From the Midwest to the West Coast, intraparty campaign battles are coming to a head Tuesday as five states hold primary contests.
Among the races capturing national attention: A member of the quartet of female first-term progressive House Democrats known as "The Squad" faces a serious primary challenge in Michigan; a Democratic Party fixture and longtime member of the Congressional Black Caucus is fighting to keep his House seat in Missouri from a younger activist on the left and a Republican primary to replace a retiring Republican senator in Kansas pits an establishment-backed congressman versus a hardline conservative.
In Michigan's overwhelmingly Democratic 13th Congressional District, which includes parts of Detroit and the inner suburbs of Wayne County, the Aug. 4 primary is a rematch from two years ago, as first-term Rep. Rashida Tlaib is trying to fend off Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones.
The district was held for more than half a century by John Conyers Jr., a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus who died last year. When Conyers stepped down in 2018 amid accusations of sexual harassment, Jones briefly held the seat after narrowly edging Tlaib in a special election to fill the rest of Conyers' term.
But Tlaib won a separate election for the new two-year term, starting in 2019. That election included six candidates. Jones, who is Black, now enjoys the support of the other four candidates from the 2018 election. Tlaib is Palestinian American — and she made history alongside Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota in 2018 as the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Race is a factor in the 2020 primary rematch.
"Making the argument to Detroiters that you should have another African American representative in Congress has historically been somewhat of a powerful message, and Jones is a known quantity as city council president," noted Susan Demas, a Michigan-based political analyst and editor-in-chief of the Michigan Advance.
"I think the biggest weakness that Tlaib has is she's not African American and she's representing a majority minority district. Brenda Jones is. Will that make a difference to voters, given the fact that Tlaib is a person of color, she's highly progressive, and is a known quantity in the district? That remains to be seen," Demas said.
But Tlaib – a talented campaigner and fundraiser – has a massive campaign cash advantage over Jones, who was sidetracked from fundraising after contracting the coronavirus.
"Tlaib has a lot of advantages, between money and incumbency. It’s frankly just so difficult to campaign during a pandemic, so that gives incumbents even more of an advantage," Demas highlighted.
Tlaib is no stranger to the spotlight. She made headlines the day she was sworn into Congress in January of last year, using an expletive in pushing for President Trump’s impeachment.
“We're going to impeach the motherf****r," Tlaib said at the time.
And she made headlines last year for booing 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at a rally in Iowa.
Jones argues that Tlaib has ignored her district as she’s become too preoccupied with national issues.
"As Michigan’s 13th Congressional District Representative, Tlaib has worked hard to become an international rock star," Jones tweeted two weeks ago. "Representative Tlaib has a huge war chest of nearly $2 million. The money in Rashida Tlaib’s war chest is mostly from people around the world."
Tlaib pushed back against such arguments – saying her critics are highlighting just a few high-profile moments and overlooking her legislative achievements. This year she’s teamed up with fellow lawmakers to shield constituents from high water bills and water shutoffs, which many argue disproportionately hurt people of color.
“Nothing will ever stop me from putting you & your family first. I work hard for our district and have the receipts to prove it,” Tlaib tweeted on primary eve, as she showcased a list of her accomplishments.
Tlaib – who was also endorsed recently by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – enjoys the backing of a host of unions, local and national environmental, progressive and anti-poverty groups, and the Wayne County Democratic Black Caucus.
Activist tries to topple Democratic fixture
Missouri's 1st Congressional District has been represented by the same family for more than half a century.
Current 10-term Rep. William Lacy Clay succeeded his father – the late Rep. William Clay Sr. – who held the St. Louis-area seat for more than 30 years and was one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The younger Clay's facing a second straight primary challenge from nurse Cori Bush, who enjoys the backing of some of the biggest names on the left.
Bush, who lost to Clay two years by double digits, was endorsed earlier this year by then-presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. And she recently landed the backing of Jamaal Bowman, the progressive challenger in New York who last month toppled longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in New York's Democratic primary.
Bush seems to be gaining a bit of momentum. The ordained minister who says she got involved in politics as a Black Lives Matter activist in the wake of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., raised nearly $240,000 in the past three months, including $170,000 in June alone. That’s a major increase in her fundraising compared with the prior 14 months of her campaign.
Both candidates are Black – and both have embraced progressive policies and civil rights legislation. Clay, who was endorsed by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the city’s largest newspaper, has been criticized by Bush for taking campaign contributions from political action committees and corporations.
National Republicans target Kobach in Kansas
Four Republicans are running to try and succeed retiring GOP Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.
And the candidate with the most name recognition – former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach – is also facing the most incoming fire – from Washington Republicans.
One of Kobach’s TV commercials shows President Trump giving the candidate a slap on the back as the president endorses him. But the video clip – and Trump’s endorsement - are from two years ago, when Kobach strikingly lost the gubernatorial election to Democrat Laura Kelly in the reliably red state.
This time around the president is staying neutral. But with Trump on the sidelines, establishment Republicans are taking aim at Kobach.
Fox News confirmed that National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Kevin McLaughlin warned last week that if Kobach wins Tuesday's primary, it could seriously threaten the GOP’s ability to keep its majority in the Senate.
It's been nine decades since a Democrat won a Senate race in Kansas – but there's fear inside the Beltway that if Kobach wins the primary, the streak may be over. And national Republicans are worried that if Kobach becomes the nominee, they’d be forced to spend millions to defend a seat that ought to be safe - money that could be used instead to help defend the roughly half dozen incumbent GOP senators facing extremely challenging reelection bids.
After failed attempts to convince Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – a former congressman from Kansas – to jump into the race, the establishment came to the aid of Republican Rep. Roger Marshall.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been flooding the airwaves in Kansas with ads supporting Marshall, who was recently endorsed by the retiring Roberts as well as former longtime Sen. Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee.
Marshall appeared to be leading the four-candidate field until a super PAC with links to Democrats recently spent a massive $5 million to slam Marshall and boost Kobach. The meddling appears to have made a difference – with some surveys indicating it's all tied up between Kobach and Marshall.
Marshall – in his pinned tweet – showcases his support for Trump during the impeachment proceedings and takes an indirect jab at Kobach, writing that while "others in this race have paved the way for anti-Trump Democrats to win time after time, I've been on the front lines. We didn’t stand down during the witch hunt, and we won't stand down in the U.S. Senate."
Democrats in Kansas have rallied around state Sen. Barabara Bollier, a Republican- turned-Democrat who faces only token opposition in Tuesday’s primary – and who's outraised each of the GOP candidates.
Also running for the GOP nomination is Bob Hamilton, the owner of a successful plumbing company who was enticed into the race by the Senate Republicans election arm and who's fueled his campaign with several million dollars of his own money – and former professional football player Dave Lindstrom, who spent eight years with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs.