Today’s Primary Elections: What to Watch For


WASHINGTON — Five states hold primary elections Tuesday, with voters in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington State choosing nominees for Congress and local offices.

The day’s most significant contest is the Republican Senate primary race in Kansas, where Kris Kobach, a firebrand supporter of President Trump who lost the 2018 governor’s race in the reliably Republican state, faces a crowded field of opponents.

Democrats in Detroit and St. Louis will decide House primaries that effectively function as general elections in heavily liberal and predominantly Black districts. Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a member of the so-called Squad of women of color who rose to Congress in 2018, faces a rematch with her 2018 primary opponent. And in Missouri, Representative William Lacy Clay, who has combined with his father to represent St. Louis in Congress for 50 years, is trying to again fend off a challenge from Cori Bush, an activist whom Mr. Clay defeated in the 2018 primary.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time in Kansas; from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time in Michigan; from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time in Missouri; and from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Arizona. Washington State conducts elections entirely by mail — primary ballots there must be postmarked by Tuesday or be delivered to a designated drop box by 8 p.m. local time.

Kansas has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since the 1930s. But for months, Republicans in Washington and in the state have feared that if Mr. Kobach wins the party’s Senate primary, a traditionally safe seat will be endangered — and so will the Senate majority.

Mr. Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, is an incendiary figure in state politics, known for his hard-line views on immigration and voting rights, and his 2018 loss in the governor’s race to Laura Kelly, a Democrat.

Top Senate Republicans, long wary of Mr. Kobach and his 2018 performance, have pleaded with Mr. Trump to endorse Representative Roger Marshall, whom they see as the strongest general election candidate in a crowded field. But the president has remained on the sidelines, stoking tensions between Senate Republicans and the White House.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary is expected to face Barbara Bollier, a state senator who was until recently a Republican herself.

A statewide race remains a challenge in Kansas for any Democrat, regardless of the Republican nominee. But as Mr. Trump’s faltering approval ratings have endangered Republican candidates in down-ballot races across the country, there is a growing sense that the outcome even in deep-red Kansas is no sure bet.

The results on Tuesday may help determine just how competitive the state is come November.

Representative Rashida Tlaib distinguished her first day in Congress 19 months ago with an expletive-fueled call to impeach Mr. Trump. It made her an instant Democratic star as she, along with the even more famous Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, formed half of the four-member “Squad,” the diverse group of progressive Democratic women who were elected to the House in 2018 and have come to embody the vanguard of the party’s liberal grass-roots energy.

While popular with a Democratic base eager to take down the president, Ms. Tlaib’s broadside didn’t win her many friends in the party’s House leadership, which held off impeachment proceedings for months before allowing them to begin last fall.

It also fueled whispers back home in Detroit that Ms. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who was one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, was more eager to advance a national profile and fund-raising network than she was in representing her predominantly Black district.

Now the most endangered member of the Squad, Ms. Tlaib faces a rematch with Brenda Jones, the Detroit City Council president she defeated in the 2018 primary. (In a separate contest held the same day, Ms. Jones eked out a two-point victory over Ms. Tlaib in a special primary election to serve out the remainder of the long-serving Representative John Conyers’s term after his abrupt resignation.)

The 2018 outcome left bad blood on both sides. Ms. Jones has regrouped to challenge Ms. Tlaib in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, drawing the support of all four of their former rivals, including the former State Senator Ian Conyers, the great-nephew of the former congressman, as well as a large contingent of influential Detroit ministers.

Ms. Jones has argued that Ms. Tlaib has become too preoccupied with national issues to tend to her district and pledged to start her own squad on Capitol Hill focused on helping the country’s poorest neighborhoods.

Ms. Tlaib has raised far more money, $3 million, than has Ms. Jones, who posted just $165,000 in her latest Federal Election Commission report. A wide range of unions has endorsed Ms. Tlaib, who has opened four community offices, held more town hall-style events than most in Congress and ensured funding for her district in coronavirus relief legislation.

And while she has emerged as one of the Democratic Party’s most muscular disrupters, Ms. Tlaib has retained the endorsement last week from its most significant establishment figure: Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In St. Louis, an increasingly bitter Democratic primary between the activist Cori Bush and Representative William Lacy Clay, a 20-year incumbent with the party establishment’s full backing, will be one of the most significant tests this summer of the power of the resurgent progressive wing of the party.

Mr. Clay and his father, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, have held the seat in Congress for more than 50 years, and the congressman had routinely sailed to re-election until Ms. Bush challenged him in 2018. He prevailed then by about 20 points and this time around, Mr. Clay wants to make a show of blunting the progressive movement against primary incumbents like himself.

If Mr. Clay loses, he would be the first Black congressman to fall to a challenger backed by Justice Democrats, a progressive national group that helped fuel Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s rise. So far, the long-serving House members, like Eliot L. Engel and Joseph Crowley in New York, who Justice Democrats-backed candidates have succeeded in upsetting have all been white, in many cases representing racially diverse districts.

Mr. Clay accused Justice Democrats, which backs Ms. Bush, of dangerously trying to divide the party and focusing on members of the Black Caucus because “they think we are easy targets.” He called Ms. Bush “a prop” for the group and other out-of-town far-left interests and predicted he would easily sail to re-election.

Ms. Bush has run a bigger and more aggressive campaign compared to 2018 and has benefited from her identification with the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement this summer after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police.

On the campaign trail, she advocates familiar progressive positions like sweeping criminal justice reform, the dismantling of the police and Medicare for All. She argues that Mr. Clay has sided time and again with incremental change and failed to help turn around an economically struggling city during his decades on the job.

“He’s had 20 years to make a change not only in St. Louis but across this country,” Ms. Bush said on Saturday. “He waits until something is popular to stand up for it, or he waits until there is pressure. I do it just because that is the need.”

Four years and two electoral defeats since he last held office, Joe Arpaio is asking Republicans in Maricopa County, Ariz., to return him to his former role as sheriff of the state’s largest jurisdiction.

But Mr. Arpaio, 88, is no longer the towering local figure who had forced inmates to wear pink underwear, who castigated illegal immigration and who, well after former President Barack Obama left office, continued insisting the 44th president wasn’t born in Hawaii.

Mr. Arpaio lost a 2016 re-election bid to Paul Penzone, a Democrat, then finished a distant third in the state’s 2018 Senate primary, winning just one of the state’s 15 counties. His comeback bid, like his Senate race, is fueled more by his name recognition and repeated attempts to latch himself to President Trump than it is by any sense of how he would run the sheriff’s department.

Now, Mr. Arpaio is involved in a three-way race that includes Jerry Sheridan, his former chief deputy. But it is Mr. Penzone, the Democrat, who has the support of the state’s Republican establishment figures, who find Mr. Arpaio’s antics generally embarrassing and hurtful to Arizona’s business climate.

What Republican voters in Phoenix and its suburbs will decide Tuesday is whether the best way to help Mr. Trump carry a key battleground state is by putting one of his most enthusiastic supporters on the ballot — or if the party’s fortunes can be improved without Mr. Arpaio, a candidate guaranteed to mobilize the state’s ascendant Latino population.

Reporting was contributed by Reid J. Epstein, Katie Glueck, Luke Broadwater and Nicholas Fandos.



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