The Hot Seats: Republicans Are Stuck With Duncan Hunter on the Ballot

Your weekly guide to the midterms’ most-talked-about races.

Duncan Hunter.
Duncan Hunter. Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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

1. California’s 50th District

Another GOP indictment means another pickup opportunity for Democrats.
Can a San Diego–area congressman indicted on 60 counts of (alleged) ridiculous abuse of campaign funds—whose indictment includes references to various paramours, an instance of him telling the Navy to “go fuck itself,” and so much more—win? An election? We’ll find out soon enough, because California law makes it quite difficult to get Rep. Duncan Hunter off the ballot. The best excuse Hunter can offer for getting busted is that Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice is “the Democrats’ arm of law enforcement,” going after him just like it’s going after President Donald Trump. That’s very stupid, but it could be just demagogic enough to work in this R+11 district. He faces a charismatic, young Democratic opponent in Ammar Campa-Najjar.

2. Arizona Senate

The clown primary reaches its end.
The much-hyped Arizona GOP Senate primary between Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is Tuesday, and it’s not getting any less weird down the stretch. Ward is pulling out all the stops in an effort to consolidate the “kook vote.” This means, for one, a bus tour featuring extremely online Pizzagate troll Mike Cernovich. But it also means cranking up her tendency for purposeful foot-in-mouth. For example: pinning blame on McSally and Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake for the death of Mollie Tibbetts. Ward has more in the tank and should make for a deeply offensive closing weekend.

3. Florida Governor

Primaries are getting surprisingly tight on both sides.
Florida also selects its nominees on Tuesday, and mysterious things are happening in each of the gubernatorial primaries. Conservative Rep. Ron DeSantis had seemed to be in fine shape against state agriculture commissioner and ex-Congressman Adam Putnam following an enthusiastic endorsement rally from President Trump. But two recent polls have shown Putnam clawing back to within 1 and 2 points of DeSantis. On the Democratic side, former Rep. Gwen Graham had appeared to be comfortably ahead of her nearest challenger, former Miami Beach Mayor and businessman Philip Levine, but a recent survey from a Democratic pollster showed Levine 1 point ahead.


4. Delaware Senate

The left closes in on Tom Carper.
Delaware Sen. Tom Carper—who’s been in statewide office longer than his primary opponent, Kerri Evelyn Harris, has been alive—hasn’t faced a serious Democratic primary challenge in a long, long time. That means he hasn’t had to debate a primary opponent in a long, long time. That streak will end Monday night, when the two will debate in Wilmington ahead of their Sept. 6 primary. Carper, a business-friendly centrist who’s meandered somewhat leftward in recent years, is well exposed to a challenger from his left, on everything from his foreign policy votes to his vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for the appellate bench in 2006 and, especially, his work on behalf of Delaware-based financial institutions. On the other hand, Carper knows pretty much everyone in the state.

5. Massachusetts’ 7th District

A liberal challenge to a liberal incumbent is likely to produce a liberal nominee.
Rep. Michael Capuano is, like Carper, a Democrat who until this cycle had been safe from primary challenges for the past 3 to 4 million years. He now faces a serious challenge from Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council, on Sept. 4. But Capuano isn’t nearly as exposed as Carper is. Capuano, for example, has been a single-payer supporter since well before it was popular. Even Pressley admits that there’s not much daylight between the two on policy, saying in a debate that “we will vote the same way, but I will lead differently.” It’s a district, encompassing much of Boston and surrounding towns, that has diversified over the years, and Pressley argues that her lived experiences as a woman of color would bring a different perspective to Congress. But probably the same votes.

6. New York Governor

Cynthia Nixon is throwing anything and everything at Andrew Cuomo.
When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week that “we’re not going to make America great again” and that “it was never that great,” it marked a first for the two-term incumbent: It was the only time he had ever said something cool. That was an untenable position for him, and he tried to walk back the comments shortly after the press, and President Trump, pounced on him. That offered his opponent, Cynthia Nixon, the proper angle of attack from a Democratic primary perspective. In a statement, her campaign said that Cuomo backed down from a fight with Trump and “folded like a cheap suit.” Cuomo, Nixon’s campaign said, “showed he will ditch his convictions if the President attacks him (or his internal polling shows they have damaged him). By contrast, when Vice President Mike Pence attacked Cynthia for her position on abolishing ICE, Cynthia held firm and steadfast, despite criticism from the White House.” Sure, that works. The primary is Sept. 13.

7. New Jersey Senate

Huh. The guy who only barely escaped prison time for corruption is apparently unpopular.
A slow clap for the people who run the Democratic Party. In siding with Sen. Bob Menendez this cycle after his corruption trial ended in a hung jury, they’ve created a liability in blue New Jersey when they didn’t need one. When a reporter asked Menendez on Wednesday about “the poll,” Menendez asked, “Which poll?” He knew which poll: The Quinnipiac one released that day showing him only 6 percentage points ahead of his Republican opponent, Bob Hugin. Who could have imagined that Menendez might be weak in a race in which Democrats really can’t afford to have a weak incumbent this cycle? The party will now likely have to spend greater than zero dollars shoring up Menendez’s position. Nice.