Progressive candidates are hoping to defeat their moderate counterparts in Kentucky’s Senate primary and a key series of House primaries in New York.
Voters in several states will head to the polls on Tuesday in what could be a decisive moment for the progressive movement.
New York, Kentucky, and Virginia are holding primary elections, while North Carolina and Mississippi hold congressional runoffs and South Carolina holds run-off elections for legislative races. Despite this spate of elections, all eyes are on Kentucky and New York, where progressive challengers are hoping to capitalize on late momentum to defeat their more moderate counterparts.
Here are six things you need to know about Tuesday’s elections:
Kentucky Voters Will Choose Who They Want to Take on Mitch McConnell in November.
In Kentucky, voters will decide which Democratic candidate they want to face off against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November. Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot and congressional candidate, is thought to be the favorite, after raising more than $40 million. She was quickly minted as the choice of the Democratic establishment, but a series of missteps has left her vulnerable, and her challenger, State Rep. Charles Booker, has gained enormous momentum in recent weeks.
Booker, who is Black and has run on an unabashedly progressive platform, has captured the energy surrounding the protests over racial injustice and police brutality to give McGrath a run for her money. He has earned endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), several members of the Kentucky state house, as well as the state’s two largest newspapers.
Whether it’s enough for him to eke out a victory remains to be seen. With a dramatic increase in mail-in voting, many voters had already sent in their ballots prior to Booker’s strong final weeks, meaning his late surge could be too little, too late.
The Progressive Movement Is Working to Build Power in New York.
A string of progressive candidates in New York are seeking to unseat incumbent House Democrats. The most competitive race appears to be in the 16th District, where long-time incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel is facing a tough challenge from educator Jamaal Bowman. Bowman, who is Black, has gained momentum in recent weeks amid a series of missteps by Engel. Bowman has taken advantage of that opportunity, capturing substantial grassroots energy and, like Booker, has won endorsements from Sanders, Warren, and Ocasio-Cortez.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Yvette Clarke, and Jerry Nadler of New York are also facing primary challengers, though only Clarke is thought to be in danger. She faces off against progressive housing advocate Adem Bunkeddeko, who lost to Clarke by less than 2,000 votes in 2018.
The left wing of the party is also hoping to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Nita Lowey in New York’s 17th district. Progressive Mondaire Jones, a Harvard Law School graduate, has also earned endorsements from Warren, Sanders, and Ocasio-Cortez and hopes to edge out a crowded field of candidates. The favorite in the race appears to be New York state Sen. David Carlucci, a Democrat in name only who bucked party leadership and caucused with Republicans in the state senate before losing in 2018. Carlucci leads the race, according to an early June poll from Data for Progress.
New York Could Elect a Homophobic Trump Supporter to Represent the Bluest District in America.
Yes, really. It’s perhaps the most likely outcome in the 15th District primary, where a dozen candidates are fighting it out to represent the Bronx and fill the bluest seat in Congress—a seat Hillary Clinton won with 94% of the vote in 2016. The large field has made the race impossible to predict, but appears to have created an opening for City Council Member Rubén Díaz Sr., who has significant name recognition in the Bronx.
Díaz has a long history of homophobic comments and has previously praised President Donald Trump, even saying he might vote for him in November. Díaz’s leading opponent is fellow City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who is hoping to capture enough of the progressive vote to defeat the controversial Díaz.
Virginia Will Decide Who Takes on an Extreme Anti-Gay Marriage Republican.
In July 2019, Republican Congressman Denver Riggleman of Virginia officiated a same-sex wedding of friends. After a year of attacks from hard-line conservatives, Riggleman was defeated in his primary earlier this month, which featured an unusual drive-through convention, allowing local party officials to select the Republican nominee for Virginia’s 5th District. The man who defeated Riggleman, Bob Good, has described himself as a “biblical conservative” who opposes gay marriage, abortion, and birthright citizenship.
On Tuesday, Democratic voters will decide who faces Good in November. They’ll choose between Dr. Cameron Webb, a physician at the University of Virginia and a former Obama White House fellow, and two Marine veterans, Claire Russo, and RD Huffstetler. The district is heavily Republican as Trump won it by 11 points in 2016, but given Good’s extreme stances, it may be in play come November.
The Fear of Election Day Mishaps Remains.
To say the coronavirus has completely upended elections is an understatement. After all, Tuesday’s primary in Kentucky was originally scheduled for May and had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
The turmoil hasn’t stopped there. The pandemic has forced the closure and consolidation of polling places as voting registrars have struggled to find poll workers. In Kentucky, for example, there are only 200 voting sites across the state, including only one in Jefferson County, home of Louisville and the state’s most populous county with 767,000 residents. Fayette County, which has 323,000 residents and is home to Lexington, also only has one voting location.
Election officials acknowledged the possibility of long lines, though early reports on Tuesday indicated that things were moving smoothly in Louisville. Hour-long lines were reported in Lexington, however, according to the Courier Journal.
Early indications out of New York signaled more serious issues, ranging from late openings to missing ballot pages to voting machine meltdowns.
We Probably Won’t Know Who Won Tuesday’s Primaries for Several Days.
Amid fears of contracting the virus at polling sites, voters in Kentucky and New York requested enormous numbers of mail-in ballots.
In Kentucky, more than 883,000 absentee ballots were requested, according to Gov. Andy Beshear, and more than 452,000 were returned as of Monday afternoon. In New York, about 1.7 million people requested absentee ballots, the state board of elections announced Monday. The figure far exceeds the 160,000 that requested absentee ballots during the 2016 primaries.
Because so many voters have opted to vote-by-mail, it’s all but certain election officials in both New York and Kentucky will be counting votes for several days or more.