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  • Seal with a Pen

Election Season Begins

Though it may feel like the last election season just ended, believe it or not, we're already in full-swing ahead of the 2022 midterms. As with every year, the cycle begins with primaries and caucuses where parties will nominate their preferred candidates for the election, and though we've only seen one primary (Texas) take place thus far, this next month will be delivering us twelve whopping primaries across the country, the results of which will give us a clearer view of how the rest of the elections will go. The winners of some primaries may not be electable, which will change the final election results. Further, as we see how party factions -- moderate versus hardline Republicans, moderate versus hardline Democrats -- perform in each primary we'll learn more about the makeup of each party in the Biden era. Let's take a look at what's in store for us over the next few weeks.

Here are the states holding elections in May:

States holding primaries next month (Credit: edited by myself based on Wikimedia Commons)

Green states will hold primaries; Orange states will hold primary runoffs

While we already know the likely winners of many races, some remain beyond our foresight. These are the races that are most important, with the potential to determine the future of states or even the nation. This year's races in particular are a test for both the progressive and nationalist movements within the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, and the endorsing power of figures such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both in open seats as well as against establishment incumbents. Trump in particular has made 139 endorsements thus far in this year's race -- for reference, Obama endorsed 232 candidates in 2020 -- with that number expected to climb significantly further. This primary season will be the first major test of his clout since his departure from office, and the first test of progressive clout after a series of high-profile losses in last year.

Though these races will also affect the policies enacted in these states and the nation for the next few years, I'm largely eschewing those considerations for the purposes of this article. I'm more concerned with electoral prospects here than the direct impact on policy, though suffice it to say that more hardline, polarized nominees will have more difficulty governing while pushing their states in more hardline, polarized directions. Progressive victories yield progressive policy, while moderate victories yield moderate policy.

Most of this month's races are in Republican-leaning states, and there will be few major, competitive Democratic primaries. With all of that said, here's an overview of some of the major races we'll be seeing over the next few weeks:

U.S. SENATOR FROM ALABAMA: After over thirty years in office, incumbent Republican Richard Shelby is retiring, leaving an open seat. The race for the Republican nomination now seems to be mainly between Shelby-endorsed attorney Katie Britt and U.S. Army veteran Michael Durant. Britt is seen as the more moderate of the two, but the race will probably head to a runoff in June. Trump has not yet made an endorsement of either, but previously endorsed U.S. Representative Mo Brooks, who lost Trump's endorsement after falling behind in the polls. The importance: The race is likely to head to a runoff, but the performances of Britt and Durant will give us insight for that election. An overperformance for Britt would be a boon to more moderate conservatives, while an underperformance would indicate a shift towards more hardline politics in Alabama.

GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA: While the Democratic nominee is already locked in, incumbent Governor Brian Kemp is facing a primary challenge from Trump-endorsed former U.S. Senator David Perdue. It seems unlikely that Kemp will lose, but the race has attracted a lot of attention. Georgia is well known as the state that granted control of the U.S. Senate to the Democratic Party in the last election, and Perdue's run is largely built around criticism of Brian Kemp for allowing the Democrats to "steal" the race. Trump has suggested that progressive Democrat Stacey Abrams may be better than Brian Kemp if his preferred candidate loses the primary. The importance: An outright Kemp win would be a sign that Trump's grip over the Republican Party is fading, while if the race heads to a runoff, then he may have a chance to maintain an aura of power.

SECRETARY OF STATE OF GEORGIA: Similarly to the Governor's race, Trump has backed U.S. Representative Jody Hice as a challenger to incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger due to anger regarding Raffensperger's role in the 2020 election results. Unlike in the Governor's race, however, Raffensperger stands a decent chance of losing to Hice. As the Secretary of State is the official who oversees each election, the race is of great importance for both those who believe in Trump's claims of election fraud and those who don't. The importance: A Raffensperger win would be an enormous victory for moderate conservatives and anti-Trump Republicans, while a Hice win would give Trump supporters cause to celebrate and could reduce the chance of further Democratic victories in the state. The race is likely to head to a runoff however.

GOVERNOR OF IDAHO: In a more quixotic move Trump backed Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin in a primary challenge against incumbent Governor Brad Little, in a campaign that involves remaining grievances from the COVID-19 pandemic, though Idaho never imposed a statewide mask mandate. McGeachin has lagged far behind in polling, however, and the prospects for a McGeachin win seem very slim. The importance: How well McGeachin does in this election will show how much power a Trump endorsement has to elevate unpopular candidates. A major overperformance on her part would be a show of strength for the hardline wing of the Idaho GOP, regardless of whether she wins.

GOVERNOR OF NEBRASKA: With incumbent Governor Pete Ricketts retiring, the Nebraska race is all up in the air, with three main Republican contenders: moderate State Senator Brett Lindstrom, Ricketts-endorsed farmer Jim Pillen, and Trump-endorsed farmer Charles Herbster. It is unclear who will win, but the race is an interesting test of the draw that different Republican factions have in an open seat post-Trump presidency. The importance: This three-way fight between moderate, establishment, and populist candidates is a pretty clear battle between their supporting factions. Whichever faction wins will get a boost from this race.

U.S. SENATOR FROM NORTH CAROLINA: Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr is retiring in a notable swing state, and while it's already clear who the Democratic nominee will be, the Republican primary remains up in the air with the top contenders being Burr-endorsed former governor Pat McCrory and Trump-endorsed U.S. Representative Ted Budd. While McCrory started off ahead in the polls, Budd has steadily gained in this race, and the result now seems more a question of if Budd and McCrory will head to a July runoff or not. The Democratic nominee will likely be former Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court Cheri Beasley. The importance: If Burr wins outright, Trump will have clinched a major victory with his endorsement. It's unclear what would happen if the race heads to a runoff, but a runoff would be a sign of the ability of local politicians to wield power and influence even in the face of an endorsement from the former President.

