VERMONT – 7:00 EDT
Former US Attorney Christina Nolan, a moderate, will likely win the Republican nomination. She will go up against Democratic congressman Peter Welch in the race to succeed the retiring Democratic senator Patrick Leahy. We rate this race as SAFE DEMOCRATIC.
CONNECTICUT – 8:00 EDT
In Connecticut, the GOP primary will come down to a contest between former state House minority leader Themis Klarides and businesswoman Leora Levy. Klarides, a moderate Republican who openly admitted to not voting for Trump in 2020, was the favorite for a long time; however, Trump’s endorsement of the much more conservative Levy has scrambled the equation significantly in this race. Despite the late-stage endorsement, however, we rate this primary as LEANS KLARIDES.
Klarides was endorsed by the state GOP and several moderate Republican figures popular in a state like Connecticut. She has a strong profile as the former minority leader of the state House, and also has a big fundraising edge. Moreover, with Trump’s endorsement coming less than a week before the low-stakes primary election, it is questionable as to how many voters will really know about it, which diminishes its potential impact. For these reasons, we think she is slightly favored; however, it would not shock us to see a Levy victory, because the Trump endorsement is still very powerful in a GOP primary, as the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries illustrate.
Regardless of who the nominee is, though, incumbent Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal begins as heavily favored, and the race starts out as SAFE DEMOCRATIC on our board.
WISCONSIN – 9:00 EDT
Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes is the presumptive Democratic nominee, and he will challenge incumbent GOP Senator Ron Johnson. This race is rated at LEANS REPUBLICAN by us; while the fundamentals (Biden’s approval, a more Republican environment, and incumbency) favor Republicans here, Johnson has made a number of problematic statements on vaccines, abortion, and the 2020 election that seriously hurt his candidacy and give Democrats a lane into this race. Barnes has led the only recent poll of this race 46-44 over Johnson, and the Republican senator’s favorables are considerably worse than they were at this point in 2016 and have yet to really recover. While Republicans begin the general election cycle as favorites, this will very likely be a race to closely monitor.
Incumbent Vermont governor Phil Scott, a liberal Republican, has been elected to three two-year terms since 2016. Each time he has significantly overperformed the Republican baseline in the solidly-Democratic state. Split Ticket expects nothing unusual: we assign a rating of SAFE REPUBLICAN to this race; he is expected be renominated and go on to defeat Democrat Brenda Siegel for a second time.
Both parties nominated their tickets through conventions, so there will be no gubernatorial primary here. Incumbent Democratic governor Ned Lamont and businessman Bob Stefanowski will face each other in a rematch of the 2018 race, where Lamont won by a mere 3.2%. Despite the strong Republican performance four years ago, Split Ticket rates this election as LIKELY DEMOCRATIC in light of recent polling and the state’s increasingly reliable leftward lean.
Incumbent governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, will be facing a Republican in November. Evers only won by 1.1% in 2018, and we expect the state to be similarly competitive in November. That Republican will either be former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch or businessman Tim Michels, two divergent choices for governor as seen in the gubernatorial primaries in Arizona and Georgia.
Kleefisch has the endorsement from dozens of Wisconsin legislators, former governor Scott Walker, and former vice president Mike Pence. Michel’s endorsement comes from former President Trump, which has proven to be enough to counter local and minor national figures in Arizona. Polling paints a competitive picture, with both major candidates neck-and-neck in the race to secure the GOP line on the ballot. Split Ticket rates this primary as LEANS KLEEFISCH, given Trump’s loss in the state’s presidential primary in 2016, suggesting an endorsement from him there may not be as effective as Michels would hope. We’ll be seeing a similar geographic breakdown to the 2016 for the race, with Kleefisch leading in the suburbs and the cities as Senator Cruz did, and with Michels leading in the rural parts of the state, like Trump did.
As for the general election, Split Ticket maintains its TOSSUP rating for the state executive position. Evers has the advantage of incumbency, while his Republican opponent will have the favorable political winds a Democrat-led midterm brings.
MINNESOTA – 9:00 EDT
Tim Walz, incumbent Democratic-Farmer-Labor party governor, will (almost certainly) be facing state Republican party-endorsed former state senator Scott Jensen in November. Despite Biden’s commanding seven-point win in the North Star state, the presence of two pro-marijuana legalization parties will split the vote enough to tighten the general election results. Because of this quirk and our expectations for a more Republican-friendly midterm environment, Split Ticket rates this race as LEANS DEMOCRATIC.
Compared to the House primaries of the last few months, tonight’s contests are expected to generate relatively few waves. Of the competitive congressional districts in Minnesota and Connecticut, most determined their Republican and Democratic general election nominees without needing primaries at all. There are, however, still two contested races that deserve to be touched on before addressing the MN-01 special election.
