Democrats’ efforts to spur a “blue wave” will be put to the test, again.
Voters head to the polls in five states Tuesday to test whether Democrats will get their “blue wave” on Election Day this fall.
The most heated race to watch is a special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, where a Democrat hasn’t won since the 1980s. Despite big spending by Republicans, a huge ground push, and even campaign appearances by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, polls show the Democrat, Danny O’Connor, might actually beat Republican Troy Balderson.
Washington state’s top-two primary will be a similar test of how Democrats might perform in historically conservative districts.
In a governor’s race in Michigan and a House race in Kansas, meanwhile, Democrats will test whether the future of the party is rooted in its progressive wing.
To win back a House majority in November, Democrats will have to triumph in historically red districts, as they did in Pennsylvania earlier this year when Conor Lamb pulled off a surprise victory. Some big wins on Tuesday night could be another sign that a wave year is possible.
Here is every August 7 primary election you need to know about, briefly explained.
Ohio 12th Congressional District, special election: Democrats try to break a 30-year losing streak
Who is the Republican? State Sen. Troy Balderson. He was endorsed by Pat Tiberi, whose retirement opened up this seat. He seems as conventional a Republican as you could find.
Who is the Democrat? Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor is trying to become the first Democrat to win the 12th in more than 30 years. He’s running on a Conor Lamb-like platform, eschewing the newfound issues of the left like Medicare-for-all and “Abolish ICE,” but hitting his Republican opponent for wanting to cut Medicare and Social Security.
What’s the story? This district, covering parts of suburban Columbus as well as Appalachian areas, always sends a Republican to Congress. Trump won the 12th by 9 points in 2016. Cook ranks it as R+7.
But this district is a little better educated than Ohio as a whole, which might favor Democrats, and O’Connor has positioned himself to have a fighting chance. Recent polls have found him trailing by just a point or two, and the Democratic campaign feels good about the early voting numbers it’s seen.
Given the overall environment, and Democratic performances in prior special elections, election forecasters like Cook have rated the 12th special election as a toss-up.
Michigan governor’s primary elections: a tight race on both sides for an open governor’s seat
Who are the Republicans? Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is retiring with dismal approval ratings after the Flint water crisis. In a recent NBC/Marist survey, Attorney General Bill Schuette (36 percent) had a decent lead over Lt. Gov. Brian Calley (26 percent) with lots of voters undecided.
Who are the Democrats? State Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer narrowly led the NBC/Marist poll (35 percent) versus fellow Democrats Shri Thanedar (25 percent) and Abdul El-Sayed (22 percent) among likely voters.
What’s the story? Both parties still need to get through their August primaries, but NBC/Marist polled a hypothetical general election matchup with the leading candidates. They found Democrat Whitmer leading Republican Schuette 47 percent to 38 percent. Cook thinks it’s a toss-up.
Michigan Senate primary elections: Stabenow is expected to sail through
Who are the Republicans? Business executive and veteran John James and other business exec/Yale and Harvard economist Sandy Pensler are considered the Republican frontrunners. Historic preservationist Bob Carr is also running. Polls have shown James, one of the few black Republicans in big races this year, with a slight but persistent lead.
Who is the Senate Democrat? Debbie Stabenow, who has been in the Senate a long time. Elected in 2000. Medicare buy-in-for-people-over-55 sponsor.
What’s the story? Stabenow should be fine; polls put her up by a lot. Cook puts this in the Likely Democratic camp.
Michigan First Congressional District: Democrats deal with administrative snafu in order to compete
Who is the Republican? Rep. Jack Bergman, first elected to the House in 2016. He voted for Obamacare repeal (Michigan is a Medicaid expansion state) and the tax bill.
Who are the Democrats? Well, technically zero. Matthew Morgan, the presumptive Democratic candidate, did not qualify for the primary ballot because of an administrative error by his campaign, so he has to run as a write-in candidate. Assuming he gets enough signatures in the primary — and the former Marine has the endorsement of the state’s AFL-CIO — he should make it on the ballot in November.
What’s the story? The Cook Political Report rates the Michigan First as Likely Republican, meaning it’s just on the edge of competitiveness for Democrats. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 20 points here in 2016, and it is an overwhelmingly white and rural district. Cook rates it R+9, meaning all else being equal, it’s about 9 points more Republican than the country as a whole.
The case for Morgan, assuming he gets through this bureaucratic snafu, is Bergman doesn’t have much of an incumbency advantage and Morgan has a profile — moderate, military — that national Democrats hope will play well in areas like this. Conor Lamb’s Pennsylvania victory would probably be the model for a Morgan win.
