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Al Franken's Senate seat up for grabs in wake of #MeToo, and what else to watch in politics this week

Democratic wave is "toss up" in midterms
  • After Al Franken's Senate seat was vacated amid #MeToo allegations, how will Minneapolis women vote?
  • Two former GOP presidential candidates seek their third terms as governor
  • Non-white turnout in Milwaukee
  • Vermont's Democratic gubernatorial ballot features a transgender woman hoping to make history & a 14-year-old hoping to change minds
  • GOP corruption charges send party leaders scrambling

A Senate seat in the wake of #MeToo 

In January 2018, former Democratic Senator Al Franken resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations. On Tuesday, Minnesotans will choose who will compete in a fall special election to complete the remainder of Franken's Senate term through 2020. Depending on Tuesday's results, this could shape up to be a race between two female candidates -- incumbent Democratic Senator Tina Smith, who Gov. Mark Dayton appointed to fill Franken's seat after he resigned, and Republican State Senator Karin Housley.

A CBS News analysis finds that out of the approximately 400 U.S. House, Senate, and gubernatorial primaries so far this cycle, 161 female Democratic candidates have advanced to the general election, compared to 50 Republican women candidates.

In Minnesota's very competitive 2nd District in the suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul, incumbent Republican Rep. Jason Lewis is facing a slew of controversy over comments he made on a radio show he hosted prior to serving in Congress, including complaining that women could no longer be called "sluts" and equating gay marriage to rape. Lewis also wrote a book in which he calls for any state to be able to "peaceably leave the union," and equated slavery with taxing rich people. Lewis won the district in 2016 with 47 percent, beating Democrat Angie Craig by less than two percent. They will face off again in the fall. Some, but not all, of his controversial comments were public during the last race and Democrats attempted to use them against him at the time.

The group to watch this election is educated suburban women -- will they turn out to vote and how their votes swing this fall? And the place to keep a close eye on is Minneapolis, where #MeToo looms over the political landscape. 

Two former GOP presidential hopefuls seek third term as governor

Two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty launched an unsuccessful presidential bid during the 2012 cycle, running as a self-professed commonsense "Sam's Club Republican." He later endorsed Gov. Mitt Romney, was on the top of his vice presidential shortlist, and was a frequent surrogate on the campaign trail. Although Pawlenty was in the private sector during the 2016 cycle, he was a vocal critic of then-candidate Trump. 

Following the release of the now-infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, Pawlenty rescinded his endorsement and called Donald Trump "unsound, uninformed, unhinged and unfit to be president of the United States." 

Yet after launching his campaign to win a third term as Minnesota's governor earlier this year, Pawlenty said he did indeed vote for Donald Trump in 2016. And despite his past criticism of Mr. Trump, now Pawlenty and his primary challenger, former member of the Minnesota House Jeff Johnson, are trying to out-Trump each other. Both Pawlenty and Johnson said they would welcome an endorsement from Mr. Trump and the race has been described as a test of who can be more conservative and embrace Trump's policies the most.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, former 2016 presidential candidate and Trump opponent Republican Gov. Scott Walker is seeking reelection to a third term in a state that Trump won by 1 point in 2016. Walker, like many others in the GOP, is walking the fine line between embracing the president and his policies and trying to hold onto more moderate voters. 

Walker asked Mr. Trump to revisit his steel and aluminum tariffs that would adversely affect Wisconsin companies like Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson, which announced in June it would outsource some production overseas to avert those tariffs. 

In addition, the Trump administration recently approved Walker's plan to lower Obamacare premiums in Wisconsin, even though the president has yet to endorse Walker's gubernatorial bid. A recent NBC News/Marist College poll from July shows Wisconsin schools Superintendent Tony Evers, the Democratic frontrunner, leading Walker by 13 points in a head-to-head match-up. But Walker is the only governor to survive a recall election, and he also enjoys the support of the Koch brothers, who recently expressed dismay with Mr.  Trump. This race is sure to be competitive as Walker tries to appeal to two different bases - Trump supporters and moderates.

