Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont, and Connecticut primaries

By Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 3:31 p.m. ET, August 10, 2022
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9:56 a.m. ET, August 9, 2022

How the Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary suddenly changed within the span of a few days

From CNN's Dan Merica

Left to right: Mandela Barnes, Sarah Godlewski, Alex Lasry and Tom Nelson.
Left to right: Mandela Barnes, Sarah Godlewski, Alex Lasry and Tom Nelson. (Courtesy Mandela Barnes, Sarah Godlewski, Alex Lasry and Tom Nelson)

Two weeks ago, the Democratic Senate primary in Wisconsin was arguably the most closely watched primary contest on the left, pitting Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes against Alex Lasry, the Milwaukee Bucks executive who spent more than $11 million of his own money on his campaign; Wisconsin state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who also poured millions of her own money into the race; and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, a liberal leader with a loyal following in the state.

And then, in the span of a few days, the race that was became the race that wasn’t.

With internal polls showing Barnes opening a considerable lead, there were rumblings among Wisconsin Democrats that the field of four could shrink.

But few Democrats saw what happened next: Nelson, Lasry and Godlewski all ended their campaigns in the span of a few days, backed Barnes' bid against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and effectively ended the primary.

Nelson went first, announcing to his followers on July 25 that his campaign “ran out of money” so he would now endorse “the one candidate who is not trying to buy this election,” a dig against Lasry and Godlewski and an endorsement of Barnes.

Then the $11 million shoe dropped, with Lasry unexpectedly ending his bid on July 27, just weeks before the primary, telling reporters “it is clear the best person to be able to defeat Ron Johnson is Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.”

Lasry spent millions on his campaign and had just days until the primary. His campaign had even already booked television ad time for the final weeks of the campaign. But a Democratic official told CNN that a string of disappointing internal poll numbers suggested the race was out of reach in the final two weeks of the campaign.

And finally, on July 29, Godlewski ended her bid, backing Barnes and pledging to support him throughout his run.

The trio of announcements was surprising to almost all Democrats in Wisconsin — including Barnes himself.

"I could not have imagined it ending up this way," Barnes told CNN in an interview. "To me, it shows just how important beating Ron Johnson is, just how important expanding the Democratic majority is."
9:03 a.m. ET, August 9, 2022

The key races to watch in Minnesota's primary and special election

From CNN's Melissa Holzberg DePalo, Ethan Cohen, Clara Grudberg and Nicholas Anastacio

In Minnesota, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has only marginal competition for renomination, and he’ll likely face vaccine-skeptical doctor and former GOP state Sen. Scott Jensen in November. Jensen’s top challengers dropped out after he won the party’s endorsement at the state convention in May. 

Minnesota will also hold a special election on Tuesday in its 1st Congressional District to fill the seat left vacant by late GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn in February. 

Brad Finstad, left, and Jeff Ettinger, right.
Brad Finstad, left, and Jeff Ettinger, right. (AP/Ettinger for Congress/Facebook)

Here's what to know about the special election: Republican Brad Finstad was a member of the Minnesota state House from 2003 to 2009 and served as director of USDA Rural Development for Minnesota in the Trump administration. Democratic nominee Jeff Ettinger is the former CEO of SPAM manufacturer Hormel Foods, a company with deep roots in this southern Minnesota district. The central issue of their campaigns has been inflation, with Ettinger touting his experience in food production as qualification to fight against rising food prices.

Both candidates will need to win their parties’ primaries on the same day in order to compete for a full House term in November. Trump won this district by 10 percentage points in 2020, suggesting Finstad is favored to hold the seat for the GOP, but the race will be one of the first glimpses we’ve had of the political environment post-Roe v. Wade. 

Poll times: Polls across the state will close at 9 p.m. ET.

Voter eligibility: Minnesota doesn’t have party registration, so registered voters can vote in either primary. 

See how redistricting changes Minnesota's voter landscape here.

8:25 a.m. ET, August 9, 2022

See how Wisconsin's new congressional map maintains Republican advantage in the House

From CNN's Janie Boschma, Renée Rigdon, Byron Manley and Ethan Cohen

The Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed congressional lines as the state’s new map. It keeps Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts largely intact and likely maintains the Republican advantage in the House delegation.

In the 4-3 majority opinion, Wisconsin Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote that Evers’ map came closest to the “least change” directive the court said it would strive to adopt when it took over the map-drawing process. The court got involved after Evers vetoed the map the Republican-controlled state legislature passed last year.

Voter demographics: In seven of the House seats, White residents represent the majority. In the 4th District, home to Milwaukee, there isn’t one single racial or ethnic group in the majority.

CNN's Melissa DePalo, Eleanor Stubbs and Christopher Hickey contributed to this report.

