FILE - In this Saturday, June 2, 2018, file photo, minutes after receiving the Republican Party endorsement for governor, Jeff Johnson pauses behind the stage, in Duluth, Minn. Johnson has been supportive of President Donald Trump. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP, File)

What to Watch: Minn.,Wis. primaries test allegiance to Trump

August 14, 2018 - 12:31 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans who once criticized President Donald Trump are now fighting each other for his support. Minnesota faces a #metoo moment. And Democrats weigh whether to send the "Iron Stache" to Congress.

What to watch as voters in four states — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont and Connecticut — head to the polls Tuesday:

WHO LOVES TRUMP THE MOST?

In both Minnesota and Wisconsin, GOP candidates are battling to cast themselves as the strongest Trump supporter.

GOP primaries in those states will test — yet again — the president's pull within his own party. Both states are upper-Midwestern battlegrounds that Republicans believe will be key to Trump's re-election chances.

In the Minnesota governor's race, the two Republican candidates — former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson — have spent much of their time on the campaign trail fighting over who previously insulted the president the least.

Both men criticized Trump during the 2016 campaign, with Johnson calling the president a "jackass" and Pawlenty pulling his support after the "Access Hollywood tape" of Trump bragging he could grope women because he was famous. He said then that Trump was "unhinged and unfit for office." Now, they both say they voted for Trump in the end and would welcome the president's support. Trump has not endorsed either candidate, which is notable in a primary season in which the president hasn't been shy about making his preferred candidate known.

In Wisconsin's Republican Senate race, the state party is backing state Sen. Leah Vukmir, an ally of Gov. Scott Walker. But her critique of Trump as "offensive to everyone" during the 2016 primaries has provided an opening for Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson, a former Democrat who spoke on behalf of Vice President Al Gore at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

Their GOP primary race is rated a toss-up. The candidates are running for the chance to challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

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#METOO MINNESOTA

Rep. Keith Ellison is fending off allegations of domestic violence, with former girlfriend Karen Monahan accusing the Democratic congressman and candidate for Minnesota attorney general of emotional and physical abuse.

Monahan's son claimed to have seen a video of Ellison dragging his mother off a bed by her feet as he screamed profanities at her. Ellison has denied the allegation. Monahan has so far declined to provide any video or copies of text messages to The Associated Press.

Still, the development complicates the crowded race for Minnesota attorney general. Ellison, one of the most liberal members of the House and the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, faces four opponents in the race.

The allegations come in a state that's already been roiled by the #metoo movement: In January, Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. On Tuesday, Minnesotans will choose who will compete in a special election to finish out Franken's term, which ends in 2020. The race could end up being between two women, incumbent Democratic Sen. Tina Smith and Republican state Sen. Karin Housley.

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RACE TO REPLACE RYAN

Tuesday's Wisconsin contests will determine who gets to compete for House Speaker Paul Ryan's open seat. Ryan announced his retirement in April.

On the Democratic side, the primary race between iron worker Randy Bryce — known as the "Iron Stache" for his bushy mustache — and Janesville School Board Member Cathy Myers has grown increasingly nasty. National Democrats rallied to Bryce after his campaign ad went viral. He's been endorsed by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Myers, who says she's tired of being asked to "take a back seat to less-qualified men," is backed by a number of local groups.

Bryce's history of nine arrests, including for drunken driving, and being delinquent on child support to his ex-wife, could complicate his path to the seat. Myers also filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against him, claiming he used campaign dollars for personal expenses.

In the Republican primary, Ryan has backed his former staffer Bryan Steil, a corporate lawyer and University of Wisconsin regent who's seen as the front-runner against four lesser-known challengers. The general election race is considered a toss-up.

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RAINBOW WAVE

In Vermont, Democratic candidate Christine Hallquist is vying to move one step closer to becoming the country's first transgender governor.

The former chief executive of Vermont Electric Cooperative is part of a "rainbow wave" that's swept the midterm elections, as a record number of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender candidates run for office this year.

Hallquist has a shot at winning the primary; polling shows her with the highest name recognition in the field of four Democrats. The candidates include 14-year-old Ethan Sonneborn, who is taking advantage of an apparent oversight by the state founders more than 225 years ago of not having an age requirement for gubernatorial office.

But she'll face a tough fight in November: Republican incumbent Phil Scott remains more popular with Democrats than members of his own party in the solidly liberal state.

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CONNECTICUT SEES RED?

In a year when the political momentum seems to favor Democrats, Republicans find themselves with a rare shot to pick up a seat in deep-blue Connecticut.

Gov. Daniel Malloy's deep unpopularity, due in part to his economic policies, has opened up an opportunity for Republicans to retake the governor's mansion for the first time in eight years. Malloy isn't seeking a third term.

Democrats seem likely to nominate Ned Lamont, a liberal Greenwich businessman known for beating then-Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary for Senate. He faces Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who was convicted of extortion in 2003 and served seven years in prison.

The Republican field features three businessmen vying against former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst and longtime Danbury mayor Mark Boughton, who's been endorsed by the Republican Party.

The big question for Republicans this fall is whether unhappiness with Malloy will overpower deep dislike for Trump among voters in the liberal state.

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