Five Northeastern states head to the polls on Tuesday. Since polling seems to show that many of today's presidential primaries won’t be too suspenseful — unless we get a Michigan repeat, of course — here are some down-ballot races that prove to be stressfully close, and feature issues and plots that will definitely filter up to the national level as the general election approaches.
Except for the story about the cat — we just included that for fun.
Time for Rhode Island’s hometown presidential candidate to shine
We’ll start with the most important development in today’s primaries: a new candidate is trying to bring down Trump. He’s a Rhode Island native who only started his campaign this month. He is also not old enough to run for president and doesn’t speak English, or any other language.
His name is Stump, and he lives in a pet store. He hopes to be the first cat president. Given his delegate deficit, this seems unlikely to happen. There is also the fact that he is, again, a cat.
Stump’s campaign manager, Warwick pet store owner Denise Rachiele, told McClatchy that she was inspired to start putting campaign posters for Stump outside her business when Trump’s campaign moved in down the street. Customers have apparently started to tell her, “I’d vote for Stump instead of Trump.”
For those undecided voters still looking for a candidate, Stump is for legalizing catnip and work naps. He has not said whether he would be willing to be a running mate with Limberbutt McCubbins, the Kentucky resident who announced his presidential run last year. Ted Cruz and John Kasich have not announced if they will stop campaigning in Rhode Island to give Stump a chance to defeat Trump.
The record-breaking, ridiculously expensive House race in Maryland
If you care about campaign finance, look on in horror at the Democratic primary for Maryland’s 8th District, located outside of D.C. Nine Democratic candidates are running, and one of them has raised more than $12 million of his own cash to try to buy the seat. David Trone, founder of the Total Wine & More chain, has devoted more money to his campaign than any other self-funding House candidate in history. Although his positions are liberal, Trone’s financing — and his defense of it — sound like a familiar refrain from the other end of the ideological spectrum this cycle. (Yes, we’re talking about Trump.)
The second-biggest self-funder this year is trying to win a House seat in Tennessee. George Flinn, a radiologist, has given nearly $3 million — to himself — so far this cycle.
Although Trone’s campaign coffers make any other sums spent seem paltry in comparison, some of his opponents are also spending monstrous amounts for a primary. Kathleen Matthews, a former TV anchor married to pundit Chris Matthews, has raised more than $2.5 million. State Senator Jamie Raskin has raised nearly $2 million. The other six hopefuls include two Obama administration alums and several other state politics veterans.
Between the actual candidates and super PACs, more than $13 million has been spent on this race. For comparison, the second most-expensive House race this cycle has cost $4.5 million so far. That’s a lot of money, but being in the presence of Maryland’s 8th District suddenly makes all other sums look small — which is not a good development for those who want to vacuum dollar bills out of American politics.
Will Maryland elect a black woman to the Senate?
Senator Barbara Mikulski will end her career on Capitol Hill this year as the longest-serving female senator in history. She leaves behind a Senate that currently has only 20 women — and no black women. Only one black woman has ever served in the U.S. Senate, in fact, which is why Emily’s List, the organization devoted to electing pro-choice women, has spent millions of dollars on Representative Donna Edwards in the primary to find a potential Democratic replacement for Mikulski.
This year could potentially see two black women elected to the Senate; Attorney General Kamala Harris is running against 33 other candidates in California’s June primary. In Maryland, however, most elected Democrats haven’t sided with Edwards — Representative Chris Van Hollen is currently leading the polls. The race is close, and it's gotten a bit nasty: Edwards has made sure to keep bringing up the history of her hypothetical win in interviews. She told Politico, “It is the rationale for my running for the Senate seat … It’s about the perspective, the unique perspective that I would bring to the Senate.” Van Hollen, sounding somewhat like Hillary Clinton (who has declined to endorse anyone in this complicated contest) stresses his appreciation for making deals and ability to get things done, which might not be as exciting, but might be good enough given all his endorsements and his fundraising advantage.
Since Maryland hasn’t had a Republican senator since the ’80s, it seems somewhat likely that whoever ends up winning this race will be the state’s new senator — although this primary was stuffed with enough drama to fill an entire Senate race anyway.
Trying to win a Baltimore election in only 140 characters
The Baltimore mayoral race doesn’t often get much national political coverage. This election, however, is the first major one to take place since Freddie Gray’s death — and happens to feature a well-known participant in the protests that took place afterward. DeRay Mckesson has more than 300,000 Twitter followers and has received donations from celebrities and prominent activists all around the country. His campaign, which started in February, is also doubling as a crash course in local politics; one of the main things he has learned is that many people in the city where he grew up didn’t pay attention to his rise and are more worried about whether he has the expertise to make sure their trash gets picked up. A Baltimore Sun poll from early April had him at about 1 percent.
Residents have a wealth of choices — there are 12 candidates running in the Democratic primary and five in the Republican. Although it might make sense that voters would be looking for change after what happened with Gray — that seems to be what Mckesson was thinking, at least — the two Democratic candidates far in the lead are the most familiar political faces: Sheila Dixon, a former mayor who resigned after an embezzlement scandal, and State Senator Catherine Pugh.
Thousands of felons set to vote for the first time
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe made news last week when he granted 200,000 convicted felons the right to vote, but Maryland is the state where newly enfranchised felons will first get the chance to fill out ballots. In February, the Maryland Senate overrode Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation that would give 44,000 felons on parole or probation voting rights. About 20,000 of those new voters will be able to vote in that Baltimore mayoral primary.
A Bernie fan, the establishment pick, and a familiar face walk into a primary...
A few hundred miles north of Maryland, Democrats are fighting in another complicated Senate primary. The White House, which would really like to win the Senate back, wants Katie McGinty, a former Clinton administration official, to win the race in Pennsylvania. Vice President Joe Biden has been spotted flirting with old ladies in Philadelphia diners to further the cause. Former Representative Joe Sestak wants a second chance to defeat incumbent Senator Pat Toomey after losing to him in 2010 by only 2 percentage points. And John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania — who won his first election by one vote — just wants to be the Little John to Bernie Sanders’s Robin Hood. (Given that Fetterman is 6'8", he’s perfectly cast.) Like Sanders, however, his path to victory seems slim. The fact that more than $10 million has been spent in this race, little of it in his favor, doesn’t help either.
Unlike the Maryland Senate primary, this race doesn’t feature an open seat; after waging an intense campaign, the person who wins here will have to get ready to deal with an even more arduous general election fight, and hope voters aren’t exhausted already. Toomey didn’t have to worry about a primary this year — although many assumed he might after he sponsored the failed background check legislation — which means he will be relatively well-rested by the time the general election starts, unlike his TBD opponent.
Rhode Island holds a scavenger hunt for polling places
The Boston Globe reported last week that only one-third of the tiny state’s polling places will be open on Tuesday. This is the usual practice in the state for presidential primaries, but the fact that the voters still aren’t positive who the presidential nominees will be this late in the game is a bit novel. More voters than usual might be hitting the polls, and this is also the first time that people will have to show a photo ID during a presidential primary. This has some groups worried that lines might get intense, or that voters who don’t typically turn out during primaries might head to their usual polling place only to find it empty.
If voters in Rhode Island decide they want to follow other states in breaking turnout records, in other words, get ready for voting lines to be buffering all day. If this happens, Rhode Island can take comfort in the fact that it isn’t alone in forcing voters to wait. Or maybe the states that have yet to hold primaries can just take this as a warning and prepare in advance?