States such as Wisconsin helped drive Donald Trump’s surprising presidential win two years ago, and yesterday’s primaries there and in neighbouring Minnesota serve as a barometer of opposition strength headed into the November midterm elections.
Voters were going to the polls in those states for party primaries, and Democrats will have a chance to show they can mobilise voters for November 6’s congressional elections and perhaps the 2020 presidential race as well.
Both states have shown signs of drifting rightward in recent years.
Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin in 32 years, and he narrowly lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton in Minnesota.
Trump’s consistently low approval ratings and his trade policies, however, may have given Democrats renewed life.
Foreign tariffs on US agricultural goods in retaliation for Trump’s policies have become a central issue in the region, while Trump’s feud with iconic Wisconsin motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc has placed Republicans there in an awkward position. That company’s stock has lost 19% so far this year.
Wisconsin voters signalled their unrest by turning out in large numbers and electing Democrats in a series of special state elections earlier this year, including a pair of wins in districts that had supported Trump in 2016 by wide margins.
Democratic turnout has surged in congressional primary contests across the nation this year compared with the last midterm elections in 2014.
Democrats need to add a net total of two Senate seats to seize control of that chamber from Republicans. In the House, Democrats need to win 23 seats to assume control.
To that end, Democrats hope the number of party voters who participate in Wisconsin primaries yesterday approaches the 1mn who voted in the primary in 2016, a presidential year, compared with 300,000 votes for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2014.
Democrats would love to capture the Milwaukee suburban House district of Republican US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, who is leaving office.
Ryan supports former aide Bryan Steil to replace him, but Steil must fend off a primary challenge from avowed white supremacist Paul Nehlen.
Among Democrats, ironworker Randy Bryce was confronting Cathy Myers, a local school board member.
Democrats will also choose a nominee to battle Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a former presidential candidate seeking a third term.
That race will be another indicator of whether state voters have soured on Republican leadership.
“For Walker, it’s going to be a tougher run for him than in 2010 and 2014,” said Kenneth Mayer, professor of political science and an affiliate of the Elections Research Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wisconsin Republicans will choose between Kevin Nicholson and Leah Vukmir to take on incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin in November.
While Trump has endorsed neither candidate, Nicholson was originally backed by former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon and conservative Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Vukmir has support from party establishment figures such as Walker and Ryan.
Congressional analysts say Baldwin remains favoured to keep her seat in November.
In Minnesota, notable primaries in two House districts could help determine control of Congress, representing regions affected by Trump’s trade policies.
A bevy of Democrats are running in an open-seat race in the northeastern part of the state known as the Iron Range, so-called because of mining there.
That region has seen some benefit from the administration’s steel and aluminium tariffs.
Trump has already campaigned in the district on behalf of the Republican favourite, Pete Stauber.
In the south, two Republicans, Jim Hagedorn and Carla Nelson, square off in a House district that Republicans hope to seize after the Democratic incumbent, Tim Walz, ran for governor.
Farmers there have complained about harm from retaliatory tariffs from China and other countries.
Democrat Barack Obama won this district in his 2008 and 2012 presidential runs, but it shifted sharply to Trump in 2016.
Minnesota’s governor race features former Republican governor and 2012 presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, who is trying to get his old job back.
He is running against Jeff Johnson, who lost to departing Democratic Governor Mark Dayton four years ago.
Three Democrats are competing to succeed Dayton.
Beyond the Upper Midwest, Connecticut and Vermont also were holding primaries yesterday.
In Vermont, Christine Hallquist would become the first openly transgender person to win a major US party nomination for statewide office if she wins the Democratic governor’s primary.
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