The tail-end of the August primary season arrives on Tuesday, with elections in New York, Florida and Oklahoma.
New York’s long and messy redistricting process pushed its US House and state Senate primaries back nearly two months, setting up a contentious clash between incumbents, charges of voter-shopping against candidates who chose – or, in some cases, were pushed – out of their first-choice races and an open seat contest in a new district that has divided voters along intersecting ideological and ethnic lines.
The primaries in the city will go some way in determining the political makeup of the next Democratic House conference. But other nominating contests, in more competitive general election districts, could be key in deciding whether the party maintains its slim majority this fall. Upstate, a special election to finish out Antonio Delgado’s term, after the former congressman left to become lieutenant governor, is being cast by Democrats as a referendum on the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Meanwhile, down in Florida, Democrats will choose their fighter for what promises to be a ferocious campaign against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who could use this campaign as a springboard for a potential presidential run in 2024. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is running against US Rep. Charlie Crist, a former (then-Republican) governor, for the nomination.
And in Oklahoma, US Rep. Markwayne Mullin and former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon will square-up in a runoff to decide the GOP nomination in the race to replace retiring Sen. Jim Inhofe – with the winner set to be an overwhelming favorite in a November special election against former US Rep. Kendra Horn, the Democratic nominee.
Here are 5 things to watch on Tuesday:
Abortion rights – and bail reform – dominate upstate New York House special election
Abortion rights are on the ballot in this special election between Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, the Democrat, and Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro – at least, that is what Ryan (and his lawn signs) are saying.
Ryan, an Iraq War veteran, has sought to channel anger over the Supreme Court ruling ending federal abortion rights into an electoral advantage over Molinaro, a moderate Republican who says, despite being “personally pro-life,” he would not vote for a national ban. (At the same time, Molinaro refused to state whether he would support legislation to legalize abortion nationwide.)
Though abortion is very much front of mind for many in the district, which will disappear after the new map goes into effect next year, the state’s controversial bail reform law is also dividing, and uniting, voters across party lines. Molinaro has railed against the law, which makes it harder for judges to impose cash bail and has already been amended to offer courts more discretion. Ryan supported the law when it passed, but also backed the changes.
Both candidates have benefited from a surge of spending from their respective parties’ House campaign arms – though Republicans have about doubled Democrats’ outlay. And in a fitting coda to New York’s topsy-turvy primary season, the race could ultimately come down to which campaign does a better job making sure voters actually know there’s an election.
(Ryan will be on the ballot twice Tuesday, in both the special and a Democratic primary for the newly drawn 18th District. Molinaro is unopposed in the GOP primary for a new version of the 19th.)
An Uptown power struggle meets call for ‘generational change’
Redistricting upset a lot of New York’s status quo, but perhaps nowhere more than in a big piece of Upper Manhattan, which for decades had been politically dominated by Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler, on the West Side, and Carolyn Maloney, on the East Side.
Their parallel dominions were fused by the hand of a “special master” who drew up the new districts, provoking one the most ferocious campaigns of the cycle in a hot summer chock full of them. On Saturday, Maloney – on camera – recommended an editorial in the New York Post. “They call him senile,” she said. Nadler, meanwhile, has accused his rival of exaggerating her record in the House, to which they both were elected in 1992.
Meanwhile, Suraj Patel, a lawyer who worked on former President Barack Obama’s campaigns, says it’s time for a fresh voice to serve the new district – and that, at 38, he offers a younger, similarly moderate alternative to the area’s feuding long-time representatives.
In addition to Patel’s push for generational change, the race has also highlighted thorny questions about identity.
Maloney has pointed out that, if defeated, Manhattan risks losing its only woman House member, while Nadler mentioned that, without him, the city could go without representation in the chamber from a Jewish lawmaker. (Note: The 10th District, which includes Manhattan, is likely to send either a Jewish man or woman of color to Congress)
Patel, though he has rarely discussed it on the trail, would be the first Indian American New Yorker to serve in Congress.
Could a moderate emerge from one of NY’s most liberal new districts?
