By BILL BARROW, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — It was shaping up as a big night for women Tuesday as four states cast primary and runoff ballots, with Georgia Democrats taking the lead by giving Atlanta lawyer Stacey Abrams a chance to become the first black female governor in American history.
Abrams already set historical marks with a primary victory making her the first black nominee and first female nominee for governor of either majority party in Georgia.
Voters also picked nominees in Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas. A closer look at key story lines:
GEORGIA GOVERNOR’S RACE
Democrats were set to nominate a woman for governor either way, with Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans battling it out in a pitched primary fight.
But the 44-year-old Abrams stood out in her bid to be the nation’s first black female governor. The Atlanta attorney and former state General Assembly leader also has been unabashed in her insistence that the way to dent Republican domination in Georgia isn’t by cautiously pursuing the older white voters who’ve abandoned Democrats over recent decades.
Rather, she believes the path is to widen the electorate by attracting young voters and nonwhites who haven’t been casting ballots.
She’ll test her theory as the underdog against either Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle or Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who will meet in a July runoff. Cagle led a five-man Republican field, with Kemp qualifying for the second spot after a campaign that was a sprint to the right on everything from immigration to support for President Donald Trump.
Kemp promises to keep pulling in that direction, with Cagle trying to balance the demands of a conservative primary electorate with his support from the business establishment. The scenario worries some Georgia Republicans who are accustomed to centrist, business-aligned governors who rarely flout Atlanta-based behemoths like Delta and Coca-Cola.
Some GOP figures worry the GOP gamesmanship on immigration and gay rights, in particular, already has ensured Georgia won’t land Amazon’s second headquarters.
TEXAS CONGRESSIONAL RUNOFFS
Texas had three House runoffs that will be key to whether Democrats can flip the minimum 24 GOP-held seats they’ll need for a majority when a new Congress convenes next year. All three were among 25 nationally where Trump ran behind Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In a San Antonio-Mexican border district, Gina Ortiz Jones, an Air Force veteran and former intelligence officer, got Democrats’ nod to face Republican Will Hurd in November. Jones would the first openly lesbian congresswoman from her state.
Former NFL player Colin Allred won a battle of two attorneys and former Obama administration official in a runoff for the Democratic nomination in a metro-Dallas district. He topped Lillian Salerno and will face Republican Rep. Pete Sessions in November. Both Allred and Salerno made the runoff ahead of national Democrats’ initial preferred candidate. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee later lined up behind Allred.
A metro-Houston matchup between attorney Lizzie Fletcher and activist Laura Moser has become a proxy for the internal party fight between liberals and moderates. National Democrats’ campaign committee never endorsed Fletcher, but released opposition research against Moser amid fears that she’s too liberal to knock off vulnerable Republican Rep. John Culberson in the fall.
Republicans will be watching whether Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a favorite in his own re-election race, can help his former chief of staff join Congress. Chip Roy is in a runoff for a San Antonio-area seat being opened by the retirement of Rep. Lamar Smith. Cruz would love to place another ally among House conservatives.
DEMS BATTLE IN KENTUCKY
Voters in a central Kentucky congressional district opted for retired Marine officer and fighter pilot Amy McGrath over Lexington Mayor Jim Gray to advance to a fall campaign against Republican Rep. Andy Barr.
National Democrats once touted Gray as one of their best recruits in their efforts for a House majority. They said in recent weeks they’d be happy with McGrath, but the race still shaped up as a battle between rank-and-file activists and the party establishment.
McGrath was making her first bid for public office, among a handful of female Naval Academy graduates running for Congress this year.
Gray also lost a 2016 Senate race.
In eastern Kentucky’s Rowan County, voters denied a Democratic nomination to a gay candidate who wanted to challenge the local clerk who denied him and others same-sex marriage licenses.
David Ermold had wanted to challenge Republican Kim Davis, who went to jail three years ago for denying marriage licenses in the aftermath of an historic U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
ARKANSAS’ HEALTH CARE PREVIEW
While Washington fixates on the daily 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 primary field, and Democrats may be looking at a runoff.
Still, Tucker’s real target is Republican Rep. French Hill, who voted many times to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
The Arkansas district may not be at the top of Democrats’ national target list, but it’s the kind of district the party might have to win to be assured of regaining House control in November.
Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP .
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