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15 Elections in 2018 That Will Impact LGBT Lives

Elections to Watch for LGBTs in 2018

A chance to change (almost) everything happens in 10 months. Here are the races that will affect you.


Arizona Senate race

This is arguably the most high-profile race of 2018 involving an LGBT candidate: Three-time Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (pictured, above), is vying to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake for Arizona's junior seat. Sinema, openly bisexual, is extremely popular and has an inspiring personal story (she was raised in a gas station). The moderate Democrat faces few serious challengers in the primary -- it's her Republican opponent who remains the big question. Former state senator Kelli Ward is the only announced candidate, but she's a toxic conservative who's spouted anti-trans and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Oh, and Ward is a big fan of Donald Trump's; and the feeling's mutual. Establishment Arizona Republicans don't want Ward as the nominee -- especially since she insulted John McCain -- and hope mainstream U.S. Rep. Martha McSally will run for the seat. Even if McSally throws her hat in, it's up to the state's Republican voters to choose their nominee. We saw how that went in Alabama, remember?

If Sinema wins -- along with other Democrats -- she could help wrestle the Senate away from the Republicans.


Texas Senate race

Could Texas toss Ted Cruz (pictured)? We're not saying the much-anticipated (and far from certain) Democratic wave is going to crash on the Lone Star State, but that prospect is not as crazy as it sounded in a pre-Doug Jones world. Alabama women (really, women of color) helped keep Roy Moore out of the Senate, and they could do the same in Texas with Cruz -- if joined by the state's sizable Latino community, which make up nearly 40 percent of the state's population. It's not like the state's women, LGBT people, people of color, and immigrant voters don't have good reason to say goodbye to this nasty misogynist/homophobe/xenophobe. Like his onetime enemy Donald Trump, Cruz isn't really that popular with anyone.

Cruz's challenger will be youthful Dem congressman Beto O'Rourke. Texas political watchers are eyeing O'Rourke's challenge with skeptical curiosity -- Texas hasn't elected a Democrat to a statewide office in nearly a quarter-century -- and polls are all over the place (see here and here). If O'Rourke pulls it off, it would place Democrats in a very strong position to regain the Senate.


Missouri Senate race

Sen. Claire McCaskill (pictured) walks a tight line as a Democrat in a really red state. But McCaskill does it with aplomb (if you want to see true grit in action, watch this video of the senator calling out the lies of Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch). Still, there's no denying Missouri is conservative, and seemingly growing more so. Dems are paying a big game of defense in November and some teeth are chattering over McCaskill's chances. But aside from her competence, McCaskill has this going for her -- there are so many Republican challengers that one hasn't stood out from the crowd, well, except for maybe the one taking donations in BitCoin.


Nevada Senate race

Thankfully, the state that employs Cher, Celine Dion, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga pulled the lever for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Nevada is increasingly a blue-leaning purple state, mostly thanks to growing and diverse Las Vegas. That means Republican Sen. Dean Heller (pictured) is in trouble, even if he has a strained relationship with the nightmare in chief. Heller faces a Republican challenger in the primary, and his Democratic opponent, Congresswoman and LGBT ally Jacky Rosen, has the backing of the state's powerful former senator, Harry Reid.


Wisconsin Senate race

Tammy Baldwin (above) remains the first and only openly LGBT person in the Senate. She's respected at home in Wisconsin, but her state has a history of swinging strangely; the state voted for Trump in 2016 and backwards Scott Walker serves as governor (and is up for reelection this year). While Baldwin is more Madison than Oshkosh, she's still seen as relatively safe. A state senator and a businessman are vying to be the Republicans running against Baldwin in November.


Tennessee Senate Race

Once unthinkable, the Tennessee Senate race is now a toss-up, according to some political watchers. While Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (pictured) is the frontrunner to replace retiring senator Bob Corker, a popular Democrat -- former governor Phil Bredesen -- has now joined the race. Bredesen, a former mayor of Nashville, was the last Democrat elected to statewide office in Tennessee (in 2006!), but he's a respected, pro-business icon in the Volunteer State. This will be a heavy lift for Democrats, but polls have been all over the place. Blackburn is a big Trumper, so we'll see how that plays out in Tennessee. If Bredesen wins, the Senate could be in the Dems' grasp.


California's 25th congressional district

The Democrats need to pick up about 24 seats in November to retake the House of Representatives; hard, but possible. Steve Knight (pictured) of California's 25th District, which includes parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, is considered a very possible flip for Dems. The district voted for Hillary in 2016; Knight, a supporter of Proposition 8, Donald Trump, and even Confederate flags, seems out of step with his constituents. A whole group of Democrats are trying to unseat him, including a cancer biologist who works with medical marijuana.


California 48th congressional district

Another important California-based race to keep an eye on is that of Dana Rohrabacher (above), in Orange County. The Republican has turned many heads with his close relationship with Russia; the Kremlin even has a code name for him and regards the congressman as an intelligence source. In August, Rohrabacher oddly met with Wikileaks' Julian Assange, who helped sink Hillary's campaign, is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and is increasingly viewed as a kook. Even some Republicans think the long-serving congressman is acting questionably and Robert Mueller may be investigating him as part of his wide-ranging Russia investigation. With all that, and a district that voted for Hillary, the marriage equality-opposing Rohrabacher is increasingly looking like an easy mark. Besides that, anyone who says something as racist and inflammatory as this, as Rohrabacher recently did, needs to go: "My constituents] are concerned about illegal immigrants coming into their neighborhood and raping people."