Michigan Sixth Congressional District: a packed field angles to take on Rep. Fred Upton
Who is the Republican? Rep. Fred Upton, who has been in the House since 1986. Formerly chaired the influential Energy and Commerce Committee before being term-limited. You may remember that he played a key role in persuading some holdout Republicans to vote for the House’s Obamacare repeal bill.
Who are the Democrats? It’s kind of a crowded field, with four Democrats on the ballot. Matt Longjohn, a former YMCA and public health official, has raised the most money and might have the most compelling story, having jumped into the race after Upton’s vote for the repeal legislation. David Benac is a Western Michigan history professor trying to run as the grassroots candidate. Rich Eichholz is a scientist arguing for evidence-based policy. George Franklin, a former Kellogg lobbyist, rounds out the field.
What’s the story? The Sixth District is, like the First, more of a long shot for Democrats. Cook has it as Likely Republican and rates the district as R+4. Upton is an entrenched incumbent.
But Trump’s margin of victory was narrower here — 8 points — and the district has been reelecting the more moderate Upton for decades. It seems at least conceivable that an anti-Trump wave could sweep him out of office, if Democrats successfully tie him to the president. But the wave would probably need to be significant.
Michigan Seventh Congressional District: a seasoned Democrat and a “Berniecrat” seek to topple a Republican incumbent
Who is the Republican? Rep. Tim Walberg, first elected in 2006, though he lost reelection in 2008 before taking back the seat in 2010. Voted for Obamacare repeal and the tax bill.
Who are the Democrats? Gretchen Driskell was put on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue list, meaning Washington Democrats like what they’ve seen from her campaign. She comes from a Navy family and has served as a mayor and now in the state legislature. She has run here before, having lost to Walberg in 2016 by 15 points.
Her only competition on the ballot is Steven Friday, running as a self-identified “Berniecrat.”
What’s the story? This is another Likely Republican district, according to Cook, R+7. Trump won by 17 points. It’s very white and not particularly well-educated.
But the district has swung in prior wave elections (see 2008 and 2010), and Driskell profiles as the kind of candidate Democrats think can compete in areas like this. Her 2016 loss was actually a little narrower than Clinton’s too, if you’re looking for reason to be optimistic.
Michigan Eighth Congressional District: a former CIA officer strives to flip this toss-up district to blue
Who is the Republican? Rep. Mike Bishop, first elected in 2014. He also voted for Obamacare repeal, in spite of the Medicaid cuts for an expansion state, and the tax bill. He does technically face a primary challenger: Lokesh Kumar, running as an outsider against the establishment.
Who are the Democrats? Elissa Slotkin is another name on the DCCC’s Red to Blue list. She is a former CIA officer who worked on the White House National Security Council under Presidents Bush and Obama. She definitely has the look that Democrats like for these swing districts: a history of military and public service. Women are also cleaning up in Democratic primaries, as Vox has documented.
Her only competition is Chris Smith, a Michigan State University public policy professor, running on good government and Medicare-for-all.
What’s the story here? The Eighth is a toss-up, according to Cook, and the district is just R+4. Clinton lost to Trump by less than 7 points here in 2016. It covers an area near Lansing, the state capital, and its constituents are a little better-educated — all ingredients that could give Democrats an edge.
Michigan 11th Congressional District: a competitive primary for both sides of the aisle
Who is the Republican? Well, Rep. David Trott is retiring, so it’s an open seat. The GOP primary is very competitive, with a lot of credible candidates. Among them is former US Rep. Kerry Bentivolio and several state lawmakers: Sen. Mike Kowall, Rep. Klint Kesto, and former Rep. Rocky Raczkowski. Self-funding business executive Lena Epstein rounds out the field for the Republicans.
Who are the Democrats? Another wide-open field. Suneel Gupta, brother of doctor and CNN personality Sanjay Gupta, has the most money. Former Obama administration official Haley Stevens has some union support. Fayrouz Saad is angling to be the first Muslim woman elected to Congress, and she got the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsement. Current Michigan Rep. Tim Greimel is also on the ballot.
Several of the candidates have raised at least six figures. Endorsements are also spread out, though Greimel (perhaps unsurprisingly, as a sitting elected official) has the most.
What’s the story here? It’s a toss-up. Trump beat Clinton by just 4 points here, and the district profiles as R+4. It’s a little more diverse and very well-educated.
Not having an incumbent could be an advantage for Democrats, but it’s hard to know exactly how the race will look until we see who wins the primaries on Tuesday. But the 11th should be a focus for both parties in the battle for the House.
Michigan 13th Congressional District, special election: Conyers’s great-nephew is among those vying for his old seat
Who are the Democrats? Well, Rep. John Conyers had to retire after sexual harassment allegations. His successor will be picked in this primary, barring something unforeseen.
