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The Last 2018 Primary Briefing: New Hampshire, Rhode Island And New York

All good things must come to an end. After six months, 19 election days and seven live blogs, it’s time to say goodbye to primary season. But before you grieve, a parting gift: three consecutive nights of electiony goodness. On Tuesday, New Hampshire goes to the polls; on Wednesday, Rhode Island follows suit; and on Thursday, New York picks its nominees for state office.1 I leave you with this thought: This is the last primary preview you’ll read until the 2020 Iowa caucuses.

New Hampshire

Races to watch: 1st Congressional District; governor
Polls close: Tuesday at 7 or 8 p.m. Eastern, depending on the city or town

The last key congressional race yet to decide its nominees is in New Hampshire’s 1st District, where Democrat Carol Shea-Porter has opted not to run for re-election. The 1st District is 4 percentage points more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole (according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric2), and as an open seat, it’s one of Republicans’ few opportunities to nab a district from Democrats this year. The two leading Republicans, state Sen. Andy Sanborn and former police chief and lobbyist Eddie Edwards, are both steadfast conservatives, but their primary has turned into a nasty personal feud. Edwards has seized on reports that Sanborn made sexual comments to members of his legislative staff, and Edwards even walked off a debate stage rather than pledge support for Sanborn in the general election, a move criticized by party elders.

On the Democratic side, the state’s two U.S. senators and the woman representing the state’s 2nd District are all backing Executive Councilor3 Chris Pappas, a rising star and part of an old New Hampshire family. But Marine Corps, Harvard and Obama administration alum Maura Sullivan is waging a strong outside challenge — and I do mean outside. Sullivan first caught the eye of national Democrats as early as spring 2017 — reportedly as a candidate in Illinois or Virginia — but she moved to New Hampshire instead … only to launch a campaign in her adopted state three months later. Armed with the powerful endorsement of Emily’s List, she’s raised an eye-popping $1.85 million for the race — almost 97 percent of which came from donors outside New Hampshire. Sullivan’s weak ties to the Granite State clash with Pappas’s deep roots there and have hurt her among New Hampshire’s famously tight-knit political community. Nine other Democrats are fighting for a handhold in the Sullivan-Pappas tug of war, most notably Levi Sanders. Bernie Sanders’s son is campaigning on the same issues as the progressive independent senator from next door. But father has not endorsed son, and Levi, who lives more than an hour outside the district, faces his own residency issues.

With ready-made lines of attack against them, Sanborn and Sullivan would probably make weaker November candidates than Edwards and Pappas. The latter two also have the added bonus of being potential history-makers: Edwards would be New Hampshire’s first black member of Congress; Pappas, its first openly gay one.

Chris Sununu, the state’s Republican governor, has a +40-point net approval rating, but two Democrats are trying to unseat him anyway (even if it may be ill-advised). Former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand finished second in the 2016 gubernatorial primary and jumped into the 2018 race early this cycle. But he was never the strongest candidate. (Exhibit A: His first TV ad was almost entirely in French.) Former state Sen. Molly Kelly entered the race late but racked up endorsements from the same local power brokers who are behind Pappas. Kelly has outraised Marchand $639,000 to $291,000 and is the smart-money bet to win the nomination. (Fun fact: With a good election night, Democrats could elect two Governors Kelly this year.)

Rhode Island

Races to watch: Governor
Polls close: Wednesday at 8 p.m. Eastern

More Rhode Islanders disapprove of Democrat Gina Raimondo than approve of her, and it’s made the governor vulnerable from both the left and the right. From the left, we have former Secretary of State Matt Brown: a one-time phenom who disappeared from politics after a disastrous 2006 Senate run, now shooting for a comeback 12 years later. He’s doing it by embracing the progressive playbook and hammering Raimondo, a centrist Democrat who made her name on pension reform, as a “Republican in disguise.” Not many are taking Brown’s challenge seriously, but Raimondo might be worried: She spent $1.3 million over the summer (including on polling, of which we’ve seen none) and just unleashed a doozy of a negative ad accusing Brown of money laundering. It’s also worth remembering that, in Rhode Island’s Democratic primary two years ago, progressives ousted several incumbents in the state legislature.4