The first is occurring in Vermont, where incumbent Pete Welch is retiring to run for Senate. Should he succeed Pat Leahy, he would be one of the oldest freshman Senators in history. Two prominent Democratic candidates are running to replace him in the Green Mountain State’s At-Large district: state senate PPT Becca Balint and Lt. Governor Molly Gray.
Comfortable polling leads suggest that Balint is the primary favorite. She has been endorsed by noted progressives like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pramila Jayapal. Split Ticket considers LIKELY BALINT a fair rating of the contest based on the evidence that is currently available.
The second House primary of note is taking place in Wisconsin’s 3rd district, currently held by retiring Democrat Ron Kind. This seat, relatively untouched by redistricting, runs along the Badger State’s western border, straddling a region known to political analysts as the Driftless Area.
Like the part of the country in which it finds itself, the territory encompassed by the 3rd district started off as Republican before being driven toward the Democrats due to the 1980s farm crisis. In a sign of somewhat-cyclical motion, this turf began to vote Republican again during the Trump-era.
Kind faced a close race in 2020, a reality that likely contributed to his decision to retire even if it did not wholly account for it. The Republican candidate this cycle is a retread from the last: retired Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden. On the Democratic side there is a competitive primary between state Senator Brad Pfaff, ex-Army Captain and CIA officer Deb McGrath, and businesswoman Rebecca Cooke.
Pfaff, from LaCrosse, is a more traditional candidate for this district and already has Kind’s support. But McGrath, hailing from outside Eau Claire, has established an endorsement base of her own while keeping pace with her challengers in the fundraising game. In what is likely to be a regionalized primary, Split Ticket is issuing a LEANS PFAFF rating.
Regardless of the eventual nominee pairing, the Republican-leaning national environment will make it unlikely for Van Orden to lose a marginal Trump seat like this one. A Democrat such as Pfaff would be better off attempting to hold this district for his party in a blue wave year. Split Ticket currently rates WI-03 LIKELY REPUBLICAN (flip).
MN-01 SPECIAL ELECTION
Tonight’s House highlight is definitely the special election in Minnesota’s 1st district, a Trump +10 seat running along the state’s southern border with Iowa. The 1st is a mixture of rural farmland, small towns, and cities like Rochester, Winona, and Mankato.
This district moved rightward during the Trump era and currently leans Republican, but Democrats can still compete with formidable contingents in the seat’s more-populated counties. In both 2018 and 2020, a credible Democratic recruit, Dan Feehan, outran fundamentals to give underperforming Republican incumbent Jim Hagedorn close races.
Unfortunately, Hagedorn died of cancer earlier this year, which precipitated a special election under the old lines (the redrawn seat is actually slightly bluer than its predecessor). In the Republican nominating contest, GOP voters avoided a difficult situation by not choosing Hagedorn’s controversial widow Jennifer Carnahan.
The heavily-regionalized primary ended up being contested between ex-state representative Brad Finstad and state representative Jeremy Munson. Finstad, the candidate of the GOP Mainstreet Partnership, utilized strong agricultural connections to narrowly defeat his opponent.* He has been, by all accounts, a standard Republican nominee.
Despite difficult national conditions and the hostile partisan lean of the 1st district, Democrats found a genuine recruit in well-funded former Hormel Foods CEO Jeffrey Ettinger. Polling and district fundamentals suggest that while Ettinger is a significant underdog in both the special election and the November general, he could still put up a somewhat competitive performance against Finstad.
For that reason, Split Ticket will be erring on the side of caution and rating the special election LIKELY REPUBLICAN. If Finstad meets or exceeds Trump’s 2020 margins in this district, it would be a good sign for the GOP. A significant underperformance, meanwhile, would perhaps be indicative of a national environment that has improved for Democrats since the surprisingly-close NE-01 special and the preceding Dobbs decision.
Should Ettinger hold GOP margins down, it would probably give the party cause for concern in the more competitive NY-19 special election on August 23rd. For now, the general election in this district will stay SAFE REPUBLICAN for the same reasons applied to NE-01.
*Munson, originally the candidate of the Freedom Caucus, is running against Finstad again today to determine the GOP’s general election nominee. He is considered an underdog*
My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying political science and international studies at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, aviation, and fitness.
Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or email@example.com
I’m a software engineer and a computer scientist (UC Berkeley class of 2019 BA, class of 2020 MS) who has an interest in machine learning, politics, and electoral data. I’m a partner at Split Ticket, handle our Senate races, and make many kinds of electoral models.
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