The battle for control of the Senate. Democrats’ battle back to relevance in redistricting battles. Republicans’ battle with themselves. It’s all playing out in Senate and governor’s primaries Tuesday in two states, Arizona and Florida.
We broke down five big trends to watch for. Let’s start with the Senate races in both states.
The Senate races
1. In a rough year for members of Congress running for higher office, will one of them actually win in Arizona? And how much does embracing President Trump have to do with it? Despite the fact that two of Trump’s main GOP antagonists in the Senate came from Arizona, Trumpism is king in Arizona Republican politics. Sen. John McCain died Saturday, and Sen. Jeff Flake is retiring at the end of this year rather than try to win a primary against opponents more willing to support Trump. But Arizona could be a state that underscores the perils for Republican candidates of embracing Trump too much to win their primaries.
The establishment candidate in a three-way primary for Flake’s seat has moved to the right. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) has ditched her pro-immigration stances and even scrubbed a video from YouTube of her praising the Obama-era policy to protect “dreamers” from deportation.
Republican operatives say she had no choice. Her opponents, state Sen. Kelli Ward and former sheriff Joe Arpaio (the one who was pardoned by Trump), are much more willing to be controversial flamethrowers in the mold of Trump. “Political correctness is like a cancer!” Ward tweeted Monday.
Ward and Arpaio are expected to split the uber-Trump vote, giving McSally a wide path to winning the nomination. But had just one of the Trumpian candidates been in the race, one Republican operative said, it could have been a different story for McSally.
If she prevails in the primary, McSally would have to pivot quickly to a much more moderate stance, since this is a state that went for Trump by just three points. And she would face a likely formidable opponent, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D). Democrats have no room for error, either: This is one of two-to-four Republican-held Senate races that Democrats probably need to win for them to take back the Senate.
2. In Florida’s Senate race, are Republicans finding some much-needed momentum? Honestly, the primaries for this Senate race are boring. The general election is what you’ll want to watch. This is one of several Republican pickup opportunities, and despite a potentially bad year for Republicans nationwide, it’s looking more competitive as the days go on. The only current statewide elected Democrat in Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson, is trying to hang on as tens of millions of dollars are being spent against him in support of wealthy, term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R).
Scott’s decision to run is a big reason this race is leaning toward Republicans. But Democrats warn against underestimating Nelson, who has outperformed every Democratic presidential nominee since Al Gore.
The governors’ races
Republicans are defending two seats this November in Arizona and Florida, at least one of which could probably be categorized as a must-win for Democrats if they want to have a seat at the table in 2020 for redistricting one of the largest and most politically consequential states in the nation. But we’ll get there in a minute.
3. Let’s start with Arizona’s race for governor. In a blue wave, will Democrats knock out a sitting governor? The primaries aren’t too exciting. Democrats say they’ll be happy with whoever wins Tuesday to challenge Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in November: Arizona State University professor David Garcia or state Sen. Steve Farley.
In an average election year, Ducey probably wouldn’t be that vulnerable. In fact, in this election year, Arizona didn’t make The Fix’s list of top 10 most competitive governor’s races. But Arizona is a state that is slowly trending bluer, and both sides acknowledge that in a blue wave, Democrats could do one of the hardest thing in politics: unseat a sitting governor. Don’t believe me? Follow the money: The Republican Governors Association has reserved $9 million in TV airtime in Arizona — more than in any other state but Wisconsin (which did make The Fix’s top 10) — to protect Ducey.
4. In Florida’s open governor’s race, how much Trumpism is too much Trumpism? Unlike the Arizona governor’s race, which is competitive with caveats, Florida’s open governor’s race is what one Republican operative described as the truest toss-up race in the country. This is also the race that has the most interesting primaries, so let’s start there.
On the Republican side, we’re about to find out how much a presidential tweet endorsement matters.
Rep. Ron DeSantis wasn’t supposed to win the crowded Republican primary for Florida’s open governor’s seat. But Trump took a liking to the hard-line conservative, who is a regular on Fox News, and gave him the coveted presidential endorsement in a crowded field. Just like that, DeSantis is favored over the once-favorite, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam.
But here the Republican winner could face the same conundrum as the nominee in the Arizona Senate race, perhaps exacerbated: Is the guy who literally filmed his toddler building a border wall too pro-Trump to win the governor’s mansion in a swing state such as Florida?
Democrats hope so, because the next governor will have a say in drawing the congressional districts in one of the nation’s largest states.
5. On the Democratic side, can progressives and the establishment play nice in November? Watchers of the Florida governor’s race say they expect former congresswoman Gwen Graham to win Tuesday’s competitive Democratic primary. But operatives could also see a path of victory for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who has the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and liberal billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer, or former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine. This has been a divisive primary for Democrats, so it could be an open question how well the party gets along to try to win this very competitive, extremely expensive seat in November. Democratic operatives in Washington say they’re confident the money will be together to seize one of the most consequential governor’s mansions in the nation.