Even if Raimondo survives the primary, she’ll face a tough challenge in the general from the GOP. Its likely nominee (and probably the strongest candidate it could put forth) is Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who came within 4 points of beating Raimondo in 2014. Fung’s closest primary rival is state Rep. Patricia Morgan, but as of mid-August, her campaign coffers were one-fourth the size of Fung’s. Plus, both campaigns’ internal polls put Fung ahead.5

New York

Races to watch: Governor; state Senate
Polls close: Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern

Despite a litany of progressive achievements — from legalizing gay marriage to strengthening gun control to raising the minimum wage to offering free college tuition — no Democrat may be reviled by the left more than Andrew Cuomo. Critics believe that the New York governor prevented even more progressive bills from becoming law by propping up Republican control of the state Senate (more on that in a second); that the corruption convictions of his former aides hint at his secretive and arm-twisting style; and that he has been too slow to fix the creaking, chronically delayed New York City subway system. Activist and actress Cynthia Nixon — best known for playing Miranda on HBO’s “Sex and the City” — is challenging Cuomo in the Democratic primary on all these issues plus progressive positions Cuomo hasn’t adopted, including Medicare for all and marijuana legalization.

With party stalwarts like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer behind Cuomo and #Resistance groups like Our Revolution, Indivisible and the Democratic Socialists of America behind Nixon, this Democratic primary fits the establishment-vs.-insurgent stereotype. But the key name for the Nixon campaign is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The two women endorsed each other a few days before Ocasio-Cortez toppled Rep. Joe Crowley in her June Democratic primary race. Nixon hopes not only that Ocasio-Cortez’s newfound celebrity will be good publicity for her campaign, but also that the 28-year-old’s longshot victory could be a roadmap. But while Ocasio-Cortez likely won by forging a winning coalition of nonwhite voters and progressive yuppies, Nixon has only one of those groups, at best, in her corner. Ironically, considering Nixon’s perceived favoritism toward New York City, her strongest support comes from Upstate New York and its populist rural Democrats. The latest Siena poll, conducted Sept. 4-7, gives Cuomo a commanding 41-point lead, with his strongest support coming from nonwhite voters. Nixon has staked her campaign on turning out younger, traditionally disengaged voters and successfully doing so may be her only chance — 66 percent of likely voters in that Siena poll, for example, were 55 or older.

But Cuomo is taking nothing for granted: In the campaign’s final three weeks, he spent $8.5 million (much of it on TV ads) compared to the $450,000 Nixon spent during the same time period. But even if Nixon loses, watch out for a curveball: She earned the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a well-established progressive group in New York that has its own ballot line in November. If she wants, Nixon could use it to run in the general election.

Finally, political junkies will be watching nine state Senate primaries in which renegade Democrats face progressive challengers. The Independent Democratic Caucus, a group of state senators who defected from the main Democratic caucus, was the target of liberal rage for years because it allowed Republicans to control the chamber despite being outnumbered by Democrats.6 The IDC dissolved under pressure earlier this year, but progressives are looking to exact their revenge by defeating its eight former members and one Democrat7 who continues to caucus with Republicans. For reference, here are those races:

Nine New York state Senate races progressives are eyeing
District IDC Incumbent Challenger
Senate District 11 Tony Avella John Liu
Senate District 13 José Peralta Jessica Ramos
Senate District 17 Simcha Felder* Blake Morris
Senate District 20 Jesse Hamilton Zellnor Myrie
Senate District 23 Diane Savino Jasmine Robinson
Senate District 31 Marisol Alcantara Robert Jackson
Senate District 34 Jeff Klein Alessandra Biaggi
Senate District 38 David Carlucci Julie Goldberg
Senate District 53 David Valesky Rachel May

* Not a member of the IDC but still caucuses with Republicans.

Source: No IDC NY


  1. New York held its primaries for federal office on June 26. The two primaries are separate because the legislature can’t agree on when to consolidate them.

  2. The average difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. In our new and improved partisan lean formula, 2016 presidential election results are weighted 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results are weighted 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature are weighted 25 percent.

  3. The Executive Council is a New Hampshire-specific board of five people that shares executive powers with the governor.

  4. That war continues this year as the state Democratic Party, which is controlled by conservatives, has targeted three of those progressives for defeat.

  5. Morgan’s by 11 percentage points, Fung’s by 40.

  6. Allegedly with Cuomo’s tacit blessing.

  7. Simcha Felder.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.