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12 Democratic Primaries To Watch In Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania And Oregon

Most of the primary action so far this year has been on the Republican side, but Tuesday’s elections in Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania1 will also decide the future of the Democratic Party in those states. The party’s progressive wing, which has been getting more judicious about picking its battles, has a few golden opportunities to gain new members of Congress. There are also several races where Democrats could add to the diversity of their caucus by nominating a woman, a person of color or both. We’ll even get our first big test this year of how much influence the cryptocurrency industry and pro-Israel groups have in the Democratic Party.

Here’s everything you need to know about the 12 Democratic primaries we’re following today. And don’t forget to join us tonight at 6 p.m. Eastern for our live blog of the results.

Kentucky

Races to watch: 3rd Congressional District
Polls close: 6 p.m. Eastern

When Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth announced he was retiring from Kentucky’s solidly blue 3rd Congressional District, it had the potential to set off a scramble to replace him. But instead, Louisville politicos mostly coalesced around state Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey. McGarvey has raised by far the most money in the field (more than $1.5 million) and has also benefited from nearly $1 million in outside spending from Protect Our Future PAC, which is largely funded by 30-year-old billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, who founded the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. (This isn’t the last time Protect Our Future will appear in this primary preview.)

While McGarvey is liberal on most issues (he supports single-payer health care and the Green New Deal), he is still facing a challenge on his left from state Rep. Attica Scott, who entered the race before Yarmuth announced his retirement. Scott, who would be Kentucky’s first Black member of Congress, supports defunding the police and canceling all student-loan debt, which McGarvey opposes. However, she has raised only $236,476, and perhaps in an acknowledgment of her long odds, only two major progressive organizations (the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Our Revolution) have endorsed her.

North Carolina

Races to watch: U.S. Senate; 1st, 4th and 13th congressional districts
Polls close: 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Outside spending is also frustrating progressive bids in a couple North Carolina House primaries. In the state’s 1st Congressional District, Rep. G.K. Butterfield is retiring and has endorsed state Sen. Don Davis to succeed him, arguing that the moderate Davis would be Democrats’ strongest general-election candidate in a seat that will likely be competitive in 2022. (It has a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean2 of just D+5.) 

However, progressive figures like the PCCC and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are backing former state Sen. Erica Smith, who has tried to make the race about Davis’s spotty support for abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s leaked draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Smith has outraised Davis $831,937 to $612,266, but Davis has benefited from more than $2.3 million in outside spending from the United Democracy Project, a pro-Israel super PAC funded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The primary still looks competitive, though: Despite the Davis campaign recently releasing a survey giving himself a 13-point lead, that isn’t very convincing since internal polls often overstate their sponsors’ positions by several percentage points.

Both Bankman-Fried (the cryptocurrency magnate) and AIPAC are also pouring money into the Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. David Price in North Carolina’s safely blue 4th District, around Durham. Protect Our Future has spent more than $1 million and the United Democracy Project nearly $2.1 million to help state Sen. Valerie Foushee defeat Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam and singer Clay Aiken. (Yes, that Clay Aiken.) AIPAC has probably gotten involved here due to Allam’s history of anti-Israel activism, but its investment has rubbed some voters the wrong way given that it also supports Republicans and Allam is Muslim. (Her religion has also made her the target of Islamophobic push polls and death threats.) The Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party even revoked its endorsement of Foushee for accepting AIPAC’s money. 

The three candidates have all embraced progressive policy platforms, but it’s Allam who has gained endorsements from the movement’s big names: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the People’s Alliance, a local progressive group. Foushee’s backers include the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and EMILY’s List, which are closer to the Democratic Party establishment but also reflect her identity as a Black woman. EMILY’s List also commissioned the only poll we’ve seen of the race, which put Foushee at 35 percent, Allam at 16 percent and Aiken at 10 percent. (Remember, though, EMILY’s List is not a neutral observer here.) If no candidate receives more than 30 percent of the vote, the race will go to a runoff on July 26.

The Democratic primary is a little more low-key in the 13th District, an open seat in the Raleigh suburbs. The front-runner seems to be state Sen. Wiley Nickel, who has raised $1.4 million ($900,000 of it from his own pocket). However, former state Sen. Sam Searcy, a moderate with a reputation for bipartisan dealmaking in the legislature, could be Democrats’ best bet to win here in November. With a partisan lean of R+3, this seat could be an uphill climb for Democrats in a Republican-leaning midterm.

