Five states — Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington — are holding primary elections on Tuesday, and several nominations for key congressional seats are up in the air.
Michigan’s Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a member of the House’s progressive “Squad,” is fighting to keep her place in Congress. Progressives are hoping second time is the charm for their candidate in one of Missouri’s few Democratic strongholds. A voter fraud case is threatening a Kansas Republican’s congressional career. And Arizona Democrats are angling for a heated general election matchup in the Phoenix suburbs.
Tuesday’s elections will put the strength of the progressive movement to the test once again. In Tlaib’s case, the left wing of the Democratic Party will have to defend one of its biggest stars, who came into power without an absolute majority of votes. In Missouri, progressives are looking to oust another incumbent Democrat — Rep. Lacy Clay — after failing two years ago.
The primary will also tee up a battleground race for Democrats in Arizona, as the party tries to expand its majority in the House. In a state that elected Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema two years ago and has another contentious Senate race this cycle, Democrats are also eying a suburban congressional district that could be ripe for flipping blue.
Here are four races to watch on Tuesday’s primary.
A ‘Squad’ Stalwart Defends Her Seat
Given Tlaib’s national stardom as a member of “the Squad” of progressive women elected to Congress in 2018, it’s easy to forget that she almost didn’t make it to Washington. In the six-candidate primary in 2018, Tlaib received just 31% of the vote, edging out her closest competitor, Brenda Jones, by a single percentage point.
In a strange turn of events, Jones, the Detroit city council president, won a special election held the same day as the primary. She served from November 2018 until early January 2019, completing the remainder of the term vacated by John Conyers, who had resigned eight months earlier due to accusations of sexual harassment from former aides.
Jones, who is Black, is trying to unseat Tlaib on Tuesday, with a call for voters to “return” Jones to Congress.
The race tests Tlaib’s ability to transcend the demographic divisions in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. The district, which encompasses parts of Detroit and its adjacent suburbs, is majority Black, and was represented by Conyers, a leader in the civil rights movement, for 52 years.
From the moment that Tlaib won, some Black Detroiters were frustrated that they no longer had a Black member of Congress.
Some more moderate Motor City residents are also cool to Tlaib’s status as a high-profile progressive pugilist whose advocacy for Palestinian rights, including the creation of a single binational state, has sparked controversy. (Tlaib is the first Palestinian American woman in Congress and one of the body’s first two Muslim women.)
On paper, the policy differences between Tlaib and Jones are difficult to spot. The sparse information on Jones’ website features her support for “Medicare for All,” a cause championed by Conyers for decades that is now a prerequisite for left-leaning Democrats.
But Jones’ legislative style is likely to be less independent than Tlaib, who is part of a small bloc of progressive lawmakers sometimes at odds with party leadership.
Jones, by contrast, is firmly embedded in Detroit’s business-friendly political establishment. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a former Republican, endorsed her 2018 bid.
Tlaib remains the heavy favorite in the race thanks to her enthusiastic progressive base and massive cash advantage. As of mid-July, Tlaib had spent more than $2.1 million and retained more than $900,000 in cash on hand. The progressive Working Families Party and the Muslim American group Emgage have also been funding independent efforts to boost her reelection.
Jones, by contrast, raised just $165,000 and has spent all but $21,000 of it.
A Chance For Another Progressive Upset, This Time In Missouri
Cori Bush, a progressive pastor and registered nurse, is trying for a second time to unseat Clay, a Missouri Democrat who has represented the St. Louis area since 2001. Clay, whose father was the first Black person to represent Missouri in Congress, defeated Bush in 2018 by nearly 20 percentage points in a four-candidate field.
This time though, Bush has more endorsements, money and momentum, enabling her to air TV ads for the first time. She appears to have benefited from the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in which she got her start in politics. In a TV spot, Bush frames herself as a change agent for the moment, declaring that Clay has “presided over 20 years of decline.”
Bush also has the support of outside groups spending on her behalf. Justice Democrats, the left-wing group that recruited Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jamaal Bowman (the Democratic nominee in New York’s 16th district), has purchased $150,000′s worth of TV ads boosting her. And the anti-monopoly group Fight Corporate Monopolies is spending $100,000 on an ad attacking Clay for opposing the Obama administration’s fiduciary rule requiring fund managers to act in the best interests of their clients. (Clay received $440,000 from corporate PACs this election cycle alone; their contributions make up a large majority of his total fundraising haul.)
