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4 Takeaways From the Florida and Arizona Primaries

Progressives have a mixed night, while the DCCC has a good one

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., delivers her victory speech in Tempe on Tuesday night after she won the Republican nomination for Senate. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., delivers her victory speech in Tempe on Tuesday night after she won the Republican nomination for Senate. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tuesday was the last multi-state primary night for the 2018 cycle, setting up the general election matchups in key competitive races in Florida and Arizona. With one notable exception, it was mostly a good night for front-runners. 

Here are our four takeaways:

1. Florida progressives have a mixed night

Progressives in Florida scored a major victory at the top of the ticket but had fewer successes down ballot Tuesday night. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum pulled off an upset over former Rep. Gwen Graham for the Democratic gubernatorial nod. Gillum, who’d be the state’s first black governor, had the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and many progressive groups. He’ll face GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis, who ran with President Donald Trump’s endorsement.

At the House level in the Sunshine State, primary challengers to three Democratic incumbents — all freshmen — fell short. Rep. Darren Sotoeasily held off a comeback bid from former Rep. Alan Grayson, while Rep. Al Lawson swept aside former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, who had been critical of the congressman’s record on guns. Meanwhile, 7th District Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a GOP target, handily dispatched Chardo Richardson, who’d been backed by New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Progressives didn’t prevail in open House seats either. In one of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities this fall, former Clinton Cabinet secretary Donna Shalala secured the party nod in the Miami-area 27th District. She defeated state Rep. David Richardson, who ran on impeaching the president and criticized Shalala for previously having donated to Republicans.

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2. Arizona is poised to make history

Regardless who wins the Arizona Senate race, the state will make history this November by electing its first female senator. Reps. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema will face off after winning the GOP and Democratic primaries respectively Tuesday night. Both have crafted moderate reputations in Congress, but McSally tacked to the right in her primary.

McSally will now have to work to unite Republicans as well as appeal to independent voters in the state Trump carried by 4 points in 2016. Sinema did not have a competitive primary, and she’s been airing television ads aimed at independents for the last four months. Both candidates have a six-week sprint to reach voters before mail-in ballots go out in early October, which is how most Arizonans are expected to cast their votes.

3. McCain’s legacy looms large

The death of Arizona Sen. John McCain loomed over the final days of the GOP Senate primary, which had evolved into a Trump loyalty test (likely to the chagrin of the late senator, who called on his colleagues to stand up to the president when necessary). Sinema made a clear appeal to moderate voters and onetime McCain supporters, in announcing that she and her team would take a break from the campaign trail Wednesday and Thursday to pay their respects to McCain. “It’s up to all of us to follow his lead of always putting country over party,” she said in a statement.

McSally also referenced McCain on Tuesday night, referencing their shared military experience and calling him “an American hero.” Her challenge now is to unify the GOP base behind her, especially those aligned with Trump and who did not support McCain’s frequent criticism of him, while also reaching out to voters in the political center.

4. DCCC gets its picks

Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is the latest candidate on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program to win a party primary this cycle. Four others in Florida also won Tuesday. Just two “Red to Blue” candidates have lost primaries this year.

Kirkpatrick had a lot of help from the party in her bid for the 2nd District seat McSally vacated to run for Senate. She launched a coordinated television ad with the DCCC ahead of the primary. She also had an early fundraising advantage and support from former Democratic Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber.

But Kirkpatrick still faced a competitive primary against physician Matt Heinz. And she’ll now have to unite and excite Democrats about her candidacy, which could be a challenge given that she’d received less than 50 percent of the primary vote when The Associated Press called the race Tuesday night. 

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