Finally, the Democratic primary for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat isn’t expected to be competitive, but it’s worth a brief mention considering that Democrats are hoping to make a run at this seat in the fall. Their nominee will almost certainly be former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who overwhelmingly leads her 10 opponents in primary polling and would be the first Black female senator since Kamala Harris if she wins.3

Pennsylvania

Races to watch: U.S. Senate, 12th and 17th congressional districts
Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern

While the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania devolves into chaos, the Democratic one is likely to be a coronation. Despite recent news that he had suffered a stroke, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is the clear front-runner, thanks to being an extremely active lieutenant governor and raising more money than any other candidate ($16.0 million). According to a recent poll from Franklin & Marshall College, Fetterman leads his closest competitor by 39 percentage points.

This is not to say that other candidates haven’t tried to take him down. Centrist Rep. Conor Lamb is running on the argument that he is more electable, but voters don’t seem to be buying it; Fetterman’s tough, outsider image (literally — he is 6′ 8″, is heavily tattooed and wore basketball shorts to meet President Biden) seems tailor-made to win back the white, working-class voters who have made Pennsylvania a slightly Republican-leaning state

On the other hand, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta has been running as the most progressive candidate in the race, but Fetterman has no shortage of progressive cred either, as he was one of Sanders’s earliest supporters. Kenyatta, who would be both Pennsylvania’s first Black and first openly gay senator, has also criticized Fetterman over a 2013 incident in which he chased a Black jogger while armed with a shotgun. Polls show that Fetterman does, indeed, struggle with Black voters, but he still has a wide lead among white Democrats.

Progressives’ biggest test in Pennsylvania will likely be the Democratic primary for Pittsburgh’s 12th Congressional District, a safely Democratic open seat. Virtually every progressive influencer under the sun — Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, the PCCC, Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Warren — has lined up behind state Rep. Summer Lee. And as of a couple months ago at least, Lee looked like the front-runner: She led attorney Steve Irwin 38 percent to 13 percent in a March poll sponsored by EMILY’s List (which also supports Lee). 

But AIPAC is trying to stop progressives here, too: The United Democracy Project has dropped $2.4 million to help Irwin, who has also outraised Lee $1.2 million to $707,344. (A third candidate, law professor Jerry Dickinson, has also raised a respectable $685,185.) Irwin also has the support of Rep. Mike Doyle, the district’s current congressman, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who has argued that Lee (who is Black) would join the “Squad” in obstructing Biden’s agenda. Without any more recent public polls, it’s tough to say if the spending has made an impact, but both sides are treating this like a competitive race.

By comparison, the Democratic primary one district over — in the suburban 17th District — has gotten little attention. The race, however, is still important because the district (Lamb’s old seat) has a partisan lean of only D+1, meaning it will likely be very competitive in November. Navy veteran and professor Chris Deluzio, who has the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Party, has raised $501,839, while Sean Meloy, a political operative who works to elect LGBTQ candidates, has reeled in $251,449. Meloy identifies as a progressive but hasn’t gotten endorsements from any of the usual progressive suspects.

Oregon

Races to watch: 4th, 5th and 6th congressional districts; governor
Polls close: 10 p.m. Eastern in the Mountain time zone part of Malheur County, 11 p.m. Eastern in the rest of the state

If you thought outside groups were investing a lot of money in today’s other Democratic primaries, get a load of Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, an open, Democratic-leaning seat. Lawyer Carrick Flynn didn’t seem like much of a threat when he entered the race against multiple other candidates with more political experience, but then Protect Our Future spent a whopping $11.3 million to help elect him. 

The investment caused many people to wonder why a cryptocurrency magnate is so interested in the race; although Flynn’s wife and Bankman-Fried briefly worked for the same organization, Flynn says he and Bankman-Fried have never met. The answer appears to be that Flynn and Bankman-Fried share the same philosophy of “effective altruism” and both believe in investing against long-term threats like future pandemics. (Protect Our Future’s stated goal is to support candidates with a “long term view on policy planning, especially as it relates to pandemic preparedness and prevention”; Flynn conducted research into pandemic prevention at Oxford University in 2015.) However, Protect Our Future’s involvement has also raised questions of Flynn’s independence as Congress considers more regulations on the cryptocurrency industry.

But it’s not just the cryptocurrency industry backing Flynn; the Democratic establishment is behind him too. House Majority PAC, a PAC aligned with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had never taken sides in a Democratic primary before, has spent $939,477 to support Flynn. Other Democratic candidates in the race slammed the move, pointing out that there were multiple better-qualified women of color in the running: state Rep. Teresa Alonso León, state Rep. Andrea Salinas and former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith. 

