The five midterm primaries to watch Tuesday night

Four states will be holding primaries Tuesday — Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Pennsylvania. But unlike last week, these races won’t garner that much national attention. 

Still, there are three primaries with implications for the control of Congress — as well as another two with interesting storylines — that we’ll be watching. Here are the five races:  


PA-1: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., is the vulnerable incumbent here in Pennsylvania’s revised congressional map, and the Democratic race to take him on in this Philly-area district features frontrunner Scott Wallace (his grandfather was FDR Vice President Henry Wallace) and Navy vet Rachel Reddick (who’s backed by EMILY’s List). 

The Wallace-vs.-Reddick primary has been negative over the airwaves, with Reddick attacking Wallace for previously being registered to vote in Maryland and for owning a home in South Africa. Meanwhile, Wallace – who has more money to spend in Philadelphia’s expensive media market — has fired back at Reddick, criticizing her for moving back to the district from DC and for being a past registered Republican. 

PA-7: Talk about ideological diversity in the Democratic primary for the open competitive seat vacated by Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. On the right of the Dem spectrum is Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli — the frontrunner due to his name ID — who hasdeleted past tweets praising Trump and criticizing progressives. In the middle is former Allentown city solicitor Susan Wild (who’s backed by EMILY’s List). And on the left is pastor Greg Edwards (who’s supported by Bernie Sanders). 

Huffington Post says this primary has become "a microcosm of the factional battles that have consumed the Democratic Party since the 2016 presidential primary. Lehigh Valley Democrats will get the chance to choose from a cautious Clintonian, a Sanders-style populist and a conservative Democrat hailing from the margins of the contemporary party." 

NE-2: In a true Democratic establishment-vs.-progressive battle, former Democratic Congressman Brad Ashford has a primary race against liberal Kara Eastman. Per the Omaha World-Herald, Ashford wants to build upon the Affordable Care Act, while Eastman wants “Medicare For All”; Ashford supported TPP, while Eastman opposed it; and Ashford has campaigned on compromise, while Eastman says the district needs a fighter.

The winner will take on incumbent Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who narrowly beat Ashford in 2016, 49 percent to 48 percent. 


PA-6: Democrat Chrissy Houlahan — an Air Force veteran and one of Democrats’ favorite recruits nationwide — is unopposed in this district, which after redistricting looks like a "Likely D" seat. Assuming she wins in November, Pennsylvania would no longer be the largest state without a woman in its congressional delegation. 

PA-14: Remember Rick Saccone, who lost to Democrat Conor Lamb in the PA-18 race? Well, he’s running for Congress again, in the revised 14th district. And Republican primary challenger Guy Reschenthaler is airing this TV ad against him: “Saccone already lost a safe Republican seat. Even President Trump called Saccone ‘weak.’”

Image: Tuscaloosa Election Coverage
Voters wait in line at the Bobby Miller Activity Center on Nov. 6, 2012 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Dusty Compton / Tuscaloosa News via AP file

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Leigh Ann Caldwell

Koch group attacks Republicans for government spending

The latest target of Koch-backed organization are lawmakers, including Republicans, who backed the government spending bill. 

The group, Americans for Prosperity, is launching a "significant" six-figure voter persuasion campaign attacking ten Republicans and seven Democrats for backing the government spending bill that added $400 billion in government spending over two years. 

“It’s time to take a hard look at what lawmakers say, and what they actually do when it comes to reining in overspending," AFP spokesman Bill Riggs said in a statement. "The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in March showed a complete disregard for fiscal responsibility. Both parties are responsible for putting the country on an unsustainable fiscal path." 

The two-year spending agreement by Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate was reached after months of negotiations that included a three-day government shutdown. The agreement, which increased domestic and military spending was supported by 145 Republicans and 111 Democrats. President Donald Trump, who was disengaged from the process until after it passed both bodies of Congress, said he'd never sign such a massive spending increase into law again. 

The campaign, which includes direct mail, print ads, digital ads and radio ads, is the first phase in a months-long effort to pressure lawmakers to rein in government spending. Of the ten House Republicans it targets, only one, Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich., has a challenging re-election, according to Cook Political race analysis. Another target, Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., is running for the Senate against Democratic incumbent Bob Casey, but Barletta has not yet proven to be a threatening challenger. 

The ads will run in the lawmakers Congressional districts beginning Memorial Day Weekend and through the week while members are home for the week-long recess. 

