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Trump shapes major primary night

President Donald Trump announced his support for Rep. Ron DeSantis before the congressman had even officially announced his campaign in Florida’s gubernatorial race. | Chris O’Meara/AP Photo


The president endorsed in the Florida governor’s race and drove Sen. Jeff Flake into retirement in Arizona.


Voters headed to the polls Tuesday in two major battleground states to resolve primaries that have been shaped and shaken by President Donald Trump.

In Arizona, Republicans will choose a nominee to defend GOP Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat in the general election, a year after Flake decided to retire because long-running conflict with Trump had made reelection unlikely. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) joined the race in his stead, winning the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — but she had to fight through a grueling, expensive primary against two immigration hard-liners, former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, with each candidate scrambling to tout connections to the president.

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The winner will immediately face a daunting general election challenge against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the presumptive Democratic nominee, who escaped the summer with few negative ads aired against her. Arizona is one of just a handful of opportunities for Democrats to flip a GOP Senate seat, and Republicans acknowledge that Sinema has put herself in a good position to reverse her party’s 30-year losing streak in Arizona Senate races.

“It’s been a pretty brutal primary campaign, so, going into the general election, Kyrsten Sinema is going to be the front-runner,” said Bert Coleman, a longtime Arizona Republican strategist.

In Florida, the open governor’s race spawned two boisterous primaries. State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had been building up to a gubernatorial run for years, but Trump announced his support for Rep. Ron DeSantis before the congressman had even officially announced his campaign. The president’s endorsement helped DeSantis build a public polling lead over Putnam, though the race has remained close.

Trump has also shaped the Democratic primary, fueling a wave of engagement and activism among voters — and a large number of Democratic candidates. Former Rep. Gwen Graham is seen as the slight front-runner, collecting national endorsements and leading in public polling. But Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who rallied recently with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), ran to the left of Graham on a platform that included support for “Medicare-for-all.” Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and billionaire investor Jeff Greene invested their own resources in the race.

Voters will also pick nominees in battleground House races in Arizona and Florida. Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is seeking a political comeback in Arizona, though she has faced strong opposition from an ex-state legislator who labeled her voting record conservative. In Florida, several incumbent Democratic representatives are also trying to hold off primary challengers who have attacked them from the left.

The first polls closed in Florida at 7 p.m. Eastern; the full state closes at 8 p.m Eastern, as does Oklahoma. Polls are slated to close in Arizona at 10 p.m. Eastern, despite problems at a significant number of polling places in Maricopa County, where the board of supervisors turned down a request from the county’s top election official to extend voting hours.

Here’s a state-by-state look at what’s on the ballot Tuesday.


McSally didn’t get a Trump endorsement, but she’s still considered the favorite in the race. Democrats believe that the prolonged primary pulled McSally to the right in several ways that will benefit them in the general election.

Ward and Arpaio both cast McSally as insufficiently conservative on immigration and as a reluctant Trump supporter, but the congresswoman pushed back by touting ties to the president. Trump is expected to hold a rally in Arizona on the nominee’s behalf soon after the primary.

While Sinema has led in public polls, Republicans argue that she has had an easy run so far. McSally began attacking her last week with an ad contrasting the Republican’s military service with Sinema protesting while dressed in a tutu.

“Sinema has kind of been left alone through the primary. Now they’re coming full speed ahead,” said Robert Graham, a former state GOP chairman.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey will also pick up a Democratic opponent on Tuesday, though his primary focus for now is filling the Senate seat left vacant by John McCain, who died last weekend.

Three Democrats are running to take on Ducey, including former Arizona Department of Education official David Garcia, state Sen. Steve Farley and Kelly Fryer, CEO of YWCA Southern Arizona. Garcia has led in public polls.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is seeking a political comeback for a different House seat than the one she left behind for a 2016 Senate bid. But it’s been a bitter fight for the battleground seat currently represented by McSally.

Kirkpatrick and 2016 nominee Matt Heinz have litigated each other’s voting records in a series of negative TV ads. National operatives call the primary a jump ball between the pair, even though the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List dropped cash to boost Kirkpatrick on TV. Heinz also cast Kirkpatrick as a carpetbagger, underwriting a lawsuit that challenged her residence. But a judge tossed the case.

