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The Next 3 Days: What's At Stake In The N.H., R.I., And N.Y. Primaries

Matt Brown, Gina Raimondo
Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown, left, and Gov. Gina Raimondo. Brown is Raimondo's top challenger in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Wednesday, Sept. 12.
Steven Senne/AP

With less than two months left until national congressional elections, the last states are holding their primaries this week—leaving little time for the final sprint of campaigning in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and New York.

Compare it to Texas, which held its primaries in early March, and has already had six months of general-election action.

Since then, some trends have emerged. Voting interest is atypically high for a midterm cycle, especially among Democrats. Women Democratic candidates have broken records, both for running and for winning nominations. Republican candidates have generally been rewarded for embracing President Donald Trump, and more so for Trump endorsing them. Democratic primary voters have generally chosen safe, establishment-backed candidates in swing districts—but in solidly blue districts, including the Massachusetts 7th, have opted to thumb their noses at the party establishment.

You’ll find many of these same tensions on display in the final set of primaries.

Tuesday: Swinging New Hampshire

Two trends have defined the Granite State in recent elections: successful women candidates, and sharp swings between Republicasn and Democrats.
Nowhere has this been more in evidence than the state’s 1st congressional district, which has switched party hands five times in the last six elections—with Carol Shea-Porter running as the Democratic nominee all six times.

Now, with Shea-Porter retiring, five Republicans and 11 Democrats are fighting for the seat.

The two leading Republicans are state senator Andy Sanborn and Eddie Edwards, both of whom have tried to position themselves as future Trump allies in Congress. That has increased Democrats’ optimism that they can hold the seat by beating either of them. But first they need to settle an intra-party squabble that has largely boiled down to establishment-backed hotshot Chris Pappas; against well-funded outsider Maura Sullivan, who is backed by Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, among other out-of-staters.

A crowded field of Republicans in New Hampshire’s other congressional district has also been unanimous in praise of Trump, as they view to take on Democrat Ann Kuster—always a tempting target, who won re-election by just three percentage points in 2016.

And then there’s the popular incumbent Republican Governor, Chris Sununu. Like Charlie Baker to his south, Sununu is assumed to be a safe bet for re-election. But as in Massachusetts, some wonder if the Republican can really coast if a surge of angry Democratic voters rushes to the polls in November, electing a full slate of Democrats to Washington.

Hoping to test that theory are former state senator Molly Kelly and former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand. If New Hampshire Democrats play to woman-nominating form, Kelly might have the edge; if there’s more of a mood to rebel against the party, Marchand might benefit.

Wednesday: Defining a Rhode Island Democrat

Democrats have generally dominated Rhode Island politics—but, as with their neighbor to the north, that hasn’t always meant liberals.

Plenty of the party’s state legislators are social conservatives, often Catholics who in the past stalled the state’s adoption of same-sex marriage. Now, pro-life leadership, including House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, are in a fight with pro-choice Democrats who want a bill similar to one that passed in Massachusetts, ensuring legal abortion in the state if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade.

For that and other reasons, some of the state’s Democratic leaders have tried to put party endorsements and effort behind several men running against women in state legislative primaries.

Keep an eye on incumbents Jeanne Calkin, Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, and Moira Walsh, as well as open-seat candidate Bridget Valverde, to see whether those efforts succeed or backfire.

Meanwhile, many of the state’s pro-choice Democrats, along with other progressives, are backing a primary challenge to centrist Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo—who, if she gets past that, must turn immediately to fend off the Republican nominee.

Matt Brown, former Secretary of State, is the progressive Democrat coming at Raimondo from the left in the primary. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, if he wins the Republican primary on Wednesday, is expected to give Raimondo a serious run for re-election.

Thursday: Party divisions are bigger in the Big Apple

Governor Andrew Cuomo appears to have a comfortable, even blow-out lead over actress Cynthia Nixon—but as several New York commentators have noted, he’s campaigning like he doesn’t believe it.

Maybe he shouldn’t. New York’s congressional primaries, held earlier this summer, demonstrated how easily an anti-establishment insurgency can be mis-read—most notably in the stunning victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ayanna Pressley’s surprising rout of Michael Capuano last week can only fuel that notion.

Like progressives in Massachusetts, those in New York have a pent-up frustration with their legislature. But where Bay Staters curse Speaker Bob DeLeo for, to their minds, acting as if Republicans are in control, in New York Democrats really have put Republicans in control.

A group of fiscally conservative Democrats in the state senate maneuvered to put Republicans in control of that chamber for the past several years, despite Democrats holding the majority of seats.

That arrangement has been part of Nixon’s indictment of Cuomo. It has been more directly at the forefront of progressive challenges to nine of those conservative Democrats, including five very competitive-looking primaries right in New York City.

And if that’s not enough opportunity for progressives to send a message to the party establishment, they have Zephyr Teachout running against Cuomo-backed Tish James for state Attorney General, and Jumaane Williams challenging Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

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