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Every May 8 primary election you should know about, briefly explained

Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia are holding their primaries. Here are 16 races to watch.

Zac Freeland/Vox

The 2018 midterms begin in earnest on Tuesday, with four primary elections in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and North Carolina.

The candidates for crucial Senate, House, and governors’ races will be decided. It’s a heckuva lot to keep track of. Here is the absolute bare minimum you need to know about every important election on May 8.


Ohio Senate: which Republican will try to pick off Sherrod Brown?

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) speaks during a rally held by the group Common Cause in front of the US Supreme Court on January 10, 2018.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) speaks during a rally held by the group Common Cause in front of the US Supreme Court on January 10, 2018.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Who are the Democrats? Incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, who was first elected in 2006. Perennial presidential or vice presidential dark horse.

Who are the Republicans? Rep. Jim Renacci, endorsed by President Trump, and Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons, who has no political experience and a lot of money.

What’s the story? Brown has a strong in-state brand and is a real progressive who’s willing to credit Trump on things like tariffs; Renacci is a stilted speaker and has been hit for his history as a lobbyist, but he does have Trump’s support. Gibbons is a bit of a wild card, but Renacci is probably going to win Tuesday’s primary and then lose to Brown in November. An Ohio Republican recently predicted to Vox that Brown would win by 8 to 10 points.

Ohio governor: it’s anyone’s guess who will succeed John Kasich

Who are the Democrats? Rich Cordray, former head of Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Dennis Kucinich, former Congress member and Cleveland mayor. There is a little intra-left family feud here, as Cordray got Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement and Kucinich has the support of Our Revolution, the PAC that grew out of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run.

Cordray has used Barack Obama to his advantage during the primary, while Kucinich has hit the frontrunner for being soft on guns in particular while also putting forward a statewide single-payer health care plan. At the same time, he has been forced to fend off questions about his ties to the Assad regime in Syria.

Who are the Republicans? State Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor. DeWine is the presumed favorite, a former US senator with the support of most of the state establishment. But Taylor is making the race interesting, hugging as closely as she can to Trump and tarring DeWine as a RINO (Republican in name only) who opposes the president on key issues like trade and immigration. DeWine has been hitting back (calling Taylor lazy, for one thing), which suggests he takes her challenge seriously.

What’s the story? The governor’s mansion race is wide open since former presidential candidate John Kasich is term-limited out of the job (and maybe even running for president in 2020). Cordray and DeWine are the likely candidates, though the polling is uncertain enough that we can’t rule out an upset in either primary. It would be a rematch of the 2010 attorney general race, which DeWine won. This campaign will inevitably be tied to the Senate race — if Brown pulls far ahead, that’s a boon for the Democrat’s chances in a state where Democrats not named Brown have struggled. There is also an FBI corruption probe in Columbus (the state House speaker just resigned) that could complicate things.

Ohio’s First Congressional District: on the DCCC’s Red to Blue list

Who are the Democrats? Aftab Pureval, who has officially been added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue list for districts they’re targeting this year. He has a clear path, so Tuesday’s primary probably won’t be very interesting. He’s a Hamilton County clerk of courts who beat an entrenched Republican to get that post.

Who is the Republican? Incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot. He was first elected in 2010. Pretty down-the-line conservative — he voted for the tax bill and Obamacare repeal, as all the Ohio Republicans did.

What’s the story? Chabot won by 18 points in 2016, but the Cook Political Report classifies this as only an R+5 district. Pureval is raising money ($660,000) and there have been some weird moments — like trackers being sent to the Democrat’s house — that suggest Chabot and the GOP are taking the race seriously. If Democrats are going to take the House, they need to win places like this, suburbs outside of a metropolitan area — Cincinnati in this case.

Ohio’s Seventh Congressional District: Republicans are meddling in the Dem primary

Who are the Democrats? Ken Harbaugh, former president of Team Rubicon, the veterans group that does recovery work after natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey. He was the first Democrat in Ohio to raise $1 million. He’ll be fighting Patrick Pikus, who has oddly been the subject of Republican mailers accusing him of being too liberal, for the nomination. Dems think it’s an effort to prop up Pikus at Harbaugh’s expense, given that the latter should be a much stronger general election contender in this district.

Who is the Republican? Rep. Bob Gibbs, who was first elected to Congress in 2010. Average Republican. He is facing a nominal primary challenge on Tuesday.

What’s the story? This district is R+12, and Gibbs won with 64 percent in 2016. Still, Democrats see an opening here as long as Harbaugh takes care of business in the Tuesday primary. He’s running a “Country Over Party” message for this red district. He could be the next Conor Lamb if things break right.

