STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We're still not quite through primary season, but we increasingly know who the major parties are putting forward for this fall's election. Some big news in last night's primaries was made by Democrats in Vermont and Minnesota. There was also a big late result among Republicans and a big theme beyond the personalities, all of which we're going to discuss with NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro, who's with us once again. Domenico, good morning.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, Vermont. Christine Hallquist is the first openly transgender nominee for governor in the United States for a major party. Can she be elected governor, though?
MONTANARO: She very well could be. The Republican governor here, Phil Scott, took a nosedive in his support after signing gun control legislation back in April. That was met with big protests from gun rights activists at the Capitol. They accused him of being a traitor. And while Vermont's known as a pretty liberal place, it's also pretty pro-gun. And for a Republican to win statewide, he needs Republicans to be firmly behind him, win some independents and win some Democrats.
INSKEEP: So he's got vulnerability on the right. And it's not that Hallquist is going to occupy that space. But he's got to worry about Republicans staying home, in effect, is what you're talking about.
MONTANARO: Absolutely. In fact, it was difficult for him last night to even get out of the primary. More than a third of Republican voters voted for someone else.
INSKEEP: OK. So that's Vermont. Then we have Minnesota and Keith Ellison, a very high-profile Democratic congressman who's running for attorney general. He did win the Democratic nomination. But there was this last-minute allegation of domestic abuse. What's this mean for the Democrats to have Ellison then as the nominee at the same time that he faces this accusation?
MONTANARO: Well, he won this resounding victory. He's still a member of Congress also. And the DNC yesterday told me that they are taking these allegations seriously and that they are under review, which was their first comments on this. You can bet Republicans are not - are going to use it not just against him but against the party more broadly.
And it does sort of put the party in a bind because of what their varying responses have been on sexual harassment and abuse allegations. You know, there have been eight - there have been nine members of Congress who've actually either stepped down or have run for other or have decided not to run for re-election after facing sexual harassment and abuse allegations.
INSKEEP: OK. So we don't know how that's going to develop. And we don't know firmly what the findings are of the allegations there. But we do know that it's been a remarkable night for diversity, I suppose, for Democrats. Minnesota - a Somali-American who is also a Muslim won the Democratic nomination to replace Keith Ellison in Congress, just to give one example.
MONTANARO: That's absolutely true.
INSKEEP: And we hear about Hallquist being openly transgender. And Democrats have quite a variety of nominees across the country this year.
MONTANARO: Yeah, they do. I mean, you know, this is something that Democrats have been looking at. You know, in fact, the letters LGBTQ - or LGBT could be spelled out in the types of nominees that Democrats have nominated for governor across the country in many places, a lesbian, someone gay, someone who's bisexual and someone now openly transgender.
INSKEEP: OK. Now, on the Republican side, Tim Pawlenty tried for a comeback in Minnesota - former governor, former presidential candidate, pretty high-profile Republican - didn't work out for him.
MONTANARO: Pretty fascinating how the politics in the state have changed. He lost pretty badly last night. And it's really fascinating given that he's only been out of office for governor for seven years. He was a two-time Republican governor. But remember, President Trump lost this state only by 2 points or less, and Pawlenty was pretty hotly critical of him. His opponent, Jeff Johnson, was the 2014 nominee and has openly embraced Trump.
INSKEEP: And someone who openly embraced Trump now is the Republican nominee for governor of Kansas.
MONTANARO: Yep. Kris Kobach, last night, the secretary of state finally did win after the sitting governor, Jeff Colyer, conceded to him after Kobach's lead jumped after some recanvassing. Kobach, of course, has been pretty controversial - backing strict voter ID laws, hard-line immigration measures. He, of course, was also the driving force behind the president's election integrity commission. A lot of what he's done, though, has sort of fallen apart under judicial scrutiny.
And Democrats think that they have a real shot at taking him out, especially because of what's happened with the past governor, Sam Brownback. His tax plans, his tax cuts have led to a lot of cuts in, especially, education. You've seen the state see a lot of education protests, something that his opponent now, Laura Kelly, a state senator, has been able to try to capitalize on.
INSKEEP: Are you pointing me toward a substantive theme of...
INSKEEP: ...Last night's elections when you talk about education there?
MONTANARO: We do segues well here.
MONTANARO: And that's true. Education was a theme last night. Back in - over in Connecticut, Jahana Hayes, who was the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, won in what could be a competitive race in the 5th Congressional District in Connecticut. By the way, if she wins, she would be the first African-American woman to go to Congress from Connecticut.
And back in Wisconsin, the Democrats nominated the state school superintendent, Tony Evers, to take on Scott Walker. Walker has been something of a survivor but also a lightning rod with teachers in particular for cracking down on public funding. We've seen Walker's approval rating been split over the past year. But this is the first year he's running when the political winds are blowing against Republicans. All the other times he's run have been in Republican wave years.
INSKEEP: So all of these teacher protests and strikes across the country are now translating into political - we don't know victories - but political efforts, political possibility.
MONTANARO: That's right. You've seen teachers get on the ballot in places like Kentucky. And you're seeing a lot of teacher support now going behind Democratic candidates.
INSKEEP: Domenico, always a pleasure. Thanks very much.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.