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Open seats and retirements in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Connecticut take spotlight ahead of Tuesday’s primaries

primaries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Vermont


Congressional primaries Tuesday in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Vermont have a handful of open seats and a few toss-up districts, which will be closely watched by both parties.

Most of the action is on the House side, but there are a couple of big Senate races in play in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In districts where one party has a stronghold, open-seat primaries essentially function as general elections because the candidate who wins the primary for his or her party will  likely win in November.

Minnesota

Minnesota is a purple state where Republicans control the state legislature but the state’s governor, U.S. senators and five of the eight House seats are held by Democrats.

The land of 10,000 lakes, which has historically been a particularly politically active state with unusually high voter turnout, has a number of competitive primaries next week.

Incumbent Sen. Tina Smith (D), who was appointed to Al Franken’s vacated seat in January, is facing former Republican and White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter in a Democratic primary ahead of Minnesota’s Senate special election in November.

With a $4.8 million war chest and many Democratic Party establishment endorsements, Smith is expected to win the primary but will face a tougher challenge against a Republican opponent in November.

Minnesota’s other Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar, can rest easy next week. She has no serious challengers in the primary and last won reelection in 2012 by 35 percentage points. It’s highly unusual for a state to have two Senate seats in play in one year. In an election year when control of Congress could easily hinge on a single Senate seat, Minnesota will be closely watched — particularly the special election.

Four of the state’s congressional districts are considered “toss-up” races in November, according to The Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

The 1st Congressional District and the 8th District are open-seat races. Rep. Tim Walz (D) in the First District is running for governor, and Rep. Rick Nolan (D) in the eighth is retiring.

Walz’s departure creates competitive primaries on both sides of the aisle.

On the Republican side, Jim Hagedorn, chair of Scotts Miracle-Gro, is making a third attempt at the district after losing to Walz by less than one percentage point in 2016. Hagedorn has raised $822,000 ahead of the Republican primary. State state Sen. Carla Nelson, Hagedorn’s main opponent in the primary, has raised $487,000.

On the Democratic side, Dan Feehan, a former Defense assistant secretary during the Obama administration, is the favorite to win the primary. He’s raised the most money out of all the Democratic candidates with $1.1 million and was endorsed by Walz along with former Vice President Joe Biden.

In the 2nd Congressional District, Republican incumbent Rep. Jason Lewis is running again. He will go unopposed in primary but may face a serious challenge from Democrat Angie Craig in the general election. Craig, a former St. Jude Medical executive who ran against Lewis in 2016, has raised $2.3million to Lewis’ $1.9 million.

The 3rd Congressional District has incumbent Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) running again, with a large fundraising haul of $3.8 million so far. Although Paulsen’s unopposed in the primary, he’s expected to face a stiff challenge from the Democrats in the fall.

The two Democrats competing in the primary are entrepreneur Dean Phillips, who’s raised 2.5 million, and investment manager Adam Jennings, who’s raised $380,000. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both won this district during their presidential campaigns, and it’s a targeted district by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In the 8th Congressional District, Nolan’s retirement has resulted in a competitive primary for both the parties. Although Obama won this district by 6 percentage points in 2012, President Donald Trump won by a 15-point margin in 2016.

Joe Radinovich, a former state legislator and Nolan’s campaign manager, and state Rep. Jason Metsa are leading Democrats in fundraising with $322,000 and $259,000, respectively. On the Republican side, St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber, who has raised $948,000 so far, is expected to win his primary.

Wisconsin

The most significant political surprise coming out of the Badger State this year was obviously Speaker Paul Ryan deciding to retire. This leaves a big question mark in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. The Cook Political Report considers it leaning Republican.

Ryan has endorsed Republican Bryan Steil, a former staffer of his to be his successor. Steil has raised $750,000 so far. On the Democratic side, there’s a more fiery primary contest with ironworker Randy Bryce against teacher Cathy Myers. Bryce, who has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the United Auto Workers union, has raised a whopping $6.2 million while Myers has raked in $1.2 million so far.

In the Senate primary, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) is up for reelection this year. Although she faces no serious primary challenger next week, she’s raised a stunning sum of $21.5 million so far to ward off her Republican challengers during the general election. She will face off against either Marine Corps veteran Kevin Nicholson (R) or state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R). Vukumir has been endorsed by Ryan and other national and state party leaders while Nicholson has focused on his military service and being a political outsider. Nicholson has raised $3.5 million and Vukumir has raised $2 million so far. Illinois businessman Richard Uihlein, founder of Uline Corp., has had an outsized influence on trying to get Nicholson to clinch the Republican nomination. In all, Uihlein-supported groups have spent $10.7 million on the race in support of Nicholson and against Vukmir, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Connecticut

The 5th Congressional District unexpectedly became Connecticut’s most contested election after incumbent Elizabeth Esty (D) announced in April that she would not seek reelection due to her handling of sexual harassment allegations against her former chief of staff. The district is considered solidly blue by the Cook Political Report and so will likely be taken by another Democrat. This has created a competitive primary between former Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman and Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year.

The Connecticut Democratic Party endorsed Glassman over Hayes after two rounds of voting at the state party convention in May. Glassman, who has raised $453,000 so far, supports keeping the Affordable Care Act over moving to a single-payer healthcare system. Hayes, on the other hand, has raised $459,000 and supports single-payer healthcare. Hayes would be the first black woman ever elected to Congress in the state if she won.

Senator Chris Murphy (D) is up for reelection this year but does not have a serious challenger for his primary. He’s raised $13.3 million so far.

Vermont

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) is up for reelection but as an independent doesn’t have a primary. He’ll sail into the general election with $8.5 million raised so far. The sole congressional seat in the state is held by Rep. Peter Welch (D), who has raised $596,000 and is likely to win his primary and keep his seat as well.

Nihal Krishan

Nihal joined CRP as a reporter in June 2018. He’s been a political reporter in Washington for the past 3 years working for various news outlets including PBS Arizona, Circa News, Inside Sources and Australian ABC News. He’s been published in the Huffington Post, The Independent, USA Today and has been a guest speaker on NPR. One of his first big national stories came from digging through CRP data in 2015 and finding the largest donor to federal campaigns in Arizona, an unknown out of state parent company — he’s gotten a thrill out of tracking money in politics since. Nihal is a TCK who grew up in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, India and Singapore. He graduated from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism with degrees in Political Science and Journalism.

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