The backlash to President Trump and the steady rightward journey of the Republican Party could sharply shift the distribution of political power in state capitols across the nation in this fall’s elections. And because reapportionment is coming, this could change the contours of American politics for more than a decade.
Strengthening that possibility is the success of pragmatic Democrats in gubernatorial primaries who are stressing issues that appeal simultaneously to the center and the left.
On Tuesday, Wisconsin Democrats chose Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent, to face two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker. In Minnesota, Democrats nominated Rep. Tim Walz to defend his party’s hold on the state’s governorship. Both Evers and Walz advance progressive priorities in areas such as education and health care but cannot be cast as ideologues.
Democratic gubernatorial nominees are similarly positioned in Ohio, Iowa and Michigan, all pickup opportunities.
At the same time, Trump’s dominance of the Republican primary electorate and the long-term flight of moderates from an increasingly conservative party have led to victories by right-wing candidates who may not be attractive to a broader electorate.
One of Tuesday’s headline results was the defeat of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota by Trump-supporting Jeff Johnson, a county commissioner who castigated Pawlenty for criticizing Trump toward the end of the 2016 campaign following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape.
In Connecticut, Republicans took a pass on Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who could claim a local record of bipartisanship. They opted instead for outsider businessman Bob Stefanowski, who proposes repealing the state’s income tax.
Incumbent Democrat Gov. Dan Malloy is not seeking re-election, but his unpopularity makes Connecticut the GOP’s best hope for taking a Democratic seat. Ned Lamont, a longtime party activist who easily won the Democratic nomination, wants to link Stefanowski to Trump, and the president helped this process along on Wednesday. In a tweet, the president offered his “total Endorsement” to Stefanowski, whom the president called “talented” and “a major difference maker.”
And in Kansas on Tuesday, the Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer finally conceded the GOP primary race to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, after nearly a week of tallying ballots. Kobach is a Trump loyalist with far-right views on immigration and restricting access to voting. Kobach’s victory greatly increases the chances of the Democrats’ nominee, state Senator Laura Kelly. The Cook Political Report immediately reclassified the race as a toss-up in a traditionally Republican state.