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Election 2018: Key state races loom large for LGBTs

by Lisa Keen

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin is seeking re-election. Photo: Courtesy Baldwin for Senate campaign
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin is seeking re-election. Photo: Courtesy Baldwin for Senate campaign  

For those still recovering from the shock that Republican Donald Trump won the Electoral College — and, thus, the White House — in 2016, the prospect of watching midterm election returns Tuesday night might not conjure a desire for champagne.

There's a lot on the line Tuesday: Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, a significant potential to increase the number of LGBTs in Congress, and, of course, the fate of American democracy.

But you're a concerned citizen, and you feel compelled to pay attention as the nation teeters between very different potential outcomes.

Chances are, shortly after 5 p.m. (Pacific Time), you'll know which party will lead the Senate for the next two years. That's because Democrats must keep their seats in Florida (Bill Nelson), Indiana (Joe Donnelly), and Missouri (Claire McCaskill) to have any chance of holding the majority. As of last week's polls, all three had only small (within the margin of error) leads over their Republican challengers. Nate Silver's gives Republicans an 82 percent chance of retaining power. At best for Democrats, sees the potential for a 50-50 seat tie. (In that case, the tie-breaker, of course, is Vice President Mike Pence.)

The House looks a little more promising for Democrats. says Democrats have an 84 percent chance of winning the majority. A Cook Political Report last week also gave Democrats a chance of winning the majority. But numerous media and polls in recent days suggest President Donald Trump's campaign to turn out his supporters has been cutting into Democratic leads.

In the end, it's about voter turnout and not polls. Polls are not always accurate, and the list of examples started long before Hillary Clinton, whom many predicted would win the presidency. Polls around LGBT issues and candidates have been even more unreliable. But the latter has also been changing, too, as public opinion around LGBT people has steadily grown more accepting since 2000.

With all those caveats, there is considerable suspense for LGBT people come Tuesday night. Polls show voters are likely to elect a gay man as governor of Colorado and that a lesbian has a good chance of becoming attorney general in Michigan. In Massachusetts, polls suggest voters are likely to reject the first statewide anti-trans ballot measure. And polling looks good for counting the number of openly LGBT members of Congress for the next session to climb from seven to 10.

The following is an hour-by-hour guide to the most important races to watch for the LGBT community (all times Pacific).

Vermont gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist. Photo: Courtesy CBS News  

4 p.m.
Vermont: Christine Hallquist is the Democratic candidate for governor and, if successful, will become the first transgender person to be elected governor of any state. Fivethirtyeight shows her double-digits behind incumbent Republican Governor Phil Scott.

Indiana: Incumbent Donnelly needs to win to give Democrats any chance of taking the Senate majority back. If he loses, the Senate will almost certainly remain in Republican control. As of last week, he appeared to have a margin-of-error lead over his Republican challenger, Mike Braun. While Donnelly has been a strong supporter of LGBT equality, Braun, as a state legislator, voted for anti-LGBT measures.

4:30 p.m.
Ohio: Gay challenger Rick Neal is running for a House seat for the 15th Congressional District in the Columbus area. Polls suggested he was not likely to unseat the incumbent. The Columbus Dispatch endorsed the incumbent, after mentioning that Neal, a former Peace Corps volunteer, would likely be a "sympathetic voice for refugee resettlement" and had worked on marriage equality.

West Virginia: How well Democratic Senator Joe Manchin does is important for the party, but it could also be seen as a measure of how people feel about his vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In 2012, he won with 60.6 percent of the vote.

5 p.m.
Massachusetts: Question 3 represents the first time a state has been asked to vote on a law that currently prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. Polls predict voters will say "yes" to keep the law. But in addition to the tendency of respondents being reluctant to tell a pollster about any position they may hold that seems prejudiced, there has been some apparent confusion about the ballot measure itself. While the latest poll showed 74 percent in favor of keeping the law, about 25 percent of those people also said transgender people should be restricted to bathrooms based on their genitals at birth.

