By STEVE PEOPLES and SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrats embraced diversity in a new night of firsts while Republicans rejected a face of the GOP’s old guard on Tuesday as the turbulent 2018 primary season lurched toward its finale.
In Vermont, Democrats rallied behind the nation’s first transgender nominee for governor. Minnesota Democrats backed a woman who could become the first Somali-American member of Congress. And in Connecticut, the party nominated a congressional candidate who could become the first African-American to represent a New England state in Washington.
On the other side, Donald Trump tightened his grip on the modern-day Republican Party.
The president’s pick for Kansas governor, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, scored a delayed victory against Jeff Colyer, who became the first incumbent governor to be defeated this season. Elsewhere in the Midwest, Republican County Commissioner Jeff Johnson defeated former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who once called Trump “unhinged and unfit” and was hoping to regain his old post. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker won the right to seek a third term.
Meanwhile, accusations of domestic violence involving the Democratic National Committee’s second-in-command threatened to undermine Democratic enthusiasm, particularly in Minnesota, a state where women dominated on Tuesday.
Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin all held primaries Tuesday. Kansas’ gubernatorial primary, which was held last week, was finalized when Colyer conceded defeat.
All but 10 states will have picked their candidates for November’s general election by the time the day’s final votes are counted. While the full political battlefield isn’t quite set, the stakes are clear: Democrats are working to topple Republican control of Congress and governors’ offices across the nation.
In Vermont, Democrat Christine Hallquist won the Democratic nomination in her quest to become the nation’s first transgender governor. The former chief executive of Vermont Electric Cooperative bested a field of four Democrats that included a 14-year-old.
Hallquist will face a tough fight in November: Republican incumbent Phil Scott remains more popular with Democrats than members of his own party in the solidly liberal state.
Vermont Democrats also nominated Sen. Bernie Sanders, who hasn’t ruled out a second presidential run in 2020, for a third term in the Senate. The 76-year-old democratic socialist won the Democratic nomination, but he is expected to turn it down and run as an independent.
Democrats appeared particularly motivated in Wisconsin, where eight candidates lined up for the chance to take on Walker.
Walker’s strong anti-union policies made him a villain to Democrats long before Trump’s rise. State schools chief Tony Evers, who has clashed with Walker at times, won the Democratic nomination and will take on Walker this fall.
Once a target of Trump criticism, Walker gained the president’s endorsement in a tweet Monday night calling him “a tremendous Governor who has done incredible things for that Great State.” But Trump’s persistent attacks on Wisconsin-based motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson put Republican candidates on their heels in recent days, Walker among them.
“There’s a lot of disgust at what’s going on at the top level moving down,” said Madison voter Conor McGuire, 49, who described himself as a frustrated Republican but voted for Democrat Evers.
Initially a Walker supporter, McGuire said he’s disgusted by Walker’s embrace of Trump.
Trump also stars, informally at least, in Wisconsin’s Senate primaries as Republicans try to deny Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin a second term.
Longtime state lawmaker Leah Vukmir, who was backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, won the Republican primary, even after struggling to explain footage recently unearthed from 2016 in which she called Trump “offensive to everyone.”
Tuesday’s primaries served as a test of Democratic enthusiasm in the upper Midwest, a region that has long been associated with liberal politics but has been trending red. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state since 1984.
It was much the same in Minnesota, where Trump lost by less than 3 percentage points in a state that hasn’t backed a Republican presidential contender since 1972.
Two women won Democratic Senate nominations: Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Tina Smith, who had been appointed to replace disgraced Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
A record number of women are running this year for governor and Congress across the country.
A new scandal threatened to roil Minnesota politics.
Rep. Keith Ellison, the Democratic National Committee’s deputy chairman, captured his party’s nomination in the race to become the state’s attorney general. That’s after Ellison’s candidacy was rocked by allegations over the weekend of domestic violence amid a broader national outcry against sexual misconduct by powerful men in business, entertainment and politics.
Ellison has denied a former girlfriend’s allegations that he dragged her off a bed while screaming obscenities during a 2016 relationship she said was plagued by “narcissistic abuse.”
Pawlenty, a former two-term governor, might have been the biggest name on Minnesota’s ballot.
He’s the leading Republican candidate in the high-profile race to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. Having lost his own short-lived bid for president in 2012, Pawlenty spent much of the past six years as a corporate lobbyist.
Like Republican candidates elsewhere, Pawlenty has struggled to live down his blistering critique of Trump in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election. At the time, he called Trump “unhinged and unfit for the presidency.” Pawlenty has since said he voted for Trump and supports his agenda.
Democratic Rep. Tim Walz won the three-way race for his party’s nomination for governor.
Also in Minnesota, Democrat Ilhan Omar, the nation’s first Somali-American legislator, won his party’s congressional primary in the race to replace Ellison.
Not to be forgotten: Connecticut Democrats picked former teacher of the year, Jahana Hayes, to run for the seat vacated by Rep. Elizabeth Etsy, who is leaving Congress after bungling sexual abuse claims levied against a former staffer.
Republican businessman Bob Stefanowski emerged from a field of five Republicans to replace the unpopular outgoing governor, Democrat Dan Malloy. Former gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont won the Democratic nomination.