May 22, 2018, 5:48 AM ET

The Note: Democratic primaries the first test of electability in the South

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The TAKE with Rick Klein

Forget Hillary vs. Bernie, or the left-vs.-center splits that have defined their fights for a generation.

For Democrats, raging primary battles are less about ideology than they are electability – and what kind of candidates can motivate voters in the age of President Donald Trump.

With four red states voting on Tuesday, Democrats’ main problem at the moment isn’t in finding viable contenders so much as it is what to do with too many of them.

In Georgia, two 40-something women named Stacey are fighting for the Democratic nomination for governor. Stacey Evans, who is white, is running based on her appeal to moderates and Republicans; Stacey Abrams, who is black, is an unapologetic liberal hoping to boost progressive and minority turnout.

In Kentucky, a former fighter pilot, Amy McGrath, faces off with Lexington’s openly gay second-term mayor, Jim Gray, in what Democrats view as a chance to reclaim a House seat in a solidly Republican state.

In Texas, two young progressive women are competing for the chance to take a Houston-area district that Hillary Clinton carried two years ago. National Democrats failed to keep one of the women out of this round of voting by pronouncing her “truly disqualified” in a general election.

Of course, qualifications are for voters to decide. Inside some compelling candidate backstories are complicated calculations about the Democratic Party’s path back to power.

PHOTO: Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew White, left, and Lupe Valdez, right, shake hands following their debate, May 11, 2018, in Austin, Texas.Eric Gay/AP
Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew White, left, and Lupe Valdez, right, shake hands following their debate, May 11, 2018, in Austin, Texas.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is relatively popular, and probably not near the top of many Democrats’ list of most vulnerable state executives.

But in a state that has been marred by abysmally low voter turnout in non-presidential-year elections, a blue wave could make all the difference.

Abbott won with 59 percent of the vote four years ago, but it was 59 percent of only 33 percent of registered voters who came out. President Trump won 52 percent of the vote in the Lone Star State.

Experts say Texas’s low turnout has been partially due to a perception that few races were actually competitive. This year though, for the first time in 25 years, a Democrat is running in each of the state’s 36 congressional districts. More than a dozen Democratic congressional primaries were so jammed packed they went to the run-offs today.

Plus, a Democrat challenging Republican Senator Ted Cruz is surging. All this looks like signs of energy, but enough to switch control of the governor’s mansion too?

The choices in today’s Democratic gubernatorial primary runoff: Businessman Andrew White, who is largely seen as moderate (though tough and bold on guns) or former sheriff Lupe Valdez, a gay Latina with a lot of excitement behind her. Valdez has faced serious questions about her handle of the issues. White won the major newspaper endorsements with glowing reviews.

Either way, party voters will decide who is best to take advantage of this political climate and take on Abbott in the fall.

PHOTO: Law enforcement officers are responding to Santa Fe High School following a shooting incident in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018.HCSO via Reuters
Law enforcement officers are responding to Santa Fe High School following a shooting incident in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018.

The TIP with Rachel Scott

One thing to watch in Texas today is how much the recent shooting at Santa Fe High School will drive voters to the polls.

About 40 miles away in Houston, the top two Democrats who advanced from the March primary – former journalist Laura Moser and lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher – are facing off in the TX-07 runoff election.

Both said they will work to prevent gun violence but political analysts say with early voting, it’s too late for some outraged voters to change their minds about which candidate they believe would get the job done.

“More than half of the votes in the runoff have already been cast,” Rice political science professor Mark Jones pointed out.

Texas’s 7th Congressional District is one of three Hillary Clinton marginally won in the 2016 election which has led it to be a top target amongst the Democratic Party. Democrats are hoping to flip Rep. John Culberson’s House seat, which the GOP has held for 50 years.

While early voter turnout was high leading up to the primary, political analysts are expecting only six percent of registered voters to participate in the runoff.

“Most voters are doing two things: they are not voting and those who are voting, are voting early by mail… Average age of a primary voter in the general election is over 60 so when you get to the runoff you’re getting higher ages,” Rice University professor Robert Stein said.

“If any of the progressive gun control activists in the Democratic Party start turning out, Moser might see a last-minute surge there,” Stein said.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Trump welcomes the President of the Republic of Korea at 12 p.m.
  • The president delivers remarks at the Susan B. Anthony List 11th Annual Campaign for Life Gala at 7:30 p.m.
  • Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas hold their 2018 primaries. Polls in Arkansas open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 8:30 p.m. EDT; Georgia polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. EDT; Kentucky polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. EDT; and Texas polls open at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. EDT.
  • You can read coverage of the primary action on ABCNews.com or on the ABC News app available on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, Apple TV App Store, and Roku Channel Store. Don’t forget to sign up for Midterm Elections Alerts to get more coverage of this year’s election season from our powerhouse politics team.
  • Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee at 10 a.m.
  • QUOTE OF THE DAY

    "That he would issue such an absurd and abusive demand based on no evidence shows just how little regard the president has for the rule of law." -- Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer during remarks on the Senate floor on Monday slamming President Trump’s tweets demanding that the Department of Justice investigate its own conduct with Trump campaign officials.