Massachusetts: Lesbian Attorney General Maura Healey is expected to cruise to re-election to that statewide office. She's been a popular, high-profile official, frequently leading lawsuits to challenge actions taken by the Trump administration. As a newcomer in 2014, she won with 62 percent of the vote. The results November 6 could be a good indicator of her prospects to run for governor in 2022.

Florida: It's important that incumbent Nelson (D) retain his seat. He's in a tough race against Republican Governor Rick Scott for the Senate seat and this race's outcome is another that will likely determine the party balance of that body. Nelson earned a 94 on his voting record from the Human Rights Campaign. Equality Florida said Scott's staff promised, after the Pulse nightclub shooting, to issue an executive order to protect LGBT state employees. He still hasn't.

Missouri: It's important for incumbent McCaskill to retain her seat if Democrats have any hope to grab the majority in the Senate. The polls are extremely tight. In the candidates' last debate, October 25, a member of the audience asked what they would do to make sure LGBT people are not discriminated against. McCaskill said nobody should be discriminated against because of who they love and that she was "embarrassed that Missouri still has a law" that would enable an employer to fire someone for being gay. Her opponent, Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, gave a Trump-like "I'm for everybody" response, carefully worded so as not to use the words gay or LGBT. "All folks" should have constitutional rights protected, he said. Then, he added that he believes "religious believers should have their rights to their free expression of worship." After Hawley finished, McCaskill asked him directly whether he'd be for changing Missouri law to protect LGBT employees. He didn't look at her or respond.

Tennessee: There's a Senate seat open here due to the retirement of Republican Bob Corker and a tight race between Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen and Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn has a margin-of-error lead in the polls. Tennessee is Trump territory and Blackburn is an unabashed Trump supporter. Blackburn's HRC congressional voting record has been a consistent zero. When the Tennessean newspaper asked both candidates whether businesses should be able to deny serving same-sex couples, Blackburn said, "People of faith should be free to practice their beliefs as guaranteed by our Constitution," adding, "they should never be punished for their beliefs" and that she would "work to ensure our religious beliefs are protected." Bredesen said, "No, and I think most business owners feel the same. I agree with Justice [Anthony] Kennedy ... that disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."

6 p.m.
Wisconsin: Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, initially looked to be in a tough race for re-election. Right-wing conservative donors poured thousands of dollars into the campaigns of her Republican opponents early on. They were hopeful, given Wisconsin's surprise vote for Trump in 2016. But Baldwin has always been popular in Wisconsin, and she quickly outraised the right-wing donors who were trying to unseat her. As of last week, she had a 10-point lead over her Republican challenger. It will be interesting to see what Baldwin's likely margin of victory will be this year. In 2012, she won the open seat with 50.3 percent of the vote, compared to Republican Tommy Thompson's 47 percent.

Colorado gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis. Photo: Courtesy Polis for Governor campaign  

Colorado: Congressman Jared Polis is the Democratic candidate for governor and, if successful, could become the second openly LGBT person to be elected governor of any state (Oregon's Kate Brown, a bisexual woman, was the first). In the last two weeks, polls have shown Polis with a 7 to 11-point lead. Media in the state say Polis' being gay hasn't really been made an issue in the campaign, though the Republican Governors' Association recently aired an ad, saying "Polis wants to turn Colorado into Radicalifornia," a term that seems to echo "San Francisco Democrat."

Texas: Lesbian Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez is fighting a 19-point deficit in her bid to oust incumbent Governor Greg Abbott. Given that Abbott's campaign has vastly outspent Valdez and that he is the Republican candidate in a deep red state, the outcome was probably predictable from the start. But Valdez, the first out sheriff of a major city (Dallas) in the nation, suffered some embarrassment when the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsed her primary opponent, and the state's largest police group endorsed Abbott.

Texas: Three gay candidates are running for U.S. House seats: Gina Ortiz Jones (23rd district), Lorie Burch (3rd), and Eric Holguin (27th). Polls last week showed all three trailing significantly. Jones probably has the best chance. She's gotten tremendous support from the national Democratic Party and, among registered voters, the latest poll showed her trailing by only 4 points, within the 5-point margin of error. (But among likely voters, she's behind 15.) Burch is 20 points behind in her district; Holguin is 27 points behind.