Ohio’s 10th Congressional District: Dems are making a play with a former Republican

Who are the Democrats? Well, one is a former Republican, Theresa Gasper. She has some key endorsements, like Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, and is making the case that it’s the GOP that moved away from her. Her competitors are Michael Milisits, a union worker running on a populist Bernie Sanders platform, and Robert Klepinger, an area teacher who was the Democratic candidate in 2016 and lost to the Republican incumbent by more than 30 points.

Who is the Republican? Rep. Mike Turner is the incumbent, first elected to Congress in 2002. He’s on the more moderate end of the spectrum. He does have a nominal primary on Tuesday, though he is expected to be fine.

What’s the story? The 10th is theoretically only an R+4 district, but Turner has been winning here with 65 percent of the vote the past few cycles. Cook did slide it over to merely Likely Republican, which suggests it could possibly be in play with a big enough wave. Gasper would have an interesting profile for the moderate district, as an ex-Republican who is catering to the people without a party. We’ll see if she makes it out of the primary.

Ohio’s 12th Congressional District: an open seat is up for grabs

Who are the Democrats? There are at least three viable Democrats, as we hear it: Danny O’Connor, Franklin County recorder, young and active in the party, raising the most money on the Dem side; Zach Scott, former Franklin County sheriff, known quantity in the district; John Russell, local farmer and progressive activist, has run for (and lost) office before.

Who are the Republicans? It’s a classic establishment versus right-wing battle: Troy Balderson, state senator with the endorsement of retiring Rep. Pat Tiberi, versus Melanie Leneghan with the backing of archconservative Rep. Jim Jordan and the House Freedom Caucus. Tim Kane, a former Air Force officer, is also getting a significant airwave boost from a Super PAC that works to elect veterans.

What’s the story? This is actually a special election to replace retiring Tiberi on August 7. So if you’re looking for another bellwether of a Democratic wave (or not), this might be the last actual piece of voting evidence we get before Election Day. This is an R+7 district: On the one hand, it’s well-educated and suburban (possible opportunity for the Democrats). On the other hand, it doesn’t have a history of voting for Democrats, voting Republicans into Congress for almost all of the last century. But there are the bones here, particularly with Columbus-area voters, for the anti-Trump vote to carry another surprising Democratic upset. A Leneghan win the GOP primary makes it a lot more interesting, given the comparatively moderate bent of this district.

Ohio’s 14th Congressional District: Dems want to activate Sherrod Brown’s base

Who are the Democrats? Betsy Rader, a local attorney with a focus on employment discrimination and whistleblowing. She has a clear path to the nomination.

Who are the Republicans? Rep. Dave Joyce, first elected in 2012. Pretty moderate, as Republicans go.

What’s the story? The primaries aren’t too interesting, but it’s worth putting this on your radar now in case of a wave. This is an R+5 district, and Joyce won in 2016 with 60-plus percent of the vote, but this is on the Democratic radar because Sherrod Brown tends to perform well here in the Cleveland suburbs during Senate elections — and Brown, you will recall, is on the ballot this year.

Ohio’s 15th Congressional District: This is an R+7 district in a year when the generic ballot favors Dems by at least that much

Who are the Democrats? Rick Neal, a former international aid worker who has never run for office before, and Rob Jarvis, a high school government teacher. Jarvis seems a little further to the left, endorsing Medicare-for-all while Neal talks about stabilizing Obamacare first. Neal gets credit from Washington Democrats for training his fire early and often on the incumbent Republican here.

Who are the Republicans? That would be Rep. Steve Stivers, first elected in 2010.

What’s the story? This is an R+7 district where Stivers got two-thirds of the vote in 2016. Still, Cook qualifies it as merely Likely R instead of Solid R in this potentially wave-y year. An added bonus of a competitive race here for Democrats: Stivers has a lot of money ($2.2 million on hand), so the more he has to spend on his own race, the less he can send elsewhere.


Indiana Senate: there’s a nasty Republican primary to unseat a vulnerable Democrat

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Il) outside the Senate floor where the Republican-led House of representatives was struggling to vote on a budget deal, on January 8, 2018.
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) outside the Senate floor where the Republican-led House of Representatives was struggling to vote on a budget deal, on January 8, 2018.
Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Who are the Democrats? Sen. Joe Donnelly. He’s a one-term incumbent Democrat and one of the most vulnerable in 2018, running for reelection in a state Trump won by 19 points.

