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Seven takeaways from primaries in Florida, New York and Oklahoma runoffs

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By Gregory Krieg, Steve Contorno and Dan Merica, CNN

Some of the final pieces of the midterm puzzle came into focus as Tuesday primaries in New York, Florida and Oklahoma locked in key parts of the November election slate.

But it was a special election in Upstate New York that provided clearest message yet: The anger over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is poised to be a potent tool for Democrats as they seek to take back the initiative on the campaign trail and maintain their slim majority in the House.

Democrats in Florida on Tuesday picked Rep. Charlie Crist to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis in the fall, CNN projected. Crist’s challenge comes as DeSantis seeks both a second term and a boost ahead of a rumored presidential bid in 2024. CNN also projected that Democratic Rep. Val Demings would take on Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in November.

Meanwhile, in New York, CNN projected that Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s run in Congress will come to an end with her losing to fellow long-serving member Rep. Jerry Nadler in a Democratic primary for a Manhattan-based seat. A protracted redistricting process had postponed US House and state Senate elections from June.

And in Oklahoma, Republicans decided on a nominee to fill out the remainder of retiring Sen. Jim Inhofe’s term ahead of special general election.

Here are the key takeaways from August’s final primary day.

Democrat who campaigned on ‘referendum on Roe’ wins NY special election

Three weeks after voters in Kansas shot down a ballot measure that would have allowed the state to ban abortion, New Yorkers in a swing district special election broke for a Democrat who cast his campaign as a “referendum on Roe.”

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan’s victory offered Democrats another clear sign that the Supreme Court’s decision to end federal abortion rights is shaping up as a powerful tool for juicing their base — and perhaps winning over some wavering Republicans — ahead of the midterms.

Ryan defeated Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, a moderate Republican who repeatedly said he would not support a nationwide ban, but also stopped short of backing legislation to protect abortion rights at the federal level.

The seat they campaigned for, in the current 19th District, became open when Antonio Delgado, a Democrat, left to become lieutenant governor. Ryan will serve out Delgado’s term while both he and Molinaro run for full terms in neighboring districts under the state’s new congressional maps.

The current district, though, has long been a bellwether of politics beyond its upstate borders. It has voted for the eventual winner in every presidential election since 1996 (it only missed the mark in 1992, its first under the present borders).

Ryan set the terms of the contest early on — within an hour of the Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling with an ad that, after touting his military service, pivoted to a direct-to-camera message: “Freedom includes a women’s right to choose,” Ryan says. “How can we be a free country if the government tries to control women’s bodies?”

Molinaro, who has deep ties to and a long political career in the district, received significant backing from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which put more than $1 million into the race. The DCCC spent less, but Ryan’s campaign said it brought in more than $2 million in grassroots donations — a large chunk of it arriving in the aftermath of the Kansas referendum.

Crist looks to derail DeSantis in the fall

For the second time in eight years, Democratic voters elected Charlie Crist as their nominee for governor, choosing the seasoned veteran over Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who was vying to become the state’s first female governor. Crist now has just 11 weeks to unite his party, energize the Democratic base and convince independent voters that the state needs a new direction.

See full results in Florida here.

The stakes for Democrats are high, and not just in Florida, where DeSantis has already pushed through an aggressively conservative agenda, vowing that a second term will bring new action to further restrict abortion and to make it easier to carry a gun in public. But national Democrats are also now looking for Crist to slow DeSantis’ rise before an anticipated campaign for the White House in 2024.

The task will not be easy. DeSantis has amassed $132 million for the general election, a record sum for a gubernatorial candidate who isn’t self-funded, and he has animated the Republican base more than any other GOP politician not named Donald Trump. His party has surpassed Democrats in registered voters in Florida for the first time. And he can point to a state economy that appears to be booming, with more people moving there than anywhere in the country, record tourism numbers, and an unemployment rate of 2.7%, almost a full point below the national level.

But Democrats have argued that the prosperity has not been shared by all. With some of the country’s fastest rising home prices and rents, Florida has become a paradise that many can no longer afford. A property insurance crisis has threatened coverage for millions of homeowners just as hurricane season reaches its zenith. LGBTQ Floridians say the DeSantis administration has made the state more hostile to them and women say new restrictions on abortion eliminate autonomy over their bodies and force them to see through medically risky pregnancies.

Crist’s argument against another four years of DeSantis is also predicated on Floridians longing for a less divisive tone from its leader. Throughout the primary, Crist and Fried depicted DeSantis as a bully and a despot who is far more focused on positioning himself to run for the White House than he is on governing the country’s third largest state. Time and again, they have noted, DeSantis has forced the state’s other branches to bend to his will, eliminating any checks on his executive power.

Florida’s latest contentious Senate race formally takes shape

The Senate race between Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio and Democrat Rep. Val Demings is on.

Demings won her primary on Tuesday and Rubio was unopposed, setting up a race that Republicans believe they should easily win but one that offers Democrats yet another chance to show they can win statewide in a place that has crept right for years.

The two have been focused on each other for months — their primaries were not competitive — but on Tuesday night, the contours of the race were clear: Rubio plans to brand Demings a “Pelosi Puppet” who is inextricably linked to President Joe Biden, while Demings plans to attack Rubio as ineffective, selfish and wedded to a Republican Party dominated by Trump.

The onus is on Demings to prove she — or any Democrat — can win statewide in a state that has overwhelmingly backed Republicans for years. But Democrats got a morale boost recently: The National Republican Senatorial Committee came in with an ad campaign for Rubio while Demings was widely outspending the Republican.