Non-white turnout in Milwaukee 

In Wisconsin, incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin is running for re-election. She will run in the general election against state Senator Leah Vukmir or veteran and first-time candidate Kevin Nicholson. Baldwin is one of 10 Democratic U.S. senators trying to defend their seats in states that Trump won in 2016. Hillary Clinton expected to win the state, but according to the New York Times' count, "Mr. Trump won the state by just 27,000 voters." The Times went on to point out that turnout in the lowest-income neighborhoods had dropped dramatically -- 19.5 percent from 2012.

A Sunday CBS News poll found that 82 percent of blacks disapprove of Mr. Trump's handling of race relations and racial issues, and 73 percent of Hispanics disapprove.  As Democrats strive for a Blue Wave, they are vying not only to bring Obama-Trump voters back to the fold but also to mobilize non-white voters who stayed home in 2016. Turnout in Milwaukee this fall could be a good indicator of their progress.

Vermont gubernatorial race features transgender woman and a 14-year-old candidate

If Democratic gubernatorial first-time candidate Christine Hallquist wins the Vermont primary on Tuesday, she will be one step closer towards becoming the nation's first transgender governor. As the Washington Post points out, "The country is seeing an increase in potentially historic candidacies across many demographics, including the LGBTQ community." 

In Hawaii's primary election this past Saturday night, Kim Coco Iwamoto, another transgender candidate, lost the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of Hawaii. But Alexandra Chandler, Massachusetts' first openly transgender candidate for Congress, is vying for the Democratic nomination in the crowded primary election for Massachusetts' third district on September 4. According to the Boston Globe, "Chandler says she intends to put another voice to the ballot measure that asks voters whether to keep the state's anti-discrimination law on transgender rights on the books."

Vermont's gubernatorial primary also features 14-year-old candidate Ethan Sonneborn. Vermont has no age requirement for gubernatorial candidates. Although he is taking the campaign seriously and hopes to win, Sonneborn told the Washington Post that he hopes his campaign inspires his peers: "It's on us to build our own future," he said. "You've got to get involved, you've got to vote, you've got to knock on doors. It's how we're going to make the changes we want to see in the state, in this country, in this world. When we get involved, we make our democracy stronger."

Corruption charges against Chris Collins have GOP party leaders scrambling 

On Saturday, Rep. Chris Collins, indicted for insider trading, announced that he would suspend his re-election campaign in his reliably Republican 27th District in western New York. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued this statement Saturday calling Collins' announcement "insufficient:" "Speaker Ryan must call on Congressman Collins to resign.  No person is above the law, not the President nor his first supporter in Congress. This insufficient and overdue announcement does little to drain the toxic cesspool of self-enrichment, special interest deals and corruption that has proliferated in Washington under GOP control."

National Republicans are worried that if his name stays on the ballot they could lose this heretofore safe Republican seat, so they are looking into options to get his name off the ballot. But the process to get off the ballot in New York this late is burdensome, and the Republican party will have to appoint or elect him to another office in the state. They are trying to move him to a town clerkship race, and that would allow GOP county officials to handpick a new candidate for the race since the federal primary passed.

What to know about Tuesday's primaries

There are four primaries on Tuesday, August 14: Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

House primaries

The Democrats need to flip 23 Republican-held districts to take control of the House of Representatives this fall, and CBS News rates 4 of the House districts facing primary elections on Tuesday as "very likely" or "probably" competitive in November (MN-1, MN-2, MN-3, and MN-8).

Senate primaries

On Tuesday, Minnesota has two Senate primary elections, and Connecticut, Vermont, and Wisconsin each have one Senate primary election.

In Minnesota, both Senate seats are currently held by Democrats, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Tina Smith. Klobuchar is expected to win re-election. Jim Newberger has emerged as the top Republican contender to challenge Klobuchar this fall. Smith was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to fill Al Franken's seat after he resigned. She is running in a special election in November to fill the remainder of Franken's term, which was set to end in 2020. Five Democrats are challenging Smith in the primary: Ali Chehem Ali, Gregg Iverson, Nick Leonard, Richard Painter, and Christopher Seymore. On the Republican side, State Senator Karin Housley is the frontrunner in the primary and won the party's endorsement to compete in the special election to fill Franken's vacated seat.