Who are the Republicans? There’s a heated, and nasty, three-way race between Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, and businessman and former state lawmaker Mike Braun. It’s been a mudslinging race to out-Trump one another, but Trump has stayed away from endorsing anyone.

What’s the story? The Republican primary has already been dubbed one of the nastiest — and most expensive — in the 2018 election cycle, so much so that regardless of which Republican wins, he won’t come out unscathed. The primary has moved the Republicans far to the right and has been pretty void of policy. It’s giving Donnelly some hope, but Indiana is still a strong Trump state (and Vice President Mike Pence’s home state) and one of the biggest opportunities for Republicans this year.

Indiana’s Second Congressional District: a crowded Democratic primary in Sen. Donnelly’s former district

Who are the Democrats? There are six Democrats vying for the chance to turn the district blue in November. Three have stood out: Mel Hall, a pastor turned CEO of a health care survey company with a more moderate policy platform, who has the support of some national Democrats; Pat Hackett, an attorney with a specialty in health care, estate, and probate law, who is openly gay and running on a progressive message; and Yatish Joshi, a manufacturing businessman and Indian-born immigrant who is also running on a progressive message. Hall has raised the most money of the three, followed by Joshi and then Hackett.

Who are the Republicans? Rep. Jackie Walorski. She’s a three-term Congress member running for reelection. She’s already outraised the Democratic candidates and has a pretty coveted position on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in Congress. She has a primary challenger, Mark Summe, a chemical engineering graduate student who seems to have almost no campaign presence.

What’s the story? This was Donnelly’s district. But when he left for the Senate, Indiana’s Second District, which covers South Bend, the central-north region of the state, has turned increasingly red. Trump won the district by 23 points, and it was rated R+10 after a bout of Republican-led redistricting efforts in 2011. But it looks a lot like Pennsylvania’s 18th, which Democrat Conor Lamb won in a special election last month, and Democrats are painting Walorski as an out-of-touch Republican who has failed the district.

Still, the primary has shown some divisions among Democratic ranks. Hall is the candidate with the clearest establishment support. A self-proclaimed “pragmatist,” he supports stabilizing Obamacare and refinancing student debt, while Joshi and Hackett are running on a Medicare-for-all, free-college platform. Where Joshi and Hackett support an assault weapons ban, Hall stops short. The question before voters is which vision can secure a win in a solidly red district.

Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District: a target of the DCCC

Who are the Democrats? Three Democrats are in this race: Liz Watson, a labor attorney and former adviser to congressional Democrats, who has raised the most in this race; Dan Canon, a prominent civil rights lawyer in Louisville (he helped win the Kentucky same-sex marriage case) based in New Albany, Indiana; and Rob Chatlos, an independent-running-Democrat truck driver, who is not raising money and has reported no contributions.

Who are the Republicans? Rep. Trey Hollingsworth III, a one-term representative and native Tennesseean who moved to Indiana in September 2015 a month before declaring his candidacy in the district. He’s being challenged by James Dean Alspach, who hasn’t mounted a serious campaign.

What’s the story? This is one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s targets in 2018. The south-central district between Louisville and Indianapolis has flipped between Democratic and Republican control in recent history. Hollingsworth won the district when now-Sen. Todd Young left the seat open. But his history in the region is short, and Democrats hope the energy in their voter base this year can turn the district blue once more.

West Virginia

West Virginia Senate: Joe Manchin and a divided Republican field that includes a coal baron with a mining accident on his record

President Trump embraces Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Democrat of West Virginia, after speaking during the State of the Union Address on January 30, 2018.
President Trump embraces Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) after speaking during the State of the Union address on January 30, 2018.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Who are the Democrats? Joe Manchin, elected to the Senate in 2010. He was governor and secretary of state before that. He’s pretty moderate or even conservative by Democratic standards, though he voted against Obamacare repeal and the Republican tax bill. He does technically have a primary challenger, progressive Paula Jean Swearengin. She is unlikely to win, but if Swearengin has a strong showing, it could reflect underwhelming base support for the senator.

Who are the Republicans? Oh, boy. It’s quite something. The conventional candidates are Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the establishment favorite and the supposed outsider, respectively. But the whole race was upended when Don Blankenship, a former coal baron who ran a company found to be violating federal safety regulations when a mining accident killed 29 people, entered the race.

For the most part, polling has Jenkins and Morrisey neck and neck for the lead, but Blankenship is lurking and a lot of voters are undecided.

