What to Watch in the Primaries between August 9 and August 16

After sweeping the four major statewide Republican primaries in Arizona on Aug. 2, election deniers are running in many other elections this week in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and even blue Vermont. The primaries will also all but decide the next governor of Hawaii and sheriff of Milwaukee, among many critical positions, and major fault lines on criminal justice and abortion rights are on the ballot in Connecticut and Vermont. And don’t forget that Sarah Palin is mounting a comeback in a special congressional election on Aug. 16. 

Here are 30 races that Bolts is watching on Aug. 9 (in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin), Aug. 13 (in Hawaii), and Aug. 16 (in Alaska and Wyoming), as prepared by Daniel Nichanian. More may be added to our cheat sheet through Election Day.

Check back on Election Night as we fill in each result in the second column. And support us to sustain this work.

Sarah Palin and Mandela Barnes are running for Congress in Alaska and Wisconsin, respectively. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr and Mandela Barnes/Facebook)


Hawaii (Dem)

With Governor David Ige term-limited, many Democrats like Rep. Kai Kahele jumped in, but polls show Lieutenant Governor Josh Green running away with it. Still, the campaign has gotten very heated.
Wisconsin (GOP)

Gaining the Wisconsin governorship is a GOP priority this year, and they’re first choosing their nominee in a crowded field headlined by former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who has the support of Scott Walker and Mike Pence, and Tim Michels, who has Donald Trump’s vocal endorsement.
Note that Connecticut and Minnesota are also having governor’s races in the fall that could be competitive, but the primaries were not worth inclusion.

U.S. Senate

Alaska (all-party)

Lisa Murkowski’s re-election prospects are enhanced under the state’s new election system, as the top 4 contenders in this all-party race on Aug. 16 will move on to a (ranked-choice) general election, so the conservative effort to topple her won’t take place in a primary.
Top 4: Murkowski, Tshibaka, Chesbro, Kelley
Connecticut (Dem)

Republicans choose their nominee against Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Trump got involved at the last minute on behalf of Leora Levy.
Vermont (Dem)

With Senator Pat Leahy’s retirement, Representative Peter Welch wants to move up to the upper chamber and must first face Isaac Evans-Frantz, a left activist.
Vermont (GOP)

Leahy is the only Democrat ever elected to the U.S. Senate, so now that he’s retiring some Republicans are hoping to make it competitive. Governor Phil Scott is supporting Christina Nolan, with Myers Mermel and Gerald Malloy also in the primary.
Wisconsin (Dem)

This was meant to be a highly competitive Democratic primary, but most of the opponents of Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes dropped out of the past month, leaving him with an almost clear path to take on Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

Other statewide elections

Connecticut | Treasurer (Dem)

It’s a three-way Democratic primary for this open race to oversee Connecticut’s pension and trust fund. The Connecticut Mirror previews.
Erick Russell
Minnesota | Attorney General (GOP)

Doug Wardlow lost the attorney general election in 2018 after provoking a furor over his promise to fire dozens of lawyers in the office. He now wants another shot at defeating Democrat Keith Ellison, but faces Republican Jim Schultz, who has police union support, in the primary. The Pioneer Press previews.
Vermont | Lieutenant Governor (Dem)

This is a very crowded field to replace the retiring incumbent, as The Vermont Digger previews, and this sleeper office could get more national attention if the candidate associated with Stop the Steal wins the GOP primary.
Vermont | Lieutenant Governor (GOP)

Gregory Thayer organized a Jan. 6 bus trip to D.C. and is now running for lieutenant governor, seeking the GOP nomination against state Senator Joe Benning.
Wisconsin | Attorney General (GOP)

Three candidates want to take on the incumbent Democrat, including Eric Toney, a DA who wants to throw the book at ordinary voters who make simple mistakes to combat  purported fraud, and Karen Mueller, who helped with a lawsuit to overturn the 2020 election.

U.S. House Specials


Sarah Palin, who needs no introduction, will face off against fellow Republican Nicholas Begich and Democrat Mary Peltola in a ranked-choice election to fill this vacant seat.
Peltola, 51% to 49%

This is a special election to fill a seat for just a few months, and Republican nominee Brad Finstad is favored in this red district, but the margin between him and Democrat Jeff Ettinger will be closely scrutinized for signs of how November will turn out. (Trump won the district by 10% in 2020.)
Finstead, 51% to 47%

U.S. House Primaries

HI-02 (Dem)

An open seat for a safe Democratic seat has seen a lot of outside spending, with Jill Tokuda getting progessive support and drawing attacks.
MN-05 (Dem)

One week after fellow Squad members Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush won their primaries, Rep. Ilhan Omar now faces a Democratic primary challenger from her right in Don Samuels, a former city council member endorsed by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Among their biggest disagreements: They took opposite sides on last year’s referendum to replace the police department. The Star Tribune previews.
VT-AL (Dem)

The major figures of Vermont politics have taken opposite sides in this open Democratic primary, with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and the more progressive faction of state politics backing Senate President Becca Balint, who faces Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray. Balint and Gray have predictably diverged on various issues like climate and criminal justice.
WI-03 (Dem)

Longtime Democratic incumbent Ron Kind’s retirement in this GOP-trending district leaves Democrats in a tough position, but there’s a very crowded field to replace him. (The winner will face Republican Derrick Van Orden.)
Brad Pfaff

After voting to impeach Trump, Rep. Liz Cheney has faced tremendous conservative opposition and is expected to lose her re-election bid in the Aug. 16 primary against Harriet Hageman.