Salinas appears to be Flynn’s main competition; she sports a couple prominent progressive endorsements (Warren, Rep. Pramila Jayapal), and the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has spent nearly $1.5 million on her behalf. But there are nine Democrats on the ballot in all, two of whom have raised more than $1 million (albeit with the help of self-funding): Army veteran Cody Reynolds ($2.7 million) and Intel engineer Matt West ($1.0 million). The one public poll of the primary we’ve seen, from Salinas’s campaign, shows a free-for-all of a race.

By contrast, the Democratic primary for the 5th District is a head-to-head race between incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader and attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner. According to DW-NOMINATE, a common way of measuring the ideology of members of Congress, Schrader is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, and he has infuriated progressives with his vote against Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and comment that former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment was a “lynching.” McLeod-Skinner is challenging him from the left, hoping to make him the second incumbent to lose renomination this year.

Progressives like Warren and Our Revolution have endorsed McLeod-Skinner — though interestingly, others (Justice Democrats, Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez) have kept their powder dry. However, Schrader boasts the support of Biden, who (unlike his predecessor) rarely wades into intraparty fights. (This is just the second Democratic primary in which he has endorsed as president.) Many Democrats fear that nominating McLeod-Skinner would help Republicans flip the seat, which has a partisan lean of just D+3, this fall. However, Schrader may not be a particularly strong candidate himself; he did 1.7 points worse than Biden in his district in 2020.

That said, Schrader has a massive financial advantage in the race (he’s spent nearly $3.5 million, and pro-Schrader outside groups have added another $2.1 million; meanwhile, McLeod-Skinner having spent just $579,044), and he’s turned back progressive primary challenges before. However, his district’s boundaries were drastically changed in redistricting; 53 percent of the district is new to him, so his incumbency may not give him a big advantage this time around. We haven’t seen any recent surveys of the race, but private polling reportedly gives McLeod-Skinner the lead.

Next door in the 4th District, eight Democrats are competing to succeed retiring Rep. Peter DeFazio. State Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle is the front-runner, having earned DeFazio’s endorsement and raised $782,440. By contrast, attorney Andrew Kalloch has taken in just $275,014, and environmental activist Doyle Canning has raised just $232,545. Canning has earned the support of several local progressive groups, but most of the big national players haven’t stuck their necks out for her, perhaps reflecting the size of Hoyle’s lead (16 points, according to a poll sponsored by a group that supports Canning). With a partisan lean of D+9, this district will probably stay in Democratic hands this fall, but it’s not a sure thing — a fact that DeFazio and Hoyle have used to argue Canning would be a risky nominee.

Finally, Oregon Democrats will also pick their nominee for governor. With the retirement of incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, it’s the first open Oregon gubernatorial election since 2010, and an impressive 15 candidates qualified for the Democratic primary. (Not included in that number: former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who tried to run but was ruled ineligible because he did not meet the residency requirement.)

However, the race is probably between just two candidates: former state House Speaker Tina Kotek and state Treasurer Tobias Read. Kotek, who would make history as the first openly lesbian governor of any state,4 has raised $1.6 million for the year, while Read has raised $1.1 million. Read looks like he’s playing catchup in the polls, too: An April poll sponsored by his campaign put Kotek at 25 percent and Read at 20 percent, but we don’t have any more recent data. 

The winner of the primary will be favored to be the next governor of Oregon, but it’ll probably be a competitive campaign. Oregon is a close enough state that it can be flipped in good election years for Republicans (like 2022 is shaping up to be), and there is also an independent candidate, former Democratic state Sen. Betsey Johnson, who could siphon off Democratic votes.


Add in today’s GOP primaries, and there are 28 major elections on the ballot today, making it the biggest primary day of the year so far. And we’ll know who won them in just a few hours. Hope to see you tonight for the live blog

Footnotes

  1. Idaho is also holding its primary, but there are no Democratic primaries of note.

  2. Partisan lean is the average margin difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. This version of partisan lean, meant to be used for congressional and gubernatorial elections, is calculated as 50 percent the state or district’s lean relative to the nation in the most recent presidential election, 25 percent its relative lean in the second-most-recent presidential election and 25 percent a custom state-legislative lean.

  3. A distinction that other women, such as Pennsylvania’s Kathy Barnette or Florida’s Val Demings, could also share.

  4. A distinction she may share with Massachusetts’s Maura Healey.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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