(CN) – From Mississippi to the open lands of Utah, millions of voters are casting their ballots in primary elections across the nation Tuesday, as Democrats in four states look for a “blue wave” to sweep open seats and counteract the GOP election upset in 2016 of President Donald Trump.
But these congressional elections are also dependent on state politics, and topics as varied as teacher protests, entrenched party legislatures and primary elections open to unaffiliated voters.
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney returns to politics
Erstwhile presidential nominee and Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is ready for a comeback.
Romney, the front-runner for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah left vacant by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s retirement, is no stranger to the Beehive State. Polls show Romney with a more than 40-point lead over state Rep. Mike Kennedy.
The winner will face Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, who is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket.
Romney, who called Trump a “con man, a fake” prior to the 2016 election, recently added in a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed of the Trump agenda: “I appreciate the argument made by those who believe we should stay silent, but I cannot subscribe to it.”
Utah last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 1970, when Frank Moss won a re-election bid. He was replaced by Hatch six years later.
Salt Lake City resident John Supernor, a 66-year-old New Hampshire transplant, was candid after lodging his vote. Supernor said he did not vote for Romney and said the politician and others are “around to ride the gravy train.”
While admitting he expects Romney to win the election, he made a personal clarification. “I’m not really a Republican,” Supernor said. “I’m a conservative.”
Utah, a solidly red state and home to the Mormon church, operates under unique voting laws.
Only Republicans may cast ballots in the GOP primary, while the Democratic primary is open to all voters. Individuals may switch party affiliations in person at any polling location, and same-day registration is also available in all 29 counties.
Oklahoma teachers file en masse, while primary runoff expected in governor race
In Oklahoma, state incumbents are facing the wrath of angry teachers.
Almost 100 public school teachers and administrators are running for seats in the Oklahoma Legislature. The massive push was spurred by a nine-day teacher strike over education funding. The teachers went to back to work after securing $479 million from state lawmakers but vowed to press for more.
The hunt for term-limited Republican Gov. Mary Fallin involves a crowded field of 15 candidates. Ten Republicans are on Tuesday’s primary ballot, as are two Democrats and three Libertarians.
Former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, current Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and businessman Kevin Stitt lead the GOP candidates. Each of the three have polled around 20 percent in at least four separate polls since April.
None are expected to reach the required 50 percent threshold to win, and a primary runoff election on Aug. 28 is likely.
Oklahomans will also decide whether to allow the use, sale and cultivation of medicinal marijuana.
Brought to the ballot by a grassroots signature drive, State Question 788 faces significant opposition from police and religious groups who find the list of ailments for which doctors could prescribe marijuana too broad.
Fallin has said she will call for a special legislative session if the question passes due to the Legislature’s failure to pass a bill this year with a regulatory framework, the Associated Press reported.
Mississippi’s special election means good news for Republican Senate primary
Mississippi voters will decide two key federal races today, including a runoff that will advance one of two Democrats against U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican seeking re-election.
However, the Magnolia State is having an unusual election year as voters will choose two senators this November.
Outgoing Sen. Thad Cochran retired in April due to health issues. The special election will decide who will serve out the remainder of his term through 2021.
Chris McDaniel will be running for the outgoing senator’s seat in the special election, which is good news for Sen. Wicker’s primary race. In the last primary, McDaniel came close to unseating the now-outgoing senator and was expected to put up a tough Republican primary.
The race also features Democrat David Baria, an attorney serving his third term in the Republican-controlled Mississippi Legislature, and entrepreneur Howard Sherman.
Baria, 55, is the Democratic leader in the state House and previously spent one term in the state Senate. He is a partner at Baria-Jones Law Firm and has won the endorsement of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.
Baria touts himself as an advocate for Mississippi consumers, saying he will fight in the U.S. Senate for “real tax relief for working families.”
Sherman, 63, is a first-time candidate who became the lead vote-getter in the six-way primary race June 5. The businessman and entrepreneur is married to actress Sela Ward and describes himself as “a different kind of candidate.” He says his priorities include generating more jobs for the state, improving schools and supporting small towns and rural communities.
