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Women to Watch in May Primary Sweepstakes

Nia-Malika Henderson: Every single Tuesday this month, there will be a primary election and lots of pontificating about what it all means. The storyline we'll be watching most closely is how well women candidates do in these races.
Women Primary Candidates

Can Nina Turner become the first African-American Democrat to win statewide office in Ohio?

Welcome to May Madness!

Every single Tuesday this month, there will be a primary election and lots of pontificating about what it all means. One main storyline will be just how well the tea party is faring against the GOP establishment. Another will be what the general elections in these states will look like as the final line-ups are decided (though some primaries could result in run-offs. We’re looking at you, North Carolina and Georgia).

But the storyline that She The People will be watching most closely is how well women candidates do in these races. While much of the focus is on the Senate and whether the GOP will take control (this says Republicans have an 82% chance of doing just that), it’s also important to look at some of the statewide races, which we will also do.

In all, there are 10 races–North Carolina and Ohio (May 6), Nebraska, West Virginia (May 13), Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania (May 20) and Texas (May 27).

So get your scorecards and pundit hats ready for a very crucial month in the long slog until November.

Here are the women to watch this May, in chronological order:

1. Ohio’s Nina Turner–Frequent MSNBC watchers are probably familiar with Turner, a Democratic state Senator from Cleveland, who has been a vocal opponent of voter identification laws. Turner will be unopposed on the primary ballot Tuesday for Secretary of State, but that’s where the easy part ends. A black Democrat has never, ever won a statewide office in the Buckeye State. Never ever. The GOP has a much better record, electing an African-American to statewide office five times. Read this for a good explanation as to why. Turner, who has been outspoken on women’s issues and is one of Emily’s List’s candidates, will win on Tuesday, but look for observers to see how strong a showing she has as she prepares to face current Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted in the general election and fix the impressions that some of the early bobbles in her race might have left. (May 6 primary)

2. West Virginia’s Rep. Shelly Moore Capito and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant — This race is all but set, which means that West Virginia will do something that it has never, ever done before and that is send a woman to the U.S. Senate. The big question out of this race, which is likely to flip to Republican control, is how and if the “war on women” strategy will play out in a race that features two women. Democrats are trying to paint Rep. Capito, whose father, Arch Alfred Moore, Jr, was elected three times as governor, as beholden to the House GOP. But she’s actually pretty moderate, and has, for instance, praised the Medicaid expansion in her state, explaining that repeal of the Affordable Care Act is unlikely. Tennant, an Emily’s List candidate, has distanced herself from President Obama, and her race will be another interesting case study on how Democrats run in southern states that are increasingly rare territory for conservative Democrats. (Sen. Joe Manchin, who endorsed her, will likely be watching closely). (May 13 primary)

3. Georgia’s Karen Handel – Sarah Palin made her first campaign trip of the cycle to Georgia, to campaign for Handel, a former secretary of state, who has recently gained some traction in the polls by being on the other side of an elitist remark by David Perdue, a businessman. If you look at the fundraising, Handel is not doing so well versus her opponents in the Republican primary to fill an open Senate seat. But this is a wide open race and a run-off will happen. The question is whether Handel can emerge as one of the top two candidates. She’s been making the case that she would stack up best against Michelle Nunn, the Democrat in the race, because she would blunt the whole “war on women” thing. Her first ad featured Palin. How Handel fares in the race will be looked at in the context of just how much power Palin still has in Republican Party politics, and whether she really is a “diminished figure.(May 20 primary)

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4. Oregon’s Monica Wehby — Wehby might have one of the best bumper sticker slogans of the midterm cycle — Keep Your Doctor. Change Your Senator. It’s good, because it captures some of the legitimate frustrations around Obamacare. And it also points to Wehby’s background as a pediatric neurosurgeon. It is biography as political argument. Wehby has become a favorite of the GOP establishment, out-raising her nearest opponent, state Rep. Jason Conger, by $800,000. Add to that one of the best campaign commercials of the cycle. All of which means Democrats have reason to worry about a Wehby primary win for a seat now occupied by Sen. Jeff Merkley in a lean blue state. (May 20 primary)

5. Pennsylvania’s Rep. Allyson Schwartz – If Democrats have a single best candidate primed to run a platform grounded in a “war on women” strategy, it is Schwartz, in the primary for the Governor’s race. Her second campaign ad, where she vows to bust open the “old boy’s club” tells the tale. Also, she touts her support of Obamacare, almost taking credit for pieces of the law in another ad. She’s got the backing of Emily’s List, but she’s in a crowded field and up against a self-funder by the name of Tom Wolf, who in an April poll had a commanding lead over Schwartz— 33 percent to 7 percent. Some 46 percent of Democrats are still undecided according that poll, but there isn’t that much time to close the gap. Look for Schwartz to rip a page out of the 2012 campaign, where Democrats painted Romney as a callous businessman. (May 20 primary)

Nia-Malika Henderson
The Washington Post

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