What To Think About Tuesday’s Primaries, A Guide For Progressives

If you’ve been waiting for results in the Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary — i.e., the one with Dr. Oz — then you’re going to have to wait a while longer. It’s too close to call, with ballots still to be tabulated and a full recount likely.

But you can start thinking about the other results from Tuesday, because they offer some hints about the kinds of Democrats who win and lose elections these days – and the kind of Republican that might be in office in 2024, when control of not just Congress but also the White House is on the line.

If you think of yourself as a progressive or a liberal, or if you simply care about small-d democratic values, three races in particular deserve your attention. One could give you hope, another offers intrigue.

And the third? Well, it could scare the bejeezus out of you.

The takeaways from these races are complex, to be clear. Among other things, all three were primary races, in which the point is to win over party faithful. That’s a lot different than winning statewide, especially in divided states like Pennsylvania.

To help you navigate those complexities, here’s a rundown on those three results, with the help of HuffPost reporters who covered them.

In Pennsylvania, A Win For Affect And Authenticity

Whoever eventually wins the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania will be running against Democrat John Fetterman. Fetterman is the state’s lieutenant governor and there’s really nobody like him in Democratic politics today, as you already know if you’ve seen him on TV.

He stands 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9, depending on who’s counting, with a bald head and goatee that falls a few inches off his chin. He campaigns in shorts and hoodies, and wears short-sleeve shirts that show off his tattoos.

The working-class aesthetic matches his working-class affect, but not his political profile. (He backed Bernie Sanders for president.) Fetterman’s primary opponent, western Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, attempted to exploit this by attacking Fetterman as a “socialist.”

It didn’t work. Fetterman won by more than a two-to-one margin. HuffPost senior reporter Daniel Marans has some thoughts about why and what it could mean.

Just how progressive is Fetterman?

Marans: The best way to think of this is that Fetterman is a pre-2018/“Squad” progressive who would likely stop short of emulating the most left-wing members of Congress. As a mayor and then a lieutenant governor, he has focused on issues like raising the minimum wage, expanding health care, reviving manufacturing, stopping gun violence in low-income communities and legalizing marijuana.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman campaigns for U.S. Senate at a meet-and-greet at Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport on May 10 in Lemont Furnace, Pennsylvania.

Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

He has never engaged in rhetoric that could be construed as hostile to law enforcement and always supported fracking for natural gas, a major source of jobs and government revenue in southwestern Pennsylvania.

As a candidate for Senate, he has shifted further to the center, softening his support for “Medicare for All” as a gradual goal at best, opposing proposals to lift the pandemic-era restrictions on admissions at the U.S. border, and embracing traditional pro-Israel talking points.

About that affect of his, what are the things that stand out to you and that you think helps with voters?

Marans: Frankly, the unusual height, bald dome, casual attire and tattoos do do a lot for him in that it suggests to voters he is a blue-collar southwestern Pennsylvanian, even though his father was a wealthy insurance executive from the Eastern part of the state.

He is remarkably un-dazzling on the stump. He speaks very matter-of-factly. He is not a glad-hander ― either around politicians or reporters. He’s actually kind of aloof in a way that reminds me of Bernie Sanders. It serves him poorly on the debate stage and among at least some of his colleagues, but many Democratic voters at least see him as authentic.

What can you say about his chances in the general?

Marans: He’s shown that he has a killer instinct and a willingness to evolve ideologically. His timing was great ― entering the race months before Conor Lamb. He’s progressive enough to be a prodigious grassroots fundraiser, but flexible enough to foreclose or limit certain conservative attacks.

Overall, he’s a strong candidate, but his opposition in the primary was inept and this is going to be a tough cycle for any Democrat running statewide in Pennsylvania. We can expect to hear a lot about his progressive views, his support for Sanders in 2016, and other characteristics that might make him sound scary to some swing voters.

In Oregon, Trouble For A Blue Dog

Kurt Schrader, the seven-term representative from Oregon, is a familiar archetype in American politics: the centrist, “Blue Dog” Democrat who fights his party and bucks its agenda, but holds on to office with the help of corporate backing and a perception that a more liberal candidate couldn’t hold the seat.

And so for the last year and a half, when Schrader was voting against President Joe Biden’s initial COVID-19 relief bill and blocking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) prescription drug reforms, there was every reason to think he’d still win his party’s nomination.

Instead, the vote counts as of Wednesday afternoon put him well behind Jamie McLeod-Skinner, his progressive challenger. He could catch up, but only by winning the outstanding votes by a significantly higher margin than he has so far ― making McLeod-Skinner the “heavy favorite,” according to election guru Dave Wasserman.

