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Winners and Losers of the 2014 State Legislators to Watch

A surprising number of this year's rising stars are seeking higher office.

Last fall, when we began assembling our list of "12 State Legislators to Watch in 2014," we didn't fully realize just how ambitious this crop of lawmakers was to move up the ranks. But it became perfectly clear last week when several state primaries were held.

One of the 12 rising stars to advance is Pennsylvania state Rep. Brendan Boyle, who won the Democratic primary for the 13th Congressional District last Tuesday. Since the 13th is a strongly Democratic seat, Boyle's primary victory all but assures him a spot in the next Congress. He won nearly 41 percent of the vote in a four-way primary, easily outpacing a former congresswoman (and in-law of Bill and Hillary Clinton) Marjorie Margolies, who scored just 27 percent. Boyle received strong backing from labor unions.

Also last week, Georgia state Sen. Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, officially became the Democratic nominee for governor. Carter, a onetime Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa, was running uncontested, and will face GOP Gov. Nathan Deal in November. The race is considered somewhat competitive despite the weakened strength of Democrats in Georgia in recent years.

A third member of our list had a less happy result: Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Fleck, a Republican representing a rural, conservative district west of Harrisburg, was facing the voters for the first time since coming out as gay in December 2012. It looks like he may have lost, to a write-in no less. Initial returns had Fleck with 3,394 votes, compared to roughly 3,700 votes for the write-in candidate, Huntingdon County Treasurer Richard Irvin. A more detailed analysis of the ballots is needed to determine whether Irvin had enough valid votes to defeat Fleck.

In a Facebook post after the primary, Fleck wrote, "I am gay. I don't wear it on my sleeve, it doesn't define who I am, and quite frankly it's the least interesting part about me. Nevertheless, I knew that when I came out this race would be nothing more, nothing less than whether my constituency could wrap their mind around the fact that I was a gay man. I knew back then, as I do now that my political fate was out of my hands. I would continue to do what I have always done, and that was to represent my district to the best of my ability."

The nonpartisan political website PoliticsPA speculated that Fleck might not be out of the race even if he loses to Irvin. "There are 1,887 Democratic write-in votes to be counted," according to the site. "If Fleck takes a plurality of those (totalling at least 300), he will be on the ballot as a Democrat in the fall."

Fleck is not the only member of our list to get a negative result from the voters this primary season. On May 6, North Carolina state Rep. Marcus Brandon lost a special Democratic primary for the congressional seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Mel Watt, Obama's choice to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Brandon, a young, openly gay African-American, had won plaudits from Republicans for his stance on education reform. But that didn't help him in the primary: He finished fourth out of six contenders, with less than 9 percent of the vote.

Three of the remaining eight members of our list are also seeking higher office this year, with primaries to come. On June 24, Maryland state Rep. Heather Mizeur faces off in the Democratic primary for governor. She has an uphill climb against Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and state Attorney General Doug Gansler.

Also on June 24, Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon will run in the Republican U.S. Senate primary. He and U.S. Rep. James Lankford are considered the leading candidates to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Tom Coburn. Shannon is the first African-American, Republican state House speaker in the nation since Reconstruction and also has Chickasaw ancestry, a tie that may cut both ways in the race against Lankford.

Finally, New Hampshire state Rep. Marilinda Garcia is running in the Sept. 9 Republican primary for the right to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster. Either Garcia or former state Sen. Gary Lambert are plausible winners in the GOP primary, but both would be at a slight disadvantage in the general election, according to handicappers, particularly given their low-name recognition and small warchests compared to Kuster.

Louis Jacobson is a GOVERNING contributor.
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