HIs great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers, is running. So is Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. She’s the subject of a strong campaign to elect an African-American woman for this city district. Westland Mayor Bill Wild and lefty former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib round out the rest of the field, with Tlaib raising a lot of money and both running progressive platforms.
Who are the Republicans? There are none.
What’s the story? Whoever wins the primary will be the next representative for this 57 percent black district.
Missouri Senate: Sen. Claire McCaskill goes up against Republican upstart Josh Hawley
Who are the Republicans? Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is by far the favorite in a massive field of Republican primary candidates. The state’s Republican Party effectively granted Hawley the nomination when it gave the Republican National Committee the go-ahead to spend money backing Hawley’s campaign before he had even won the primary. (An RNC rule doesn’t let it engage in spending for candidates in a contested primary unless the state’s GOP approves.) This move ruffled some conservatives, who saw it as the party disenfranchising its own voters.
Hawley has aimed to distance himself from former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who was forced to resign in the wake of a contentious sexual misconduct scandal.
Who are the Democrats? Two-term Sen. Claire McCaskill is being forced to defend her seat in the red state once more. McCaskill, who’s emphasized how fiercely independent she is, has already navigated races against two Republicans in 2006 and 2012. Most recently, she trounced Todd Akin by more than 15 percentage points in 2012 following his comments about “legitimate rape.” “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” he said during a television interview at the time.
McCaskill has some competition in the Democratic primary, but her real focus is on Hawley.
What’s the story? Because Hawley and McCaskill are pretty much the presumptive nominees for their respective parties, a good deal of the primary runup has already focused on the back-and-forth between the two. Given Missouri’s heavy conservative lean (Cook Political Report rates the Senate race as a toss-up), McCaskill has been consistently vulnerable.
“It’s going to be a squeaker in my view,” Adrianne Marsh, McCaskill’s campaign manager in 2012 and her communications director in 2006, told Vox’s Ella Nilsen. “The dynamics, they’re tough.”
Hawley has already gone on the attack in ads hammering McCaskill on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, suggesting that she’s too liberal to represent Missouri. This race is expected to be close in the general election, with polls vacillating between the two.
Missouri’s Second Congressional district: Rep. Ann Wagner could face a serious Democratic challenger
Who is the Republican? Rep. Ann Wagner, in office since 2013. Also known for serving as the ambassador to Luxembourg under President George W. Bush. She’s facing a primary challenger from a relatively unknown candidate named Noga Sachs, whose affiliation with the GOP has been called into question.
Who are the Democrats? Out of the field of five Democrats lining up to challenge Wagner, the frontrunners appear to be attorney Cort VanOstran and Army veteran Mark Osmack.
What’s the story? Wagner has largely voted in favor of the Trump administration’s policy priorities. Her district is rated R+8, but if Democrats can field the right candidate and the blue wave ends up materializing, this conservative Missouri district has a chance of becoming blue.
VanOstran and Osmack have out-fundraised the rest of their opponents in the primary. VanOstran leads the pack in campaign cash, but Osmack is also fundraising and has endorsements from VoteVets and politicians including Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (both veterans). Osmack is positioning himself as the progressive choice, running on a platform that includes Medicare-for-all, while VanOstran supports shoring up the Affordable Care Act.
Kansas Governor: one of Trump’s biggest allies hopes to walk away with a win
Who are the Republicans? Current Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach are leading the pack. Jim Barnett and Ken Selzer are also part of a larger group that will be on the ballot.
Colyer — who took over the governor’s position after Sam Brownback became ambassador at large for international religious freedom earlier this year — has painted himself as the more low-key alternative to Kobach, whose close ties to Trump and broader notoriety precede him. Kobach has long been known for touting hardline anti-illegal immigration policies and is among those most associated with the president’s theories on voter fraud.
Who are the Democrats? Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, state Sen. Laura Kelly, and former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty are among the contenders. Kelly is seen as the leading candidate given her strong fundraising numbers, though she’s recently been embroiled in a controversy over a vote she made about supporting voter ID laws.
What’s the story? Colyer and Kobach have been polling very close to one another, though Kobach is widely perceived as the candidate with more name recognition who’s expected to come out on top. Some Republicans are worried, however, that Kobach’s extreme of positions on issues like immigration could push voters toward Democrats in the fall.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Kelly has gained some momentum after getting recruited to the race by former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Cook Political Report rates the race as Likely Republican.
Kansas’s Second Congressional District: a rare open seat that Democrats are hoping to flip
Who are the Republicans? There are a lot of them. State Sens. Steve Fitzgerald, Dennis Pyle, and Caryn Tyson, state Rep. Kevin Jones, former state Rep. Doug Mays. Rounding out the list are Basehor City Council member Vernon Fields and Army vet Steve Watkins. There’s no clear frontrunner in the bunch.
