What to watch in Tuesday’s primaries

Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington voting

Kansas candidate Kris Kobach is a Republican firebrand but could put the Senate seat he's seeking in play for Democrats if he wins Tuesday's primary. (Mark Reinstein/Getty Images file photo)
Kansas candidate Kris Kobach is a Republican firebrand but could put the Senate seat he's seeking in play for Democrats if he wins Tuesday's primary. (Mark Reinstein/Getty Images file photo)
Posted August 3, 2020 at 6:00am

Corrected, 10:28 a.m. | Kansas Republicans will decide whether to pick a Senate candidate the national party would rather they didn’t, and several House incumbents — including one recently charged with voter fraud and another who is part of the “squad” — face challengers Tuesday as five states hold congressional primaries.

Republican Rep. Steve Watkins of Kansas and Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and William Lacy Clay of Missouri are battling to remain their parties’ nominees. Contests in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington will also set matchups in a handful of races that both parties are targeting.

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Here’s what to watch.

Will Kansas Senate race be in play?

National Republicans facing an expanding Senate battleground fear conservative firebrand Kris Kobach could put Kansas in play if he wins the GOP nomination for the seat being vacated by Republican Pat Roberts.

Kobach is one of four candidates in the 11-way GOP field who has the kind of money and name recognition to break through.

A former Kansas secretary of state, Kobach earned his credibility with the GOP base as the face of President Donald Trump’s short-lived voter fraud panel. He defeated sitting Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, only to lose to moderate Democrat Laura Kelly that November.

Republicans seeking to avoid the same outcome in the Senate race failed to recruit Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who remains widely popular in the state. Instead, they’ve consolidated around 1st District Rep. Roger Marshall, an obstetrician who in 2016 ousted tea party favorite Rep. Tim Huelskamp in a primary.

Marshall has put past appeals to bipartisanship behind him and is playing up his allegiance to Trump. The president has not endorsed in the primary, despite reports of intensive lobbying from Senate Republicans in the days leading up to the election.

Marshall had $1 million in the bank as of July 15 compared with Kobach’s $136,000. Bob Hamilton, who made a fortune as the former owner of a well-known plumbing business, had $964,000 after loaning his campaign $3.5 million. He spent much of that money blanketing the Kansas airwaves on goofy television ads, promoting his pro-Trump and Washington outsider credentials.

Kobach has benefited from almost $1.1 million in spending on mailers and digital ads from a group affiliated with tech billionaire Peter Thiel. The anti-tax Club for Growth also attacked Marshall in television and digital ads early on in the primary, but announced last month they would no longer spend in the race.

Sunflower State PAC, which has ties to Democrats, spent $3.2 million on ads attacking Marshall as a D.C. swamp creature, while also playing up the conservative credentials of Kobach, whom Democrats consider more beatable.

In Marshall’s corner, the Senate Leadership Fund has spent $1.2 million on ads touting his record on veterans affairs. Plains PAC, which has ties to former Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder, has spent $2.3 million on ads attacking Kobach for links to white nationalists. And Keep Kansas Great PAC has spent $226,000 opposing Hamilton and $124,000 opposing Kobach.

Democrats, meanwhile, have consolidated around state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a retired anesthesiologist and former Republican, who faces a nominal primary challenge from retired court services officer Robert Tillman. She had $4.2 million in the bank as of July 15.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Lean Republican.

Will fraud charges sink Watkins?

In Kansas’ 2nd District, Watkins was charged this month with felony voter fraud, strengthening an already serious primary challenge from state Treasurer Jake LaTurner.

Watkins won the seat in 2018 by less than a point, after Trump had carried it by 18 points two years earlier. The freshman lawmaker has struggled to build alliances with powerful Republicans in the state, who have questioned his conservative credentials.

LaTurner was openly recruited by Colyer, the former governor, after a whisper campaign that Watkins was about to resign because of an unspecified personal scandal.

Watkins has called the charges related to his use of a UPS store as his address on a 2019 voter registration form “a sideshow.” He raised $1 million and had $256,000 left in the bank on July 15, compared with LaTurner’s $776,000 raised and $379,000 on hand. A single-candidate PAC supporting LaTurner called Fighting for Kansas PAC has also spent $161,000 on ads and direct mail attacking Watkins and another $6,700 supporting LaTurner. Watkins has been bolstered by a new group called The Heartland PAC, which launched earlier this month.

Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican. But national Democrats hope a Watkins win will help put the seat in play. Their preferred candidate, Topeka Mayor Michelle de la Isla, has a primary challenge from progressive James Windholz, who has not reported any fundraising.

Will Clay and Tlaib survive?

In Missouri’s 1st District, Clay is defending a St. Louis-area seat that has been in family hands for more than half a century. (His father held the seat for 32 years before Clay was first elected in 2000). He faces a Democratic primary rematch against Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush, whom he defeated by 20 points in 2018.

Bush argues that she has more money and name recognition this time after being featured in the Netflix documentary “Knock Down the House” and playing a role in the state’s recent racial justice protests.

Justice Democrats, a group aligned with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that endorsed Bush in 2018, reported $100,000 in spending on the race last week. Spending from the group was considered pivotal in Jamaal Bowman’s primary upset of longtime Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel in New York’s 16th District in June.

Unlike that matchup, though, both Clay and Bush are Black and have embraced progressive policies and civil rights legislation. Bush, though, has criticized Clay for taking campaign contributions from political action committees and corporations.

In Michigan’s 13th District, Tlaib faces Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who briefly held the seat before Tlaib was sworn in in 2019. Tlaib had defeated Jones in the 2018 Democratic primary, but lost to her in a simultaneous special election primary for the remainder of Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s term.

