Busy month of primaries to set stage for midterms

Voters in about a quarter of the country will nominate candidates running in critical races in the next month as primary election season kicks into high gear, setting the stage for midterm elections in which Democrats are defending narrow majorities and both parties are fighting over governor’s mansions in key states.

The 13 states that will hold primary elections or nominating conventions will collectively choose candidates running for 10 seats in the United States Senate, 107 seats in the House of Representatives and nine governorships this month.

Together, those contests represent the first large-scale opportunities to chart a direction for a Democratic Party mired in the doldrums of weak poll numbers and electoral challenges, and the first chance to test former President Trump’s hold on a Republican Party finding its way back to power after losing the House, the Senate and the White House.

They will also offer an early preview of the preparations each side has made ahead of a midterm election, when turnout typically lags that of a presidential contest.

“As a party, we’re energized even if we’re squabbling a bit about which candidate we like best. We’re all heading in the same general direction, even if we don’t necessarily agree on the best way to get there,” said Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-area Democratic strategist. “To the extent that these kinds of competitive primaries are energizing and force candidates to build infrastructure early in the cycle, they can be a positive.”

None of those races have been more expensive than U.S. Senate elections in Ohio, which votes on Tuesday, and Pennsylvania, where voters go to the polls May 17. In both states, wealthy candidates have poured tens of millions of dollars into early airtime already.

In both cases, Republicans running to replace retiring members of their own party are vying for bare pluralities that would secure them a spot on November’s ballot.

In Pennsylvania, hedge fund manager Dave McCormack (R) and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz (R) appear to lead the GOP field; in Ohio, late polling shows author and investor J.D. Vance (R) pulling ahead, along with state Sen. Matt Dolan (R), though investment banker Mike Gibbons (R) and former state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) are still in the running.

Democrats in Ohio appear set to choose Rep. Tim Ryan (D) as their party’s nominee. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) is running ahead of Rep. Conor Lamb (D) in the race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R).

Contentious Republican primaries in North Carolina on May 17, and Alabama and Arkansas on May 24 will conclude this month, while Republican incumbents in Indiana on Tuesday, Idaho and Kentucky and a Democratic incumbent in Oregon, all of which hold May 17 contests, appear set to cruise to renomination.

On May 24, Georgia voters are likely to make formal a fall match-up between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and former NFL running back Herschel Walker (R).

Trump has sought to maintain his influence on the Republican Party by issuing endorsements in many of those contests, with mixed results. He has backed Oz in Pennsylvania and Vance in Ohio, though he rescinded an endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks (R) in Alabama after Brooks’s campaign flagged. Trump appears likelier to get his way in North Carolina, where he backed Rep. Ted Budd (R) over ex-Gov. Pat McCrory; Budd leads McCrory in recent polls.

“There is plenty of room in the tent for lots of different ideas, candidates and approaches,” said Brent Buchanan, an Alabama-based Republican pollster. “Campaign fundamentals still matter, even with candidates who represent diverse segments of the Republican primary electorate.”

Elsewhere, Trump’s endorsement has pitted him against his own allies. In Nebraska, Trump appeared Sunday at a rally for businessman Charles Herbster (R), who is running for governor and who has been credibly accused of sexual harassment by several women; he denies the charges. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) backs Jim Pillen (R), a former University of Nebraska regent.

Voters in Oregon, Pennsylvania and Arkansas will also nominate candidates to replace retiring governors.

Oregon voters will choose between a record number of candidates running to replace term-limited Gov. Kate Brown (D). Former state House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) and state Treasurer Tobias Read (D) lead the Democratic field in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982.

Pennsylvania Republicans will have to wade through a massive field of contenders, apparently led by state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), an election denialist who was in Washington during the Jan. 6 insurrection, and former Rep. Lou Barletta (R). State Senate President Jake Corman (R) and former Rep. Melissa Hart (R) are also running. Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) is the lone Democrat in the race to replace term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf (D) in a state where the party in power rarely keeps the governor’s mansion between successive administrations.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R), Trump’s second press secretary, appears poised to skate to the Republican nomination in her home state of Arkansas. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R), Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) all look set to win renomination in the face of challenges from more conservative candidates.

This month will also feature the first round of U.S. House races featuring incumbents drawn into the same districts after the decennial reapportionment and redistricting process.

In West Virginia, the remaps will pit Reps. Alex Mooney (R) and David McKinley (R) against each other. Mooney has Trump’s support, but McKinley over the weekend rolled out a new advertisement featuring the state’s most popular politician, Sen. Joe Manchin (D).

In Georgia, Republicans redrew a suburban Atlanta district that now includes both Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D) and Lucy McBath (D). They face state Rep. Donna McLeod (D) in the race for a safely Democratic seat.

Tags Charles Herbster David Perdue Donald Trump Donald Trump Georgia Senate primary Herschel Walker John Fetterman Mehmet Oz Ohio Senate primary Pennsylvania Senate race Trump

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