In Wisconsin, incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin is running for re-election. She will run in the general election against state Senator Leah Vukmir or veteran and first time candidate Kevin Nicholson. Baldwin is one of 10 Democratic U.S. Senators trying to defend their seats in states that Trump won in 2016In Connecticut and Vermont, incumbent Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and incumbent Independent Senator Bernie Sanders are expected to easily win re-election in the fall.

Gubernatorial primaries

There are gubernatorial primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin on Tuesday.

In Connecticut, Democratic incumbent Governor Dannel Malloy is not seeking re-election. The Democratic primary race is between Ned Lamont and Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim. Ganim served a seven-year prison sentence for corruption charges but voters still elected him mayor. Ganim also ran for governor in 1994, but he dropped out of the race. Similar to Ganim, Lamont ran for governor in 2010, but lost to Malloy. He also defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the primary, but lost to Lieberman in the general election when Lieberman ran as an independent. Lamont was also a businessman as he started his own company in the telecommunications industry. Lamont said that if Ganim won the primary, he would not support him. Ganim portrayed Lamont as an established millionaire candidate. The Republican primary race includes Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Tim Herbst, veteran Steve Obsitnik, former DFC Global executive Bob Stefanowski, and hedge fund founder David Stemerman. Boughton ran for governor in 2010 and 2014, but lost each time. The two favorites in the race are Lamont and Boughton as they each won their party's nomination.

In Minnesota, State Representative Erin Murphy, Rep. Tim Walz, and state Attorney General Lori Swanson are vying for the Democratic nomination. Murphy has been endorsed by the Minnesota DFL, EMILY's List, National Nurses United, Our Revolution Minnesota, and the Sierra Club, among others. 

Walz, who currently represents Minnesota's first district, is vacating his seat to run for governor. He defeated his Republican challenger by less than 1 percent in 2016. He was first elected in 2006, when he defeated a six term Republican incumbent to win the seat. Mr. Trump won his district in 2016 with 53.3 percent to Clinton's 38.4 percent, but in 2012 and 2008 the district went to Obama, who won with 49.6 percent to Romney's 48.2 percent, and 50.8 percent to McCain's 46.7 percent. 

On the Republican side, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Jeff Johnson are competing to progress to the general election. Johnson is a former member of the Minnesota House and Hennepin County Commissioner. He has previously run for governor and attorney general.

In Vermont, Republican incumbent Phil Scott is running for re-election. Scott's competitor is Keith Stern, a Springfield businessman. There are four Democratic candidates running in the primary. They include: James Ehlers, Christine Hallquist, Brenda Siegel and Ethan Sonneborn. Ehlers, the executive director of Lake Champlain International, was a former advisor to Sen. Sanders. If Hallquist, a former executive at a utility company, wins the primary, she will be a step closer towards becoming the nation's first transgender governor. Siegel is the Executive Director of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival and has been involved in her local Democratic committees. The Washington Post wrote a profile about 14-year-old candidate Sonneborn.

In Wisconsin, incumbent Governor Scott Walker is running for a third term. He is the only governor to survive a recall election. The Democratic field is crowded with eight contenders vying for the Democratic nomination. In a recent debate in mid-July, eight Democratic candidates mostly agreed on policy issues and all but one vowed to support the Democratic nominee. The eight Democratic candidates who participated in the debate were: activist Mike McCabe, attorney Matt Flynn, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, former state Rep. Kelda Roys, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, fire fighter Mahlon Mitchell, State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and attorney Josh Pade. 

Based on the polling, Evers seems to be the favorite among the Democratic candidates. He has been touting his ability to win a statewide election, which he has done three times. Mitchell, Vinehout and Roys could make history if elected governor. Mitchell would be the first black governor of Wisconsin, while either Vinehout or Roys would be the first female governor of Wisconsin. Roys received national attention for a campaign video that showed her breastfeeding and she has also received support from EMILY's List.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that 162 female Democratic candidates have advanced to the general election, compared to 43 Republican women candidates. The correct numbers are 161 female Democratic candidates and 50 Republican women candidates. 

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