4:47 p.m. ET, August 9, 2022

What to look out for in today's primaries

From CNN's Eric Bradner, Dan Merica and Gregory Krieg

Poll workers and voters participate during the state primaries on August 9 at the Village Hall of Waukesha in Wisconsin.
Poll workers and voters participate during the state primaries on August 9 at the Village Hall of Waukesha in Wisconsin. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

Primaries in the Upper Midwest on Tuesday will set the stage for two major governor’s races, as Republicans in Wisconsin and Minnesota select their nominees to take on those states’ Democratic incumbents in November.

Minnesota is also set to fill a House seat after former GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn died in February.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, Rep. Peter Welch is running to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, which opens up the state’s lone House seat. The state’s lieutenant governor and its Senate president pro tempore – both Democrats – are vying to become the first woman to ever represent Vermont in Congress.

Heavily Democratic Connecticut is also holding primaries on Tuesday, with Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Gov. Ned Lamont up for reelection this fall.

Here are a few things to watch in Tuesday’s primaries:

Trump vs. Pence in Wisconsin governor’s race

The proxy battle over the future of the Republican Party between former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence continues Tuesday in Wisconsin, where a Pence-endorsed establishment favorite faces off against a Trump-backed outsider in a state where he has falsely claimed the 2020 election results were fraudulent.

It’s a replay of similar gubernatorial primaries in recent weeks in Arizona, where Trump’s candidate won last week, and Georgia, where the Pence-backed Gov. Brian Kemp fended off a Trump-aligned challenger.

In Wisconsin, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch entered the race as the GOP’s heir apparent in a battleground state long dominated by former Gov. Scott Walker. She spent eight years as Walker’s No. 2, and is backed by Pence and other establishment Republicans.

But then construction company owner Tim Michels entered the race, fueled by millions of dollars of his own wealth and a key endorsement. He is campaigning as an outsider, with Trump’s help; the former President at a recent rally said Kleefisch is “the handpicked candidate of the failed establishment, the RINOs.”

Both have embraced Trump’s lies about fraud in the 2020 election. Kleefisch called the 2020 election “rigged,” but said she would not attempt to decertify its results because it is not legally possible to do so. Michels, however, said in a debate that “everything is on the table,” indicating he would entertain measures that would seek to decertify President Joe Biden’s victory in Wisconsin.

The winner of the primary will take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is seeking a second term in what’s expected to be one of the nation’s most competitive gubernatorial contests this fall.

Another race to watch in Wisconsin is Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ primary against little-known Adam Steen, who was endorsed by Trump after the former President decided Vos – a powerful Republican who had tried to appease Trump by hiring a former state Supreme Court justice to investigate the 2020 election – had done too little to try to overturn Wisconsin’s results. Vos said last month the former President had called him the week before as part of a fresh effort to decertify the state’s 2020 results.

The Senate primary that wasn’t

Two weeks ago, the Democratic Senate primary in Wisconsin was arguably the most closely watched primary contest on the left, pitting Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes against Alex Lasry, the Milwaukee Bucks executive who spent over $12 million of his own money on his campaign; Wisconsin state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski; and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

And then it wasn’t.

After internal polls showed Barnes’ lead over his opponents growing, all three bowed out in the span of a few days, with Nelson, Lasry and Godlewski all endorsing the lieutenant governor.

“I could not have imagined it ending up this way,” Barnes told CNN. “To me, it shows just how important beating Ron Johnson is, just how important expanding the Democratic majority is.”

The consolidation means Barnes and Democrats can pivot earlier to their end goal: defeating Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in November.

Johnson, who opted to run for a third term after pledging in 2016 that his second term would be his last, has drawn Democratic ire for a host of comments on the coronavirus, the January 6, 2021, attack, and his personal wealth. But he has proven resilient in the past, ensuring that the Senate race in Wisconsin will be one of the closest watched contests of the 2022 cycle.

Southern Minnesota gets a new representative

Voters in Southern Minnesota will select a new congressional representative on Tuesday after Rep. Jim Hagedorn died in February from kidney cancer.

The special election, which comes at the same time Minnesota voters will vote in the regular 2022 primary, pits Republican Brad Finstad, the former head of USDA Rural Development for Minnesota, against Democrat Jeffrey Ettinger, who previously worked as CEO of Hormel Foods.

The district, which stretches across Minnesota’s entire Southern border, leans toward Republicans.

While voters select their congressman in the special election, they will also vote in the general election primary, selecting which candidates will get the chance to try to represent the district for a full term starting in 2023. Finstad and Ettinger are candidates in that race, as well.

There are other contests worth watching in Minnesota, including well-funded challenges to incumbents. Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar is being challenged by former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, while Rep. Betty McCollum is facing a challenge from progressive Amane Badhasso.

Keep reading here.