clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Every May 22 primary election you should know about, briefly explained

Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, and Kentucky are all going to the polls.

Zac Freeland/Vox

The final big primary day in May 2018 will send four states to the polls: Texas (for runoff elections), Georgia, Kentucky, and Arkansas.

Democrats hoping to be nominated in key House races will be on the ballot in all four states, with particularly heated primary contests taking place in Texas and Kentucky.

Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas also have governor races on the ballot. All three are currently in Republicans’ hands in states Donald Trump won, but Democrats hold out hope for an upset — particularly in Georgia. Here’s what to watch.


Democratic governor: the race that probably “determines who loses to Greg Abbott in November”

Who are the Democrats? Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Houston businessman Andrew White. White’s father, Mark White, was a Democratic governor back in the 1980s.

Who is the Republican? Incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, first elected in 2014.

What’s the story? The last time Democrats won a Texas governor’s race, it was the 1990s. And this year doesn’t promise to be different; Abbott is one of the most popular governors in the country, and will be tough to beat in November. Valdez, the state’s first openly gay and first Latina sheriff, is trying to turn out Latino voters. White, meanwhile, is courting suburban voters who dislike how far-right Texas government has become under Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s leadership.

Texas’s Seventh Congressional District: the infamous DCCC memo race

Who are the Democrats? Activist and freelance journalist Laura Moser and attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. Thanks to some explosive DCCC meddling in March, this is by far the most high-profile Texas primary. In a rare move, the DCCC dropped an opposition memo on Moser, but she still made it into the runoff, along with Fletcher (the top vote-getter). Moser now has the backing of the Bernie Sanders affiliated group Our Revolution and is positioning herself as the progressive insurgent. Fletcher has the backing of Emily’s List, but the DCCC has largely stayed out of the race since March.

Who’s the Republican? Incumbent Rep. John Culberson, in office since 2001. He’s a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

What’s the story? The DCCC memo has taken up a lot of the national political oxygen, but this race is more a test of how Democrats can win in Texas. Moser is trying to turn out the left-wing base, while Fletcher is openly courting moderate Republicans in order to win (there’s also some chatter about Moser’s recent move back to Houston from Washington, DC, before announcing her candidacy). Tuesday’s runoff is the first test of what kind of candidate voters want to run against Culberson.

Texas’s 21st Congressional District: an open seat could give Democrats a pickup opportunity

Who are the Democrats? Army veteran and entrepreneur Joseph Kopser and pastor and retired professor Mary Wilson. The DCCC hasn’t added either candidate to its Red to Blue list, but Kopser has the backing of No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer and VoteVets, an organization supporting veterans for office. Kopser has more money than Wilson, but she garnered more votes than he did in the first round of primary voting in March.

Who are the Republicans? Former Texas Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy (he also used to be US Sen. Ted Cruz’s chief of staff), and businessman Matt McCall.

What’s the story? The 21st Congressional District didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it’s on the list of potentially flippable districts because it’s an open race: Longtime incumbent Rep. Lamar Smith is retiring. The large district includes a significant chunk of liberal Austin and stretches all the way down to areas north of San Antonio and rural counties out west. While it’s more likely a Republican will win in November, it’s a competitive pickup opportunity for Democrats.

Texas’s 23rd Congressional District: the huge district that’s most likely to flip

Who are the Democrats? Veteran Gina Ortiz Jones, who has the backing of the DCCC and Emily’s List, and teacher Rick Treviño, endorsed by Our Revolution.

Who is the Republican? Incumbent Rep. Will Hurd, young, moderate, African-American, elected in 2014. He used to be an undercover CIA officer.

What’s the story? The 23rd District is a prime pickup opportunity — it’s flipped blue before, and Clinton won it in 2016. Like TX-7, this race will be a test of whether progressive insurgent candidates can win their primaries. Ortiz Jones was the frontrunner in March, but Treviño — a former Bernie Sanders delegate — narrowly advanced into the runoff. If elected, Ortiz Jones would be the first openly LGBTQ Congress member of color from the Lone Star State. Whoever wins on Tuesday has a real shot at beating Hurd, who was a co-author of the Hurd-Aguilar bill to protect DREAMers (immigration is likely to be a big issue in November).

Texas’s 32nd Congressional District: Pete Sessions could be in trouble

Who are the Democrats? Former NFL player and civil rights attorney Colin Allred, backed by the DCCC, and former Obama administration official Lillian Salerno, whom Emily’s List is supporting.

Who’s the Republican? Incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions, chair of the House Rules Committee, who has been in office since 2003.

What’s the story? Allred and Salerno advanced out of a crowded March primary. Allred is a Democratic favorite: he’s young, African-American, and a former football player for the Tennessee Titans (a natural boost in football-loving Texas). There’s not a lot of difference between Salerno and Allred on the issues, but Salerno has said she wouldn’t support Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker, while Allred has stayed quiet. Come November, Democrats are sure to try to tie Sessions to Trump; Sessions’s voting record aligns almost perfectly with Trump’s policy priorities.


