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Latest Primaries: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Connecticut And Vermont

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today four states are holding primary elections ahead of November's midterms. And there are some closely watched races in Connecticut, in Vermont and in Wisconsin. And in Minnesota, voters have a whole lot to decide. They are voting this year for governor, for both Senate seats and for a number of competitive races down the ballot. But a political scandal there could overshadow some of that. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is in our studios this morning. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hey, there.

GREENE: All right. So why is Minnesota so interesting?

SNELL: Well, you've got a strange situation where both senators are up for re-election at the same time.

GREENE: Yeah, that's weird.

SNELL: (Laughter) Yeah, it is strange. Both of them are women. Both of them are Democrats. And they are both likely to win these primaries. We're talking about Tina Smith, who was appointed to fill the seat that was vacated by Al Franken after...

GREENE: Oh, that's why the timing is...

SNELL: Yes.

GREENE: The two seats are together here.

SNELL: Yeah. Al Franken left in the middle of his term, and so Tina Smith is running to keep the rest of her term, the remaining two years. And then you have Amy Klobuchar, who is kind of rumored to be one of those potential Democrats in the 2020 mix. She is quite popular in this state, and she's likely very safe there.

But we're also looking at a full half of the state's congressional races being in toss-up. So that's really rare. So you've got two Democrat toss-ups and two Republican toss-ups in that area. The Democrats are fighting to keep their seats, which is also kind of rare in this year, when it's been mostly Republicans in the House trying to save their seats. It's a very strange mix in Minnesota in part just because it's a very purple state with a really strong mix of Republicans, Democrats, rural and cities.

GREENE: And we just say, if Democrats want a chance of taking the House, I mean, they have to protect their own seats and then get some Republicans seats, too.

SNELL: Absolutely. But you do have some of these majority-maker seats happening in Minnesota. Take Erik Paulsen, who is in the suburbs up there - Minneapolis. He's pretty vulnerable, and Democrats hope to pick that up in November.

GREENE: Other news in Minnesota - you have outgoing Congressman Keith Ellison, who seems to be facing potential scandal here. What's the latest?

SNELL: Yeah. He's a prominent progressive in the House who decided not to run for his seat again to run for attorney general instead in the state of Minnesota. But over the weekend, the son of a former girlfriend accused him of physical abuse, and the former girlfriend then followed up on those accusations. Ellison is denying them, but it's casting a shadow over the primaries as there's more investigation into what happened here.

GREENE: OK. Travel with me nearby from Minnesota to Wisconsin, where there's also voting today.

SNELL: (Laughter) Yes, neighbors up in that upper Midwest. We've got - in Wisconsin, you have both Paul Ryan, the House speaker - he's leaving. His seat is up now, and it is an open seat. And it is a seriously contested seat. There are five Republicans running there. (Laughter) Yeah. And Democrats hope to pick it up, but it's more than likely going to go to the Republican. You also have Scott Walker, who is running for governor there. He has a primary challenge, but it's expected that he will go up against a Democrat in November. And it's supposed to bring a lot of energy out to Wisconsin to have both of those really prominent seats in play.

GREENE: OK. The Kelsey Snell Electoral Map now travels to the Northeast and Vermont and Connecticut.

SNELL: (Laughter) Hopping on a plane.

GREENE: That's right.

SNELL: Yeah. Over in Connecticut, you have a potentially pair of historic candidates that are running out there in the upper Northeast. In Vermont, you have Christine Hallquist, who's running to be the first transgender governor in Vermont. You also, over in Connecticut, have Jahana Hayes - is running to be the first African-American woman to represent that state. Now, she lost her state's primary endorsement, but she's been endorsed by some really big, prominent 2020 Democrats. Again, we're talking about Kamala Harris of California and Chris Murphy of Connecticut who have come to her aid and to kind of push her forward as a strong candidate there.

GREENE: I can feel the energy of an election year growing and growing.

SNELL: (Laughter) We're getting close.

GREENE: Yeah. That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.