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Upcoming Democratic Primaries a Test of Progressive Power, Midterm Enthusiasm

Two southern states face tight Democratic Senate primaries between candidates on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. While these races may not yield a Democratic Senate, they could offer a key insight into whether progressives are engaged in the upcoming elections or sitting them out.

In North Carolina, a consensus has yet to emerge in the Senate race between Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, former state Senator Cal Cunningham, and lawyer Kenneth Lewis.

Elaine Marshall continues to be the leader in the North Carolina Democratic Senate primary, but with 45% of voters undecided it’s too early to count out Cal Cunningham or Kenneth Lewis with three weeks remaining to election day.

Marshall checks in at 23% this month to 17% for Cunningham and 9% for Lewis. Minor candidates are getting the other 6%.

There’s actually very little difference along ideological lines at this point in the race, with the perception that Marshall and Cunningham represent similar viewpoints. Many progressives in the state have begged to differ, criticizing Cunningham’s record and stands on the issues. Recently, Cunningham appeared to demur at supporting Majority Signup for union elections, though some local union leaders defended him on that.

In Kentucky, the progressive/conservative split in the primary is more clean-cut, and there, the progressive candidate is surging. Jack Conway has made up 15 points on Dan Mongiardo in a month, perhaps off the notoriety state Attorney General Conway has received by defending the health care bill from right-wing lawsuits. There’s even some evidence that the Democrat can take this seat, with a generic ballot showing Democrats competitive. If Rand Paul gets the Republican nod, that prospect may become greater.

In this Red state (at the federal level), Democrats continue to have one of its best pickup opportunities. If the economy picks up a little bit, running against crazy ol’ Rand, we stand a real chance. Give us Conway as the Democratic nominee, and we may actually have reason to get excited about this.

Mongiardo is anti-choice, anti-gay, and has basically denounced much of the Democratic agenda.

In these two states, whether the more progressive candidate can win an internal party battle could be a way to judge enthusiasm from the base. If the base doesn’t really care about November, they won’t turn out in May, either.

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David Dayen

David Dayen