Thirteen candidates are on the ballot in open-seat primary, though one, former Mayor Bill de Blasio, dropped out in late July. Of the remaining dozen, four appear to have a realistic chance of emerging to represent Lower Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn – in what will be one of the country’s most liberal districts
But a pile-up of progressives, led by state Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, City Council Member Carlina Rivera, and Rep. Mondaire Jones, an incumbent member who moved to the city from the suburbs, risks splintering the more left-leaning vote and paving the way for Daniel Goldman, the moderate former federal prosecutor who served as lead counsel for the Democrats at former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.
An heir to the Levi Strauss & Co. fortune, Goldman has also been the subject of heavy criticism from his opponents over his pouring millions of his own dollars into the campaign. Those resources have allowed him to flood the airwaves in an expensive media market that’s largely priced out his rivals.
On August 15, Niou, who was endorsed by the Working Families Party, and Jones held a joint press conference denouncing Goldman’s spending as a bid to buy the seat. On Friday, it was Rivera and former US Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who is seeking a return to Capitol Hill, standing in front of cameras asking voters to reject Goldman.
Holtzman stopped short of endorsing Rivera, who has support from Rep. Nydia Velazquez and a number of labor unions, but did say Rivera “represents the future of the Democratic Party in this city.”
An AOC-backed progressive takes on Dems’ campaign chair
Progressive state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi is no stranger to campaign clashes with powerful, entrenched incumbents. In 2018, she unseated longtime state Sen. Jeff Klein, who led a faction of Democrats who for years caucused with state Republicans – helping to deny Democratic control of the body.
But Biaggi has a steeper hill to climb on Tuesday, when she takes on US Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in the new 17th District, north of the city. Maloney, the moderate chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s House election arm, has outraised and outspent Biaggi, who decided to relocate to the district after the initial redistricting lines were tossed and rewritten.
Maloney lives inside the new borders, but in choosing to run in the 17th, left behind a big part of his old electorate in what will soon be the old 18th District. That decision also effectively nudged Jones off his home turf. (Jones ultimately chose to move to the city and run for the open seat in New York’s 10th District.)
The campaign has also riven Democrats in more familiar ways. Biaggi has denounced Maloney as a “corporate Democrat,” while Maloney has sought to tie his challenger to the party’s far-left, all but rolling his eyes at the mention of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement of Biaggi during a recent interview.
“We’re gonna find out how much that means,” Maloney said, before mixing personal praise for Ocasio-Cortez with an argument that the passage of Democrats’ major climate, health care and tax bill undermined progressives’ primary season messaging.
“It knocks the legs out of the argument that Democrats aren’t getting it done,” he said
Biaggi says she is quick to acknowledge the party’s success when talking to voters, but argued that it wasn’t enough – and that “a lot of people, even if they’re happy with what the Democratic Party has done in the last few weeks, which they should be … They also want to see different kinds of leaders in Congress.”
Florida Democrats to choose a challenger to DeSantis
The Florida Democratic Party has wandered lost through the Sunshine State ever since Republican Ron DeSantis narrowly defeated their 2018 nominee for governor, Andrew Gillum. They have no power in Tallahassee as the perpetual minority party in the state legislature, they squandered their sizable voter registration advantage, they lost the 2020 presidential election to Donald Trump here by a healthy margin and have struggled lately to convince donors that Florida is still a battleground worth investing in.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has become one of the most recognizable Republicans in the country and a potential GOP nominee for the White House in 2024.
On Tuesday, Democratic voters in the state will choose a nominee for governor who they hope can lead their turnaround and maybe slow DeSantis’ meteoric rise. The choice is between Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor who Democrats made their gubernatorial nominee in 2014, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat. Crist has adopted the Joe Biden campaign strategy in his race, trading on a familiar name and building support across the party while trying to convince primary voters that civility and experience can take down a divisive Republican leader.
Fried, who would be the state’s first female governor, has leaned into the looming fight over the future of abortion rights while drawing stark comparisons to Crist’s past life as a Republican.
Whoever the nominee is come Wednesday will need financial help quickly. Both candidates have exhausted most of their campaign cash trying to win the primary and DeSantis is waiting with $132 million saved up for the general election.