Data for Progress (@DataProgress) uses data to illuminate the most important stories in the country. To that end, we’re working with Robert Wheel (@BobbyBigWheel) to provide comprehensive coverage of the 2018 election cycle in our series, "data for politics." - Sean
There’s no break in the primary schedule this week as four more states -- Maine, Nevada, South Carolina, and Virginia -- will choose House nominees on Tuesday. There are races in each worth watching.
Maine’s 2nd is the marquee race in South Canada. It backed every Democratic presidential candidate from 1992 to 2012 but swung hard to Trump in 2016 and elected its current Republican congressman, Bruce Poliquin, for the past two terms. State Rep. Jared Golden and activist Lucas St. Clair face off for the right to take on the Republican, and the difference between them seems more biographical than anything. Golden grew up in a small town, blue collar household in the district and joined the Marines before going to college. St. Clair is the son of the Burt’s Bees founders and just moved to the area from Portland. He’s easy to portray as the type of carpetbagging cosmopolitan liberal that Poliquin beat in his previous two wins, so Democrats are hoping Golden pulls it out.
Notable about this race: voters will use Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) for these primaries, the first time the system has been used in a modern federal race. There are only three candidates in the 2nd with one, Craig Olson, not expected to get much backing. But in a close race between Golden and St. Clair, Olson supporters’ second choice could make the difference.
One race that could really use IRV is the primary in Northern Virginia’s 10th District, which narrowly returned Republican Barbara Comstock to Congress even as it voted for Clinton by 10 points. Four viable Democrats -- Lindsey Davis Stover, Jennifer Wexton, Alison Friedman, and Dan Helmer -- are facing off there. Cook Political Report House Editor Dave Wasserman had a good breakdown of the race in which there are limited ideological differences between the candidates. In sum, Wexton’s the frontrunner but her legislative history could be a millstone; Friedman is well-funded but aloof; and Stover is the most compelling of the group.
Wasserman didn’t dig deep enough into Dan Helmer, who’s becoming the clown prince of this primary. He first gained national attention with an ad featuring him harassing a stand-in for the female incumbent. He then ran an ad saying President Trump is the biggest threat to this country since Osama Bin Laden. I’d rather candidates talk hard truths about actual left policies than hurl cultural signifiers that accomplish nothing but the alienation of moderates (Bill Maher Issues, if you will). Helmer would be a disaster as a nominee and it’s easy to see how Comstock would portray him as a left-wing misogynist. Wexton is the frontrunner (she has tons of institutional support and the Washington Post endorsement in an area where that really matters) and while Stover is the best candidate here, I can’t begrudge anyone who supports Wexton to deny Helmer the nomination.
Elsewhere in Virginia there are Democratic primaries for the 2nd and 7th Districts, both of which narrowly went for Trump and would definitely be winnable in a wave. The 2nd features an insider-outsider showdown between Elaine Luria and Karen Mallard, so we’ll see just how far the former’s money and connections can take her. One problem with Luria’s campaign is that she’s actually voted for her Republican opponent twice. This cycle’s biggest primary upset, in NE-02, featured a favorite who was portrayed as an unreliable Democrat, so if you’re looking for an under-the-radar upset, VA-02 might be a good place to keep tabs. The 7th is a bit closer run in the primary with pilot Dan Ward and former CIA agent Abigail Spanberger the top two contenders. As always in 2018, when two candidates seem evenly matched in a primary, bet on the woman.
Nevada has one interesting primary, the 4th District which was vacated when Ruben Kihuen announced he was retiring after his history of sexual harassment came to light. Activist Amy Vilela was already in the race before his announcement and secured a lot of local progressive endorsements including Indivisible. But former Rep. Steve Horsford, who lost in the 2014 wave and went to work for the gaming industry, secured the endorsements of both the DCCC and the powerful Culinary Union, which has an excellent track record in Democratic primaries. Meanwhile, State Senator Pat Spearman, an African-American (like Horsford), lesbian veteran preacher (things Horsford isn’t) entered the race as well and locked up the support of a lot of national progressive groups. With her and Vilela splitting the progressive, non-union vote, Horsford is the favorite.
South Carolina doesn’t have much action on the Democratic side. Archie Parnell came close in a 2017 special election and Democrats hoped he could snatch the conservative-leaning 5th away from Ralph Norman, best known for pulling a gun on his constituents. But then it came to light that Parnell had physically terrorized his girlfriend in the ‘70s and the seat now seems entirely off the board.
Republicans, though, have a pair of primaries that may be worth watching. Trey Gowdy’s old seat is up for grabs and while it’s likely that a white male reactionary will replace him, there’s one woman and one African-American among the thirteen candidates. You might want to keep an eye on Shannon Pierce and Mark Burns as results come in.
Lastly, Republican Mark Sanford’s bizarre political career continues in the 1st District as he faces a primary from his right for being insufficiently deferential to President Grandpa. If Katie Arrington beats him (either in the primary or in a runoff), it could put this traditionally conservative but more upscale (and thus anti-Trump, if sympathetic to his policies) district in play. If that comes to pass Sanford would be the second Republican denied renomination for being insufficiently worshipful of Trump. Meanwhile no Democratic incumbent has lost the race for renomination this cycle. So while there doesn’t appear to be a Tea Party of the Left, The Tea Party of the Right still grinds away at anyone guilty of left deviationism.