Summer break is over. With fewer than 100 days until the general election, the final rounds of 2022 midterms primaries will come fast and furious over the next six weeks, beginning with a busy Tuesday featuring key contests around the country.
Former President Donald Trump’s influence is again looming over Republican Senate primaries, this time in Arizona and Missouri, while GOP House members in Washington state and Michigan face a conservative backlash over their votes to impeach Trump after the January 6, 2021, US Capitol insurrection.
Michigan GOP Rep. Peter Meijer’s challenge from an election-denying Trump ally has attracted an extra dose of national interest thanks to Democratic campaign leadership, which has invested in propping up his right-wing opponent – a controversial tactic meant to engineer a better matchup for Democrats this fall.
The meddling has come under fire from not only Meijer, but Democrats worried it will undermine their attempts to criticize extremism in the GOP and backfire in the November elections.
On the Democratic side, Michigan is home to a handful of competitive House primaries, including one that pits a pair of incumbents, Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin, against one another in a campaign that has attracted heavy investments from competing pro-Israel groups.
Kansas, meanwhile, will host one of the first major post-Roe votes when the state conducts a referendum to determine whether its constitution protects the right to an abortion. If the measure succeeds, state lawmakers are expected to quickly move to enshrine a ban.
Here are eight things to watch on Tuesday:
Arizona governor primary pits Trump against Pence
The race to replace term-limited Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, pits Ducey’s chosen candidate, Karrin Taylor Robson, against a Trump-endorsed former television journalist Kari Lake.
Lake has built her campaign around lies about election fraud. She referred to the refusal of her leading rival, Ducey-backed Robson, to indulge those lies as “disqualifying.”
Robson, meanwhile, is also backed by former Vice President Mike Pence, who visited Arizona to campaign with Robson and Ducey last month on the same day Trump held a rally at which Lake spoke.
Pence used his Arizona trip to urge the GOP to move past Trump’s lies about fraud in the 2020 election and look forward.
“When you get out and vote for Karrin Taylor Robson, you can send a deafening message that will be heard all across America that the Republican Party is the party of the future,” Pence said in Peoria, Arizona.
Arizona GOP could pick full slate of election deniers
Beyond the governor’s office, the Arizona GOP could be poised to nominate a statewide ticket of Trump-backed election deniers on Tuesday.
The race for secretary of state — Arizona’s chief elections officer — also features an election denier endorsed by Trump in Mark Finchem, a state lawmaker who wrongly claims that Trump on the 2020 election and was in Washington January 6.
Trump-backed Blake Masters, who is seeking to face Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, hasn’t just claimed that Democrats “pulled out all the stops” to cheat in 2020, but has suggested the 2022 midterms won’t be fair. Masters faces other Republicans who have rejected the 2020 election outcome, including businessman Jim Lamon, who touts his efforts to fund the bogus review of Maricopa County’s 2020 results. Another Senate candidate, state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, sent a letter claiming to have uncovered election fraud, without detailing any fraud in how the election was managed.
Trump’s chosen candidate in the race for attorney general, Abraham Hamadeh, said he would “take the fraud in our 2020 election seriously and bring justice to those who’ve undermined our Republic.”
Meijer faces Dem-backed, far-right challenge
Rep. Peter Meijer, the freshman Republican from western Michigan who was one of his party’s 10 House members to vote for Trump’s second impeachment, is facing off against a Trump-endorsed challenger in John Gibbs.
Gibbs has fully embraced Trump’s election lies. He wrongly claimed in a debate with Meijer that the results that led to Biden’s win in 2020 were “simply mathematically impossible” and said that there were “anomalies in there, to put it very lightly.”
What’s unique about the GOP contest in the Grand Rapids-based 3rd District is that Democrats have attempted to boost Gibbs with ads casting him as a Trump-aligned conservative.
It’s a calculated gamble for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has spent more than $300,000 on ads in the race: They believe Gibbs would be much easier to defeat in November, so they are attempting to elevate him Tuesday, and then turn and immediately cast him as a threat to democracy in the general election.
A pro-Meijer group launched a television ad over the weekend highlighting Democrats’ involvement in the Republican primary. “Fox News confirms it: Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect their hand-picked candidate for Congress in the Republican primary, John Gibbs,” the group’s ad warns. “West Michigan must say no to Nancy Pelosi’s handpicked candidate for Congress.”
Trump hedges on scandal-plagued Greitens in Missouri
A little more than four years ago, Eric Greitens resigned as Missouri governor as he faced an ethics probe and allegations he abused and tried to blackmail a woman with whom had an affair. Prosecutors ultimately dropped felony charges.
More recently, his ex-wife accused him of violent and unstable behavior in a court filing related to a child custody dispute. (Greitens denied the claims.)
Now, the former Navy SEAL is one of the frontrunners in what recent polling suggests will be a tight Missouri GOP Senate primary, with a field that includes Greitens, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt and US Rep. Vicky Hartzler.
