The final primaries of the 2018 mid-term elections are
reinforcing the patterns of the earlier primaries.
Two of these patterns stand out. On the Republican side,
the policies and personality of President Donald Trump are
dominant. Nine of ten of his endorsed GOP candidates have
won in competitive primaries, and the base of his support
in red and purple states remains very strong. On the
Democratic side, candidates of the Bernie Sanders left
wing of the opposition party are winning many primaries
in blue and purple states ---and moving the national party
clearly to the left.
The latest example of the latter occurred in the Florida
Democratic gubernatorial primary where the mayor of
Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, won an upset against former
Congresswoman Gwen Graham (who had been leading in
the pre-primary polls). Gillum had been endorsed by Senator
Bernie Sanders, and run to the left of Graham, the daughter
of a popular former governor and a more traditional Florida
At the same time, retiring GOP Congressman Ron DeSantis
defeated state Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam by
large margin. Only weeks before, Putnam, a rising state
political star, had been leading DeSantis, but President Trump
endorsed the congressman, and he quickly soared ahead in the
This race follows the pattern in previous primaries, especially
in purple states, where a Trump endorsee has won the
Republican primary and a Sanders-styled has won the
Democratic primary. As in these races, the Florida race for
governor will test the two very divergent ideological views, and
possibly preview the 2020 presidential race.
In the just-concluded Arizona primary, a different 2018 mid-term
pattern was reinforced. Retiring Congresswoman Martha McSally
won a stronger-than-expected primary victory over former
Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who had been pardoned by President Trump
after a conviction) and physician Kelli Ward who had run the
campaign most to the right. Both Ward and Arpaio were considered
by many to be too right-wing to win in November against liberal
Democratic nominee Kyrsten Sinema, but each had a base in the
state. McSally actually won 52% of the vote. Her race with Sinema
(who has turned toward the center while in Congress) in November
is now rated a toss-up.
Although President Trump did not endorse in the senate race, all
three candidates emphasized their support for him. A second and
unique factor this cycle in Arizona was the lingering illness of
Senator John McCain (not up for re-election this year) who passed
away just before the primary. The GOP governor, Doug Ducey
(himself up for re-election in 2018), will now appoint a replacement
for McCain after the funeral in early September. Arizona is usually
considered a red state, and although Sistema historicallywas a
Bernie Sanders-styled politician, she is expected to run hard to the
center to attract the more conservative Arizona voters --- another
pattern in many red states this mid-term cycle.
A key November U.S. senate race in Florida was not affected by the
just-concluded primary. Incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson
and his November opponent, retiring GOP Governor Rick Scott,
had already been determined as their party nominees. Here, too,
a 2018 mid-term pattern was reinforced as the Democratic
incumbent faces a very serious GOP challenger --- and the
possibility of another Republican senate pick-up. The popular
Scott leads Nelson in current polls.
Finally, the critical factor of voter turnout was visible in both the
Florida and Arizona primaries. As expected, Democratic turnout
was strong, especially among Sanders-Warren wing voters (and
generally among liberal voters who oppose President Trump).
This pattern has occurred throughout the 2018 primary season
in blue, red and purple states. But Republican turnout was also
strong, as it has been in both red and purple states this year.
If the public polling is to be given any credibility so far this cycle,
it is that a larger-than-usual “undecided” or “willing-to-change”
vote exists in the electorate. In spite of predictions of blue and
red waves by partisans and the media, it is this unknown factor
makes any predictions speculative as we approach the end of the
primary season and enter the climactic autumn campaign.
The omens might be ambiguous, but the primary season continues
to supply us with patterns and reinforcements. At the center of
these is President Trump and his remaking of the Republican
Party --- and the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing that is
changing the Democratic Party. A U.S. supreme court confirmation
likely will occur before November, as will the course of the
economy and the stock market. Also in play are several Trump
foreign policy initiatives which could either succeed or fail in the
remaining two months of the 2018 campaign.
Not to mention the often occurring “October surprise.”
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.