The Koch organization, has had a successful week on Capitol Hill. Multiple pieces of legislation they've championed are heading to the president's desk for signature, including Right to Try bill that allows terminal patients to use pre-FDA approved pharmaceuticals, a roll back of Dodd-Frank banking regulations and a bill that allows veterans to use community health centers. 

Image: Americans for Prosperity's new anti-spending campaign direct mail
Americans for Prosperity's new anti-spending campaign direct mail. Americans for Prospeirty
Carrie Dann

Women make up more than 40% of House Democratic nominees so far. That's a big deal.

Calling 2018 a “Year of the Woman” has become so obvious that it’s almost cliché at this point, but another huge primary night for Democratic women last night makes it worth revisiting again.

With wins for female House candidates in Kentucky (Amy McGrath in KY-6), Texas (Lizzie Fletcher in TX-7 and Gina Ortiz Jones in TX-23) and also in Georgia, the total number of female House nominees is already up to 72 — with 62 of those being on the Democratic side.

To put that in context, as recently as 1990, 69 women overall represented a major party in the general election when all the primary contests were said and done.

At 72 nominees so far, we’re past that number already after primaries in only about a dozen states, with the lion’s share left to come in June and August.

Boston College political scientist David Hopkins noticed just how remarkable this percentage is compared to previous election years, writing that "we are witnessing a dramatic and historic change in the gender distribution among Democratic congressional nominees, caused by a rise in the supply of, and demand for, female candidates within the party in the wake of Trump's election (and Hillary Clinton's defeat). It's equally clear that this development is not occurring in parallel on the Republican side."

We dug into data from the Center for American Women and Politics and our own NBC News counts to replicate his work, and we also found a huge jump in the percentage of Democratic women who have been nominated so far compared to the total number of women representing their party in general elections going back to 1970.

As of last night’s primaries, more than 40 percent of Democratic nominees so far are women, compared to less than 10 percent for Republicans.

(Keep in mind that this is an estimate based on the total number of potential House nominees each election year, not accounting for races where one party may not have fielded a candidate at all.)

Here’s what we found:


Five things we learned from Tuesday's contests

Tuesday turned out to be another notable evening in the primary packed month of May, with contests in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas. It was another good night for Democratic females, but, unlike last week’s primaries, wasn’t a stellar showing for progressives. 

First Read lays out the five major takeaways from last night:

1. It was another big night for Democratic female candidates

Stacey Abrams easily won the “battle of the Staceys,” defeating Stacey Evans in the Georgia Democratic gubernatorial primary. But she wasn’t the only Democratic woman to emerge victorious Tuesday. Female House candidates beat their male opponents in Kentucky, Texas and Georgia. Lupe Valdez won the gubernatorial nomination in Texas. Just two female Democrats lost notable races to men, both in Texas.  

2. Democrats look stronger in Georgia than they did in 2014. But will that be strong enough for the fall?

Approximately 50,000 more Republicans participated in last night’s GOP gubernatorial primary than in the Democratic primary (608,000 to 553,000). By comparison, nearly 300,000 more Republicans voted in the competitive 2014 Senate primaries (605,000 to 329,000).

3. Houston-area Democrats picked the establishment choice over the progressive

The DCCC’s preferred candidate, Lizzie Fletcher easily beat insurgent Laura Moser, 67 percent to 33 percent, suggesting that last week’s progressive upset in Nebraska was the exception rather than the rule.

4. The pro-Bernie Sanders group Our Revolution continues to lose more races

Two of Our Revolution’s picks in Texas ultimately fell short. The group did back Abrams in GA, but so did almost every other national Democratic group.

5. Democrats are running candidates with fascinating biographies

A number of Dems are making firsts. Abrams will have the chance to be the first black woman governor in the U.S. Valdez is the first Latina and the first openly gay person nominated for Texas governor by a major party. Democrats have also chosen a retired female a fighter pilot in Kentucky and intelligence officer in Texas.


Carrie Dann

A look at TV ad spending in GA-GOV

With today’s Georgia gubernatorial primaries getting lots of attention, here’s the major TV and radio ad spending for each side to date (via Advertising Analytics.)


