The Slatest

What to Watch for in Tuesday’s Primaries

President Donald Trump and Gov. Scott Walker onstage together.
President Donald Trump and Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin on June 28. Scott Olson/Getty Images

On Tuesday, voters in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Vermont will pick nominees in a total of five Senate contests between them, as well as three of the most competitive gubernatorial races on the midterm calendar. They’ll also decide the nominees in a handful of congressional battlegrounds, including two of the three House seats Republicans have a realistic chance of flipping this fall.

Several of these states are still sorting out their politics in the Trump era. In Wisconsin, conservative Gov. Scott Walker and liberal Sen. Tammy Baldwin are both odds-on favorites to win re-election, two years after Trump won a surprise victory in the state. In Minnesota, where Trump also performed better than expected in 2016, Republicans are hopeful they might flip Al Franken’s Senate seat, and perhaps even recapture the governor’s mansion. In Connecticut, the deep unpopularity of incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy could put the heavily Democratic state in play, even in a possible wave year.

Here’s what to watch for in each state.


Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin are expected to coast to their respective nominations—the question, though, is whom each incumbent will face this November.

Democrats will select from a crowded field of eight to take on Walker, who has been a white whale for the left since he began decimating organized labor shortly after taking up residence in the governor’s mansion back in 2011. When pollsters at Marquette Law School surveyed the Democratic field last month, all eight challengers were looking up at perennial candidate “Undecided.” Tony Evers, a teacher-turned-state superintendent, is the closet thing to a favorite in the race. But the field also includes Kelda Roys, an EMILY’s List–endorsed lawyer who garnered some national attention when she featured herself breastfeeding her child in a campaign ad, and Mahlon Mitchell, the president of a firefighters’ union and the only black candidate on the ballot.

Republicans, meanwhile, will pick between two Senate hopefuls: Leah Vukmir, an establishment-backed state lawmaker, and Kevin Nicholson, a former Democrat who has rebranded himself as a tough-talking outsider. Both candidates have embraced Trump, awkwardly at times. Nicholson and his allies complain Vukmir is a RINO who was slow to endorse Trump in 2016; Vukmir and her team point out that Nicholson wasn’t even a Republican until some time around 2000. Both candidates have the backing of their own GOP megadonor; neither has the support of Nicholson’s parents, who have already donated the max to Baldwin. Whoever wins will enter the race as an underdog to Baldwin.

Further down the ballot, union steelworker Randy Bryce and his famous mustache face off against school board member Cathy Myers in the Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District, home to retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan. Bryce was an early favorite of national Democrats this cycle, and he has the backing of both Bernie Sanders and the DCCC. He once appeared a lock to win the nomination, but Myers has refused to go away. If Bryce loses, he’d be the latest in a string of Sanders endorsees to come up short on primary day. On the GOP side, local businessman Bryan Steil has Ryan’s backing and is the favorite in his primary, though the general election could be a close contest.


The Gopher State is home to not one but two Senate races this year, but the race for attorney general is overshadowing them both. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the vice chairman of the DNC and a bold-faced name on the left who came home to run for AG, was accused over the weekend of physically abusing an ex-girlfriend. He has denied those allegations, but it remains an open question just what impact they’ll have on the primary, and whether Ellison would be a drag on Democrats if he advanced to the general election.

In the Senate contests, incumbent Amy Klobuchar is expected to coast to her nomination and then another six-year term, while interim Sen. Tina Smith will have a little more work to serve out the final two years left in former Sen. Al Franken’s term. Smith drew a surprise primary challenge earlier this year from former White House ethics czar and current Trump critic Richard Painter, but his #Resistance cred doesn’t appear to be enough to make Democrats forget about his past as a George W. Bush appointee. Running on the GOP side are Karin Housley, a moderate state lawmaker backed by the state GOP, and Bob Anderson, a dental technician who’s praised Trump but who is also in favor of a public option.* Former Gov.
Tim Pawlenty is the favorite to win the GOP nomination to replace retiring Gov. Mark Dayton, while state Attorney General Lori Swanson and moderate U.S. Rep Tim Walz are the front-runners in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, with a progressive state lawmaker, Erin Murphy, in the mix as well.

Four of the state’s congressional districts are considered toss-ups heading into the fall: two open Democratic seats and two GOP seats where incumbents could be in trouble. There won’t be much suspense on primary night, though. The only competitive primary of the bunch is in the 8th District, where Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan isn’t running for re-election. St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber is the favorite for the GOP nomination there, while the Democratic race is anyone’s guess.


The only major race of note in the Nutmeg State is the one to succeed Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy, who isn’t seeking another term. The Democratic primary is between Ned Lamont, best known nationally for beating Sen. Joe Lieberman in a primary back in 2006 only to lose to him and his write-in campaign in the general election, and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim. On the Republican side, the contenders are a pair of business execs, Bob Stefanowski and David Stemerman, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who has the backing of the state Republican Party.


Unlike the other three states, the gubernatorial race in this one is expected to be a snoozer this fall, with GOP Gov. Phil Scott looking like a lock for another term. But what the Green Mountain State lacks in suspense it just might make up for with history. The leading contender for the Democratic nomination is Christine Hallquist, who is hoping to become the nation’s first transgender governor. Rounding out the field is: environmental activist James Ehlers, dance festival organizer Brenda Siegel, and Ethan Sonneborn, a 14-year-old who is taking advantage of the state’s lack of an age requirement to run for state office.

Correction, Aug. 13, 2018: An earlier version of this post misstated Bob Anderson’s profession. He is a dental technician, not a dental hygienist.