“Mississippians deserve better than what their leaders have given them,” Sherman said. “And one thing is very clear: the people are tired of talking and ready for action.”
An open congressional seat in Mississippi’s 3rd District is also up for grabs, with none of the six candidates reaching the 50 percent threshold in the Republican race. District Attorney Michael Guest stood out in front of Whit Hughes, a former Baptist Health Systems chief development officer, by just over 20 points.
A crowded field of Democrats vying for governor in Maryland
Adam Shellenbarger insists he is not campaigning.
At a voting precinct in Joppa, Maryland, he’s looking for volunteers to help start a youth activity program.
“Give me an hour a month,” he said.
Shellenberger says he votes Republican, but he’s more interested in bringing neighbors together to solve local issues in this working-class corner of Harford County, which broke 2-1 for Trump in 2016. He touts a campaign called “Choosing Civility” that county officials joined this year, designed to cut through the partisan and personal rancor that lately has so animated politics.
Maryland polling places were civil on primary day – mainly because so few voters showed up. Precincts in Harford and Baltimore Counties and Baltimore City were quiet through the day, perhaps owing to record early-voting turnout.
Top-ticket partisans were also sparse on the ground, with poll watchers filled by ranks of down-ballot partisans or just duty-bound political foot soldiers. Bennett Samuel Ostroff, a poll watcher in Baltimore County, wore a shirt bearing the names of four sitting state judges facing a single challenger for their 15-year term. “I’m not really a fan of two of these judges,” he said, but a mentor asked him to stand, so here he is.
Ostroff, a Democrat and lawyer who lives 40 miles north in the Republican stronghold Cecil County, says he may not even vote today, but if he does, Ben Jealous is his pick for governor.
Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP, is one of nine Democrats vying to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan in November.
Hogan, a Republican elected four years ago in the largely Democratic state, is a commercial land developer whose eponymous business (which, like Trump’s, is not in a blind trust) still seeks zoning variances and other actions from counties and cities he oversees. He is very popular among Democrats, though, owing to his affable personality.
Colorado governor termed out while dealing with new primary laws
Colorado’s primary election is the first in a century where voters don’t need to be registered as a Democrat or Republican to participate. The primaries were modified in hopes of expanding voter turnout.
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, as of Tuesday morning “324,206 ballots were cast by Democrats, 311,329 by Republicans and 198,103 by unaffiliated voters.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s seat is open due to term limits. Eight candidates are vying for his seat – four Republicans and four Democrats.
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Republican, has raised over $1 million in campaign funds by speaking out against sanctuary cities and in favor of reforming public employee retirement.
Meanwhile, Democrat Jared Polis has raised more money – over $8 million – than all other candidates combined. Currently a congressman from Colorado’s 2nd District, Polis is running on issues such as raising minimum wage, increasing renewable energy and single-payer health care.
Polls close at 9 p.m. in the Centennial State, but on Tuesday morning registered Democrats turned in ballots in front of the statehouse’s golden dome with a prayer for change.
Michael Bisbee, a lifelong Democrat, had supported Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado’s 1st Congressional District, in the past.
“I just think she’s just another politician, and I’d like to see someone else have a shot. I don’t think she’s in any danger of losing her seat, but you’ve got to send a message at least,” Bisbee said.
DeGette has represented the district since 1997.
DeGette’s grassroots contender, Saira Rao, has never run for office before but has been an active member of the Democratic Party since she first voted for Bill Clinton as a teenager. Reaching out to voters who feel let down by moderate Democrats, Rao has taken strong stances against “racist immigration policies” and in favor of social justice issues.
While some voters turn to their leaders for change, others are looking to themselves.
“I’m complaining on Facebook about things I don’t like, but I’m not doing anything to change that,” said Alexandra Chettie, a first-time voter. “If I’m not going out there on actual Election Day then it’s not making any difference at all because the people going into office aren’t backing whatever I’m hoping they will. I did a self-reflection and said that’s not OK anymore, it’s not an excuse.”