POLITICO’s guide to Tuesday’s primary elections

- Mei 14, 2018

Tuesday is one of the most critical days in the pitched battle for the House of Representatives next year.

Seeking the 23 seats they need to wrest control of the chamber, Democrats are looking at the new court-imposed congressional map in Pennsylvania, where a half-dozen districts are up for grabs. But the party’s fortunes may depend on which candidates prevail in crowded primaries under unfamiliar district lines on Tuesday.

Democrats also have their eyes on a battleground district in eastern Nebraska — but would feel better about their chances if former Rep. Brad Ashford prevails in Tuesday’s primary there.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is seeking to boost Rep. Lou Barletta in his bid to face Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in the fall. But Barletta and Rep. Raúl Labrador — running in the GOP primary for Idaho governor — are hoping to fare better than other House members who have fallen short or underwhelmed among Republican voters when running statewide.

Polls close at 8 p.m. Eastern time in Pennsylvania, 9 p.m. in Nebraska and 11 p.m. in Idaho and Oregon.


Here are five things to watch as the results are tallied Tuesday night:

Democratic House candidates battle over ideology

Primary campaigns in several top Democratic target districts have been about the candidates’ ideology — but that might not tilt the results in ways an observer of national politics would expect.

John Morganelli, the Northampton County district attorney running in the Democratic primary for an open seat in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, tweeted at President-elect Donald Trump about a job in the administration and has angered progressives on issues like abortion and illegal immigration, among others. But his long career in elected politics still gives him an advantage not enjoyed by Bernie Sanders-backed Greg Edwards, who is also supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, and EMILY’s List-backed Susan Wild, who is seeking to break into Pennsylvania’s all-male congressional delegation. They, along with outside groups, have come at Morganelli from the left.

In Nebraska, former Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford’s comeback campaign faces an obstacle on the left in the form of Kara Eastman, who has run as a true progressive in contrast to Ashford’s deal-making, pro-compromise political approach. Ashford enjoys many of the advantages of incumbency despite his close loss in 2016 to Republican Rep. Don Bacon: better name recognition than Eastman, better fundraising and support from party leaders in Washington.

Edwards said Tuesday’s results in his district will “say more about campaign strategy than ideology,” perhaps highlighting his underdog status. But the margins of victory could shed light on whether primary voters want ideological purity.

An archetypal 2018 profile runs into a big self-funder in another battleground

Rachel Reddick, a 33-year-old Republican-turned-Democrat Navy veteran, believes she fits the profile of a Bucks County, Pennsylvania, swing district that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Indeed, Reddick sits at the intersection of a number of important political trends since Trump’s election: women and veterans pouring into Democratic congressional primaries, and some college-educated suburban voters peeling away from the Republican Party.

But she’s not the favorite to win the Democratic nomination to face GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, after she was outspent 16-to-1 on TV ads by Scott Wallace, a self-funding philanthropist who fits one longer-held notion about what to look for in potential House candidates — namely, a fat wallet.

Wallace has some baggage, which Reddick has aired as the primary turned nasty. Reddick hit Wallace for being a carpetbagger with a Maryland voter registration, while Wallace’s ads litigated Reddick’s Republican past. And there have been a lot more of Wallace’s ads.

Reddick’s supporters argued that she would be a better contrast against Fitzpatrick in the general election, and female candidates have already been seen getting a lift in Democratic primaries all over the country this year. But Wallace has been able to spread his message much further, and his supporters are suspicious of Reddick’s past — a potentially bad sign for a slew of other former Republicans running as Trump-era Democrats in congressional races across the country.

“Just because you woke up on Nov. 9 and you were afraid for your country doesn’t mean that you get to go to Washington,” said Noni West, a Doylestown Borough council member who is supporting Wallace.