Texas: Democrats are hoping Congressman Beto O'Rourke can unseat incumbent Senator Ted Cruz. The latest polls showed Cruz hanging on with a narrow lead, but says data show O'Rourke could pull this off. This would be a tremendous relief for the LGBT community. Cruz has a zero record of voting in the interests of the LGBT community and supported numerous anti-LGBT efforts.

Minnesota: This is Angie Craig's second bid for a House seat in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District. Polls show her with a 6-point lead. And on October 25, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune endorsed her, saying, "Craig maintains a reasonableness and a respectful, intelligent, no-drama approach that could help turn the temperature down in a Congress beset by heated rhetoric and gamesmanship." She narrowly lost two years ago to current Representative Jason Lewis, who's voting record on LGBT issues hasn't risen from zero.

Michigan: Democratic attorney and Wayne County prosecutor Dana Nessel is hoping to win the attorney general seat for Michigan. The Detroit Free Press endorsed her, saying, "no one running for attorney general demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of that office's potential and limitations." The Detroit News endorsed the Republican, saying, "The AG shouldn't use the office to press a personal agenda or to delve into national political and social activism." That was an apparent reference to Nessels' high-profile work on behalf of the LGBT community, including a lawsuit that challenged the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

Kansas: First-time candidate Sharice Davids, a Democrat, was polling 9 points ahead of Republican incumbent Representative Kevin Yoder last week. If elected, she'll be the first lesbian elected in Kansas and the first Native American. It was those distinctions that drew considerable media attention to her race in Kansas' 3rd Congressional District after a local GOP official said Republicans on Election Day would send the "radical socialist kick boxing lesbian Indian ... back packing to the reservation." In the ensuing uproar, he resigned. Yoder's HRC score is zero.

7 p.m.
Nevada: The Senate seat held by Republican incumbent Dean Heller appears vulnerable, and Democrats need to win this one to take the majority. Polls showed Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen with a margin-of-error edge going into Election Day. In the House, Rosen has a 100 percent pro-LGBT score with HRC. Heller's HRC score is zero.

Montana: Another critical Senate race is between Democratic incumbent Jon Tester and Republican challenger Matt Rosendale. Tester had a 6-point lead going into election day. Tester's HRC score is 88.

8 p.m.
Arizona: Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat, has a chance to become the first openly bisexual person to be elected to the U.S. Senate and the second openly LGBT person to do so (Baldwin of Wisconsin was the first). At one point, polls showed her with a strong lead, surprising given that Arizona is a heavily Republican state. But the latest polls show less than a 1-point difference between her and pro-Trump rival, Martha McSally. Importantly, on October 23, the state's biggest newspaper, the Arizona Republic, endorsed Sinema — its first Democratic endorsement in almost two decades. Sinema's victory is critical to any chance Democrats have of winning a majority in the Senate.

Oregon: The aforementioned Brown had anywhere from an 8-point lead to a virtual tie just prior to the election. Some polls now suggest it's a much tighter race. Brown was the first openly LGBT person to be elected governor of any state, winning a 2016 special election after assuming office the year before upon resignation of the incumbent. Her challenger is a pro-same-sex marriage Republican, state Representative Knute Buehler.

Congressional candidate Katie Hill. Photo: Courtesy Hill for Congress campaign  

California: Bisexual Democrat Katie Hill has waged a very strong campaign to unseat Republican Congressman Steve Knight in the 25th District. Knight's voting record on LGBT issues has earned him only a 43 from HRC. At press time, two polls showed Hill with a tiny lead, one showed Knight with a small lead. RealClearPolitics called it a toss up.

North Dakota: Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp is in trouble. Republican challenger Congressman Kevin Cramer is expected to unseat her. HRC scores Heitkamp's record on LGBT issues at 82, Cramer at zero. But Cramer has a four-point lead on Heitkamp going into voting.

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