National News

Georgia, Arkansas and Kentucky Primaries: Top Races to Watch

Posted May 22, 2018 2:17 p.m. EDT

The race for the open governor’s seat in Georgia, a battle with implications for health care, gun control and other contentious issues, leads a slate of three primaries Tuesday. Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has reached his term limit, and Georgia Democrats are hoping the same political climate that has buoyed them in special elections will propel them in a state where they have not won the governorship in two decades.

Also in play are two competitive House seats, including the Sixth District, a longtime Republican stronghold where a Democrat came close to winning in a special election last year.

Elsewhere, Democrats are hoping to pick up House seats in Arkansas and Kentucky, which are also holding their primaries Tuesday. And in Texas, which held its primaries in March, candidates for governor and for 17 House seats will be decided in runoffs.

Here’s what you need to know about the biggest races.

Georgia: Another Southern test for Democrats

The polls in Georgia are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.


The Democratic primary is a race between Stacey Abrams, a former minority leader of the Georgia House, and state Rep. Stacey Evans. Abrams leads in polls and fundraising, and if elected in November, she would be the first black woman to be governor of any state.

An outspoken progressive, she has distanced herself from Evans not so much on policy as on strategy, rejecting the conventional wisdom that a Democrat seeking office in the South must appeal to moderate and conservative-leaning white voters.

Abrams’s bet is that Georgia’s electorate is shifting. Supporters of President Donald Trump will never vote for her, this thinking goes, and so the way to win is to mobilize core supporters like young people, women, African-Americans and Hispanics — including those who live in majority-white areas far from the state’s major cities — ensuring that they turn out on Election Day. Georgia’s changing demographics suggest this strategy has potential — African-Americans alone were 33 percent of registered voters there in 2016 — but some of these constituencies have proven difficult to rouse in nonpresidential election years.

On the Republican side, the front-runner appears to be Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a veteran officeholder, but based on local polls, he is unlikely to secure the nomination outright Tuesday. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two will face off in July — and while surveys indicate that Cagle is significantly ahead of his opponents, they generally show him receiving around 30 to 40 percent of the vote, not enough to avert a runoff.

Two challengers — Georgia’s secretary of state, Brian Kemp, and former state Sen. Hunter Hill — are tussling to establish themselves to the right of Cagle, especially on immigration. Kemp appears to be the stronger of the two, though he drew criticism late last month for a campaign ad in which he pointed a shotgun at a young man who ostensibly wanted to date one of Kemp’s daughters.


Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, north of Atlanta, was the site of one of 2017’s hardest-fought special elections. After the most expensive campaign in House history, the Republican candidate, Karen Handel, fended off Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old Democrat who had never run for office before. Handel won by a larger margin than political experts had expected, but it was notable that Ossoff was competitive at all in a reliably conservative district that has not been represented by a Democrat since 1979.

Now Handel is up for re-election, and four Democrats are running for the chance to challenge her. A runoff in July is likely.

Bobby Kaple, a former news anchor, is politically inexperienced but has been endorsed by several prominent Democrats: former Sen. Max Cleland; Steve Henson, the Democratic leader in the Georgia Senate; and Rep. Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Kaple’s strongest opponent may be Lucia McBath, a gun safety activist who entered politics after her son, Jordan Davis, was fatally shot in 2012. Also running are Kevin Abel, a businessman who has served on the board of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and Steven Knight Griffin, who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


In an ordinary political environment, Rep. Rob Woodall, a four-term Republican incumbent, would probably be a shoo-in for re-election in this district, another suburban seat north of Atlanta. But, like the Sixth District, the Seventh could present an opportunity for energized Democrats.

In a crowded primary field, three Democrats stand out in terms of fundraising: Carolyn Bourdeaux, a longtime professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University; David Kim, founder of a tutoring and exam preparation company; and Ethan Pham, a lawyer whose family immigrated from Vietnam in 1994.

Woodall is facing a primary challenge of his own from Shane Hazel, a Marine veteran who has accused the congressman of being insufficiently conservative. Woodall has voted with Trump more than 97 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Arkansas: A comeback Chance for Democrats

The polls in Arkansas are open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Arkansas Democrats suffered a precipitous decline in the Obama years, losing the governorship, both Senate seats and control of the state Legislature. While they are unlikely to reclaim their former dominance, they do have an opening to pick up one House seat: Four Democrats are vying for the nomination and the chance to take on Rep. French Hill, the Republican incumbent in the Second District, the least conservative of the state’s four congressional seats.

National Democrats have gotten behind Clarke Tucker, a moderate state representative who is facing a handful of more liberal challengers. The question is whether Tucker can break 50 percent Tuesday and avert a costly, monthlong runoff.

The other primary to watch is the Republican race for governor, where the incumbent, Asa Hutchinson, is facing a conservative challenge from Jan Morgan, a gun range owner and former television personality. Hutchinson is widely expected to be renominated, but Morgan’s vote share will indicate how vulnerable popular, veteran lawmakers are in this turbulent environment.

Kentucky: The Year of the Woman

The polls in Kentucky are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There are few better indicators of how 2018 is shaping up to favor both women and political newcomers than the Democratic primary to take on Rep. Andy Barr, a Republican, in Kentucky’s Sixth District.

National Democrats lobbied Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington, who ran against Sen. Rand Paul in 2016, to enter the race and were elated when he did late last year. But Amy McGrath, a former Marine Corps aviator making her first bid for office, won attention with a debut ad that went viral, and she has raised more money than Gray.

If McGrath wins Tuesday, she will immediately become one of the most acclaimed House Democratic candidates this year — and someone Republicans will be eager to defeat in November in order to deter her from running for statewide office.