Voters are voting! Four states – Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky – are holding primaries and runoffs today. And when that happens, me and CNN election big brain Harry Enten talk. Well, really, we email. (We both dislike in-person communication.)
Why not publish those emails? There’s no reason not to! So, that’s what we did below. Enjoy!
Cillizza: It feels like this primary season has been sort of sleepy to date. Lots of big states with important races in the fall have had a relative lack of primary drama. Hell, the Pennsylvania primary was last week and it barely was a blip on the collective national radar.
Which brings me to today. We’ve got four states voting: Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky.
Feels to me like the Georgia Democratic governor primary is the big show – the two Staceys (Abrams and Evans) running against each other. And Hillary Clinton made it a little more national on Monday when she endorsed Abrams.
So let’s start there. What does that primary look like? And why do Democrats think they have a chance of winning the governorship of Georgia?
Enten: I treat all my primaries like I do the neighborhood dogs. They are all my children, even if boring.
The Georgia Democratic primary is interesting to me for a number of reasons. First, we have Stacey Abrams aiming to be the first African-American woman governor in America. (There have been only TWO elected African-American governors overall since Reconstruction.) She’s facing off against Stacey Evans (who is white and) who grew up from poverty to become an elected official. Abrams is running to Evans’s left, though both have stated issue positions in the past that have conflicted with the Democratic base.
Unlike many other primaries, the Democratic establishment seems to be backing the further left candidate, Abrams. A look at the polls that I have seen suggests that Abrams is a pretty heavy favorite, though with primaries you never really know.
Democrats think they have a shot in Georgia because Trump only won it by 5, and it has trended their way in recent presidential elections. I, however, think they may be a bit too optimistic…
Cillizza: The two governors are Doug Wilder (in Virginia) and Deval Patrick (in Massachusetts) right? I didn’t even look it up!
What’s interesting to me about that Georgia primary is that Evans is running the old Roy Barnes Democratic model in the state (she even has Barnes’ endorsement). That strategy is to cast yourself as a centrist problem solver and peel off just enough moderates and Republicans to win a general election. The problem is that the Georgia Democratic Party of the 1990s – when Barnes ran for and won the governorship) is a very, very different Democratic Party than the one Evans is running in now.
An Abrams win would be consistent with what we’ve seen in the primary season nationally so far: the more liberal candidate has been winning primaries for Democrats.
Isn’t that also the dynamic that may play out in the Kentucky 6th District primary today?
Enten: Unless I’m missing someone. Those two are correct! (The fact that there have only been two is pathetic.)
Just to get a little nerdy for a second; let’s take a look at two counties in Georgia: Appling (rural in the southeast) and Douglas (a growing county near Atlanta). Barnes lost the governor’s race in 2002 to a similar margin Clinton lost the presidential race in 2016. In Appling, Barnes lost by 33 points. Clinton lost by 58! In Douglas, Barnes lost by a little less than 20. Clinton won it by a little over 10. The Democratic base is now around Atlanta and its suburbs, and Democrats are getting blown out in the rural areas in ways they just didn’t in the past.
The Kentucky 6th primary is a hot one. It’s an ancestrally Democratic district (i.e. Democrats have a registration advantage, but Trump won). Basically, you have Amy McGrath, who is a former fighter pilot with the Marines, against Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. McGrath had declared when the DCCC decided to get Gray to enter the race believing he was a far stronger candidate. McGrath though has been coming on strong. Gray even went negative on McGrath.
I view the race as more [Democratic establishment] vs. outsider than necessarily progressive vs. moderate, though an argument could be made that it is both. McGrath is certainly unapologetically progressive.
Cillizza: The history of that Kentucky seat is interesting. That’s the seat Scotty Baesler, a Democrat, held in the 1990s before he ran for Senate in one of the best Senate races of that decade (1998) against fellow Rep. Jim Bunning. That is also the seat that Ernie Fletcher, a Republican, held before he was governor. So it’s been a launching pad for statewide candidates in the past.
Question for you: Whether it’s Gray or McGrath, do either have a real chance of winning in the fall? If memory serves, that is a district that is getting more and more Republican, no?
Enten: I love this seat because it is hard to predict what it will do.
Remember Andy Barr, the current Republican representative, got into the seat by defeating Democrat Ben Chandler in 2012. Trump won the seat by 15, though that isn’t too much better than Romney or McCain once you take into account that the nation voted more GOP those years. It is, as we mentioned, an ancestrally Democratic district. The registration numbers still favor Democrats. When I looked at how feelings about the president and registration predicted the last midterm (2014), it seemed that the two did an equally good job.
I’d put the Democrats’ chances of winning in Kentucky-6 better than Georgia governor, though I’d favor the GOP in both.
Cillizza: I don’t make it a policy to disagree with your election predictions…
What else is out there today? We’ve got a handful of runoffs in Texas and the Arkansas primary. I know Trump tweeted about Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s primary on Monday night, but I hadn’t heard anything about it before then. I can’t imagine Hutchinson is in any real trouble?
Enten: I tend to doubt it in Arkansas governor. The only poll out of that race that I know was a non-gold standard poll that had Hutchinson up by nearly 30 and well above 50%.
I think the biggest race that we haven’t mentioned is Texas-7. Laura Moser against Lizzie Fletcher. Moser is backed by more progressive elements. The [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] is really is not a fan. This is a district where Trump lost against Clinton. It could definitely be competitive in the fall, but if Moser wins… I’m unsure.
Much has been made about the Democratic Party’s ability to not have what happened to the GOP in 2010 (see Sharron Angle, Ken Buck and Christine O’Donnell) with weak candidates getting past the primary. But if Moser wins here after Eastman won last week, the Democrats may have a slight problem on their hands going forward.