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Empty Minnesota seat, potential milestone for Vermont women highlight Tuesday elections

Primaries also happening in Wisconsin and Connecticut

A test ballot for the upcoming primary sits out on Wednesday during a public accuracy test of voting equipment in Burnsville, Minn.
A test ballot for the upcoming primary sits out on Wednesday during a public accuracy test of voting equipment in Burnsville, Minn. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Voters on Tuesday are filling a House seat in Minnesota that’s been open since Rep. Jim Hagedorn died in February. Vermont may move toward sending its first woman to Congress ever. And, just like last week, a member of “The Squad” of ultraliberal House Democrats faces a more mainstream challenger.

Overall, however, one thing that stands out about Tuesday’s primaries in four states in the Midwest and Northeast is how many have no contests at all, or only token challenges.

Still, there are several things to watch in the House and Senate races in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin. Here’s a rundown.

Hottest battleground races

Vulnerable senator gets challenger: Democrats running to take on Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson were headed for a contentious primary until three of the top contenders dropped out and endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in the past two weeks. 

State treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry ended their bids close enough to Election Day that all three remain on the ballot, along with four other Democrats. 

But Barnes, who is considered both a progressive and a populist, is by far the fundraising leader of the Democrats still seeking the nomination. He raised $7 million, with $1 million on hand, as of July 20, and his campaign announced on Aug. 1 it had pulled in another $1.1 million in the previous week as his opponents consolidated around him. Lasry, who funded his campaign partly through $14 million in loans from his personal wealth, has begun boosting Barnes and spent a reported $584,000 on a TV ad attacking Johnson two days after he withdrew from the race. Barnes has received an additional $1 million in outside support. 

Johnson, one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans, has a nominal primary challenge from retired educator David Schroeder, who hasn’t reported any fundraising. Johnson had raised $16 million and had $2 million cash on hand on July 20. He also had outside groups spending $12 million to support him and half that much to oppose him. Expect that to be just a fraction of the money that pours into the November race, which Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Tilt Republican.

Choosing a defender for Kind seat: Democratic Rep. Ron Kind’s decision not to run again set up a competitive race in a redrawn 3rd District in Wisconsin that would have backed Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 4.7 points. 

The 2020 GOP nominee Derrick Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL, is unopposed in his party’s primary. In an indication that national Republicans see the seat as a prime pickup opportunity, he already has $363,000 in outside support — including $25,000 from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with the House Republican leadership. His campaign also raised $4.5 million through July 20. 

Democrats see Van Orden, who attended the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally of Trump supporters, as potentially vulnerable in spite of the district’s partisan lean, and the primary to challenge him has attracted a competitive field. 

Wisconsin strategists say Brad Pfaff, a state senator and former Kind staffer who has held senior positions in the state and federal Agriculture departments, has the most momentum of the four Democrats on the ballot. Pfaff, who has Kind’s endorsement, is the top fundraiser, with $722,000 raised and $180,000 left on hand as of July 20. 

Deb McGrath, a former Army captain and CIA officer whose father was the late Democratic Rep. Alvin Baldus, has been pitching herself as better positioned to fight for women’s rights. She raised $639,000 and had $167,000 on hand. Rebecca Cooke, a small-business owner and nonprofit founder who raised $432,000 and had $163,000 on hand, has highlighted her ties to the state’s rural and agricultural communities through her family’s dairy farm. She was the only Democrat to have attracted outside spending, with $28,000 in support from a group called Middle Class Values PAC. Mark Neumann, a pediatrician and La Crosse city councilor, raised less than $59,000. 

Minnesota rematch set: Democratic Rep. Angie Craig and Republican Tyler Kistner, a Marine Corps veteran, are both unopposed in their Tuesday primaries, setting up a 2020 rematch in Minnesota’s 2nd District. Craig won that race by 2 points. 

Craig, who is in her second term, has outraised Kistner and has a significant cash advantage. She reported raising $5.2 million as of July 20 and had $4.7 million on hand, while Kistner raised $2.2 million and had $552,000 on hand. Both candidates will have party support: Craig is a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee “Frontliner,” while Kistner is a National Republican Congressional Committee “Young Gun.” Super PACs affiliated with both House Democrats and Republicans have separately reserved ad time in the Minneapolis-St. Paul media market for the fall. 

Inside Elections rates the race as Tilt Democratic.

On the GOP’s target list

No contests in Hayes, Courtney races: Democratic Reps. Joe Courtney and Jahana Hayes both hold seats that could plausibly be in play, depending on the size of a potential red wave, with both being targeted by the NRCC as the GOP campaign arm has sought to expand the playing field. Courtney and Hayes are considered Frontliners by the DCCC.

But, there’s not much to watch Tuesday as both already know their Republican opponents for the fall, with neither of them having a contested primary. Mike France, a current state representative and Navy veteran who lives basically down the road from the 2nd District’s submarine base, will be challenging Courtney, who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee.