Legislative primaries

Connecticut | HD116 (Dem)

Abortion is a fault line in a rare contested primary in Connecticut, as anti-abortion Democratic incumbent Treneé McGee faces challenger Joseph Miller.
Wisconsin | AD63 (GOP)

Speaker Robin Vos faces a challenge from Adam Steen; Michael Gableman, the former justice who has been seeking to overturn the 2020 election, has turned against former ally for ostensibly not being committed enough to investigating the results.
Vermont | Chittenden-5 (Dem)

Local journalist Chea Waters Evans decided to challenge Democratic lawmaker Mike Yantachka after Yantachka voted against a constitutional amendment meant to block laws that infringe on “reproductive autonomy.”   (Yantachka said he regretted his vote during campaign.) The Vermont Digger previews.

Criminal Justice

Vermont | Chittenden County (Burlington)

Sarah George has long positioned herself among national groups of progressive prosecutors, championing local criminal justice reforms in Vermont’s most populous county. Bolts has reported on her efforts to expand restorative justice, which are now under fire by challenger Ted Kenney, who is running with the backing of police associations and unions.
Minnesota | Hennepin County Attorney (all party)

In the first Minneapolis prosecutor election since George Floyd’s murder, a large field is running to replace the retiring incumbent, with the top 2 moving to a runoff. Among the contenders: Mary Moriarty, the county’s former chief public defender, who is running on a progressive platform; State House Majority Leader Ryan Winkle; Martha Holton Dimick, a local judge who faults Moriarty on policing; Paul Ostrow, the former head of the Minneapolis city council, who is critical of reform.
Top 2: Moriarty vs. Dimick
Minnesota | Hennepin County sheriff (all party)

The first-term sheriff is retiring after pleading guilty to drunken driving, leaving three candidates running to replace him. The Aug. 9 primary will narrow the field to two. A major issue in the 2018 sheriff election was immigration, and at a recent forum two of the three candidates (Joseph Banks and Dawanna Witt, unlike Jai Hanson) said they’d continue the incumbent’s new policy of not collaborating with ICE.
Top 2: Witt vs. Banks
Wisconsin | Eau Claire County sheriff (Dem)

This race was a rare Democratic primary to feature on Bolts‘s list of elections to watch where abortion is on the line, as it features a disagreement between sheriff candidates on whether they would enforce a ban on abortion.
Dave Riewestahl 
Wisconsin | Milwaukee sheriff (Dem)

The infamous David Clarke was sheriff here as recently as five years ago, and now Milwaukee will elect yet another new sheriff. All three candidates told Bolts they would not enforce anti-abortion laws. Important stakes include access to ballots in jail and other issues pertaining to jail conditions.
Denita Ball

Secretaries of State (and Election Administration)

Connecticut (Dem and GOP)

Both parties are choosing their nominees in this open race, and the parties are diverging on other voter restrictions like voter ID, the Associated Press reports.
Stephanie Thomas (D) and Dominic Rapini (R)
Minnesota (GOP)

Leading contender Kim Crockett has teamed up with election deniers, and aired a conspiracist video that used anti-Semitic tropes and led to an apology by the state Republican Party’s chair; her opponent, Erik van Mechelen, has embraced election deniers even more closely.
Vermont (Dem)

In this open primary that will likely decide Vermont’s next secretary of state, candidates have all pushed to extend access to the ballot, but some are proposing to get more creative still with the powers of the office. The Vermont Digger previews the policy dynamics of this race in an article titled “A Technocrat, an Activist, and a Lawmaker.”
Wisconsin (GOP)

Strangely, this position does not have any jurisdiction over election administration but it’s still become a flash point for state conservatives (including some in this race) who want to abolish the state’s election commission and transfer its duties to other offices like the secretary of state as a means to solidify their control over the state government.
Amy Loudenbeck
Wyoming (GOP)

Chuck Gray, a Republican lawmaker, is running with Trump’s endorsement against Tara Nethercott.

Other local offices

Minnesota | Rochester mayor

Minnesota’s third most populous city is voting for its mayor as Kim Norton seeks re-election; the race will head to a Top 2 runoff. The Post-Bulletin previews.
Runoff: Norton vs. Britt Noser