|Dear Readers: This is the latest edition of Notes on the State of Politics, which features short updates on elections and politics.
Below, we’re taking a quick look back at last week’s Maryland primary and then a look ahead at next Tuesday’s packed primary calendar, one of the biggest of the year.
— The Editors
Maryland Democrats nominate a fresh face
The open-seat primary for governor of Maryland, which was also the sole statewide primary that took place in July, featured competition on both the Democratic and Republican sides. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) routinely ranks as one of the nation’s most popular governors but cannot seek a third term.
In one of their clearest-cut pickup opportunities, Democrats nominated a political outsider — something that has seemed more common in recent Republican primaries. With over 90% of the ballots counted (the mail in votes couldn’t be opened until later last week), author and entrepreneur Wes Moore has claimed a 33% plurality. Moore’s main opposition came from Obama-era Secretary of Labor and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and longtime state Comptroller Peter Franchot. Perez took 47% in Montgomery County, Franchot ran well in the Eastern Shore and in western Maryland, but Moore’s strength in Prince George’s County and in the Baltimore area was a powerful combination.
While Hogan remains popular with the electorate at large, the more conservative character of the state’s GOP electorate meant the comparatively moderate governor couldn’t dictate his successor. The GOP primary evolved into a contest between state Del. Dan Cox and former Del. Kelly Schulz — both have represented Frederick County in the legislature. Hogan campaigned for Schulz while Cox is an ardent Trump Republican — the latter was at the rally near the Capitol the day of the Jan 6 insurrection, and, in his capacity as a legislator, attempted to impeach Hogan, claiming the governor’s social distancing measures were too strict. Cox won the primary by a little over 10 percentage points and carried most counties.
Cox is clearly a candidate well outside of the state’s mainstream, but Moore was arguably the most unproven of the major Democratic contenders. Given recent history, Democrats may not want to take this race for granted. This time 8 years ago, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown seemed like a solid favorite to keep the statehouse in Democratic hands, but then-candidate Hogan’s anti-tax message resonated with voters. While it seems very unlikely that lightning will strike again for Republicans in Maryland, we’d like to see how the campaign develops before moving the race from Likely Democratic to Safe Democratic (although we could well get there soon). Cox is no Hogan, nor can Cox contrast himself against an outgoing Democratic governor, as Hogan did.
In any case, after a calm July, the primary season will be back in full swing next week. With that, we’ll take a look at which states will be voting next Tuesday:
In Arizona, a Donald Trump-to-Joe Biden state that features Toss-up races for both Senate and governor, much of the action in next week’s contests will be on the Republican side.
Though there are 5 candidates in the Republican primary for Senate, only 3 seem to have a shot at the nomination. Initially, state Attorney General Mark Brnovich was seen as a tenuous frontrunner. But Brnovich has been the target of now-former President Trump’s ire, of course because the attorney general hasn’t been sufficiently receptive to Trump’s bogus claims about the 2020 election. Going into the final stretch of the primary, Brnovich’s fundraising has seemed to dry up. Trump’s nod has gone to first-time candidate Blake Masters, who is running with the support of tech billionaire Peter Thiel. A Thiel-aligned group, the Saving Arizona PAC, has spent heavily promoting Masters. Business executive Jim Lamon has spent the most, by far, as he has done some significant self-funding. Polling from Arizona-based OHPI from earlier this month showed Masters with the momentum, though he led with 25% and 35% of voters were undecided.
Whichever Republican emerges from the primary will have 3 months to make the case against Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), who has no opposition in his primary. Though Kelly has amassed a war chest of $25 million, he is still vulnerable in the current political environment.
The Republican gubernatorial primary has pitted outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) against Trump. Trump has endorsed Kari Lake, a retired local news anchor who has run a near-single issue campaign centered around election integrity. Not surprisingly, Lake has repeatedly suggested that the 2020 election was stolen. Meanwhile, much of the state’s Republican establishment has lined up behind Karrin Taylor Robson, a Ducey appointee who has served on the Arizona Board of Regents. Taylor Robson is still a solid conservative, but seems less polarizing than Lake — she also may have gotten a boost when former Rep. Matt Salmon, a third serious contender, dropped out of the primary and endorsed her. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is expected to win the Democratic nomination.
Our expectation is that we’ll retain our Toss-up ratings in both statewide races regardless of the results next week, although a Lake-Masters combo would give Arizona Republicans an exceedingly far-right ticket in a state that is not nearly as red as it used to be.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) may be one of the luckiest incumbents seeking reelection this year. After several top Republicans contenders were disqualified from running against her (they lacked sufficient ballot petition signatures), the GOP was left with a weak field. The disqualifications have left conservative media personality Tudor Dixon as something of a shaky primary frontrunner, although there is no clear favorite in the 5-way field. In this light blue state, Whitmer will enter the general election with a significant fundraising advantage over any of the Republicans. The Crystal Ball has kept this race at Leans Democratic all cycle.
Michigan will have several notable House primaries, though only one of them will have general election implications.
