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What to watch during primary elections in Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma

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vote voting election station
It’s
primary day in three key states on Tuesday.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

  • Voters in Arizona, Florida, and Oklahoma head to the
    polls in the final multistate elections of the 2018 primary
    season.
  • The races following the death of Sen. John McCain are
    at the center of a debate about how far the party has moved to
    the right since his failed 2008 bid for the presidency,
    especially Arizona’s three-way GOP primary.
  • Gun control is a key issue for voters in Florida, as
    they head to the polls two days after a deadly shooting at a
    Jacksonville video game tournament.

Voters in Arizona, Florida, and Oklahoma head to the polls in the
final multistate elections of the 2018 primary season.

They offer another test of President Donald Trump’s imprint on
the Republican Party.

But the races, especially in Arizona, will take on special
meaning following the death of Sen. John McCain, which has
spurred a debate about how far the party has moved to the right
since his failed 2008 bid for the presidency.

What to watch:

Trump, McCain, and a tossup Senate seat

Perhaps no other race in the country demonstrates the competing
strains on the modern Republican Party than the three-way GOP
primary for the Senate seat now held by the retiring Jeff Flake,
who joined McCain as one of Trump’s most outspoken GOP critics.


Joe Arpaio
Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
AP
Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File


Republican Rep. Martha McSally is the Washington establishment’s
favorite, with a resume that includes time as an Air Force
colonel. She’s played up her allegiance to Trump but faces two
outspoken conservative opponents: Former state Sen.

Kelli Ward, who lost to McCain in a 2016 primary, and former
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the 86-year-old immigration hawk once
convicted of criminal contempt of court but pardoned by Trump.

The results could be mixed. Arizona rules give the nomination to
whoever gets the most votes.

That means McSally could come out on top even if a majority of
Republicans split their vote between the more right-leaning Ward
and Arpaio. Such a scenario could leave McSally in a weak
position heading into a general election campaign against the
likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

In a year where Senate Democrats are playing defense, the Arizona
seat offers a rare pickup opportunity that could help them
maintain the status quo of a narrowly divided Senate or even tip
them into the majority.


John McCain
Sen.
John McCain died at age 81 on Saturday.

REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

Tuesday’s results could also help Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey decide
they type of person he wants to pick to fill McCain’s seat
through 2020.

If a majority of voters chooses one of the most conservative
candidates, that could encourage him to choose a candidate who is
more of a hard-liner on the issues Trump cares about most deeply,
especially immigration.

A strong vote for McSally could discourage the governor from
picking someone whose profile is dramatically different than
McCain’s.

Trump has intervened in multiple GOP primaries this year but has
so far stayed out of the Arizona Senate race.

Double feature in Florida

Primaries for governor on both sides of the aisle may remind
voters why Florida is still the nation’s ultimate political
battleground.

Trump has weighed in for Rep. Ron DeSantis in the Republican
primary, complete with a campaign rally and the requisite
tweeting. But Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the favorite
of the in-state GOP establishment, has done his best Trump
impression, with broadsides against “fake news” and dubbing
himself an “NRA sellout.”

The problem for Putnam may be that in 2016, he was among the many
Republican establishment figures who expressed reservations about
Trump publicly.

So if DeSantis wins, it’ll be another sign of Trump’s stamp on
the GOP. If Putnam manages to win, he’ll head into the general
election with his handling of Trump leaving him exposed to
critics on his left and right.

Democrats, meanwhile, have their own choice of philosophies and
personalities.

Pragmatic centrists are hoping for Gwen Graham, the former
congresswoman and daughter of Florida political icon Bob Graham,
who served as governor and senator. (Among her endorsers:
musician Jimmy Buffet.) Liberal progressives have their champions
in Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (endorsed by Sen. Bernie
Sanders).

But the airwaves have been dominated by two tremendously wealthy
candidates, former Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine and real estate
investor Jeff Greene.

With no runoff required, the winner will immediately have to
shore up support within the party.

The primary also is expected to cement a heavyweight Senate
matchup in November pitting Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson
against two-term Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Gun control a key issue for Florida voters

Gun control is bound to be a key issue in the Florida vote, which
comes two days after a shooting at a video game
tournament
in Jacksonville that left two dead and 11 injured.

The deadly shooting is the latest pile-on to gun control
discussion in Florida that was sparked after 17 were left dead in a
shooting six months ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
in Parkland.


parkland activists
David
Hogg, a student and school shooting survivor from Parkland,
Florida, speaks at the “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington
on March 24, 2018.


Jonathan
Ernst/Reuters



Since the massacre, Parkland students have been active on the
national stage advocating for stricter gun laws and pushing for
more engagement from younger voters.

The parents of two of the students killed in the massacre are
running for two Broward County
school board seats, on platforms that push improved school
safety, which they say was not a priority before the shooting.

Numbers watch

Beyond checking the winners, primaries in Arizona and Florida
will offer political observers plenty of data to plow through.

Of note, which party draws more overall voters to the polls in
Florida and just how are those votes distributed? Will it be
south Florida Democrats or panhandle Republicans who turn out in
numbers closer to presidential year voting?

Which side will cast more ballots in the state’s battleground
region along Interstate 4, particularly in the Tampa-St.
Petersburg area, home to two of the most populous presidential
swing counties in the country?

In Arizona, the Senate race is likely to turn in November on
whether Democrats can maximize their base while peeling off
enough Republicans. That means a close watch on how the Senate
primary shakes out in the Phoenix suburbs.

Oklahoma Governor: Will Republicans throw a curve ball? 


Mary Fallin
Mary Fallin.
Carlo
Allegri/Reuters


Republicans in Oklahoma are trying to hold onto the state’s top
office despite term-limited Mary Fallin having some of the worst
job approval numbers of any governor in the nation.

Democrats are hoping the GOP electorate’s rightward march and
embrace of outsiders result in a runoff win for Tulsa mortgage
company owner Kevin Stitt over former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick
Cornett. Stitt is using his personal fortune to attack Cornett
for not being sufficiently loyal to Trump and his administration.

Democrats already have nominated Drew Edmondson, a former state
attorney general, and national Democrats believe he has the
profile to wage a competitive race against Stitt.

A Cornett victory Tuesday would be a big win for business-minded
Republicans who believe a more moderate message can still prevail
— and likely squelch Democratic hopes for November.

___

Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Sean
Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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