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Yet More Barriers Fall in Tuesday's Primaries - August 14, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Yet More Barriers Fall in Tuesday’s Primaries

Utility executive Christine Hallquist is the first transgender nominee for a major-party governor's race. (Christine for Vermont)

Symbolic victories and moral victories are not the same thing as true victories, and a person’s identity is only so predictive of their politics. But in the four states that held primaries on Tuesday — Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin — there was a lot of good news for progressives and a insurgents. Additionally, results from last week’s Republican gubernatorial primary in Kansas yielded a high-stakes outcome. But it was a good night.

Why should Californians care? Granted, nothing of the scope of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June victory occurred tonight. But we need a broad, national coalition to rescue the country from Trumpism, and anything that keeps the good side’s enthusiasm up will get us closer to that fabled Blue Wave. While some people wait for some possibly-phantom tape of the president using a racial slur to emerge, hoping that will be the magic bullet that assures his undoing at last, other people are engaged in the hard, boring, and occasionally frustrating work of electing better people to office.

Above all, America is making progress on its long, hard road to get the governing class to more closely resemble the demographics of the country, and that can only be a good thing.

Connecticut
Let’s with Nutmeg State’s 5th district, where incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Esty opted not to seek re-election because of fallout from #MeToo. All five of Connecticut’s representatives happen to be Democrats — in fact, the entire 21-member New England delegation contains only one Republican — and the intraparty race to succeed Esty grew ugly as unusual alliances arose in support of either of the two candidates. In short, an African-American woman (and Teacher of the Year) named Jahana Hayes came from behind to beat Mary Glassman, a (somewhat) Establishment-backed former first selectman of an affluent Hartford suburb. The Democratic Party, the conservative Chamber of Congress, and both MoveOn and the local chapter of Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution all endorsed Glassman, yet Hayes triumphed 62-38.

Result: Hayes could very well be the first Black woman Connecticut sends to Congress, although if she wins in November it won’t help the Democrats get closer to reclaiming the majority.

Vermont
New England’s least populous state is a quirky one. It’s super-liberal, yeah, but did you know that Vermont has only elected one Democrat to the Senate in the entire 227 years it’s been a state? (It’s true!) Sen. Bernie Sanders easily won the Democratic primary for a third term as Senator, but he’s expected to forgo it and run as an independent. In the governor’s race, incumbent Republican — curiously, Vermont’s governor is a Republican, and a very popular one at that — Phil Scott won his party’s nod by a narrower-than-expected margin against a nobody, 62-37. That’s because he signed modest gun-safety legislation into law, and Republicans hate gun safety. As a final wrinkle, anyone can vote in any primary in Vermont, so it’s possible that some Democrats “crossed over.”

With that said, it’s the Democratic race that was truly unusual: For the first time in U.S. history, one of the two major parties nominated a transgender person. Christine Hallquist, a political neophyte who also won the endorsement of the Working Families Party, is now the Democratic nominee for governor. In Utah in 2016, Democrats nominated a trans woman named Misty Snow as their candidate. She lost by a wide margin — but Utah isn’t Vermont.

Result: Most election handicappers consider this to be a “Safe Republican” race. But Phil Scott won by a smaller than expected margin, so who knows?

Minnesota
For a few reasons, this is one of the Republican Party’s only states in which it can play offense in a bid to preserve its majority in the House. While Clinton beat Trump in the home of Upper Midwestern liberalism, she only did so only narrowly and by running up her totals in the Twin Cities. Most of the rest of the state lurched right just as Iowa and Wisconsin did, and a number of Democratic incumbents — or Democratic-Farmer-Labor incumbents, as it were — are retiring from increasingly red seats, giving the GOP some potential openings.

But very little went right for the Republicans tonight. First, their anointed candidate for the state’s chief executive, the Jeb Bush-esque former governor Tim Pawlenty, collapsed in his bid to regain the mansion. (When Republicans criticize Trump, they tend to perform poorly with their own party.) Further, in the Senate race, appointed senator Tina Smith — who succeeded Al Franken after he resigned — zoomed to victory in her primary.

In the attorney general’s race, Rep. Keith Ellison — who was the first Muslim elected to Congress, and deputy chair of the DNC in its awkward, post-Debbie Wasserman Schultz power-sharing arrangement — won the Democratic nomination in spite of late-breaking allegations of abuse.

Result: Not especially conclusive, but if the GOP is hoping to make inroads in November, there’s not much evidence of an impending DFL collapse.

Kansas
This one is hard to assess. The primary was last week, but the tight race between Establishment Republican incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer and vehement anti-immigrant crusader Kris Kobach ended today as Colyer conceded. Picking off an incumbent is no joke, but Kobach has many enemies. In spite of Kansas’ conservative tilt, the state hasn’t been entirely averse to backing Democrats — Kathleen Sebelius, who was President Obama’s first Secretary of Health and Human Services, had been Kansas’ governor.

Result: Kobach might be repugnant enough, and to enough voters, to tilt this race to the Democrats, but the scary possibility is that a single-issue xenophobe with a penchant for purging the voter rolls could see his profile grow.