U.S. SENATOR FROM OHIO: The retirement of incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman has set up a fierce race to replace him, with polls all over the place for months. The main contenders at this point seem to be State Senator Matt Dolan, who is running an Ohio-focused campaign, Trump-endorsed author J. D. Vance, and hardline former State Treasurer Josh Mandel. With the polls so tight (the latest poll I've seen as of the time of writing has Dolan in the lead with just 18.4% of the vote) and energy flying around in many different directions, the result is largely unpredictable. The Democratic primary has been comparatively quiet, with U.S. Representative Tim Ryan in the lead. The importance: The results here are truly unpredictable. A Dolan win would be a victory for moderate and establishment Republicans and likely make winning the Senate back in November cheaper and easier, while a Vance win would demonstrate Trump's swaying power as Vance trailed in the polls before his endorsement. A Mandel win would be a victory for strongly conservative voters who likely supported Trump, but are willing to break with him when he doesn't endorse their preferred candidate.

GOVERNOR OF OREGON: Oregon is a very Democratic state, and this upcoming election will see the first competitive Democratic primary in over a decade with the retirement of incumbent Governor Kate Brown. Two of the main frontrunners for the nomination are former Speaker of the (state) House Tina Kotek and State Treasurer Tobias Read. The Republican nomination also appears to be a competitive primary, with the current leaders being former Minority Leader Christine Drazan and oncologist Bud Pierce. Pierce was previously the Republican nominee in 2016. The importance: A win for Tobias Read would be a victory for more moderate Democrats, while Kotek would likely lead Oregon further in a progressive direction. Both Drazan and Pierce are fairly moderate by my understanding. There's a centrist independent State Senator in the race this year as well, Betsy Johnson, with a significant amount of support. (Oregon last elected an independent governor in 1930.) The results of these primaries may affect Johnson's chances at winning the election as well.

U.S. SENATOR FROM PENNSYLVANIA: Another U.S. Republican Senator, Pat Toomey, is retiring and the race to replace him has been similarly crowded. The race for the Republican nomination at present seems to be mainly between former U.S. executive official David McCormick and Trump-backed TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz. If elected, Turkish citizen Dr. Oz would be the first Muslim U.S. Senator. The Democratic primary, while entertaining several strong candidates, already seems decided for incumbent Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. The importance: A McCormick win would be a win for state politics over national politics, while an Oz win would be a win for more celebrity-centered, populist politics. There is a non-zero chance that another candidate could win the race, which would be an upset; polls show that a lot of voters remain undecided, and neither Oz nor McCormick have accrued a lot of support.

GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA: The incumbent Democratic Governor, Tom Wolf, is retiring, though there's been no real fight over his successor: Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the only candidate on the Democratic primary ballot. The Republican race is much more crowded, however, with former U.S. Representative Lou Barletta, State Senator Doug Mastriano (noted for his early support of Trump's election fraud claims), and former U.S. attorney William McSwain leading the polls. Trump has not made an endorsement, though he did make an anti-endorsement of McSwain. The importance: A victory for McSwain would be a direct rebuke of Trump's continuing involvement in politics, while a victory for Mastriano would be a huge victory for the Trump wing of the Pennsylvania GOP, though he would almost certainly lose in the general election. As in the Senate race, however, many voters remain undecided, so whatever happens will certainly be interesting.

ATTORNEY GENERAL OF TEXAS: Although incumbent Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is running for re-election, repeated accusations of wrongdoing and corruption have led to several primary challenges. Texas already held their main primary in March, however, Paxton failed to win a majority of the vote, and the race headed to a runoff against Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, son of Jeb. Paxton has been endorsed by Trump and thus far leads in polling, but Bush has name recognition and may put up a strong fight. The importance: A Paxton defeat would be surprising, but would show a willingness of voters to back establishment candidates over officials seen as ineffective. Though the core of Bush's campaign is addressing corruption, Bush carries a lot of his own baggage, and his loss wouldn't show much we don't already know: that plenty of conservative voters are tired of establishment characters.

RACES FOR THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: There are a whole lot of primary races for the House this year and I can't cover them all, but several are seen as close and competitive. In Texas, progressives who already succeeded in seizing one district (no. 35) this year hope to defeat the moderate incumbent of district 28 and elect one of their own in his stead. Republicans are also eyeing the seat, however. Progressives are also seeking to take out another moderate Democrat who has stymied Biden's agenda in Oregon's fifth district. Meanwhile, in North Carolina an increasing number of Republicans are seeking to replace scandal-plagued Representative Madison Cawthorn, the first member of my generation to sit in Congress. The importance: A whole lot of progressive victories would continue the momentum started with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's primary upset in 2018, especially important for the movement following a disastrous 2021. In other races, the stakes are similar to the races I covered above: moderate wins beget moderate wins, hardline wins beget hardline wins. A convincing victory for Cawthorn would demonstrate the ability of hardliners to avoid fallout from political scandals.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the results of each of these races as they get reported. It'll definitely be interested regardless of whether hardline candidates make a sweep, or moderates win everywhere, or if there's some sort of balance in between. We'll see soon enough.

Primaries start next Tuesday in Ohio and Indiana. Good luck.

-- Seal with a Pen

Sources: I do a lot of reading and I can't always remember where a specific impression came from; oftentimes, impressions are developed over time, and are not derived from any one source. There are several sources where you can find information about races, candidates, and polls, however, and I've used many of these sources in my writing. Polls and poll averages are available at FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics, while Ballotpedia provides information on a wide range of elections, including lists of candidates. Wikipedia has a page on every election as well and aggregates lists of polls, with links and sources provided for each poll.

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