On the Republican side, Lea Marquez Peterson, president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is expected to win her primary.


In northern Arizona, Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran hopes to hold on to his red-leaning, rural seat, even though the district voted for Trump by 1 point in 2016. He’ll pick up a Republican opponent on Tuesday, as a handful of GOP candidates jockey for the nomination: state Sen. Steve Smith, businesswoman Tiffany Shedd and Wendy Rogers, a retired Air Force officer.

And in Phoenix, former Mayor Greg Stanton is unopposed in the Democratic primary to succeed Sinema, while Republicans Steve Ferrara, a physician, and Dave Giles, a business consultant, are also running.


Putnam started out as the front-runner in the Republican primary to succeed Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for Senate. But DeSantis cultivated a relationship with Trump, including through Fox News appearances, and eventually scored an endorsement tweet that turned the race inside-out. Trump recorded an election-eve robocall supporting DeSantis.

Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to put an end to their two-dozen-year losing streak for the governor’s mansion. Graham, whose father served as the state’s governor and senator, is seen as the slight front-runner over her male Democratic opponents.

Three central Florida members face challenges from the left. In Orlando, former Rep. Alan Grayson, who lost a Senate primary bid in 2016, wants his old seat back. But freshman Democratic Rep. Darren Soto is well-liked after taking over the seat, even though Grayson has aired TV ads promising to impeach Trump and saying “Soto won’t.” Grayson entered the race with serious baggage, after he was questioned about his connections to an offshore hedge fund during the 2016 Senate race.

A public poll found that Rep. Al Lawson leads his primary opponent, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, by 19 points. But any regional variation in turnout could have a big effect against Lawson, who hails from Tallahassee, at the other end of the sprawling district.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s opponent, Chardo Richardson, got a boost with an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated New York Rep. Joe Crowley in a June primary. But Murphy is expected to hold off her challenge.


Three more House seats sit atop Democrats’ target list, anchored in the suburbs of Miami and Palm Beach County. Democrats Lauren Baer, a former State Department official who picked up an endorsement from the DCCC, and Pam Keith, a Navy veteran and 2016 Senate primary candidate, are squaring off in their primary to take on GOP Rep. Brian Mast in southwestern Florida.

Farther south, more than a dozen candidates are running in the open race to replace Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The seat is a prime Democratic pickup opportunity; no GOP district went as strongly for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

For Democrats, former Health and Human Services secretary and University of Miami President Donna Shalala has led the field in cash and name recognition, but state Rep. David Richardson and nonprofit executive Matt Haggman are among those also running. Several Republicans are running for the nomination, including broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar. But Democrats are heavily favored in the district.

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is expected to win her primary, facing GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the general election. It’s another Clinton-Republican district, but Curbelo won reelection even as Trump lost his district big in 2016.

A pair of open, traditionally Republican seats will also decide on nominees to replace retiring incumbents. In central Florida, three GOP candidates, including state Rep. Julio Gonzalez and state Sen. Greg Steube, are running for Rep. Tom Rooney’s seat. Nearly a half-dozen Republicans are running for retiring Rep. Dennis Ross’ seat, including state Rep. Ross Spano and former state Rep. Neil Combee. Democrat Kristen Carlson, an attorney, is sitting on the most cash on hand in the race.


Oklahoma Republican voters will decide between two gubernatorial candidates in a runoff election on Tuesday, after neither former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett nor businessman Kevin Stitt got a majority of the vote in the June primary.

The race has broken down along insider-versus-outsider lines, with Stitt calling Cornett a career politician and Cornett seeking to chip away at Stitt’s conservative credentials.


The Republican nominee will face former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson. The general election could be competitive despite Oklahoma’s usual heavy Republican lean, as public polls show outgoing GOP Gov. Mary Fallin with high disapproval ratings.

Republicans also have a runoff in the 1st District, which was left vacant when ex-Rep. Jim Bridenstine became the administrator of NASA. Former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris and businessman Kevin Hern are battling for the Republican nomination in the district.

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