Florida 27th congressional district

True Republican moderate Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (a supporter of LGBT rights, she's pictured above) is retiring, leaving this Miami-area seat up for grabs. At least half a dozen Democrats are considering a run, seeing this as a possible district amenable to change (the district overwhelmingly rejected Trump in favor of Clinton). The area is filled with LGBT and Latino voters; and Puerto Rican voters have swamped Florida since this summer's tragic hurricane. Dems are very hopeful about this seat, but Florida loves surprises.


New Hampshire 1st congressional district

With his family's deep roots in New Hampshire, 37-year-old Chris Pappas (pictured) seems primed for a spot in the House, repping the Granite State. First elected to public office at 22, the out (and reportedly single!) Democrat has served in many capacities in New Hampshire; from state legislator to county treasurer to executive councilor. Pappas's issue positions reflect those of most young liberals, and he also places emphasis on battling the opioid epidemic, which has hit New Hampshire particularly hard. Pappas is arguably the most well-known Dem candidate among the primary field -- he's also racking up endorsements. Whether all that will put him over the top in November remains a big question, since New Hampshire has a Republican governor and the GOP controls both houses of the state legislature.


Virginia 10th congressional district

While some states become more Republican (e.g., Missouri, Arkansas), Virginia is moving in the other direction. Not only did the Dominion State reject Trump, the November 2017 election saw a wave of Democrats ascend to statewide office there, including trans delegate-elect Danica Roem. Much of that change is thanks to northern Virginia, a bastion of liberalism surrounding Washington, D.C. Currently, Barbara Comstock represents the wealthy, educated area in the House, and Dems see her as particularly vulnerable. Comstock's likely Democratic challenger will be state Sen. Jennifer Wexton or Army vet Dan Helmer.


Iowa 1st congressional district

Democrats are targeting Iowa's 1st congressional district seat, currently held by Rod Blum (pictured, above), a Republican and Tea Party favorite. Blum received a zero on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard for his first term, and he's failed to take any pro-LGBT stances in his second (and current) term. He's unopposed in the Republican primary, and so far there are four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat: Abby Finkenauer, currently a state representative; Thomas Heckroth, who was a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and also served in President Obama's administration; George Ramsey, an Army veteran who works for a social service agency; and Courtney Rowe, an aerospace engineer. The primary election will be June 5. Politico picks Finkenauer, who comes from a union background, as the Democrats' best hope in the blue-collar district in the northeastern part of the state. Donald Trump won the district by three points in 2016, but it went for Barack Obama twice before that. A recent Des Moises Register poll showed Iowans favoring Democrats over Republicans in congressional races.


Iowa State Senate Race

Six years after a video of Zach Wahls defending his lesbian mothers went viral, the activist is poised to announce his run for Iowa Senate. Wahls, 26, first gained public notice when he was filmed arguing the merits of families like his to the Iowa House Judiciary Committe, which was weighing a constitutional ban on marriage equality. Wahls spoke of being born via artificial insemination and told the lawmakers his family was not much different than most Iowa families. Wahls's confident and impassioned speech quickly went viral and, with tens of millions of views, was the most popular political video on YouTube in 2011.

Wahls is also an Eagle Scout and has long advocated for equality in scouting. In 2012, Wahls launched Scouting for Equality, which helped pave the way for the Boy Scouts of America eventually dropping their bans on LGBT scouts and scout leaders. That same year, Wahls spoke at the Democratic National Convention, thanking then-President Barack Obama for publicly endorsing marriage equality. The Iowa City-native will be seeking the 37th district Senate seat of fellow-Democrat Bob Dvorsky, who's retiring next year. Another Democrat -- longtime State Department diplomat Janice Weiner -- will challenge Wahls in the primary, The Gazette reports.

Wahls is a graduate of the University of Iowa and is currently in his last year of a Master's program in public policy from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.


Texas State Senate Race

Mark Phariss (above), who with partner Victor Holmes and another couple sued over Texas's ban on same-sex marriage in 2013, is running for state Senate in District 8, which encompasses several Dallas suburbs.The corporate lawyer would be Texas's first openly gay state senator; there have been out LGBT members of the state House. One other Democrat, Brian Chaput, has announced his candidacy for the same seats, as have two well-connected Republicans, Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines. Paxton is the wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has an anti-LGBT record, and Huffines is the twin brother of Don Huffines, a state senator representing Dallas. The party primaries will be March 6. "When I was accepting the fact that I was gay, there were two things I kind of thought I had to give up: one, getting married, and two, running for political office," Phariss told The Dallas Morning News when making his announcement. "I need to quit assuming what people will think. I need to allow them the choice."


Texas Gubernatorial Race

A lesbian Latina governor of Texas? As unlikely as it sounds, Lupe Valdez (pictured above, at the Democratic National Convention) could make it happen. The former sheriff of Dallas County was the state's first openly gay and first Latina sheriff; she resigned late last year, during her fourth term, to run for the Democratic nomination for governor. She's one of 10 Democrats seeking to challenge incumbent Republican Greg Abbott, who has an intensely anti-LGBT record. Texas hasn't had a Democratic governor in more than 20 years -- the late, great Ann Richards -- but Democratic activists say the state shouldn't be written off. And Valdez is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. "She ran for sheriff in a county that did not have a single countywide official that was a Democrat and hadn't for 20 years. She ran against an incumbent sheriff. She did not have any experience running for office. Few people, if any, gave her any chance of winning," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa recently told the Los Angeles Times. Her most formidable opponent in the Democratic primary, set for March 6, is probably Andrew White, a businessman who's the son of another previous Democratic governor, Mark White.

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