Primary Results:
Pawlenty Falls; Wisconsin Set

the-primariesBy Jim Ellis

Aug. 15, 2018 — Forty states have now chosen their nominees for the fall, as voters in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin made their choices known yesterday.


The big story was former two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty failing in his bid to return to the Governor’s mansion. Pawlenty, who served from 2003-2011 and won two tough general elections, lost last night to Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the party’s 2014 gubernatorial nominee and this election’s endorsed Republican Party candidate. Johnson recorded a 53-44 percent primary victory.

For the Democrats, US Rep. Tim Walz (D-Mankato), who scored the barest of re-election victories in 2016, won a highly competitive party primary last night with a 42-32-24 percent win over state Rep. Erin Murphy (D-St. Paul), the party-endorsed candidate, and Attorney General Lori Swanson who was originally running for re-election but switched races when she failed to win the party endorsement at the state convention. Rep. Walz performed strongly in his southern Minnesota base, carrying every county from the Iowa border through the central part of the state while splitting the Twin Cities area. Though Rep. Murphy won a convincing victory at the party convention, she was never able to convert her momentum into a winning coalition among voters.

In the two Senate races, two-term Democratic incumbent Amy Klobuchar was easily re-nominated for the fall as was appointed Sen. Tina Smith. Sen. Klobuchar is a lock in the general election, while Sen. Smith will face a competitive challenge from state Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Croix River Valley), who scored a clear Republican primary victory.

In the competitive House races, Republican Jim Hagedorn, who came within less than one percentage point of upsetting Rep. Walz in 2016, again won the party nomination, this time over state Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) who had support from some conservative organizations. Hagedorn will face the Democratic winner, former Defense Department official Dan Feehan, in what should be a hotly contested general election campaign.

While Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis) was winning the open attorney general’s Democratic primary, his open congressional seat is going to state Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis), who scored a 48-30 percent win over former state House Speaker Margaret Kelliher. Rep. Omar is now a lock to win the general election.

In the open 8th District, which will feature another top general election campaign battle, former state Rep. Joe Radinovich posted a 44 percent victory over four opponents and will now face St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber in the general election. As expected, Stauber easily carried the Republican primary. Rep. Rick Nolan, who won re-election in 2016 by less than a percentage point, ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor last night after originally announcing he is retiring from Congress.


Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) will face state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) in the general election. Vukmir defeated businessman Kevin Nicholson who received strong outside support, while the veteran state legislator attracted strong backing from the in-state party leadership including Gov. Scott Walker.

Vukmir scored a 49-43 percent Republican primary victory and won with a strong showing in Milwaukee, Madison, and the Lake Michigan corridor. Nicholson carried the state’s rural areas. Sen. Baldwin is favored in the general election.

For governor, as expected, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers won a crowded Democratic primary that featured a field of ten candidates. Evers, who led in every poll for months, captured 42 percent of the vote to claim the nomination. He now faces Gov. Walker who is running for a third term.

In the contested open 1st District House race, the seat that House Speaker Paul Ryan is vacating, long-time Ryan associate and University regent Bryan Steil scored majority support in the Republican primary against five opponents. He will face union organizer Randy Bryce who defeated Janesville School Board member Cathy Myers, 60-40 percent, despite late polling showing a tight race. Though the seat leans Republican, this race will likely be highly competitive in the general election.


As expected, liberal businessman Ned Lamont easily won the open Democratic gubernatorial nomination last night with an 81 percent victory over Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who spent seven years in federal prison for public corruption. Lamont upset then-Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary but lost the general election when the senator qualified for the ballot as an Independent.

The Republican electorate chose financial executive Bob Stefanowski who overcame the party endorsed candidate, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, with a 29-21 percent victory, as three other candidates divided the remaining 50 percent in a relative even fashion.

Both parties saw increased turnout from their last contested primary election. Democrats saw just over 211,000 voters participate last night, while almost 142,000 Republicans cast their ballots. In the open 2010 governor’s primary, just over 180,000 Democrats and 120,000 Republicans voted. The last two governor’s races have been close contests. Gov. Dan Malloy (D) is retiring after two terms.

In the lone House primary with competition, educator Jahana Hayes defeated Simsbury local official and former lieutenant governor candidate Mary Glassman, who was the party-endorsed candidate. Hayes scored a 62-38 percent victory and will now face former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos who took 52 percent among three Republican candidates. The winner replaces retiring 5th District Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Cheshire).


Sen. Bernie Sanders was an easy winner in the Democratic primary, but he will again appear on the general election ballot as an Independent. Soon after the general election, he will draw major political attention about whether he will again run for president.

For governor, the Democrats easily nominated Christine Hallquist, who would be the first transgender state chief executive if she wins the general election. To do that, she will have to unseat Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

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