Arkansas governor primary: Gov. Asa Hutchinson favored for reelection

Who are the Republicans? Asa Hutchinson, a former member of Congress and US attorney, was elected governor in 2014 and is running for a second term. He’s being challenged from the right by Jan Morgan, whom the Arkansas Times described as a “hog-riding, Muslim-banning, gun-toting, airbrushing, RINO-busting gadfly from Hot Springs.”

Who are the Democrats? Jared Henderson, who was executive director for Teach for America’s Arkansas programs, is the expected nominee. Hairstylist Leticia Sanders is also on the ballot.

What’s the story? Hutchinson is a staunch conservative with a strong approval rating in this red state, so he’s a solid favorite for reelection in the fall. But first, Morgan is challenging him from the right on a platform of, basically, bigotry and right-wing nuttery — she owns a gun range and gained notoriety in 2014 after declaring it would be a “Muslim Free Zone.” She’s “basically attacking Hutchinson from the right on any issue,” Dylan Scott writes.

Arkansas Second Congressional District Democratic primary

Who’s the Republican? The incumbent, Rep. French Hill, a former banker who served in George H.W. Bush’s Treasury Department before winning election to Congress in 2014.

Who are the Democrats? State Rep. Clarke Tucker, farmer and teacher Paul Spencer, teacher Gwen Combs, and University of Arkansas employee Jonathan Dunkley.

What’s the story? Tucker, a Harvard graduate, lawyer, and cancer survivor, is the DCCC-favored candidate in a seat the party is perhaps overly hopeful about winning (Trump won the district by a little over 10 points in 2016). To take on Hill, however, Tucker first has to get past Paul Spencer, whom ThinkProgress’s Addy Baird describes as “a sort of Bernie-esque outsider” running on Medicare-for-all. If no candidate tops 50 percent of the primary vote, there will be a runoff on June 19.


Georgia’s governor primary: an open seat up for grabs

Who are the Republicans? Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is the establishment favorite, with his nearest rival expected to be Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Also running are state Sen. Michael Williams (who’s gotten some press for his “deportation bus” idea), former state Sen. Hunter Hill, businessman Clay Tippins, and restaurant owner Eddie Hayes.

Who are the Democrats? Former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and state Rep. Stacey Evans.

What’s the story? Republican Gov. Nathan Deal is term-limited, so both parties have competitive contests for the nomination to replace him. The Democratic race has gotten a lot of buzz for pitting the two Staceys against each other in a state that’s been getting less red — though, as Matt Yglesias writes, it’s tough to impose a simplistic narrative such as “establishment versus outsider” on the race.

Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District Democratic primary: who will take on Karen Handel?

Who’s the Republican? Rep. Karen Handel, who triumphed over Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff in an expensive, high-profile 2017 special election.

Who are the Democrats? IT consulting firm co-founder Kevin Abel, former local TV anchor Bobby Kaple, gun control activist Lucy McBath, and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyst Steven Knight Griffin.

What’s the story? Trump won this traditionally Republican district by just 1.5 points in 2016, but Handel pulled out the special election last June by a 4 percentage point margin. It remains among Democrats’ top targets this fall, and they’re hoping that Ossoff just wasn’t the right fit for the district. A runoff will ensue if no one tops 50 percent.

Georgia’s Seventh Congressional District Democratic primary: a suburban District that typifies what Democrats are targeting in red states

Who’s the Republican? Rep. Rob Woodall, first elected to Congress in 2010, is the incumbent. Marine veteran Shane Hazel is challenging him from the right.

Who are the Democrats? Tutoring business founder David Kim, Georgia State professor Carolyn Bourdeaux, small-business owner Ethan Pham, consultant Kathleen Allen, financial manager Melissa Davis, and lawyer Steve Reilly.

What’s the story? Trump won this suburban district by a little over 6 points, and Democrats have viewed Woodall as a potential reach target. Their primary is crowded, and their field is diverse. Bourdreaux, Kim, and Pham are the leading fundraisers, with Kim putting in more than half a million dollars of his own money and Bourdeaux winning the endorsement of Emily’s List. A runoff will be held if no candidate tops 50 percent, and with so many candidates in the race, that seems likely to happen.


Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District Democratic primary: who can win over the most Trump voters?

Who are the Democrats? Lexington mayor and former candidate for US Senate Jim Gray, retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, and state Sen. Reggie Thomas. Gray is on the DCCC’s Red to Blue list.

Who are the Republicans? Incumbent Rep. Andy Barr, first elected in 2012.

What’s the story? KY-6 is Trump country. It’s rated R+9 by the Cook Political Report but has nearly 100,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans — meaning it has blue roots. The district has flipped before, meaning this primary is all about who can convince Trump voters to cast ballots for Democrats. McGrath’s first campaign ad focused on her military service went viral, but Gray and Thomas are both trying to paint her as a carpetbagger who just moved back to the district to run.


Everything you need to know about government shutdowns


The Republican vs. Republican feud behind the government shutdown fight, explained

World Politics

How Armenia and Azerbaijan’s conflict could still destabilize the region

View all stories in Politics

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.