Sept 07, 2018 60 days to Nov 06, 2018
The Hot Seats

Slate’s guide to the seven midterms races everyone is talking about this week.

As that old political saw about election-year Septembers goes, “Only two more months of this crap.” Welcome to September! Primary season is wrapping up, and doing so with a flourish on the Democratic side. As for the already solidified Senate races: Ted Cruz’s campaign was busy this week making up a story about how Beto O’Rourke loves burning flags, and competitive Republican candidates started to question whether they should have filed a suit to eliminate protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Plus, President Obama has found a few minutes in his busy schedule of doing nothing to hit the campaign trail, and Arizona Republican Martha McSally now has two paths to the Senate.

Ayanna Pressley
Ayanna Pressley
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #5

1. Massachusetts 7th District

Another longtime Democratic incumbent goes down. Why?

The word that 10-term Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano would concede the primary to Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley got out before any results even went public. It wasn’t even close, with Pressley winning by 17 percentage points and joining Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the only other Democrat to knock off an incumbent House member this primary season. Now that would-be insurgents see this as possible—which they hadn’t ever, until a few months ago!—the 2020 Democratic congressional primaries are going to get messy. It would be incorrect to call Pressley an “outsider,” since city council members in cities traditionally run by political machines are the quintessential insiders. She also wasn’t significantly more progressive than the very progressive Capuano, although she benefited from that impression. But she was a fresh face in a district, which comprises parts of Boston and nearby suburbs, that no longer looks like Michael Capuano—or some its previous representatives, including John F. Kennedy and Tip O’Neill. The Democratic Party coalition has changed a lot in the last 10 years. It shouldn’t be such a shock that the makeup of the Democratic congressional delegation is turning over. But since it seems to be anyway, and since the aftershocks of her victory are still strong, Pressley’s win tops our list. 

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Rank 2

Last Week Up from last week #3

2. Delaware Senate

The left’s top Senate target survives.

Despite their statement victories over House incumbents, insurgent lefties have not yet taken down an establishment Senate candidate. That’s understandable, as there weren’t a lot of options to play with on the difficult map this year. The left’s top target, though, was three-term Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, a mild-mannered centrist who’s long been loyal to the big financial services and pharmaceutical giants in his state. Progressive organizers, including some from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, flooded Delaware in recent months to help out challenger Kerri Evelyn Harris, a veteran and community organizer. Carper, who’s held statewide office since the 1970s, took the race seriously, though, and his undefeated record in elections will stand: He blitzed Harris on Thursday night in a race that was called almost immediately. He is just about certain to return for a fourth term in January.

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Rank 3

Last Week Up from last week #4

3. New York Governor

Andrew Cuomo should win, but it would be funny if he lost.

This one’s finally almost over, thank God. How many more months could we take of national media based in New York ferociously tweeting about transit policy? It’s almost as bad as national media based in Washington tweeting about the rain. Next Thursday, New York state voters will determine whether they want to give Gov. Andrew Cuomo a third term or deport Cynthia Nixon to Albany instead. The scant public polling this summer showed Cuomo well clear of Nixon. Either that polling is wrong or Cuomo just enjoys lighting money on fire, because his campaign has spent more than $8 million in the last three weeks. The New York Times endorsed Cuomo this week, arguing that he may have been sort of corrupt and lousy these last two terms, but the third term? The third term’s going to be different. As for his competitor: Nixon’s campaign, the Times wrote, “has, at times, boiled down to a largely negative message — that she is not Andrew Cuomo — and while that can indeed seem an appealing truth, it is not, in the end, enough.” That even a Cuomo endorsement admits it’s been fun to watch Cuomo get attacked is a good example of why this race, while probably not close, is still grabbing a top Hot Seats spot. 

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Rank 4

Last Week Up from last week #6

4. Texas Senate

The beginning of a million anti-O’Rourke ads.

The Ted Cruz campaign and its outside allies are using this first post–Labor Day week—when “the election really begins,” as dumb old pundits say—to introduce the still under-known Rep. Beto O’Rourke on its own terms. That means lots of funny videos! The campaign released one very aggressively edited 25-second video on Tuesday suggesting that O’Rourke had said he was “grateful” for people “burning or desecrating the American flag.” He did not. (But why not? We thought Beto was supposed to be “cool.”) Here’s another one from the Club for Growth accusing O’Rourke of considering an eminent domain plan on behalf of big developers when he was an El Paso city councilman. The results of the 2016 election, after all, taught us just how devastating it can be for a candidate to look fondly at eminent domain. And a third video, this one from a super PAC called Texans Are, runs with the standard fare about O’Rourke loving undocumented immigrants and wanting them to take over America. When do we get the ad alleging Beto O’Rourke somehow wants liberal Nancy Pelosi to run the Senate? There’s time yet.

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Rank 5

Last Week
Unranked

5. Arizona Senate

Martha McSally doesn’t even need to bother anymore.

Just as we were getting all het up about the nascent Martha McSally vs. Kyrsten Sinema showdown this November, we learn that the stakes have possibly been lessened for McSally. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey this week appointed former high-ranking Senate Republican Jon Kyl to fill John McCain’s seat, but Kyl, who won’t enjoy his old seniority and would rather make a shitload of money through his regular job as a simple country lawyer at the high-powered D.C. firm Covington & Burling, has only promised to stay through the end of the year. In other words, if McSally loses her race to Sinema, she would be a top candidate to fill Kyl’s seat anyway and spend two years building toward the 2020 special election. Sure, McSally would much prefer not to be a loser who was given a participation-trophy seat and who would have to defend in both the 2020 special election and a 2022 election for a full term. But it’s better than not having the option of a participation-trophy seat at all. Anyway, boring. Unless something crazy happens soon, this race might even drop off the list next week. 

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Rank 6

Last Week
Unranked

6. Missouri Senate

Is Josh Hawley sure he wanted to sign on to that anti-Obamacare lawsuit?

The most consequential hearing of the election season this week wasn’t necessarily in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was in a district court in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor heard oral arguments for the latest longshot effort to strike down what remains of Obamacare’s individual mandate and, with it, many of the law’s insurance regulations, including protections for those with pre-existing conditions. This has become a problem for several Republican candidates this year, like Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who signed on to the case and is now running for Senate. His competition, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, has been hammering him for suing to strip protections for pre-existing conditions, forcing Hawley to try to reassure Missourians that he doesn’t actually want to kill protections for pre-existing conditions, he just wants to kill Obamacare, the bad government thing that does all the nondescript bad health care things.

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Rank 7

Last Week
Unranked

7. Orange County

Obama finally gets involved.

Oh hey Obama, nice of you to show up. The ex-president will begin campaigning on behalf of Democratic candidates for the House this Saturday, and it appears he’ll do so efficiently. Rather than going to each individual district in a particular area, he’ll make all the nearby candidates come to him. He’ll hold an event this Saturday in Irvine, California, with seven California Democrats who are trying to flip red districts. That includes candidates in five SoCal districts, four of which contain a piece of blue-trending Orange County, which used to be very red. Is this a statement? It sort of seems like a statement: Picking up at least a majority of these competitive California districts is key to Democrats taking over the House. Obama plus the potential of flipping the house equals the final hot seat. 

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