Who is the Democrat? Former state Rep. Paul Davis. He unsuccessfully ran for governor against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
What’s the story? Cook Political Report rates this district R+10, but if Democrats are hoping to flip a House seat in conservative Kansas, this very well may be their best shot. During Davis’s unsuccessful bid for governor in 2014, he won the Second Congressional District — which shows he’s already got appeal in the district, which includes Topeka.
The fact that Davis is the lone Democrat will set him up nicely against whoever emerges out of a seven-person Republican field, which has no obvious successor to replace retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins. Plus, Davis has already far outraised all of the Republican candidates and has the backing of the DCCC. Kansas Republicans are nervous about this race, with good reason.
Kansas’s Third Congressional District: can a Bernie-style progressive win in the conservative Plains?
Who are the Republicans? Rep. Kevin Yoder, in office since 2011. He serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
Who are the Democrats? There are seven Democrats running in this primary, but four names stand out: MMA fighter Sharice Davids, former Bernie Sanders staffer Brent Welder, teacher Tom Niermann, and business leader Sylvia Williams.
What’s the story? Welder, in particular, is looking to test the theory of whether a Sanders-style progressive can win a primary in a conservative state. Since Sanders and rising progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stumped for Welder a few weeks ago, he’s kicked up his fundraising game. But he’s also got competition; Davids has the backing of Emily’s List, and Niermann has the endorsement of some local labor groups. Gun control is a prominent issue for Niermann, a high school teacher.
All are hoping for the chance to unseat Yoder, who is looking like one of the more vulnerable incumbents this year. Cook rates the district R+4, and it also went for Clinton in 2016, so there’s a definite chance it could flip this year. Democrats will hit Yoder on his votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass GOP tax cuts.
Washington’s Third Congressional District: could this heavily Republican district swing left?
Who are the Democrats? Washington State University professor Carolyn Long is seen as the frontrunner. Veteran Dorothy Gasque, business executive David McDevitt, and software company founder Martin Hash are also on the docket.
Long has raised the most money of the four Democrats and obtained the endorsement of high-profile national groups like Emily’s List, though McDevitt has the most cash on hand. Gasque, a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter who’s gotten the backing of the Justice Democrats, has sought to frame herself as the more progressive option.
Who are the Republicans? Four-term incumbent Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, former California State University professor Earl Bowerman, and retired electrician Michael Cortney.
Redistricting has helped Herrera Beutler coast to victory in past years.
What’s the story? This historically conservative district is one that Democrats have long been eyeing as a potential pickup opportunity, although Herrera Beutler has swept her reelection races by double digits in the past.
The district also went for Trump by 8 points. Earlier this year, Long released an internal poll that indicated she is within 5 percentage points of Herrera Beutler. In April, the Cook Political Report downgraded the district from Solid Republican to Likely Republican, suggesting that Democrats might have more of a fighting chance.
Washington’s Fifth Congressional District: a Republican giant faces down the rumbling of a blue wave
Who are the Democrats? Former state Sen. Lisa Brown is the presumptive Democratic pick. She’s already begun going after Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s ties to the Capitol and special interests, like pharmaceutical companies.
Who are the Republicans? Seven-term incumbent Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the No. 4 Republican in the House, needs to do well in the top-two primary to reaffirm her standing in the district.
She has a few Republican challengers, but her real threat is Brown.
What’s the story? While it’s uncommon for Republican leaders like McMorris Rodgers to lose their bids for reelection, it’s not without precedent. Democrats think momentum could be on their side: Trump captured just over 52 percent of the vote in the district in 2016, and constituents have hammered McMorris Rodgers for hewing too close to the president.
The Cook Political Report has shifted its rating on the eastern Washington district from Likely Republican to Lean Republican, though polls suggest that McMorris Rodgers maintains a slim lead over Brown.
Washington’s Eighth Congressional District: a slew of Democrats attempt to retake the district
Who are the Democrats? Pediatrician Kim Schrier, former prosecutor Jason Rittereiser, doctor Shannon Hader, and IT specialist Robert Hunziker.
Schrier has a fundraising edge, along with the support of Emily’s List and a bunch of national labor groups.
Who are the Republicans? Former state Sen. Dino Rossi is making yet another attempt for elected office in the state. He’s got strong name recognition after mounting failed bids for both governor and Senate.
What’s the story? Democrats see incumbent Rep. Dave Reichert’s retirement as a potential opportunity to capture the district, which Cook rates as a toss-up.
The district is also one of more than 20 held by Republicans that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Interestingly, it’s backed Democratic presidential candidates for numerous races in the past, while favoring Republicans for the House seat.