Aug. 14, 2018 — Voters in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin will choose their nominees today. Minnesota and Wisconsin, in particular, feature some key contests.
Most of today’s action will occur in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as a major open race for governor will see party finalists determined in both political camps. Republicans feature former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner who is the officially endorsed party candidate.
Democrats have a three-way battle among state Rep. Erin Murphy (D-St. Paul), the official party endorsed candidate, Attorney General Lori Swanson, and US Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato). Though Murphy is the sanctioned candidate, she appears to be trailing both Swanson and Walz. The winners will set up a highly competitive general election that will probably be considered a toss-up campaign all the way to Election Day.
Both US senators are on the ballot. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) is a lock for re-election, while appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D) is finding a competitive battle coming from state Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Croix River Valley), but these scenarios are dependent upon all of the aforementioned easily winning their respective nominations tonight.
The state could yield as many as four competitive campaigns from their eight congressional districts, but today the real nomination battles are in Districts 1, 5, and 8.
The open Walz 1st District yields a competitive primary campaign in both parties. Republican Jim Hagedorn held Rep. Walz to a 50.3 percent re-election win in 2016, but he is not home free for re-nomination. State Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) has gained strong conservative support and is certainly a factor in tonight’s GOP primary. Former Defense Department official Dan Feehan is favored on the Democratic side.
The winner of tonight’s five-way 5th District Democratic primary will replace Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis), who is running for attorney general. The congressional result is expected to be close, but the winning Democrat tonight punches a virtual sure ticket to Washington in the fall.
In the Duluth-anchored 8th District, Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Crosby) is running for lieutenant governor, and Republicans feel this open seat may be their best opportunity in the nation to convert a Democratic district. St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber is the consensus Republican candidate, while the Democrats see a fight brewing among five candidates. The state convention delegates became deadlocked in this race, producing no official endorsement. Therefore, this contest could be anyone’s game.
Nine Democrats are vying for the opportunity of challenging two-term Gov. Scott Walker (R) in the fall. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers (D) appears to be the front-runner and is expected to win tonight. Evers has led in every publicly released survey for months. The race will likely be competitive in the fall, as Gov. Walker always hovers around approval ratings in the high 40s. He will have a tremendous resource advantage, however.
A spirited Republican contest between state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and businessman Kevin Nicholson will be decided, with the winner drawing a match with first-term Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D). Much outside money has supported Nicholson, a former Democrat whose parents are even publicly backing Sen. Baldwin, while Sen. Vukmir has attracted virtually all of the Republican and in-state right-of-center leaders, including Gov. Walker.
Both parties will choose nominees in Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Janesville) open 1st District. Former Ryan confidant Bryan Steil is favored to win the Republican primary. Labor union activist Randy Bryce raised over $6.2 million for his campaign, but most of that was from national sources when he was running against the Speaker. Now, he finds himself in a tough primary contest against Janesville School Board member Cathy Myers, who has gathered over $1.2 million in her own right.
Though Sen. Christopher Murphy (D) is on the ballot to seek his first re-election, little in the way of campaign fanfare surrounds this race. Republicans are not competitive here either tonight or in November, and Sen. Murphy will easily win a second term in the fall.
On the other hand, the open governor’s race has attracted quite a bit of political attention since it does seem that the Republicans have some chance to snatch what has become a reliable Democratic office.
Gov. Dan Malloy (D) is retiring with poor favorability ratings and businessman Ned Lamont, best known for his upending of Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary yet losing the general when the senator was able to win from the Independent ballot line, re-emerged to capture the Democratic endorsement for governor this year. He faces only Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who returned to office after serving a seven-year federal prison sentence for criminal corruption.
Republicans have five candidates vying for their party nomination, led by Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton who is the officially endorsed party candidate. Hedge Fund founder David Stemerman, financial executive Bob Stefanowski, consulting firm CEO Steve Obsitnik, and Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst round out the Republican gubernatorial field.
In the House races, the only race of interest today is in the open 5th District where Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Cheshire) is retiring largely due to staff sexual harassment situations. Two Democrats, including former lieutenant governor candidate Mary Glassman who just recently obtained the US Chamber of Commerce endorsement, are competing for the party nomination. Republicans are fielding three candidates.
Sen. Bernie Sanders stands for a third term amid more talk about another presidential run literally as soon as his Senate campaign concludes. For the first time, Sen. Sanders is appearing on the Vermont Democratic ballot, attempting to secure both the D and the I lines. In all of his other previous Vermont elections, Sanders has only appeared as an Independent. Regardless of the outcome tonight, Sen. Sanders is a lock for re-election, and then his attention turns to the national prize.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott, an anomaly in this highly Democratic state, stands for re-election for a second two-year term. Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire are the only two states that limit their governors to two-year stints in office. The governor is favored for re-election.