Hayes, meanwhile, will face former state Sen. George Logan in the 5th District, which encompasses parts of western Connecticut. The race has already attracted some national attention, and Logan is an NRCC “On the Radar” candidate.

Blumenthal to get challenger: There’s been a contentious Republican primary for the opportunity, if you want to call it that, to take on Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in a race that Inside Elections rates as Solid Democratic.

Leora Levy, who was nominated by former Trump to be ambassador to Chile — but never confirmed by the Senate — won the Trump endorsement Thursday. The Connecticut Mirror reported that the former president made the endorsement via a phone call played out to an event with all three major candidates in attendance.

Levy had brought in the most money, raising $1.6 million, though more than $1 million was a loan from the candidate to the campaign. Themis Klarides, who did not vote for Trump in 2020, has brought in close to $1 million, including from political action committees of such well-known New England Republicans as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and former Sen. Scott P. Brown, who represented Massachusetts and later ran for Senate again, in New Hampshire. The third candidate, attorney Peter Lumaj, has brought in almost $600,000, and is a bit of a perennial candidate in Connecticut.

Phillips’ challenger made official: Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips is running unopposed Tuesday, as is his Republican challenger, Tom Weiler, a Navy veteran.

Phillips is an NRCC target this cycle, although President Joe Biden won the district by 21 points in 2020. He raised $1.8 million and had $788,000 on hand as of July 20, while Weiler raised $405,000 and had $234,000 on hand. Inside Elections rates the race as Solid Democratic.

Open seats rated ‘Solid’

A special and a primary: Republican Brad Finstad faces Democrat Jeffrey Ettinger in Minnesota’s 1st District special election for the remaining months of Hagedorn’s term. Inside Elections rates the race as Solid Republican.

Finstad and Ettinger are also on their respective parties’ primary ballots Tuesday seeking a full term beginning next year. Finstad faces state Rep. Jeremy Munson, one of the several Republicans he defeated in the May 24 special election primary. 

Ettinger, a former Hormel Foods executive, faces Democrats George Kalberer and James Rainwater. 

Welch looks to move across Capitol: Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy’s decision to retire opens up a Senate seat in the Green Mountain State for the first time since 2006. Democratic Rep. Peter Welch is the front-runner in the Democratic primary, in which he faces activist Isaac Evans-Frantz and emergency physician Niki Thran.

Welch raised $4.6 million and had $2.8 million on hand as of July 20, far more than the $110,000 raised by Evans-Frantz or the $27,000 raised by Thran.

In the Republican primary, Christina Nolan, who served as U.S. attorney for Vermont during the Trump administration and was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote in the Senate in 2017, faces Army veteran Gerald Malloy and investment banker Myers Mermel.

Nolan leads in fundraising, reporting $361,000 raised as of July 20, while Malloy reported raising $141,000 and Mermel $116,000. 

Inside Elections rates the race as Solid Democratic.

At long last, a woman?: Vermont could send its first female lawmaker to Capitol Hill next year, which would make it the last state in the nation to do so. The Democratic primary for its open at-large House seat is mainly between two women, state Senate President Becca Balint and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray. A third woman, Sianay Chase Clifford, dropped out of the race, but her name remains on the ballot. Physician Louis Meyers is also running. 

Balint was endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while Leahy said he voted for Gray. 

Balint and Gray both raised about $1.1 million as of July 20. Balint had $127,000 on hand, while Gray had $294,000. Outside groups, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, have spent $1.5 million supporting Balint in the lead-up to the primary. 

Three Republicans are running in the GOP primary: Marine Corps veteran Liam Madden, accountant Ericka Redic and Anya Tynio. Madden reported raising $36,000, while Redic reported $14,000. Tynio did not report raising any money. 

Inside Elections rates the race as Solid Democratic. 

Taking on ‘Solid’ incumbents

Omar’s turn: Rep. Ilhan Omar, a member of “The Squad,” faces four challengers in Minnesota’s 5th District primary Tuesday. Former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels is the best poised to defeat the two-term Democrat. Still, that won’t be easy. Omar raised $2.4 million as of July 20, more than double the $1.1 million Samuels reported raising. Samuels has received endorsements from several Minnesota mayors and former state Democratic Farm Labor chairs but hasn’t received any congressional endorsements, as Omar has. Inside Elections rates the race as Solid Democratic. In last week’s challenge to a Squad member, Missouri Rep. Cori Bush beat state Sen. Steve Roberts by 43 points.

Challenge to ‘status quo’: Rep. Betty McCollum, who’s been in the House for over 20 years and represents Minnesota’s 4th District, faces Amane Badhasso, a community organizer whose family fled violence in Ethiopia when she was a child. McCollum, who chairs the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, reported raising $1.7 million and had $681,000 on hand, while Badhasso raised $827,000 and had $200,000 on hand as of July 20. Badhasso told MinnPost earlier this year that her campaign is focused on “replacing a status quo politician” and is less about political ideology. Inside Elections rates the race as Solid Democratic. 

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