Democrats saw their preferred candidates score big wins in key House districts in Minnesota and Wisconsin on Tuesday, setting up high-stakes general election battles against Republican opponents. In safe Democratic districts, progressives notched a surprise victory in Connecticut, which may further signal the growing strength of the party’s left wing.
Here are some of our takeaways:
A night of ‘firsts’
The Democratic Party has long attempted to brand itself as the party of diversity, and on Tuesday, voters delivered several results that may further support that claim. In Vermont, they chose Christine Hallquist — a transgender woman who backs a single-payer health care system and increasing the minimum wage — as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. She is the first transgender candidate for governor among either major party.
“Vermont voters chose Christine not because of her gender identity, but because she is an open and authentic candidate with a long history of service to the state, and who speaks to the issues most important to voters,” said Annise Parker, the chief executive of the L.G.B.T.Q. Victory Fund. Read more about Ms. Hallquist here.
There were several other firsts on the Democratic side Tuesday. Jahana Hayes, who was named “National Teacher of the Year” by President Barack Obama in 2016, won the Democratic primary in Connecticut’s Fifth District despite having no formal political experience. Because the seat is a reliably Democratic district, Ms. Hayes is likely to become the first black Democrat to serve in Congress from Connecticut.
In Minnesota, Ilhan Omar — a state legislator who last year became the first Somali-American to win public office — won the Democratic primary for the state’s Fifth District. Ms. Omar, who is Muslim, is poised to become one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, along with Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Read more about Ms. Tlaib here.
Even as Democrats were propelling another round of groundbreaking candidates, they turned to a pair of middle-aged white men to run for governor in a pair of Midwestern states they must keep a foothold in to reclaim the presidency.
In Wisconsin, the party nominated Tony Evers, the 66-year-old state schools superintendent and a longtime educator, to take on the Republican governor, Scott Walker. And in Minnesota, Democrats rallied to Representative Tim Walz, 54, who shifted toward the political center to win the party’s nomination for governor.
In both states, the party rejected women who enjoyed the support of Emily’s List, the progressive group that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights. In Minnesota, Erin Murphy, a state lawmaker, was a distant second to Mr. Walz. And in Wisconsin, Kelda Roys, a former state lawmaker, was an even more distant third behind Mr. Evers.
The second-place finisher in Wisconsin was not much closer to Mr. Evers. Mahlon Mitchell, a firefighter vying to be the state’s first black governor, finished about 25 points behind Mr. Evers in a crowded field.
A Connecticut shocker
Ms. Hayes’s victory is particularly significant, given the current dynamics of the Democratic Party.
She won handily over an opponent who was a longtime member of the Connecticut Democratic establishment, buoyed by a progressive platform that included an embrace of “Medicare-for-all,” explicit support for racial justice and a pledge to not vote for the current minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, for speaker of the House should the Democrats take back control.
She continued a trend in which progressives have experienced their biggest wins in safe Democratic districts. While progressives running in statewide races like Abdul El-Sayed have not been successful (he lost last week in Michigan), Ms. Hayes is in the mold of victorious progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York City activist who beat longtime Representative Joseph Crowley in a June primary.
In both of these cases — as with Ms. Omar and Ms. Hayes — Democratic voters have shown themselves more likely to opt for progressive candidates in districts that will be reliably blue come November.
Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who became a Washington lobbyist, missed politics. So he returned home in an effort to reclaim his old job. It did not go well: He was soundly defeated by Jeff Johnson, a local official who was not nearly as well known and who raised far less money than Mr. Pawlenty.
The former governor’s defeat demonstrates that, to put it mildly, it can be difficult to re-enter politics after a well-paying stint representing banks in Washington. But it was not merely a story of you-can’t-go-home-again — he also lost because he was unable to make the transition his Republican contemporaries have when it comes to embracing President Trump.
His heart was never fully in it, even as he sought to play down his blistering 2016 criticism of Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate — he called Mr. Trump “unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit to be president” — and assure primary voters he had in fact cast a ballot for Mr. Trump. Mr. Pawlenty did not show in Duluth earlier this year when the president came for one of his raucous rallies.
By contrast, Mr. Johnson was glad to embrace Mr. Trump — and just as happy to taunt Mr. Pawlenty for his unease with the polarizing president.
So it was no surprise that on his way out of his election night party, the former two-term governor and one-time presidential aspirant said he was through with politics.
“It is the era of Trump, and I’m just not a Trump-like politician,” Mr. Pawlenty conceded.
Read more about Tuesday’s results