A victory for Bush would be another coup for the Democratic Party’s left wing, fresh off the heels of Bowman’s defeat of veteran New York Rep. Eliot Engel.
It is not clear how sophisticated Clay’s campaign infrastructure is, but he has delegated much of the work to family members. Clay has spent more than one-quarter of the $743,000 he raised this cycle on services performed by his sister Michelle, an attorney. A firm run by Anthony Alexis, Michelle’s husband, conducted about $30,000′s worth of “internet engineering” and other services. (Michelle Clay, the campaign’s point of contact for press inquiries, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the nature of her role on the campaign.)
Regardless, Clay is clearly not taking Bush for granted. He is running a TV ad attacking Bush for, among other things, paying herself a salary from her campaign coffers, a practice that is increasingly common among candidates without independent wealth. “Her name may be Bush, but she acts more like Trump,” the narrator warns. (Bush, a single mother of two, has paid herself just over $6,000 a month since the start of April.)
An Embattled Sitting Republican Could Lose His Seat
Freshman Rep. Steve Watkins snuck into office by the thinnest of margins in 2018. He won the seven-way GOP primary in Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District with just 26.5% of the vote after his father poured more than $500,000 into a super PAC supporting him. He won the general election over Paul Davis, a moderate Democrat, by less than a percentage point after The Associated Press and Kansas City Star reported that Watkins exaggerated portions of his resume.
Watkins’ thin margin of victory meant he entered Congress with an electoral target on his back: Jake LaTurner, Kansas’ state treasurer, announced a primary challenge to Watkins last September. But his electoral danger became much more real after Watkins was charged with voter fraud on July 14 for registering to vote at a P.O. box — instead of his residential address — and voting in the wrong city council district.
Watkins insists the charges are politically motivated and he’s done nothing wrong, but LaTurner is airing ads linking Watkins’ charges to Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud. Watkins has fired back by emphasizing his military record ― he served in Afghanistan ― and calling LaTurner a career politician who raised taxes. But the attacks have clearly stuck at least a bit: Rep. Ron Estes, who represents the neighboring 4th district, cited the charges when endorsing LaTurner.
Whoever wins the primary will face Democrat Michelle De La Isla, the first Latina mayor of Topeka, the district’s largest city. Both Republicans would likely be the favorite, but the charges against Watkins would give De La Isla a better shot at victory.
Arizona’s Possible Blue Wave
In the northeast suburbs of Phoenix, four Democrats are vying for the chance to unseat Republican Rep. David Schweikert, an ideological conservative who has served in Congress for the last 10 years.
Anita Malik, who comes from the tech industry, is looking for a re-match, having lost to Schweikert by 10 percentage points in 2018. She’s in the race with Stephanie Rimmer, a small-business woman, and Karl Gentles, a former John McCain staffer with nonprofit background. But out-raising the three is a name that came within striking distance of turning a ruby-red district just west of Arizona’s 6th blue two years ago: Hiral Tiperneni.
The former emergency room physician and cancer research advocate lost a special election in the neighboring district — Arizona’s 8th Congressional District — by just 5 percentage points in 2018. She made the race about health care, and Republicans’ attacks on Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. She supports a public health insurance option to be offered alongside private insurance.
The result was shocking; President Donald Trump had won the district by 20 points in 2016 and the seat was previously occupied by one of the most conservative members of the House, Rep. Trent Franks. Two years later, Tipirneni, who lives on the border between Arizona’s 8th and 6th districts, has decided to make a run for Schweikert’s seat instead.
She’s a fundraising heavyweight in the field, having raked in more than $1 million, far more than her competitors.
To be clear, it’s still a long shot for Democrats. The 6th district “leans Republican,” according to nonpartisan election analysis from the Cook Political Report. It’s former senator Jeff Flake’s longtime home, a district he represented in the House for 12 years before Schweikert. It’s conservative, but maybe not as conservative as some of the other Phoenix suburbs. In 2016, Hillary Clinton did better in Arizona’s 6th than President Barack Obama did in 2012. The district is younger, more educated and more affluent than the western suburbs where Tipirneni ran two years ago.
The results of Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Arizona’s 6th Congressional District has the potential to tee up a contentious general election race in November.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.