National News

Groundbreaking Primary Results for Democratic Women and Diversity

Posted August 14, 2018 10:58 p.m. EDT
Updated August 14, 2018 11:00 p.m. EDT

HARTLAND, Wis. — Democrats delivered groundbreaking victories in Tuesday’s primaries for a transgender female candidate in Vermont, a Muslim woman in Minnesota and an African-American woman in Connecticut, while party members in Wisconsin nominated a top state education official to challenge Gov. Scott Walker, one of the most vulnerable high-profile Republicans of the midterms cycle.

Tony Evers, the Wisconsin schools superintendent who was the best known and best-funded candidate, prevailed in a crowded field of seven other entrants, according to The Associated Press. Though he will face one of the most favorable national environments for Democrats in more than a decade, he is not a widely known quantity and will have to unite a fractious progressive base in a governor’s race that both political parties see as a defining politics moment in a the presidential swing state.

But the November election is likely to be a referendum on the polarizing Republican incumbent. Seeking a third term, and what would be his fourth statewide win in eight years, the 50-year-old Walker is hoping to extend his political life following a presidential bid that faltered quickly in 2016.

In major primaries elsewhere on Tuesday, Vermont Democrats also nominated Christine Hallquist, a longtime energy executive who could become the nation’s first transgender governor. She will face the Republican incumbent, Gov. Phil Scott. Hallquist, as the chief executive of the Vermont Electric Cooperative for 12 years, led a turnaround of the financially troubled utility, and as a candidate she ran on a progressive message that included a higher minimum wage and “Medicare for all.” Her transition from male to female took place in 2015, while she was at the helm of the utility.

In two other major wins, Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota state lawmaker, is poised to be one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, winning the Democratic nomination in a left-leaning district. (In Michigan, Rashida Tlaib, who is also Muslim, is in position to win a House seat.) And Jahana Hayes, a former national teacher of the year who would be Connecticut’s first black woman in Congress, easily defeated Mary Glassman in a House Democratic primary for an open seat that became something of a proxy between moderates and liberals.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont easily won his state’s Democratic primary, all but guaranteeing his re-election in November. But Sanders is expected to snub the party that he sought to represent in the 2016 presidential election: A self-described democratic socialist, he plans to reject the nomination and run instead as an independent, according to advisers.

Sanders followed this course in his Senate races in 2006 and 2012. By winning the Democratic nomination, he effectively prevented the party from putting another name on the November ballot, and many Democratic leaders and voters supported him in November elections regardless of him not running on the party line.

In Kansas, the excruciatingly close Republican primary for governors finally ended Tuesday night when Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded to Kris Kobach, the hard-line secretary of state who had the support of President Donald Trump. A week after the primary there, Colyer bowed out after losing ground in the counting of provisional ballots and concluding that Kobach’s 345-vote lead was insurmountable. The nomination of Kobach, a lightning rod in Kansas who has authored a series of immigration crackdowns, is sure to repel some of the state’s moderate voters and offer Democrats a chance to compete for the governorship there.

In the race for governor of Connecticut, Democrats nominated Ned Lamont, who made his name defeating former Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 primary. Lamont will face one of five Republicans vying for the governorship in a year when the GOP has a chance to run competitively in an otherwise liberal state because of the unpopularity of the outgoing Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy.

Voters also cast ballots in contests for a Democratic Senate seat in Wisconsin and races for governor, several House seats and Senate in Minnesota, as well as an attorney general’s race that has become controversial.

Of all the candidates on the ballot Tuesday, Walker of Wisconsin may be the best-known Republican in danger of losing his election. The governor has all but said so himself, repeatedly warning Republicans that they are facing the prospect of a “blue wave in Wisconsin,” and last week suggesting that he may start the general election trailing his opponent. A pair of polls last month showed the little-known Evers leading Walker.

Also in Wisconsin, Republicans avoided disaster in the race to replace Paul Ryan, who is stepping down after barely three years as speaker of the House and before he turns 50. They nominated Bryan Steil, a onetime aide to Ryan, over Paul Nehlen, who has a long history of making racist, anti-Semitic comments. Steil will face Randy Bryce, the Democratic winner whose compelling back story as an ironworker has been muddled by revelations of arrests for drugs and alcohol and failing to pay child support. In Vermont, Sanders, a favorite of progressive grass-roots voters, has made a ritual of refusing to run on the Democratic line: He seeks the party’s nomination in order to block any rival from winning it, but then turns it down to protect the image of independence that he cherishes. But his refusal to call himself a Democrat was grating to many Hillary Clinton supporters and others in the party during his 2016 run for president.

By doing the same this year as he travels the country campaigning for insurgent liberals, Sanders is likely to face fresh criticism from Democrats that he is effectively borrowing their line on the ballot to advance himself and candidates like him who have little allegiance to the party.

The “democratic socialist” label that Sanders popularized during his 2016 campaign has only gained prominence since, with the rise of candidates who are now embracing it, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat a powerful New York Democrat in a House primary, and Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York.

Many Democrats fear that any connection to socialism — no matter how superficial — will be damaging with voters who will be turned off by an ideology they associate with radicalism. Those fissures within the party over the wisdom of courting the hard left were a factor in other races Tuesday.

On the Republican side, the Vermont governor, Scott, got a mild scare and a reminder of the political potency of gun rights. While still winning renomination, Scott lost a substantial number of votes in rural parts of the state to a little-known challenger on his right flank, grocer Keith Stern. Stern attacked the governor for reversing course on his vow to oppose gun control laws, assailing him for signing a series of new restrictions on access to firearms in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

Among the losing candidates in the Vermont Democratic primary for governor was Ethan Sonneborn, a 14-year-old who took advantage of the fact that the state has no age restrictions regarding who can occupy its highest office.

In other primaries, two conservatives were also vying to challenge Wisconsin’s incumbent Democratic senator, Tammy Baldwin. And in Minnesota, several competitive races for federal and state offices have been overshadowed by recent domestic abuse allegations against Rep. Keith Ellison, who was seeking for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general.