Pennsylvania delegation gets a makeover

Because of the new congressional map, Pennsylvania is about to see massive turnover in its congressional delegation. Six members of Congress are retiring, seeking higher office or have already resigned: Reps. Bill Shuster, Charlie Dent, Pat Meehan, Ryan Costello, Bob Brady and Barletta. Add one member-vs.-member race triggered by the new map — Reps. Conor Lamb and Keith Rothfus in Western Pennsylvania — and that’s nearly a third of the state’s delegation.

And that’s assuming no sitting member loses the general election: GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright face competitive races in the fall.

All the chaos means a lot of open-seat races on the ballot on Tuesday, including some districts where the primary winners will be virtually ensured a spot in the new Congress. Take the heavily Republican 14th District in Western Pennsylvania. There’s one familiar name in the race: state Rep. Rick Saccone, who lost a special election for a similar district under the old congressional lines in March.

But Saccone faces a rematch of sorts against state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, whom Saccone defeated last year in a party convention for the nomination in the special election. In an unusual twist, Reschenthaler is trying to use Saccone’s loss to Lamb against him.

“Saccone already lost a safe Republican seat,” the narrator says in one of Reschenthaler’s ads. “Even President Trump called Saccone ‘weak.’”

The open GOP primary in the neighboring 13th District is also one to watch. There, House Freedom Action, the political arm associated with the Freedom Caucus, is supporting state Rep. Steve Bloom. The conservative Club for Growth isn’t backing a particular candidate — but it is spending money on TV ads urging Republicans to vote against John Joyce, a dermatologist.

Also on the ballot there: Art Halvorson, Shuster’s two-time primary challenger, who pivoted and ran against Shuster as a Democrat, too, in 2016.


House Republicans back on statewide ballots

It was a rough night last Tuesday for House Republicans seeking promotions to the Senate. Both Luke Messer and Todd Rokita went down in flames in Indiana. Evan Jenkins fizzled out in West Virginia. And while Jim Renacci did win the Ohio GOP Senate primary, his 47 percent showing was far from impressive, given the enthusiastic backing he received from Trump.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, Barletta also has Trump’s endorsement — and a last-minute robocall from the president. Barletta is in a one-on-one matchup with state Rep. Jim Christiana and won’t have the luxury of limping into a general election with only a plurality of the primary vote.

Barletta should have a commanding advantage: As of late April, he had spent $1.9 million on his bid, to just $262,000 for Christiana.

Meanwhile, Labrador is locked in a competitive three-way race for governor in Idaho with Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Tommy Ahlquist, a physician and investor. The limited public polling suggests the three men are tightly bunched at the top of a seven-candidate field.

Labrador is an influential member of the House Freedom Caucus in Washington — but Little has the support of retiring Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, while Ahlquist is backed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is running for Senate in neighboring Utah this year.


A theme of recent GOP primaries heads west

Oregon has gotten only bluer in recent years, but Democratic Gov. Kate Brown isn’t overwhelmingly popular, and some Republicans there are cautiously optimistic about state Rep. Knute Buehler’s gubernatorial campaign.

But Buehler has faced a tough Republican primary with a hard-line opponent, along the lines of the fight Virginia Republican Ed Gillespie endured before squeaking out his nomination in 2017, and Democrats are watching closely ahead of primary day. Businessman Sam Carpenter has styled himself the most Donald Trump-like candidate in the primary, and despite being massively outspent by Buehler (who has spent over $900,000 on ads, according to Advertising Analytics), Carpenter was within single digits of Buehler in a recent Democratic poll conducted by Global Strategy Group.

In response to Carpenter’s pesky challenge, Buehler has gone on offense, releasing a radio ad accusing Carpenter of being unable to pay taxes. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, in the 1990s, Carpenter was hit with a handful of state and federal tax liens, and Carpenter’s business was hit with 15 tax liens.

While Democratic primaries are stealing the show Tuesday night, keep an eye out for GOP contests like these that may turn long-shot races into no-shot races for the party this November.


 

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