Tuesday’s primaries feature Democratic ideological and stylistic battles that could have a major impact on how competitive the party is in the fall general election. Top contests also feature Democratic women competing — sometimes against each other.
The “Stacey vs. Stacey” face-off in Georgia has drawn national attention as Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans run for governor on competing arguments over the best way to compete against Republicans — by just firing up the base or also trying to sway moderates.
Progressive activists are placing hopes in Laura Moser, the Texas congressional candidate targeted by national Democrats who think she’s too far left to flip a swing district in the Houston suburbs. The populist left is looking to score more wins after finally bringing the fight to party leaders by defeating their favored candidate in a Nebraska primary last week.
Democrats are also hoping to target a suburban House seat in Kentucky, but first they have to settle a primary between two strong candidates with very different backgrounds.
Polls close in Kentucky at 6 and 7 p.m. ET, in Georgia at 7 p.m. ET, at 8 and 9 p.m. ET in Texas and at 8:30 p.m. ET in Arkansas.
Here’s what to watch for as results come in tonight.
Georgia: Democrats’ identity crisis on display
Democrats have struggled for years to win statewide in Georgia, despite the state’s changing demographics. Now in the open race for governor, two candidates are arguing they have the right strategy for victory over the GOP.
Stacey Abrams is running to become the first African-American woman elected governor in U.S. history. Her candidacy has drawn plenty of national support from women’s groups like EMILY’s List, plus endorsements from both Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
As NPR’s Asma Khalid reported, Abrams believes that “the only way a Democrat can win is by engaging with untapped minority voters, particularly those in rural communities, who’ve often been overlooked” instead of trying to woo disaffected GOP voters. Her opponent Stacey Evans, who is white, would largely hew to the traditional Southern Democratic strategy of trying to win over centrists and independents, while also campaigning in black communities.
Polling shows Abrams with the lead over Evans, and she’s especially got an edge given the African-American voting bloc in the primary — but almost a quarter of voters are still undecided.
Either Democrat would start as the underdog against the Republican nominee, who may not be chosen yet on Tuesday. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is the frontrunner, but the big question is whether he can top 50 percent and avoid a runoff in the seven-way contest to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Nathan Deal.
Texas: Lone Star liberals vs. centrists
The most high-profile Democratic fight is the runoff in the Texas 7th Congressional District. The suburban Houston seat fits the mold of Democratic top-tier targets: High-income and highly-educated voters who narrowly backed Hillary Clinton over President Trump in 2016, while also reelecting Republican Rep. John Culberson.
Because the seat is so high on their list of targets, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made the unusual decision to plop itself right in the middle of the crowded primary ahead of the March ballot. The DCCC unloaded an opposition research memo on candidate Laura Moser, a progressive activist who party leaders worry would lose a fall campaign against Culberson.
The move backfired and now Moser is in the runoff against attorney Lizzie Fletcher, who most party leaders prefer. Both candidates say the DCCC drama has had minimal impact on Houston voters, but Moser was able to raise money off the party’s hardball tactics. She has become a cause célèbre and Exhibit A for progressive candidates across the country who have felt squeezed by party leaders looking for general election candidates who can appeal to Republicans and independents.
Culberson’s district is probably Democrats’ best chance to flip a district in Texas, but there are other contests on their radar too. The DCCC has backed former NFL player Colin Allred, who finished first in the March primary, over Lillian Salerno in the 32nd District to challenge GOP Rep. Pete Sessions in a suburban Dallas district that also voted narrowly for Clinton.
In the 23rd District, the DCCC has also weighed in for Iraq War veteran Gina Ortiz Jones, who has the edge over former Sanders activist Rick Trevino. The winner will face Republican congressman Will Hurd in the expansive border district that also voted for Clinton.
Kentucky: Fighter pilot vs. the mayor
Three-term GOP Rep. Andy Barr is rising atop Democratic target lists, and they have two viable challengers vying for the chance to face him. Retired Marine Lt. Colonel Amy McGrath drew national attention last year when she released an ad that quickly went viral showing the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran talking about when she was younger and politicians told her that she shouldn’t be a fighter pilot — but went on to become one anyway.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray also joined the race, encouraged by some national Democrats who have long eyed him as an ideal challenger to Barr. He’s an openly gay Southern Democrat who carried the 6th District in the 2016 Senate race, when he challenged Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
There are no clear progressive vs. centrist divides in this contest, though McGrath has probably drawn more liberal support. She’s tried to paint Gray as part of the political establishment, but the DCCC hasn’t weighed in for either candidate.
The race turned negative in its final days as Gray aired an ad criticizing McGrath for just recently moving to the district from the east coast to run for Congress — a clear sign he’s worried of her strength in the contest. McGrath responded on Facebook, calling it “an attack against any American citizen who chooses to serve their country in times of war and then come home to continue their service in another way.”
McGrath could be buoyed by the surge in female candidates across the country. Either candidate would be competitive against Barr, though some Republicans are more worried about Gray’s proven ability to win crossover voters.
Arkansas: Wave watching
Democrats recruited state Rep. Clarke Tucker to challenge GOP Rep. French Hill in the only closely-watched race in the state. Public polling has shown Tucker is the heavy favorite to win his primary. However, all three of his opponents have run to Tucker’s left by touting a more progressive platform — which could benefit Tucker if that voting bloc is split. However, he still needs to top 50 percent to avoid a runoff.
Democrats probably only have a chance here if it is Tucker who wins the nomination, and it’s still not an easy climb — the state’s once-Democratic heavy congressional delegation has been wiped extinct since 2010.