  • Evans for GA Governor: $1.5m
  • BlackPAC (pro-Abrams): $842k
  • PowerPAC Georgia (pro-Abrams): $839k
  • Women Vote! (pro-Abrams): $575k
  • Abrams for GA Governor: 475k

And here's the most *aired* ads on the Democratic side, by candidate:

Pro-Evans — her hit on Abrams “cutting a deal with Republicans” on Hope scholarship changes

Pro-Abrams —  BlackPAC positive bio piece about Abrams/education policy



  • Cagle for GA Governor: $4.4m
  • Kemp for GA Governor: $1.6m
  • Citizens for Georgia’s Future (pro-Cagle): $1.2m
  • Hill for GA Governor: $1.2m
  • Tippins for GA Governor: $859k

And here's the most *aired* ads on the Republican side, by candidate:

Pro-Cagle: Cagle ad on illegal immigration invoking MS-13.

Pro-Kemp: Kemp’s controversial ad showing him aiming a shotgun at "a young man interested in one of my daughters."

Pro-Hill: Hill ad featuring the candidate (a former Army ranger) completing an obstacle course against “career politicians” 

Carrie Dann

CA-GOV: Newsom hits fellow Dem John Chiang in new TV ad

Gavin Newsom, the frontrunner in next month's California primary race, is up with a new ad targeting one of his fellow Democrats — John Chiang. 

The ad claims that Chiang, who previously served as state treasurer and state controller, "lost track of $31 billion" during his stint as controller. 

Recent polling has shown the race for second place in flux over the past weeks, with Republicans John Cox and Travis Allen in the mix along with other Democrats jockeying for position. 

Chiang has spent about $1.7 million on California airwaves — behind Newsom's $6.1 million and nearly $12 million spent by a super PAC backing Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa. 

In a release, Chiang's campaign called the attack "false and erroneous" and said that the latest volley from Newsom is evidence that Chiang is gaining public support. 

“Gavin Newsom’s desperate attempt to attack John's record is evidence that John is gaining momentum, and that Gavin is scared to confront his biggest one-on-one threat this November,” said Fabien Levy, Deputy Campaign Manager and Communications Director for John Chiang’s campaign. “These dirty attacks show Gavin lacks the integrity to be governor and can't be trusted to tell the truth."

Newsom has suggested that he would prefer to face a Republican in the general election after the state's top-two nonpartisan primary in June. 

You can view the ad here. According to ad trackers at Advertising Analytics, it began airing Monday in major California markets. 

Mark Murray

Dem Super PAC tries to help Nelson in Florida

Last week, First Read noted how Republican Rick Scott and allies are outspending Sen. Bill Nelson and the Democrats over TV and radio airwaves by nearly a 50-to-1 margin in ads.

And since we published that, the margin has increased to 66 to 1, $12.3 million to $185,000.

Well, Senate Majority PAC, the Dems’ main Senate Super PAC, is now advertising on Nelson’s behalf with a new TV ad. Senate Majority PAC tells NBC News that the buy is $2.2 million.

“Bill Nelson has delivered for Florida,” the narrator says in the ad. “When some tried to privatize Social Security and Medicare for millions of Floridians, he stopped them. Stopped insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions too. We need a senator who serves all of us. Who puts Florida first. That’s Bill Nelson.”

Rick Scott's campaign responded in a statement, saying that "it's ironic that a liberal SuperPAC is going out of its way to claim that Bill Nelson is independent." 

"Nelson's voting record is anything but moderate and nothing can hide his own record of voting in lockstep with his party bosses in D.C. Not surprisingly, the ad focuses on things Nelson has opposed, but not a single thing he has accomplished," said Scott spokesman Ryan Patmintra.

Those PACs that funded anti-Blankenship ads? We now know who funded them.

With West Virginia's Don Blankenship back in the news — we also got some answers over the weekend when it comes to campaign finance in the primary that Blankenship lost earlier this month. 

Anti-Blankenship super PAC Mountain Families — which had long been linked to pro-Mitch McConnell allies — officially filed paperwork with the FEC on Sunday showing that it was exclusively financed by a $1.4 million contribution from Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-controlled group. 

Because of the intricacies of campaign finance law, Mountain Families PAC was able to avoid officially disclosing its donors until after the primary election. 

Another outside group that intervened in the GOP primary, Duty and Country, disclosed Sunday that it benefitted from hefty donations from wealthy donors in New York, Chicago and the Boston area. That group ran ads attacking Blankenship's GOP rivals — Patrick Morrisey (who won) and Evan Jenkins — in the effort to boost the former inmate's campaign. 

