Sun Belt showdowns: What to watch for in Tuesday’s primaries: ANALYSIS

Arizona and Florida were key to President Trump's 2016 election victory.

Voters in Arizona and Florida - plus Oklahoma, where there are a few scattered runoffs - will choose candidates for the midterms on Tuesday.

The late-summer races are likely to reinforce the trends of a colorful and surprising primary season - and lay out the stakes for November.

Immigration, gun control, health care, and the environment are all playing big roles. Arizona and Florida both went for President Donald Trump, but shifting demographics and political trends could shade both states blue, and both feature Senate races that are atop the list of potential party switches.

Looming over it all, as always, is Trump, who has placed his thumb on different portions of the map even as he comes off one of the most politically damaging weeks of a tumultuous presidency.

Here are five trends to watch in Tuesday’s primary contests:


Even in the home states of McCain and Jeb Bush, the president continues to demonstrate control of the Republican Party. In Arizona, the seat now represented by Sen. Jeff Flake – perhaps the most outspoken GOP Trump critic in Congress – features a wild Republican primary where Trump hasn’t endorsed, but all three candidates are pledging loyalty to the president. Their styles could hardly be more varied, though, with Joe Arpaio, Kelli Ward, and Martha McSally taking Trumpism in different directions. In Florida, Trump almost single-handedly elevated a little-known congressman, Ron DeSantis, to front-running status in the race for governor against establishment favorite Adam Putnam. In one campaign ad, DeSantis encourages his toddler daughter as she plays with blocks: “build the wall.” The 2018 primary season is ending as it started, with little room for Republicans who aren’t all-in on Trump.

Marquee matchups

The Arizona Senate seat on the ballot is occupied by a Republican, while Florida has a Democrat running for reelection – and both could see party control change this fall. Arizona marks perhaps Democrats’ best pick-up opportunity in the Senate, with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema - the first openly bisexual person to have been elected to Congress – primed to take on the winner on the GOP side, possibly another woman also serving in the House. The field in Florida is already basically set, with Republican Gov. Rick Scott pouring his personal wealth into a race against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, in what could easily be the most expensive race in the country. And the race to replace the term-limited Scott features a spirited Democratic primary that includes the 39-year-old African-American mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, and former Rep. Gwen Graham, whose father was a longtime senator and governor. Gillum is the latest Democrat to hope to benefit from a late boost courtesy of an endorsement by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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Red tints to pink wave

In a year where Democrats are busting records for female candidates, Republicans can claim no such milestones. But Tuesday’s contests happen to feature several GOP first-time candidates who are minorities – earning them national notice even before they clinch any nominations. Vennia Francois, an attorney and the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, is running as a Republican in a House race in the Orlando area. In the Miami area, former Telemundo anchor Maria Elvira Salazar is seeking to replace a retiring Latina Republican. Meanwhile, in Arizona, the GOP frontrunner for Senate is Rep. Martha McSally, an Air Force veteran who was the first woman to fly in combat and lead a fighter squadron.

Second acts

Familiar names are seeking unlikely comebacks in Tuesday’s primaries, and a few are almost certain to fall short. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is 86 and a year removed from a presidential pardon for a criminal contempt conviction, in running a quixotic race for the GOP Senate nomination in Arizona. (Trump has resisted calls to endorse in that race.) Donna Shalala, 77, is running for an open House seat after a long career that included eight years as President Bill Clinton’s health and human services secretary, and stints running the University of Wisconsin and the University of Miami. And former Rep. Alan Grayson is trying to return to the House in central Florida, with the liberal firebrand taking on an incumbent Democrat despite baggage stemming from an ethics investigation and an old domestic-abuse allegation that later prompted a physical altercation with a reporter.