ATLANTA — Four states will cast ballots Tuesday as the 2018 midterm elections take shape. Voters in Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky hold primaries, while Texans settle several primary runoffs after their first round of voting in March. Some noteworthy story lines:
In this #METOO midterm, a big day for women
Texans will settle an all-female congressional runoff between liberal activist Laura Moser and Houston attorney Lizzie Fletcher in a Houston-area House race that has become a proxy for the Democratic Party's battle over style and substance. The winner faces Republican Rep. John Culberson in the fall.
Women also could claim nominations in two other Texas congressional districts on Democrats' national target list. In the metro-Dallas district now represented by Republican Pete Sessions, it's attorney Lillian Salerno vs. attorney Colin Allred. Both are former Obama administration officials; Allred's also a former player for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. In a San Antonio-Mexican border district, Gina Ortiz Jones is vying to become the first openly lesbian Latina congresswoman from her state.
The three Texas districts are among the 25 nationally where President Donald Trump ran behind Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats for a House majority.
In Georgia, Democrats will tap either Stacey Abrams or Stacey Evans as the state's first female nominee for governor from either major party. If Abrams ultimately were to prevail in November, she'd become the first black female governor in any state capital.
GOP melee in Georgia
Georgia's Republican candidates for governor have engaged in a sprint to the right on everything from immigration to bear-hugging Trump.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp set the curve with his homestretch ads. In one, he wields a shotgun alongside a young male suitor of his teenage daughter. Another features an explosion (what Kemp says he does to government spending), a chain saw (he'll use it to cut regulations), and Kemp driving a pickup truck (which he says might come in handy to "round up criminal illegals").
Michael Williams, a state senator lagging badly in public polls, followed suit by campaigning with a "deportation bus." When it broke down — literally — he suggested leftists had put water in the gas tank.
Kemp is trying to secure a second-place finish to qualify for a likely runoff against Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who has GOP business establishment support but also touts his determination to "protect" Georgians from "criminal illegal aliens."
The question is whether Cagle leads by enough to suggest that he's a clear runoff favorite. A second round between Cagle and Kemp could escalate the rhetoric and spook Georgia Republicans accustomed to more centrist, business-aligned politicians who rarely flout Atlanta-based behemoths like Delta and Coca-Cola. Some of those GOP figures worry the gamesmanship already has ensured Georgia won't land Amazon's second headquarters.
A health care preview in Arkansas
While Washington fixates on the daily glut of developments in the Russia election meddling investigation, Democratic congressional candidates insist they'll win in November arguing about bread-and-butter issues like health care. Arkansas state Rep. Clarke Tucker is running for Congress in a Little Rock-based district by telling his story as a cancer survivor. His first target is a crowded Democratic field. His real target is Republican Rep. French Hill, who voted many times to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
National Democrats' score sheet
Several congressional matchups will test Democrats' recruiting and campaign strategies. In metro Houston, national Democrats' House campaign arm incensed liberals when operatives unloaded opposition research essentially calling Laura Moser a carpetbagger.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hasn't endorsed her opponent, but the implications were clear: Washington Democrats think Moser is too liberal to flip the seat in November. Moser parlayed voter disgust with DCCC's maneuver into her runoff spot, but Moser says the unusual move hurt her fundraising and momentum in the long run.
The DCCC initially missed in the Dallas-area seat: Its preferred candidate didn't make the runoff. The committee has since shifted to Allred, the civil rights attorney and former NFL player.
National Democrats say they'd be OK in Kentucky's 6th District with Amy McGrath, a veteran fighter pilot who garnered national attention with her announcement video that detailed her struggles against sexism as she pursued her goals. But the national party's initial recruit in the race is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who lost a 2016 Senate race to Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
Georgia Dems: test of strategy and tactics
The battle between Stacey Abrams, 44, and Stacey Evans, 40, in Georgia Democrats' primary for governor is a microcosm of the national party's debate over strategy.
Abrams, a former state House minority leader, is an African-American attorney from the Democratic bastion of Atlanta who says the way to turn GOP-run Georgia into a battleground is to take an unabashedly liberal message to potential voters who aren't casting ballots. That group, she says matter-of-factly, invariably trends young and nonwhite.
Evans, 40, is a white attorney who represented suburban Atlanta in the General Assembly, insists that the path involves the traditional Democratic base while coaxing back voters (read: white voters) that Democrats have lost.
It's very much a reflection of the 2016 post-mortem: Did Hillary Clinton lose because too many nonwhite Democrats stayed home or because too many whites defected to Trump?
Ted Cruz 2.0
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a favorite for re-election this fall, backed two former staffers among his many endorsees this primary season. One failed to advance in March. But a second, Chip Roy, is in a GOP runoff for the House seat being opened by the retirement of Republican Rep. Lamar Smith. Cruz would love to place another ally among House conservatives, particularly one who once served as his chief of staff.
Republicans outvoted Democrats in some big-state early primaries this year — Texas on March 6 and Ohio on May 8. There'll be plenty of eyeballs on the respective vote totals of the two parties in Georgia. In those three Texas congressional battlegrounds, partisans will compare Democratic runoff turnout to the March vote totals of the three vulnerable Republican congressmen.
Worth noting, of course: Reactions to those numbers will be as much about claiming momentum as they will be about actual predictive value for November.