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As Democrats try to maintain their tenuous hold on power in Congress in November, they’re battling over who should represent them in big races. Primaries this spring and summer are pitting liberal challengers against more established candidates — and in some cases, it’s moderate candidates trying to unseat incumbent, but more liberal, Democrats. Plus, redistricting is forcing some big names in Democratic politics to face off against each other.
Democrats are anxious about nominating their most electable candidates. The Senate is split 50-50, Democrats hold the majority in the House by just a few seats, and President Biden’s approval rating remains low. Historically, the party in power in midterm elections tends to lose seats.
Here are the most interesting Democratic primaries to watch. (And here are the Republican ones.)
A marquee Pennsylvania Senate race: If Democrats want to keep their hold on the Senate majority, they probably need to win in Pennsylvania. The state’s lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, is running for the party’s ’ nomination with his distinctive style: He’s tall and bald, campaigns in a hoodie and gym shorts and champions liberal causes while stumping in rural, pro-Trump communities. He’s leading in the polls. As The Post’s David Weigel points out, more moderate Democrats like Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta are trying and struggling to cut into Fetterman’s lead, like by attacking him over an incident years ago in which Fetterman confronted a Black man with a gun. The primary is May 17.
A liberal challenging a longtime Democrat in Texas: In March, a 28-year-old liberal forced one of Texas’s longest-serving House Democrats into a runoff. Jessica Cisneros is actually a former intern for Rep. Henry Cuellar. She has the backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and argues that in this heavily Hispanic district, voters support more liberal policies like Medicare-for-all. By contrast, Cuellar is the last remaining House Democrat to oppose abortion rights. She also ran against Cuellar two years ago and nearly won. Now, she will try to defeat Cuellar in a runoff on May 24.
Wisconsin Senate: This fall, Democrats would love to unseat Sen. Ron Johnson (R), who has embraced Trumpian, baseless claims and is running for reelection in a state that narrowly voted for Biden. First, they’ve got to decide who will run against him. It’s a crowded primary; the top of the list of candidates includes Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who has the backing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry; state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski; and a county executive, Tom Nelson. The primary is Aug. 9.
New York lieutenant governor’s race: We didn’t expect this race to be on the list, but in April, New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned after being charged with corruption. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) — who took over last year after her predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo (D) resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct — had backed Benjamin for his reelection. Now Democrats are unsure they can get him off the ballot for the primary, since the New York Democratic Party already nominated him as its candidate. The race for the job is now wide open; campaigns are still taking shape. The primary is June 28.
Liberals go after a moderate Democrat in Oregon: The ranks of politically centrist Democrats are dwindling in Congress — especially this year, as the number of competitive congressional districts plummets due to redistricting. In Oregon, liberal leaders are trying to oust moderate Rep. Kurt Schrader, who had to apologize last year after comparing Trump’s second impeachment to a “lynching.” Warren and other powerful liberals have backed a credible challenger, school board member Jamie McLeod-Skinner. But moderate Democrats fear if she wins, Democrats will lose this seat, because it’s one of the rare congressional seats in the entire country drawn to be more competitive. Biden endorsed Schrader, his first endorsement of the primary season, saying in a statement: “We don’t always agree, but when it has mattered most, Kurt has been there for me.” The primary is May 17.
Establishment challengers to liberal members of Congress: Two years ago, we wrote about how Democrats like Cori Bush in Missouri and Jamaal Bowman in New York unseated big names in their party primaries. Now, these two more liberal members are facing primary challengers of their own — from the center of their party. In New York, local lawmaker Vedat Gashi is challenging Bowman, saying he finds Bowman’s ties to the far left “offensive.” In Missouri, state Sen. Steven Roberts Jr. is challenging Bush’s votes to cut defense spending and other positions not in line with the party. (Roberts is accused of rape, which he denies.) New York’s primary is in June; Missouri’s is on Aug. 2.
A race to the left in North Carolina: In North Carolina, a House seat is open in a newly redrawn — and heavily Democratic — district. Since the winner of the primary is likely to be the next member of Congress, this wide-open primary is where we’ll see the real competition. The top candidates are playing to their firsts: Democrats could go with Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman elected to public office in the state, or Clay Aiken, the former “American Idol” contestant who has run for Congress once and says he wants to be the South’s first openly gay congressman. The primary is May 17.
Democrat vs. Democrat in redistricting: Every decade, based on new census data, every state redraws its congressional and state legislative districts. That’s happening now. Politicians try to draw lines that benefit their party (called gerrymandering), but sometimes they wind up with new districts that pit some of their own lawmakers against each other.
In Georgia, two popular House Democrats have to face off in a primary to win one district: Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath. Same in Illinois, where Democrat Sean Casten is in a primary against Democrat Marie Newman, who is facing a House ethics probe tied to her 2020 campaign. In Michigan, Haley Stevens and Andy Levin are fighting in what could be an ugly primary to represent the same district after Michigan lost a congressional seat. There are a handful of House Republicans in similar positions because of redistricting.
This has been updated with the latest news.
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