May 22, 2018 / 6:09 PM / 3 months ago

Gender, guns, partisan infighting define state nominating contests

(Reuters) - Voters in several states are casting ballots on Tuesday for candidates who could make U.S. political history.

The contest for an open governor’s seat in Georgia could set up a Democratic bid to elect the first African-American female governor in the United States.

In Texas and Kentucky, voters will decide how many women advance to the November midterm elections for the House of Representatives, where Democrats need to wrest 23 seats from Republicans to gain control. Arkansas is also holding elections.

The following are some key races to watch:

GEORGIA

In Republican-dominated Georgia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is testing divergent strategies within her party.

Abrams seeks to mobilise black voters - a strongly Democratic demographic group that often skips off-year elections - as well as white progressives to become the country’s first black female governor.

Democratic primary competitor Stacey Evans, who is white, thinks Democrats cannot win back the governor’s mansion in the Southern state without also persuading white moderate voters who can swing between parties.

Abrams has been leading in local media polls, and the historic nature of her bid should be a primary advantage, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

“There is going to be an awfully strong pull among African-American women, who are going to be the plurality in that electorate, to vote for Stacey Abrams,” he said.

In the crowded Republican primary, gun rights has emerged as a key issue.

Lieutenant Governor L.S. “Casey” Cagle, the frontrunner in a five-way race, won the National Rifle Association’s endorsement. One of his opponents, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, underscored his own support for gun rights in an ad where he points a shotgun at a teenager courting his daughter.

TEXAS

Several candidates competing in districts which Democrats aim to flip to reclaim the U.S. Congress will emerge from runoff contests that showcase the record numbers of women running this year.

The races also have been emblematic of a “Democratic civil war that is taking place across the country,” between the party establishment and progressive activists, according to Rice University political science professor Mark Jones.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee earlier this year dumped opposition research on Laura Moser, a progressive favourite running in Houston’s affluent suburbs. Yet she proceeded to a runoff against lawyer Lizzie Fletcher, backed by establishment groups, to challenge Republican U.S. Representative John Culberson.

In southwest Texas, Iraq war veteran Gina Ortiz Jones has establishment support against teacher Rick Trevino to try to unseat Republican Congressman Will Hurd.

KENTUCKY

In a U.S. House seat that Democrats hope to put into play, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is opposing a former Marine fighter pilot, Amy McGrath, for the party’s nomination.

The winner will face U.S. Representative Andy Barr, the Republican incumbent, in November.

Reporting by Letitia Stein in Detroit; editing by Colleen Jenkins and G Crosse

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