Progressive women score big wins in Southern primaries

Progressive women dominated a slate of Democratic primaries Tuesday, winning races in Kentucky and Texas and giving Georgia the first black woman to ever be nominated for governor by a major political party.

The victories underscored some emerging realities of 2018’s primary season: Female candidates — of which Democrats have record numbers in House races — have fared well. Political veterans’ experience, meanwhile, has been a burden. And while Democratic voters have valued candidates’ electability, the party’s base, energized by opportunities to put checks on President Donald Trump, has shown little interest in centrists.

Tuesday’s contests largely resulted in victories by the candidates Democrats had expected to emerge.

In Georgia, former state House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams made history, becoming the first black woman in the nation to clinch a major party’s nomination for governor. She beat former state Rep. Stacey Evans, who was backed by moderates.

In Kentucky, a political newcomer — former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath — defeated one of the best-known figures in Kentucky politics, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, in the 6th District primary to take on Rep. Andy Barr.

The two contests, both featuring well-known and well-funded Democratic candidates, were the most closely watched battles of one of the most important days yet of the 2018 midterm primary calendar.

In Texas, several congressional districts that Democrats view as winnable in November held primary runoffs.

Another female military veteran, former Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones, won a runoff in Texas’ 23rd District and will face Republican Rep. Will Hurd in a vast region that includes much of the Texas-Mexico border. Ortiz Jones defeated Rick Trevino, who was backed by the Sen. Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, in Tuesday’s runoff, CNN projects.

And in Texas’ 31st Congressional District, MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran and author of the memoir “Shoot Like a Girl,” won her runoff to be the Democratic nominee.

In the Houston-area 7th District, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher won her runoff, defeating Laura Moser, the target of one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s most aggressive attacks against one of its own party’s candidates in recent memory, in the race to take on GOP Rep. John Culberson.

In the race for Texas governor, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez won her runoff to become the Democratic nominee. She is the first openly gay and Latina nominee for governor in Texas.

Tuesday’s results come the week after liberal candidate Kara Eastman defeated former Rep. Brad Ashford in a Nebraska primary for Ashford’s old seat, now held by GOP Rep. Don Bacon.

Abrams’ win in Georgia was significant for Democrats not just in 2018 but also for the party’s slate of 2020 presidential prospects.

Her ability to appeal to both progressives and minority voters and Georgia’s status as a Super Tuesday state in the presidential primary and an emerging swing state in general elections means national names are likely to flock to Georgia to campaign for Abrams.

Already, Vermont’s Sanders has endorsed her, and Hillary Clinton recorded a get-out-the-vote robocall on her behalf. Two 2020 presidential prospects — New Jersey’s Sen. Cory Booker and California’s Sen. Kamala Harris — have visited Georgia to campaign for her.

President Donald Trump beat Clinton by 5 percentage points in Georgia in 2016 — a margin that made the state closer than traditional swing states Ohio and Iowa, and underscored that Democrats’ future could be through Sun Belt states like Georgia, Arizona and even Texas.

Georgia Democrats were also watching a 6th District House race to take on Republican Rep. Karen Handel. The contest is headed to a July runoff.