Unlike the Missouri rematch, Tlaib, part of the four-lawmaker group of female House freshmen known as the squad, is considered the more progressive of the two. The incumbent also had a huge cash advantage, with $913,000 on hand as of July 15 to Jones’ $21,000.

Who’s backed in targeted districts?

In Arizona, Republicans are trying to flip the 1st District, which covers much of northern and eastern parts of the state and is one of 30 Democratic seats Trump carried in 2016.

Democratic incumbent Tom O’Halleran, a former police officer and co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, faces a primary challenge from onetime Flagstaff City Councilmember Eva Putzova, who is running to his left. Unlike other progressive challengers, Putzova does not have the backing of national liberal groups such as Justice Democrats.

On the Republican side, farmer and lawyer Tiffany Shedd is back for a rematch against O’Halleran, after losing the primary to run against him in 2018. Shedd faces lawyer Nolan Reidhead in the primary. Inside Elections rates the general election Likely Democratic.

Five Republicans are vying to take on Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids in Kansas’ 3rd District in the Kansas City suburbs, which Hillary Clinton won by 1 point in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Lean Democratic.

The top fundraisers in that race are health care company executive Amanda Adkins and Sara Hart Weir, the former CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society.

Adkins, a onetime adviser to former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, has received more than $200,000 in support from an outside group called Heartland USA PAC, reportedly financed by her father. The group has placed ads criticizing Hart Weir for working in 2004 for Democrat Dennis Moore, who previously held the seat for six terms.

Democrats eye seats in Michigan, Washington, Arizona

In Michigan, Democrats are targeting the 3rd District, which includes Grand Rapids, where Republican-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian Justin Amash is retiring. Democrat Hillary Scholten is running unopposed in Tuesday’s primary. In the five-way GOP race, the two leading candidates are Army veteran Peter Meijer, who shifted his campaign into something of a grocery-delivery operation when the pandemic hit, and state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis.

Meijer, whose family owns the Meijer supermarket chain, has the backing of House GOP leaders, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He reported $407,000 in cash on hand as of July 15, while Afendoulis had $142,000. Inside Elections rates the general election Lean Republican.

In Washington, Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler appears to be headed for a rematch with Democratic former college professor Carolyn Long in the 3rd District in the southwestern part of the state. Herrera Beutler, who won by 5 points in 2018, raised $2.9 million through July 15 compared with $2.4 million for Long. Two other Democrats running have not filed Federal Election Commission reports.

Democrats are also targeting GOP Rep. David Schweikert in Arizona’s 6th District in the Phoenix suburbs. The House last week reprimanded Schweikert for a series of campaign finance violations and he will have to pay a $50,000 fine. The scandal has Democrats increasingly confident about their chances to flip the seat that Trump carried by 10 points.

Former emergency room physician Hiral Tipirneni has led the Democratic primary field in fundraising, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named her to its Red to Blue program for strong contenders. She raised nearly $2.5 million through July 15 and has a campaign war chest more than five times that of the GOP incumbent. Tipirneni has also had some help from 314 Action Fund, which backs candidates with scientific backgrounds. The group has spent $129,000 in the race, according to FEC filings.

In 2018, Tipirneni lost a high-profile special election and the regular general election in the neighboring — and more Republican — 8th District. Three other Democrats are seeking the party nod to face Schweikert, including 2018 nominee Anita Malik, who lost to him by 10 points.

Open seats draw interest

Washington Democrat Denny Heck’s decision to retire opened up the deep-blue 10th District, centered in Olympia. (Heck later announced a bid for lieutenant governor.) Three Democratic contenders have stood out in a crowded field for the open seat.

State Rep. Beth Doglio has led the field in fundraising and garnered an endorsement from Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. She has also been endorsed by Seattle-area Rep. Pramila Jayapal and the Washington State Labor Council.

Outside groups, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, Medicare for All PAC and the Sierra Club Political Committee, have spent close to $400,000 supporting Doglio. If elected, Doglio, who is bisexual, would be the state’s first openly LGBTQ member of Congress.

Former state Rep. Kristine Reeves is another top candidate and has the backing of BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has spent more than $246,000 on her behalf.

The third top contender is Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who has endorsements from former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and several former Washington governors and other elected officials. Strickland has faced opposition from labor unions, including those representing supermarket and service workers, which have spent a combined $117,000 against her in the primary.

Reeves and Strickland would each be the first African American sent to Congress from Washington state, if elected. Reeves would also be the first Black Latina elected to Congress, and Strickland the first Korean American congresswoman.

Under Washington’s primary system, all candidates compete on the same ballot, with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advancing to November. So it’s possible none of the eight GOP candidates will make it past Tuesday. The two most prominent Republican hopefuls, Army veteran Nancy Dailey Slotnick and former prosecutor Jackson Maynard, have raised less than $100,000 between them.

Kansas voters will also choose a nominees to replace Marshall in the sprawling 1st District. Four Republicans and two Democrats are on the ballot for the deep-red seat Trump carried by 45 points.

The top GOP fundraisers are ophthalmologist and retired Air Force fighter pilot Bill Clifford and former Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann, who previously ran for the seat in 2010.

Outside groups have taken an interest in the race. With Honor Fund has spent $266,000 supporting Clifford, while American Values First has spent $130,000 opposing him. Americans for Prosperity Action spent $52,000 supporting Mann, while Conservative Outsider PAC spent $45,000 opposing him.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated O'Halleran's 2018 opponent.