Don Blankenship announces third-party Senate bid in West Virginia

Don Blankenship, the colorful and controversial Republican who recently came up short in West Virginia's Senate primary, announced Monday he will throw his hat back in the ring with a third-party bid. 

That is, if Blankenship's candidacy is legally allowed.

His renewed candidacy flies in the face of a West Virginia law designed to prevent exactly this scenario. The "sore loser" or "sour grapes" statute bars candidates who ran and lost in a primary election from changing over to a minor party and running again.

The once-jailed ex-coal baron ran for the Republican nomination and came in third place during the May primary, losing the GOP nod to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

In a statement released Monday, Blankenship alludes to the state's laws, surmising that the "establishment" that has long been against his candidacy will likely try to mount legal challenges against him. "[I]f challenged — our legal position will prevail," Blankenship promised, "absent a politically motivated decision by the courts." 

"This time we won't get surprised by the lying establishment," Blankenship said Monday, referencing the wide range of conservatives — from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to President Donald Trump — that came out against his candidacy before the GOP primary. 

Both Trump, McConnell, and Trump's own son Donald Jr. warned that Blankenship wouldn't be able to win against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in the state that Trump won by 42 points in November 2016. Blankenship on Monday called that charge "a lie." 

If he is on the ballot in November, however, Blankenhip could threaten to complicate Republicans' hopes of unseating Manchin. Blankenship earned the support of 20 percent of GOP voters during the primary earlier this month. 

Mark Murray

Female candidates to play a starring role in Tuesday's primaries

The 2018 midterms are shaping up to be more than the Year of the Woman; they’re likely to be the Tsunami of the Woman.

That’s especially true for this week’s primaries and runoffs, particularly on the Democratic side. After a week when female Democratic candidates won key congressional primaries in Nebraska and Pennsylvania, women are once again expected to be the headliners in as many as six races on Tuesday:

Georgia Governor (D)

It’s Stacey (Abrams) vs. Stacey (Evans) in the Democratic gubernatorial primary — a contest that’s been divisive from the get-go. (Last summer, Evans was shouted down at the progressive Netroots Conference by Abrams backers.) The scarce polling so far has shown Abrams ahead, and she's been endorsed by national Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, while Evans' supporters are from Georgia state politics. The Stacey-vs.-Stacey winner takes on the victor of a crowded GOP field including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Texas-7 Runoff (D)

Another female-vs.-female contest is the runoff in Texas’ 7th congressional district, where Lizzie Fletcher (who’s backed by EMILY’s List and is the preferred choice among national Democrats) faces off against Laura Moser (who’s favored by progressive groups). This race attracted national headlines earlier this year when the DCCC released oppo on Moser.

Texas Governor Runoff (D)

In another runoff in the Lone Star State – for the top of the Democratic ticket – female Lupe Valdez (the former sheriff of Dallas County) competes against businessman Andrew White (the son of the late Texas Gov. Mark White).

Texas-23 Runoff (D)

In the runoff to determine the Democratic nominee in one of the nation’s most competitive districts – represented by vulnerable Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, it’s Gina Ortiz Jones vs. Rick Trevino. Ortiz Jones, who got 42 percent of the vote to Trevino’s 17 percent in March’s primary, is the favorite.

Texas-32 Runoff (D)

But in this runoff to determine the nominee to face Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, in November, male Colin Allred (who got 38 percent of the vote in March) is favored against female Lillian Salerno (who got 18 percent).

Kentucky-6 (D)

And it’s yet another female vs. male race in this competitive district between retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. The winner takes on vulnerable Rep. Andy Barr, R-Kentucky.

By the way, in the 10 states that have already held their primaries, half of the women who’ve run for Congress have won, according to a New York Times analysis. Expect that trend to continue tomorrow.

Andrew Rafferty

Bernie Sanders: Establishment Dems 'don’t generate excitement'

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday said establishment Democrats “don’t generate excitement” while touting the success of progressive candidates in the 2018 midterms.

“We all want to win. The question is what constitutes electability,” Sanders said on "Meet The Press."

Progressive candidates had an impressive showing last Tuesday in state's like Pennsylvania and Nebraska. Some members of the party, however, worry nominating more liberal candidates could hurt Democrats' chances in the general election. 

"Establishment Democrats don’t generate excitement," the progressive icon said. "And I think when you have progressive candidates...We have seen voter turnout go up because the people in their communities know that it’s time to stand up and fight."