    NEED TO READ

    Southern primaries bring Democratic battles to the forefront. When voters in Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia and Texas head to the polls Tuesday, some of the more contentious battles Democrats have been fighting this year will finally be settled. The results will provide insights into a key debate within the Democratic Party as the midterms draw near: should the focus be on inspiring the base or winning over independents? (John Verhovek and Rachel Scott) https://abcn.ws/2IFrTZp

    In Georgia's governor's race, a test of limits for both parties. Stacey Abrams reached out to Senator Bernie Sanders about an endorsement from the progressive Vermont independent in the high-profile, high-stakes Georgia gubernatorial race, aides to the senator told ABC. (MaryAlice Parks and Cheyenne Haslett) https://abcn.ws/2KKVzVJ

    Lawmakers urge Trump administration to clarify strategy on China after trade war pause. With Trump administration members sending mixed messages on the status of trade negotiations with China, lawmakers are urging the White House to clarify its position and to keep the pressure on the Chinese to stop them from stealing intellectual property. (Ali Rogin) https://abcn.ws/2LjP39t

    White House says Rosenstein agrees to Trump 'demand' DOJ investigate whether campaign 'infiltrated'. President Donald Trump met Monday at the White House with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray a day after he tweeted that he would "demand" the Justice Department investigate whether his 2016 presidential campaign was improperly "infiltrated or surveilled" for political purposes by an alleged FBI informant contacting Trump campaign associates. (Jordyn Phelps, Jonathan Karl and Katherine Faulders) https://abcn.ws/2wZnizX

    Key takeaways from John McCain's new book 'The Restless Wave.' Sen. John McCain is nothing if not outspoken. And the Arizona Republican is true to his reputation in his new book, in which he provides insights into his historic 2008 presidential race against Barack Obama, his thoughts on Donald Trump's presidency, and his hopes for a return to "regular order" in American politics. (Mariam Khan) https://abcn.ws/2rY7qrA

    RNC paid half a million to law firm representing Hope Hicks in Russia probe. The Republican National Committee has paid nearly half a million dollars to a law firm representing former White House communications director Hope Hicks in the ongoing Russia investigation, Federal Election Commission records show. (Katherine Faulders and Matthew Mosk) https://abcn.ws/2s5NMtY

    Supreme Court rules employers can block class action lawsuits in win for businesses. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that businesses can force employees to resolve disputes outside the court system, blocking potential class-action lawsuits in a victory for business interests. (Stephanie Ebbs) https://abcn.ws/2wZPB1f

    Pompeo outlines new demands for Iran after US pulled out of the nuclear deal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, in his first major foreign policy address, outlined 12 demands the U.S. has for Iran moving forward after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S out of the Iran nuclear deal. (Sarah Kolinovsky) https://abcn.ws/2KJhr3w

    President Trump visits CIA for Gina Haspel swearing-in ceremony. President Donald Trump made a rare visit to CIA headquarters on Monday to deliver remarks at incoming director Gina Haspel's swearing-in ceremony and expressed his optimism for the agency's future under her leadership. (Alexander Mallin) https://abcn.ws/2s0rGcX

    CIA Director Gina Haspel expresses a special thank you to two young girls. “The notes from these two young ladies ages 6 and 7 sent to me sat on my desk these last two months and motivated me daily,” Haspel said showing her gratitude towards two girls attending her swearing-in ceremony. “In their own words and pictures, they expressed their excitement about the opportunity my nomination represented." (Nataly Pak) https://abcn.ws/2GHdt9c

    Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama sign multiyear deal with Netflix. According to a tweet from Netflix, the Obamas will produce films and series for Netflix, which could include scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features. (Lesley Messer) https://abcn.ws/2x0x1pr

    Business Insider looks at the coin released by the White House to commemorate the impending Trump-Kim Jong Un summit. https://read.bi/2KJXWrI

    The National Journal reports on a bill against weapons sales to Turkey introduced by a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers. https://bit.ly/2IB9soz

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.

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    • disqus_fn5s2QCDp8

      My parents (both white) had to walk between lines of people on the way to "where the Democrats voted" in a separate building from Republicans. That was in the 80's. If voter turnout is low in Texas, it is not because we are safe in our democracy and have become complacent, it is because armed hostile people are scary and ladies don't like getting spat on.

    • whitepine

      Republican Party seems to be a party of traitors and crooks.