Democrats Zero In On Kavanaugh’s Defense Of Presidential Power

A hodgepodge of states that voted in primaries on Tuesday revealed a surprising amount about the state of Democratic politics these days.

In the Northeast, Democratic voters in two states made history: In Vermont, by nominating the nation's first transgender candidate for governor, and in Connecticut by positioning the first African-American woman to represent the state in Congress. The first Somali-American will almost certainly be headed to Congress from the Minneapolis area, and another Muslim, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), will stand for statewide office this fall.

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In the Midwest, the party opted for more traditional candidates to try to win the governorships in two 2020 battleground states, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Here's are POLITICO's top takeaways from Tuesday's primary elections:

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Democrats bet on boring in the Midwest

As Democrats plot to rebuild the “blue wall” after years of neglect that resulted in Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, the party turned Tuesday to two rather boring candidates to recapture governorships in two crucial, upper Midwestern states.

Tony Evers, who has served as Wisconsin’s public-school superintendent for the past decade, will be the party’s nominee against its political nemesis, Gov. Scott Walker. Evers easily dispatched nearly a dozen rivals in Tuesday’s primary; no other candidate cracked 20 percent.

The Walker-vs.-Evers race is likely to be one of the most compelling — and competitive — governor’s races this year.

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Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial race »

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Democrats chose Rep. Tim Walz, himself a teacher (and Army veteran). Walz, who compiled a centrist voting record in Congress, cashed on his bet that running in a statewide primary was preferable to seeking reelection in a district Trump carried by 15 points in 2016. He starts as a slight favorite in the general election against Republican Jeff Johnson.

Scott Walker’s machine remains a force

How did Leah Vukmir withstand more than $10 million in spending by Kevin Nicholson and his deep-pocketed allies to capture the GOP Senate nomination in Wisconsin? By running up huge margins in the Milwaukee suburbs, which have been the center of Republican power in the Walker era.

Vukmir crushed Nicholson in Milwaukee and its surrounding counties: She won by 33 points in Milwaukee County, 30 points in Ozaukee County, 28 points in Washington County and 37 points in Waukesha County. That helped offset her losses elsewhere in the state, where Nicholson and groups funded by the arch-conservative billionaire Richard Uihlein blanketed the airwaves.

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Wisconsin U.S. Senate race »

Walker, who was Milwaukee County executive before becoming governor, didn’t endorse Vukmir, knowing that he would share the ticket this fall with whichever candidate won the primary. But it was clear Vukmir had the governor's machine behind her. Walker’s son, Alex, worked for Vukmir’s campaign. Tonette Walker, the governor’s wife, endorsed Vukmir early in the race. And Vukmir also captured the state GOP’s endorsement over Nicholson.

Voters aren't keen on D.C. lobbyists

When former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — fresh off the embarrassing flame-out of his aborted 2012 presidential campaign — became the financial industry’s chief lobbyist in Washington, most people said his political career was over.

They were right.

Pawlenty’s bid for his old job was snuffed out Tuesday night in the Republican primary, which he lost to Jeff Johnson, the 2014 GOP nominee for the post. And it wasn’t close: When The Associated Press called the race, Johnson led Pawlenty, 53 percent to 44 percent.

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Minnesota Republican gubernatorial race » »

Johnson hammered Pawlenty for his leadership of the Financial Services Roundtable and affixed the D.C. label to the ex-governor at every opportunity. Both candidates were forced to backtrack from past criticism of Trump.

"This is the era of Trump, and I don't fit into that very well,'' Pawlenty said after his concession.

In some ways, the man they call T-Paw was prescient about the direction of the GOP. He pitched himself as a “Sam’s Club Republican,” urging the GOP to appeal to blue-collar voters in addition to the well-heeled base. But ultimately it was the bluster of Trump and other populist conservatives that brought many of those voters into the fold — not Pawlenty’s flannel shirts and aw-shucks demeanor.

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img data-lazy-img="https://static.politico.com/dims4/default/2f4c350/2147483647/legacy_thumbnail/90x49%3E/quality/90/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fstatic.politico.com%2F21%2Faa%2F8890a7f247ac93105663c907c282%2F180814-hallquist-ap-1160.jpg" width="90" height="49" src="data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw==" alt="Christine Hallquist is pictured. | AP Photo" data-size="promo_xsmall_rectangle"">Christine Hallquist is pictured. | AP Photo

Elections

Democrats post night of firsts in Tuesday primaries

One other note about how much politics has changed since Pawlenty was a major player: Recall how Pawlenty’s presidential bid ended — with a third-place showing at the Iowa straw poll.

Remember straw polls? Four years later, the anachronistic — and admittedly unrepresentative — surveys would be supplanted by slick, nationally televised debates with Trump, center-stage, lobbing attacks and demeaning nicknames at his opponents while the crowd roared. Pawlenty was ill-suited for the tenor of Republican primaries these days, and it showed in Minnesota.

It's worth noting that another Republican ex-lobbyist running statewide this year, Patrick Morrisey in West Virginia, is also struggling.

A historic night for Democrats

Christine Hallquist became the first transgender candidate to be nominated for a governorship on Tuesday, easily winning the Democratic primary in Vermont. She’s an underdog against GOP Gov. Phil Scott, but the race could be close if Nov. 6 is a great night for Democrats across the country.

Other Democratic primary winners are almost certain to make history in the fall. Jahana Hayes, a teacher, is poised to become the first black Democratic member of Congress from Connecticut; she’s a prohibitive favorite to succeed retiring Rep. Elizabeth Esty.

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