Politics

The Hot Seats: Bernie and Alexandria Barnstorm in Kansas

A weekly guide to the midterms races everyone is talking about.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images.

Welcome to the Hot Seats, Slate’s weekly guide to the seven midterms races that everyone is talking about now.

The only actual primary this week was down in Alabama, where Rep. Martha Roby survived a bizarre runoff in which she was attacked for some past anti-Trump comments by … a former Democratic member of the House. There was plenty of other midterms action though, as the two darlings of the left prepare to take their show on the road. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, a Republican congressman is trying to explain why he once complained that he can’t call women “sluts” anymore, and a twist in the Arizona Senate primary.

1. Kansas 3rd and 4th Districts

Socialism goes on tour to the Midwest.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, under withering fire from the D.C. wonk class for erring on an economic data point, will decamp with her fellow red Bernie Sanders this weekend to establish a beachhead in Kansas. They’ll rally for two candidates: James Thompson, seeking a rematch against Rep. Ron Estes in the Wichita district he narrowly lost in a 2017 special election, and Brent Welder, a former Sanders presidential campaign hand running in the 3rd District around Kansas City. (The former has already been moved to a bigger venue.) The 3rd is a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats, and President Trump tried to give the incumbent there—Rep. Kevin Yoder—a boost this week by crediting him on Twitter for securing $5 billion for border security, including a wall. That provision will probably be stripped out in the Senate, but never mind.

2. Arizona Senate

A major endorsement in this blockbuster Republican primary.
The most important Republican primary yet to be decided got a little more interesting this week, when Rep. Paul Gosar, a strictly conservative Freedom Caucus member, endorsed a challenger over one of his colleagues in the Arizona delegation. The race, to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, pits establishment-backed Rep. Martha McSally against two Trumpy challengers: former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who posted a respectable performance against Sen. John McCain in a 2016 primary, and disgraced former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the octogenarian whom President Trump pardoned earlier this year. Though most polling has showing McSally in the lead, any consolidation of the conservative opposition could spell trouble for her. And Gosar opted to back Ward, who shares his affinity for off-color statements. The divisive primary has already hurt the GOP’s chances against centrist Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who’s avoided primary damage.

3. Minnesota’s 2nd District

An already vulnerable male Republican has some fascinating takes about women.
There is a specific hazard for conservative talk-radio hosts who run for office: the high probability that they’ve said some shit. And CNN this week resurfaced comments freshman Rep. Jason Lewis made in 2012 lamenting the sad state of affairs in which it’s now impolitic to call women “sluts.” Lewis’ campaign explained that, at the time, “it was his job to be provocative while on the radio.” Got it? He only whined about how you can’t call women sluts because he was paid to. Lewis represents an R-plus-2 district encompassing the St. Paul suburbs of Minnesota, and the Cook Political Report already had the former talk-show host’s re-election race listed as “toss-up” before this week’s … events.

4. Ohio’s 12th District

The last big special election of the season.
Yes, we still have another one of these. On Aug. 7, Democrat Danny O’Connor will face Republican Troy Balderson to briefly fill the seat of senior Rep. Pat Tiberi, who retired for a new job earlier this year. O’Connor is trying to recreate Conor Lamb’s big Pennsylvania earlier this year in this R-plus-7 district, which covers some Columbus suburbs and rural areas to its north and east. That means: renouncing Nancy Pelosi early and focusing on protecting Social Security and Medicare. He has the attention of Republicans, who have poured millions into his district. On Thursday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced a $240,000 buy into the district.

5. Florida’s 26th District

A seriously vulnerable Republican challenges his party yet again.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican who represents a D-plus-6 South Florida district covering the Keys and part of Miami-Dade County, unsuccessfully fought his party for months to pass a bill protecting Dreamers. He’s now committing another heresy: introducing a bill next week to institute a carbon tax. To give you just a sense of how opposed Republicans are to such an idea, the chamber voted on a nonbinding resolution Thursday, introduced by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, declaring that a carbon tax “would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.” It is fair to say that Curbelo’s bill will not get very far in the House of Representatives, but it’s a good play for a district suffering like none other from the effects of climate change.

6. Massachusetts 7th District

Another longtime House Democrat fights for his survival.
The left flank of the Democratic Party will look to Boston for its next big opportunity to knock off an entrenched incumbent. Rep. Michael Capuano, who has served in the House since forever, is facing a credible primary challenge from Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color ever elected to the Boston City Council. Pressley has tried to draw momentum from Ocasio-Cortez’s victory, while Capuano has understandably become annoyed with constant questions about whether he’s next. Capuano has a fairly progressive record, and on Thursday became one of the founding members of the House Medicare-for-all Caucus. He doesn’t support abolishing ICE, though, and has instead touted his 2002 vote against the law that created ICE. This primary is Sept. 4. It’ll be a long six weeks.

7. Delaware Senate

A centrist Democrat who’s voted for Kavanaugh is in the primary crosshairs.
We’ve got a lefty looking to take out a longtime Democratic senator too: Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, a centrist who, like any Delaware senator, has consistently sided with the banking industry back home. His challenger, Kerri Evelyn Harris, is a community organizer who’s now using those corporate ties against him. She got a new talking point after President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, since Carper voted to confirm Kavanaugh as an appellate judge back in 2006. (Carper won’t make that mistake again, and is now calling Kavanaugh “the next Scott Pruitt.”) Some of Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign staffers have been dispatched to Delaware to help Harris out.