The story of the 2018 primaries usually centers on President Trump. And there’s plenty of that narrative in Tuesday’s gubernatorial, Senate and House primaries in Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma: For another week, Trump is in our winner’s column. But liberal Democrats are an even bigger winner, for reasons we’ll get into. Here are the winners and losers from some of the most consequential primaries of the year.
The liberal wing of the Democratic Party: Next to the upset win of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York in June, Andrew Gillum’s victory in Florida’s Democratic primary for governor is their biggest triumph of the election cycle.
The mayor of Tallahassee was up against the epitome of the party establishment in Gwen Graham, a moderate former congresswoman whose father was a popular governor of the state. But an infusion of millions from billionaires Tom Steyer and George Soros, plus an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), ended up being enough to vault Gillum to victory. This is an unequivocal win for the liberal Sanders wing of the party, and Gillum is guaranteed to get more attention as the first African American nominee for governor in Florida.
Trump and his Twitter account: The tweet came in June and, like many of Trump’s recent endorsements in Republican primary politics, it surprised political watchers. The president wasn’t going with the candidate who had been grooming himself for years to be governor of Florida, Adam Putnam. He liked the firebrand conservative congressman he saw almost daily on Fox News, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.).
Trump endorsed DeSantis, and DeSantis’s camp openly acknowledged that helped him win the competitive Florida Republican gubernatorial primary.
A battle of ideologies: DeSantis literally filmed his toddler daughter building a border wall with blocks, while Gillum thinks the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency should be abolished “in all forms.” The contrast between the nominees for governor in one of the nation’s most-populous states couldn’t be clearer.
These are not the candidates whom operatives in Washington on either side would have picked for a swing state where statewide races are often decided by a percentage point or two. Is it any surprise that in this hyperpartisan era, the candidates for one of the nation’s marquee governor’s races are so ideological? What happens next is anyone’s guess. Florida went for Trump by only a percentage point in 2016, but voters also haven’t elected a Democratic governor in 20 years.
Florida House Republicans: Florida will also be a battleground for control of the House, and ground zero is the Miami-area district, Florida’s 27th, that went for Hillary Clinton by 20 points but has been held by longtime Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R). She’s retiring, which gives Democrats one of their best pickup opportunities this cycle. That’s still the case, but Republicans say they’ve found the candidate of 2018 in Cuban American TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, who won her primary Tuesday night.
Ros-Lehtinen said Salazar “could be the right candidate” to keep this Democratic-trending seat Republican. She'll face Donna Shalala, a former Bill Clinton official and University of Miami president.
Arizona Republicans: Arizona’s governor’s race, where Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is running for reelection, is not among the most competitive races in the nation. But it could be if there’s a blue wave this November. Republicans trying to reelect Ducey breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday when Democrats nominated former state education official David Garcia to challenge him. Of the two main candidates, Garcia was the most liberal. He campaigned on universal health care and replacing ICE with something else. Republicans tell The Fix they think Ducey’s reelection is in good shape with Garcia’s win, while Democrats say they haven’t lost hope that the state is trending in their favor.
Democrats' majority math: Top Republicans in the Senate were openly saying they would probably lose Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) seat if either of the super-Trumpian candidates, former state senator Kelli Ward or former sheriff Joe Arpaio, won the nomination Tuesday.
Senate Republicans don’t have to fear that any longer, because their establishment pick, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), won as Ward and Arpaio split the far-right vote. McSally had to sacrifice some of her general election strategy to do it (she deleted a video of herself praising the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on YouTube). But she was able to buck the trend of members of Congress losing their primaries for higher office this year, and now she’s set for a likely epic matchup against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) in a race that could decide control of the Senate.
Comebacks: Former Florida liberal firebrand congressman Alan Grayson, who lost a Senate nomination in 2016, tried again to get back to Washington by challenging Rep. Darren Soto (D) for his old seat. Grayson called for impeaching Trump and tried to describe Soto as a conservative in disguise. His efforts fell flat, with voters in Florida’s 9th District choosing the current member of Congress by a 2-to-1 margin. Perhaps a lesson for Democrats debating nationally how far left to move on Trump?
Democrats trying repeat Ocasio-Cortez’s success: Grayson wasn’t the only Democrat trying to unseat a sitting member of Congress on Tuesday. Florida Reps. Al Lawson (D) and Stephanie Murphy (D) defeated their primary challengers, underscoring the truism in politics that while people might not be happy with Congress itself, they generally like their own member of Congress.
The glass ceiling: Graham in Florida was hoping to add to the already record number of women who have won the nomination for governor this year. The race will instead be between two men. Purely from the perspective of advocates for more gender diversity in politics, Graham’s loss is bad news. She would have had a real shot at winning the governor’s mansion, and nowhere is there a stronger gender disparity in U.S. politics than in governor’s mansions. Right now there are a grand total of six female governors. Though, to end on a less dreary note, a woman is guaranteed to win Arizona’s open Senate seat.