What’s the story? Manchin has a strong history with the state, though his brand of centrism might risk alienating actual progressives in the year of the Resistance. Blankenship is the lightning rod of the race: Washington Republicans are trying to stop him, worried his nomination would put a gettable seat out of reach, while Washington Democrats seem to be propping him up. Blankenship has launched a scorched-earth campaign against Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Things have gotten very weird.

West Virginia’s Third Congressional District: “He’s JFK With Tattoos and a Bench Press”

Who are the Democrats? The star is state Sen. Richard Ojeda, who got the Politico magazine treatment with this headline: “He’s JFK With Tattoos and a Bench Press.” He’s a former paratrooper and was a marquee supporter of the West Virginia teachers strike this year. He technically still has a primary to win, which includes state legislator Shirley Love, but read that Politico piece for a sense of the enthusiasm about this guy.

Who are the Republicans? Former chair of the state Republican Party Conrad Lucas and state delegate Carol Miller are the headliners. It looks competitive: The pair has split endorsements between various state politicians and the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, which endorsed Miller.

What’s the story? This is the district Jenkins is leaving to run for Senate. It’s an R+23 district, which, woof, but Cook still tabs it as just Likely R, which may be a function of the GOP losing its incumbent advantage here during a Democratic wave year and the Ojeda X-factor. The Democrat touted his internal polling in that national profile, showing him with an alleged lead among Republican voters against Lucas. Who knows how much of it is bluster, but maybe Ojeda can engineer a “one-man blue wave,” as Politico put it.

North Carolina

North Carolina’s Second Congressional District: there’s a competitive Democratic primary in the suburbs of Raleigh

Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) listens during the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on President Trump’s budget proposals for fiscal year 2018 on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.
Rep. George Holding (R-NC) listens during the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on President Trump’s budget proposals for fiscal year 2018 on May 24, 2017.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Who are the Democrats? There are two Democrats running in what has become a competitive primary: Linda Coleman, a former state lawmaker, and Ken Romley, an entrepreneur in the technology sector.

Who are the Republicans? Incumbent Rep. George Holding, a former prosecutor whose family owns First Citizens Bank & Trust, has been in office since 2013 and is defending his seat.

What’s the story? North Carolina’s Second District isn’t one Democrats would typically be expected to do well in; in the center of the state, including the suburbs around Raleigh, it’s predominantly white and has an R+7 Cook’s rating. But in 2016, Holding’s margin of victory was smaller than that of most incumbent Republicans in North Carolina; he only defeated the Democratic first-time candidate with 57 percent of the vote. And weak approval ratings for Trump and an energized base have Democrats thinking they could flip the suburban district.

North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District: home to the next Conor Lamb?

Who are the Democrats? The favorite is Dan McCready, a Marine Corps veteran and solar energy entrepreneur who has been compared to Pennsylvania’s Conor Lamb. He’s running against Christian Cano, who calls himself a “20 year veteran of the Hospitality industry.” Ironically, Cano made the most headlines after calling McCready a “coward” and a “pussy,” for which the state’s Democratic Party demanded he apologize. He did.

Who are the Republicans? Incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger, a real estate investor who has served the district since 2013, is facing a primary challenge from Mark Harris, a former senior pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and former president of the North Carolina Baptist Convention. Harris, who challenged Pittenger in 2016, was a leader in the successful 2012 push to pass a state constitutional amendment reaffirming North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban (which was rendered moot by the US Supreme Court decision).

What’s the story? The district, a heavily suburban area around Charlotte, has been gerrymandered so that Democrats haven’t been competitive in recent elections. But a combination of the current political climate and a Republican primary that has moved the candidates to the right has shifted the district’s Cook’s rating from Likely Republican to Lean Republican, making it one of the few districts Democrats think they could flip in the state.

North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District: a Democrat is running on health care — this year, that may be all she needs

Who are the Democrats? The favorite is Kathy Manning, a philanthropist, former immigration lawyer, and major Democratic donor. She’s running on jobs and affordable health care and has already picked up the Emily’s List endorsement and the support of North Carolina Democratic lawmakers. Adam Coker, a small-business owner, is also running.

Who are the Republicans? The incumbent is Rep. Ted Budd, a first-term Congress member and former gun store owner who secured his seat in 2016 after winning a 17-way Republican primary.

What’s the story? Another suburban district here. This is the area around Greensboro and north of Charlotte. It went for Trump pretty easily in 2016, but early on, the district’s rating went from Solid Republican to Likely Republican. There are 10 college campuses close by, and the district also has a significant African-American population. So far, Budd has had a lot of fundraising challenges and has some major national PACs behind him. Even so, Manning outraised him threefold over the first three months of 2018.

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