MI-13, which is now the only district located entirely within Detroit’s Wayne County, will see a multi-way Democratic primary. The contest features, among others, several current and former state legislators, including state Rep. Shri Thanedar, who carried the city of Detroit in his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2018. One district over, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D), known as a member of “The Squad,” is running in the new MI-12. Tlaib has a few challengers, headlined by Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey. Tlaib was easily renominated for a second term in 2020, but close to half the district is new to her. North of Detroit, Oakland County will be the scene of a member-vs-member primary: Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin, who were both first elected in 2018, running for the Democratic nomination in the new MI-11. Stevens, who has a territorial advantage and is considered the less progressive option, seems favored.
Finally, in western Michigan, first-term Rep. Peter Meijer (R, MI-3) will have a tough fight for renomination against John Gibbs, a veteran of the Trump administration with a history of outlandish comments. Meijer was among the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan 6 insurrection. In the 2016 primary, Trump finished a clear third place in the new MI-3, so if Meijer loses his seat for crossing Trump, it would underscore how much the GOP electorate there has changed. If Meijer is renominated, we could see an argument for moving this Biden +9 seat into the Leans Republican category — but with Gibbs as the nominee, Democrats would have a better chance to flip the district. Perhaps with that in mind, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running what is effectively a pro-Gibbs ad for the last week of the primary campaign. Hillary Scholten, the Democrats’ 2020 nominee, is running again and has nearly $1 million on hand.
Currently, the Show Me State occupies a position at the very edge of the Crystal Ball’s playing field — we rate the contest to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) as Likely Republican. Former Gov. Eric Greitens (R), who was elected in 2016 but resigned in disgrace 2 years later, was looking like a slight favorite for much of this calendar year. But he has seen his standing in the polls diminish recently as he has faced an avalanche of spending from an anti-Greitens Super PAC. At least 3 recent polls give state Attorney General Eric Schmitt a lead — he is followed by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R, MO-4), while Greitens ranks third. While Trump hasn’t made an endorsement in the contest (though he may over the next few days), he has come out against Hartzler. There is a competitive primary for the Democratic nomination as well, with veteran Lucas Kunce facing beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine. A third-party candidate backed by former Republican Sen. Jack Danforth, former Jan. 6 committee investigator John Wood, is also running.
The bottom line in Missouri is that the Senate race will get a lot less interesting for November if Greitens loses the primary.
While the primaries to succeed Hartzler and current 7th District Rep. Billy Long (who is also running for Senate but has not been too much of a factor), may be competitive, both seats are safely red.
Speaking of states that are on the edge of the playing field, earlier this year, the Crystal Ball moved Washington’s Senate race from Safe Democratic to Likely Democratic. In this Biden +19 state, Republicans seem convinced that Tiffany Smiley, a nurse and veterans advocate, could give 5-term Democratic Sen. Patty Murray a close race. The Evergreen State’s all-party primary can sometimes give us some clues about the November results, so we’ll be watching how close Smiley can get to Murray.
In addition to the Senate contest, we’ll be watching 3 primaries in the House. In the Seattle suburbs, Rep. Kim Schrier (D, WA-8) is running for a third term in a single-digit Biden seat — as WA-8 was not drastically altered in redistricting, Schrier was not given much of a boost. Schrier should receive the lion’s share of the Democratic vote in the blanket primary, while several Republicans are competing for the second spot, including King County Councilman Reagan Dunn and 2020 nominee Jesse Jensen. In 2018, as Democrats outvoted Republicans 50%-47% in the district during the primary, it was a sign that the seat (which had, until then, always had GOP representation) could flip blue. But in 2020, when Republicans very narrowly outvoted Democrats in the 8th District, it was a sign that Schrier couldn’t take her seat for granted — she was reelected, but her margin dropped from 4.8% in 2018 to 3.6% in 2020.
Finally, 2 Republican incumbents — Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse — voted to impeach Trump but will be running in districts that the former president carried. Herrera Beutler faces 4 fellow Republicans, the most prominent of whom is veteran Joe Kent. If Herrera Beutler makes the second round, she’d be a heavy favorite against a Democrat in this Trump +4 seat, and would probably be favored against a pro-Trump Republican. That said, Kent — or any other pro-Trump challenger — would likely still have an advantage over a Democrat, although he’d lack the incumbent’s record of garnering crossover support. Newhouse, who holds the reddest district in the state, will be facing similar dynamics, although we’d keep his WA-4 as Safe Republican regardless of the nominees (Loren Culp, the GOP’s 2020 nominee for governor, is his most prominent opponent).
In Kanas, most major partisan contests are already in general election mode: Republicans are likely to nominate state Attorney General Derek Schmidt against Gov. Laura Kelly (D-KS), while the GOP’s 2020 nominee, Amanda Adkins, is poised for a rematch with Rep. Sharice Davids (D, KS-3) in a more marginal district.
The race that everyone will be watching in Kansas next week is a statewide ballot issue. Kansans will vote on a state constitutional amendment that, if passed, would confirm that the state’s bill of rights does not safeguard the right to abortion. Though Kansas is a red state, the vote could be close, and the contest will be the first instance since Roe vs. Wade was overturned where voters will weigh in on abortion.