring Rep. Nita Lowey (D). The district’s hard-left tilt means that whoever emerges victorious from the primary will likely go on to succeed the 16-term incumbent.

Out in Western New York, voters are also set to decide a replacement for former Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsTrump denies Gaetz asked him for blanket pardon Gaetz, on the ropes, finds few friends in GOP Schumer to recommend three Black lawyers to head US attorney offices in NY MORE (R), who resigned last year just before pleading guilty to insider trading and lying to the FBI. State Sen. Chris Jacobs (R) is facing off against Democrat Nate McMurray in that race and is seen as the favorite to win.

But Jacobs will also run against two other Republicans in the primary to determine who will be on the ballot in the fall. Whoever prevails will face McMurray in November, given that the Democrat is unchallenged in his primary.

There’s also a bitter primary fight to replace Rep. José Serrano (D) in New York’s 15th District, widely considered the most Democratic congressional district in the country. The crowded field of Democratic contenders has helped lift the campaign of Rubén Díaz Sr., a socially conservative Democrat and former state senator who has said that he may vote for President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner on Hannity touts Trump: 'He was a disruptor' Ivanka Trump doubles down on vaccine push with post celebrating second shot Conservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE in November.

Two Republicans are also locked in primary runoff in former Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBoehner finally calls it as he sees it Stephen Miller launching group to challenge Democrats' policies through lawsuits A year with the coronavirus: How we got here MORE’s western North Carolina district. Lynda Bennett is Meadows’s preferred successor for the 11th District, but she’s facing a tough challenge from businessman Madison Cawthorn. Whoever wins that runoff will go on to face Democrat Morris Davis in the general election in November.

Meanwhile, four Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to take on Republican Bob Good in Virginia’s 5th District in November. The district’s current congressman, Rep. Denver RigglemanDenver RigglemanVirginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Republicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' Former GOP lawmaker calls idea of 'America First' caucus 'racism in a jar' MORE (R), was ousted at a GOP nominating convention earlier this month, with Republicans choosing Good to replace him.

But Good’s hard-line brand of conservatism has raised Democrats’ hopes of flipping the rural Virginia district in November.