Like many Democrats, Demings is also hoping the anger in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will propel her to an unlikely victory.

“I dream of an America where we protect constitutional rights like a woman’s right to choose. I’ve said it along this campaign trail, let me say it again. We’re not going back. We’re not,” Demings said on Tuesday night.

Demings has the fundraising advantage — she has consistently outraised Rubio and pulled in $12.2 million in the second quarter of 2022 — but central to her campaign will be her ability to push back against attacks linking her to the “defund the police” movement. Demings, the former Orlando police chief, has already put out her own ad refuting the criticism and has long had her campaigns identify her as “Chief Demings,” not Rep. Demings, in a not-so-subtle response to the attacks.

Nadler emerges in clash of Upper Manhattan Democratic titans

Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney are about the same age, share nearly identical ideological views and both chair powerful committees in the House, where they both arrived in 1993.

But it will be Nadler, bolstered by endorsements from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and The New York Times editorial board, that will return to Capitol Hill next year after he defeated Maloney in one of the most contentious primaries in recent New York history.

It was a race neither wanted and, according to Maloney, Nadler urged her to run in another district after their parallel strongholds on Manhattan’s Upper East and West Sides were drawn together at the conclusion of a long redistricting process.

Maloney tried to tap into Democratic primary voters’ anger over the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and vowed, if reelected, to make the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment her main focus. She also accused Nadler of taking undue credit for his part in major local projects, like the construction of the Second Avenue subway, and — at the bitter end — suggesting on camera that he might be “senile.”

But Nadler, despite a disappointing debate performance, shored up the district’s progressive base. A key piece of validation came from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who cut an ad for Nadler highlighting his support from Planned Parenthood and NARAL, declaring New Yorkers “lucky to have Jerry in Congress.”

Though the full tally is yet to be finalized, it appears Nadler’s margin of victory could exceed Maloney’s lead — if it holds — over a third candidate, Suraj Patel, who argued on the trail that the new district needed a new voice. But the 38-year-old, who unsuccessfully challenged Maloney in the last two cycles in a different district, again fell short.

New York’s 10th District results still up in the air as moderate takes lead

New York City progressives appear to have fumbled away a prime opportunity to send one of their own to Congress next year, as moderate former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman held a narrow lead as of early Wednesday in the new 10th District’s chaotic Democratic primary.

Goldman came into the race with money — his own: he’s an heir to the riches of Levi Strauss & Co. — and broad name recognition from his role as the party’s lead counsel in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment. But he had almost no political roots in the new district, which stretches from Lower Manhattan down into Brooklyn, making it one of the most liberal in the country.

Still, he is on a path to win the nomination with less than 30% of the vote because his top rivals — state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou; City Council Member Carlina Rivera; and US Rep. Mondaire Jones, who moved into the city district rather than run against US Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in an upstate seat — appear to have split the progressive vote.

It’s not that Goldman’s opponents, or local progressive groups, didn’t see it coming. They just failed to do much of anything to stop it. Last Monday, Niou and Jones held a joint news conference to denounce Goldman for trying to buy the seat, but demurred when asked if there had been any talks about a given candidate dropping out and endorsing another. By Friday, it was Rivera standing side-by-side with former US Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who praised Rivera but did not stand down or endorse her.

Both in the race and outside of it, influential progressives and aligned groups who might have been able to broker a consolidation were largely quiet on the question. Asked at his press conference with Niou if he would welcome some outside intervention from figures like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jones all but issued an invitation.

“If the people you just named want to help clarify those stakes for the people in this district, then I personally would welcome them amplifying this information,” Jones said.

Alas for him, none did.

Sean Patrick Maloney holds off progressive challenger

The progressive insurgency that dominated downstate New York politics in 2018 and 2020 was dealt another blow on Tuesday, when state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi lost her bid to unseat US Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the powerful head of the party’s House campaign arm.

Biaggi — who became a hero on the left in 2018, when she ousted the leader of a turncoat pack of state Democrats who collaborated with Republicans in Albany — moved north of the city to take on Maloney, who also shifted districts following a drawn out redistricting process.

But Biaggi couldn’t keep up with Maloney on the fundraising front and, even though he left behind a big chunk of his old electorate to run in the 17th District, benefited from greater familiarity among primary voters.

Outside groups also flexed in support of Maloney. The Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York’s PAC spent nearly $500,000 against Biaggi. A new PAC, called Our Hudson, also chipped in to undermine Biaggi, who was endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez. (Ocasio-Cortez, though, mostly stayed out of the fray, never campaigning for Biaggi in the district.)

Maloney, a former White House and campaign aide to former President Bill Clinton, who endorsed him, also got a boost from his colleagues on Capitol Hill in the form of Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. The passage of the historic climate, health care and tax law calmed the nerves — and, possibly, the appetite to deliver a harsh message — of Democratic primary voters.

Markwayne Mullin to become the favorite in race to fill Inhofe’s Senate seat

Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin will be the GOP nominee for the special election to fill Sen. Jim Inhofe’s Oklahoma Senate seat, CNN projected. As the Republican nominee, Mullin is in a strong position to win the general election this fall in the conservative state. He will face off against former Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn.

Inhofe, a veteran of the Senate, announced in February that he would retire in January 2023, sparking the special election.

Mullin, who represents Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District, defeated former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon in Tuesday’s runoff. Mullin advanced to the runoff after leading the first round with 44% of the vote, and that was before an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

Mullin’s campaign website highlights his support for the former President, saying, “In Congress, he fought the liberals trying to stop President Trump.”

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