The Slatest

What to Watch in Tuesday’s Primaries

US President Barack Obama and Rep Brad Ashford, Republican from Nebraska, step off Air Force One upon arrival at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska on January 13, 2016.  / AFP / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama and then-Rep Brad Ashford step off Air Force One near Omaha, Nebraska, in January 2016.
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

Pennsylvania voters go to the polls on Tuesday for the first elections since the state redrew its congressional maps to make Democrats more competitive. The Keystone State results will shed light on everything from Democrats’ chances of retaking the House to whether women can lead them to victory. The three other states that vote on Tuesday—Idaho, Oregon, and Nebraska—will have a less dramatic effect on the balance of power, but they’re not without contests worth watching. The gubernatorial GOP primary in Idaho and a congressional Democratic race in Nebraska feature establishment-backed candidates and rivals trying to outflank them.

Here’s what to watch:


Republicans have held 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats for most of the past decade, but the state Supreme Court reset the field earlier this year when they forced legislators to redraw the state’s gerrymandered congressional map. Toss in a handful of key GOP departures, and Democrats could realistically gain nearly a quarter of the 23 seats they need this fall to retake the House in Pennsylvania alone. The Cook Political Report is now giving Democrats better-than-even odds of winning three open GOP seats, even odds of taking down two Republican incumbents, and an outside chance of defeating another two GOP congressman along the way. Whether that comes to pass will depend in large part on who gets nominated on Tuesday.

The Democrats’ three best pick-up opportunities are in districts that would have gone for Hillary Clinton if they had existed two years ago. In the new 7th District, where GOP Rep. Charlie Dent would have run if he had not retired this year, Democrats are deciding between Susan Wild, an EMILY’s List-endorsed former city solicitor; Greg Edwards, a Bernie Sanders-backed pastor; and John Morganelli, a well-known local district attorney who has angered progressives with his anti-abortion views and some kind words he once said about Trump.

In the new 6th District, where GOP Rep. Ryan Costello isn’t seeking re-election, Democrats are thrilled to have an Air Force veteran Chrissy Houlahan, running unopposed on Tuesday.

And in the new 5th District, where GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan resigned in the  face of an ethics probe into his affection for a former staffer, there are ten Democrats battling it out in a race that no one seems to have any idea who will win. The race could be a test case for those hoping the historic surge of female candidates this year results in similarly historic gender gains in Congress.

Tuesday also marks a second chance for Republican Rick Saccone who lost a high-profile special election to Democrat Conor Lamb in March—a loss that national Republicans were quick to blame on Saccone’s failings as a candidate. But that was before the new districts took shape, and Saccone is now running in the GOP primary in the new 14th district, which theoretically favors the GOP, but so did the last one. (Lamb is running unopposed on Tuesday in the new 17th district, which is far less conservative than the one that he won in earlier this year.)

Republicans voters will also pick a Senate nominee to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in a general-election race that isn’t yet considered competitive. GOP Rep. Lou Barletta, who has been endorsed by Trump, is expected to win that nomination easily over state Rep. Jim Christiana.


In the Cornhusker State, the main event is in the state’s 2nd District, where Democrat Brad Ashford, a former congressman, is trying to reclaim his old seat. Ashford lost to Republican Don Bacon two years ago by a single percentage point, and national Democrats are eager to see him reclaim it. But Ashord is being challenged in the primary by non-profit exec Kara Eastman, who has the support of progressive groups, and is running hard to his left, calling for Medicare For All and a full repeal of the GOP tax law. Still, despite having all the ingredients for a nasty intra-party fight, this one has remained mostly civil, and Ashford’s name recognition makes him the favorite.

There’s not much suspense elsewhere in the state. The gubernatorial front-runners—Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and Republican-turned-Democrat state Sen. Bob Krist—are expected to sail to their nominations, as is GOP Sen. Deb Fischer and her likely Democratic challenger, Jane Raybould, a city councilwoman and an executive at her family’s statewide chain of grocery stores. Rickets and Fischer will head into the general as the clear favorites, though Raybould could make things interesting in the Senate race if the GOP takes the seat for granted.


The Gem State does not have a Senate race this year, and neither of its two congressional contests is expected to be competitive. Instead, all eyes will be on the race to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Butch Otter in a state that hasn’t had a Democrat in the governor’s mansion since 1995.

The GOP primary involves a trio of familiar conservative archetypes, each of whom appears to have a legitimate chance at the nomination: Rep. Raul Labrador, who co-founded the House Freedom Caucus, is an anti-immigration hardliner and the most conservative candidate in the race. Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who bills himself as the pro-business pragmatist, has the backing of the state’s Republican establishment. And Tommy Ahlquist, a doctor-turned-developer who is using his own money to fund his campaign, has laid claim to the “outsider” lane. (Notably, none of three voted for Trump in the GOP primary two years ago, but all three are now singing the president’s praises.) The state is in the midst of a population boom and the results should provide a helpful snapshot of how the political climate is—or isn’t—changing in the dark red state.


In Oregon, all five congressional incumbents are expected to win another term easily, and neither senator is on the ballot this time around. The most exciting race is the historically crowded Republican primary for governor, where state Rep. Knute Buehler has yet to pull away. But it might not matter. Gov. Kate Brown is effectively running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, and the state hasn’t sent a Republican in the governor’s mansion in 30 years, a fact that’s unlikely to change even with the state’s current budget problems.