Even if he were to prevail, the close call would reveal something about how Democratic voters feel about lawmakers like him right now. Marans, who’s covered this race too, had a few thoughts about that.

How much did Schrader’s resistance to the Biden agenda in general ― and prescription drugs in particular ― hurt him?

Marans: It was likely the single biggest factor in the race. For Democratic primary voters in most states, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is resented for being an obstacle to Biden’s agenda and any resemblance to him is not something a Democratic candidate wants in a blue-state primary. McLeod-Skinner dubbed Schrader the “Joe Manchin of the House,” and the label appears to have stuck.

Was there anything in particular about the way Schrader’s opponents framed or conveyed their arguments that made them especially effective?

Marans: McLeod-Skinner did not sell herself to voters as a leftist. She instead emphasized over and over again that she would be a better Democrat and more loyal partner to Biden than Schrader.

She also accused him of being an inauthentic farmer, claiming that a photo of him on a mail item that showed him “bucking hay” with bare hands demonstrated that he doesn’t know how to do real farm work. “I’ve shaken your hands. You have very soft hands,” she said during a meeting with the Willamette Week editorial board. The newspaper ended up endorsing McLeod-Skinner.

Going into the general, what are McLeod-Skinner’s chances?

Marans: A new candidate, rather than an incumbent, is generally easier to defeat. And regardless of the unpopular particulars, Schrader bucking Biden likely helps him with independents and Republicans. Republicans are going to paint McLeod-Skinner as a spooky, radical leftist, forcing her to answer for every position taken by groups backing her, like the Working Families Party.

That said, you’re probably not that great at politics if you lose a primary after 13 years in office.

McLeod-Skinner, by contrast, has a folksy quality and dogged campaign style that helped her punch above her weight. She is an authentic, rural Oregonian with a populist critique of money in politics that could appeal beyond the base, and her status as a newcomer may be less of a liability in a year where anti-incumbent sentiment is running high.

In Pennsylvania, A Victorious Champion Of The Big Lie

Pennsylvania is likely to play a pivotal role in the 2024 presidential election, just like it did in 2020 — only this time, Donald Trump ally Doug Mastriano could be in charge of the state, because he just won the GOP primary for governor.

Mastriano is a state senator and proponent of the Big Lie, the claim that the 2020 election was stolen. He tried to get the legislature to overturn the result, by appointing electors directly and sending them to Washington to elect Trump. A few weeks later, on Jan. 6, he was at the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano waves to supporters as he takes the stage to give a victory speech at his election-night party at The Orchards on May 17 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano waves to supporters as he takes the stage to give a victory speech at his election-night party at The Orchards on May 17 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

Those efforts didn’t succeed in making Trump president. But they succeeded in making Mastriano a favorite of Trump and his followers ― and, now, getting him a spot on the ticket.

HuffPost senior reporter Christopher Mathias has been covering the race and, more generally, the far right ― and is in as good a position as anybody to explain what a Mastriano win in the general election would mean.

You sometimes see descriptions of Mastriano as an “insurrectionist.” What does that mean exactly? Didn’t he issue a statement condemning the Jan. 6 violence?

Mathias: Mastriano has really been at the center of pushing the lie that the election was stolen by Dems. And even if he condemned violence on Jan. 6, video footage shows him much more involved in the protest than he previously admitted.

It shows him walking through a police line shortly after Trump supporters lifted up a police fence and tossed it to the side while on their way to the Capitol. He also organized buses of Trump supporters to go to the Capitol that day.

In practical terms, how could Mastriano as governor actually change the election results?

Mathias: If Mastriano is governor, he could have power to put the scheme he developed in 2020 — appointing electors in defiance of the state’s actual voting results, based on debunked claims of voter fraud — and then declare Trump (or DeSantis, or whoever) the winner.

Moreover, he’d get to appoint the secretary of state, who is in charge of statewide elections. He went on Steve Bannon’s podcast — which tells you a lot about Mastriano — and said he already had a candidate in mind, someone that is a “voting reform-minded individual who’s been traveling the nation and knows voting reform very well.”

It’s definitely reasonable to think Mastriano would do this. It’s his raison d’etre. It’s also worth considering the Christian nationalist language Mastriano uses. He honestly sees himself engaged in a spiritual battle against secular, satanic forces, and believes that America is a place by and for Christians. It’s a fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic view of government.

Should progressives worry about a 2016 Trump redux ― i.e., wishing for a seemingly unelectable opponent, only to discover that he’s not only electable but actually wins?

Mathias: [Josh] Shapiro, the Dem nominee, released ads designed to help Mastriano in the GOP primary, because he sees him as a more beatable opponent. But I think 2016 should definitely be a lesson! Never underestimate the potential for a populist extremist figure to surge and win.

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