Metro Weekly

Election Report: Very Few LGBTQ Victories On A Tumultuous Night

Only a handful of LGBTQ candidates in prominent races enjoyed success on a primary election night when underdogs romped.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Tina Kotek, and Jasmine Beach-Ferrara

On a primary election night of surprise twists and turns, victories by LGBTQ candidates were rare, with the bulk of success occurring in state legislative or county-level races, although there were a handful of notable exceptions.

In one of those exceptions, Democratic primary voters in Oregon selected Tina Kotek, the current Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, as the party’s nominee for governor.

Kotek, who may be slightly favored in the general election in the Democratic-leaning state, is now on track to become one of the first out lesbian governors in U.S. history, along with Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Attorney General who is now running to be the Bay State’s next governor.

If successful in November, Kotek will succeed Gov. Kate Brown, a bisexual who is currently one of only two sitting LGBTQ governors in the country.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund celebrated Kotek’s primary victory, calling it a “momentous night for Oregon and LGBTQ people across the country.”

“Tina shattered this lavender ceiling because Oregonians are excited and enthusiastic about her vision for a more equitable, accepting future,” Annise Parker, the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement. “With anti-LGBTQ attacks sweeping the country, her election is not only a rebuke of hate, but a beacon of hope for countless young LGBTQ people looking for inspiration during one of our nation’s darkest times.”

Two LGBTQ candidates appeared to have won their primaries for Congress.

In North Carolina, the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, a Buncombe County Commissioner and executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, won the Democratic nomination for the state’s 11th Congressional District, currently held by U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

Cawthorn lost his bid for re-election in the Republican primary in what amounted to a huge political upset. Beach-Ferrara is considered an underdog in the general election, given the district’s Republican lean. 

In Oregon, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, an out lesbian and board member of the Jefferson County Education Service District, appeared to have defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Caucus, in the Democratic primary for the state’s 5th Congressional District. The race has been handicapped as a toss-up or leaning slightly Democratic by most political prognosticators.

But LGBTQ candidates did not fare well in other congressional or statewide races held on Tuesday.

In Pennsylvania, former Victory Fund staffer Sean Meloy lost his bid for the Democratic nomination to represent the 17th Congressional District, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) failed in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat, and State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) lost his bid to be the commonwealth’s next lieutenant governor.

In North Carolina, singer, entertainer, and former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken, who previously ran for Congress in a Republican-leaning district in 2014, delivered an underwhelming performance in a deep-blue district in the Durham and Chapel Hill suburbs. 

While LGBTQ candidates were going down to defeat, election night surprises were occurring throughout the country.

In Pennsylvania, one of Kenyatta’s chief opponents, John Fetterman, handily won the Democratic nomination for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat with nearly 60% of the vote, despite having suffered a stroke and undergone surgery to install a pacemaker in the three days prior to the election.

Fetterman, a more progressive candidate, won overwhelmingly despite nearly every prominent Democrat in the state throwing their support behind the more moderate, telegenic U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb.

In the state’s 12th Congressional District, State Rep. Summer Lee (D-Swissvale), an LGBTQ ally and unabashed progressive, is currently leading establishment pick Steve Irwin in a district that includes the city of Pittsburgh and its southern and eastern suburbs. If Lee is victorious, her win would mark yet another upset. 

In North Carolina, Aiken’s primary opponents, Valerie Foushee, backed by the Democratic Party establishment and Nida Allam, a favorite of the party’s progressive wing, faced off in a tight election, with Foushee gaining the edge in a race that seemed to be as much focused on the candidates’ stated support for Israel as it was on domestic issues or candidate ideology.

But for all the fire directed at Allam for her more progressive views, two other districts appear to have nominated two Democrats who, if elected to Congress, would almost certainly block some Democratic priorities favored by the Biden administration and take conservative stances on social issues like LGBTQ rights and abortion.

In the state’s 1st Congressional District, Don Davis, a Democrat who has voted with Republicans on bills restricting abortion, won the primary over progressive Erica Smith, who received little help or support from the Democratic Party brass.

In the 7th Congressional District, Charles Graham, a conservative state representative, was leading his race for Congress as well. Graham apologized last October after being attacked by progressives for his vote on HB 2, North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill.”

LGBTQ candidates for office fared better at the state legislative and local levels, with many incumbent lawmakers easily winning their primaries.

In Pennsylvania, State Rep. Jessica Benham, who is bisexual, won her primary in the state’s 36th State House District with 68% of the vote, while Izzy Smith-Wade-El won their primary in the state’s 49th House District with 70% of the vote, putting them on track to potentially become the first nonbinary legislator in commonwealth history.

However, Deja Alvarez, who would have become the first out transgender legislator in Pennsylvania history, fell short in her bid for the seat being vacated by Rep. Brian Sims.

In Oregon, Ben Bowman, Dacia Grayber, Travis Nelson, and Rob Nosse all won their primaries for the Oregon House of Representatives, while out trans man Zelos Marchandt lost his bid for his local State House seat.

In North Carolina, incumbent State Reps. Vernetta Alston, Deb Butler, Marcia Morey, and Allison Dahle all were nominated for the general election, while challenger Matt Hughes lost his bid for a seat.

In Idaho, Republican Dom Gelsomino lost his bid for the State House of Representatives.

Finally, in Kentucky, State Rep. Keturah Herron was renominated for her seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives, while Liz Sheehan won her primary for the District 5 seat on the Lexington City Council, and Tina Ward-Pugh won the Democratic primary for Jefferson County Clerk.

Another successful candidate was LaWana Mayfield, who won her primary race for a seat on the Charlotte City Council, placing her on track to become the first out LGBTQ individual to be elected citywide, and the first out Black lesbian city councilor — one of only six in total — to serve in the South.

The Victory Fund, which had designated Mayfield as a “Spotlight Candidate” with the potential to make history, provided on-the-ground support and assisted in get-out-the-vote operations for Mayfield’s campaign.

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