Even Trump, whom Greitens has sought to align himself with, is hedging – likely because he fears Greitens could be defeated in a general election. On Monday evening, Trump put out a statement endorsing “Eric.” Which one? On that question, Trump wrote, Missouri Republicans would need to “make up their own minds.”
Rep. Billy Long, Missouri state Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Mark McCloskey, a lawyer who became famous after he and wife wielded firearms from their property as a protest against police violence passed by in June 2020, are also part of a crowded field of Republican hopefuls.
Democrats will choose from Trudy Busch Valentine, a retired nurse and beer fortune heiress; attorney and Marine veteran Lucas Kunce; and Spencer Toder in their primary.
Abortion on the ballot for the first time since SCOTUS decision
For the first time since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the right to an abortion will be on a ballot.
Kansas voters will decide, via a somewhat convoluted question, whether to keep the constitution as is, which the state Supreme Court previously ruled protects abortion rights – a “no” vote – or vote “yes” and change the state’s constitution to specify that the right to an abortion is not guaranteed in the state.
The vote, in addition to being key to the future of abortions in Kansas, is widely seen as a referendum on whether abortion politics have truly shifted in the wake of the Supreme Court decision earlier this year. Democrats are hopeful that the decision has invigorated voters to oppose anti-abortion measures.
This will be part of a big election year in Kansas. Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly, who opposed the amendment, is up for reelection in November, representing one of the most vulnerable Democratic gubernatorial incumbents in the country.
“The amendment is written in such a way that the proponents of the amendment want to suggest that this would just leave things as they are in Kansas. But that’s not true,” Kelly said in late July. “What would happen if that amendment would pass is that the Legislature would immediately come back with some very severe restrictions on a woman’s ability to control her own fate.”
Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is all but certain to be the party’s nominee for governor, has said he would vote yes for the amendment.
Whitmer gets her challenger
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was on the short list for Biden’s vice presidential nod less than two years into her first term, gets her Republican challenger in Tuesday’s primary.
Trump on Friday endorsed Tudor Dixon, a conservative commentator who has falsely claimed that Trump won the 2020 election. She is also backed by Michigan’s GOP establishment, including former US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s family, the state Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Right to Life.
That GOP gubernatorial primary features several other election deniers, as well. One candidate, Ryan Kelley, was in Washington on January 6, 2021, and has pled not guilty to four misdemeanor charges stemming from allegations of his participation in the riot at the Capitol. Retired pastor Ralph Rebandt said he is “convinced that we would find the fraud” in the 2020 election with a “full forensic audit.” And chiropractor Garrett Soldano has touted a film that promotes an unproven conspiracy theory about the 2020 election.
Republicans in Michigan are poised to nominate election deniers for their entire slate of statewide offices.
The party is also expected to pick Trump-backed election deniers in the races for secretary of state and attorney general. At a convention in April, the state GOP endorsed Kristina Karamo, an educator and right-wing commentator who claimed to have witnessed irregularities in 2020’s election, for secretary of state, and Matthew DePerno, who was a lawyer on a case challenging the 2020 results, for attorney general. But those races aren’t on Tuesday’s primary ballot; instead, Republicans will make their choices official at a party convention in August.
Democratic House incumbents clash after redistricting draws them into new district
Redistricting in Michigan laid the groundwork for a Stevens-Levin contest in the state’s newly-drawn 11th Congressional District. Both candidates have claims to the seat, though some moderate Democrats expressed frustration that Levin didn’t try his hand in the open 10th District.
But the bigger story here has been animated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee involvement and spending by its new super PAC, United Democracy Project, with the latter having backed Stevens with more than $4 million in outside expenditures.
Levin, a Jewish progressive whose family has a storied history in Michigan politics, now enters primary day as an underdog despite a late boost from J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group attempting to blunt some of AIPAC’s influence with an ad buy worth about $700,000.
Notably, Israel policy has not been a theme – it’s barely mentioned – in either candidate’s campaigns or the ads from the competing groups. But Levin, the lead sponsor of the Two-State Solution Act, has been more willing to criticize the Israeli government.
Progressives have been scathing in their criticism of Democrats, like Stevens, who have accepted help from AIPAC, which also contributes to Republicans, including many who voted against certifying Biden’s 2020 election win. (AIPAC has essentially ignored the backlash, pointing to the Democrats it backs and saying it can’t advance its policy goals without bipartisan support.)
Another well-known progressive, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, has attracted less attention from pro-Israel groups and, despite an influx of moderate outside cash against her, is the favorite to win nomination again in the redrawn 12th District.
How much does Trump’s impeachment still matter?
A lot has changed in the last 18 months since Trump was impeached for a second time. But two Republican incumbents – Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse – will face voters for the first time since joining Democrats to impeach the then-President.
A flurry of factors – not only how removed politics is from that impeachment vote – have Republicans in Washington skeptical that both Herrera Beutler and Newhouse will be ousted: Both incumbents have outspent their challengers, the fields are large and fractured and Washington State’s open primary system allows people to vote for any candidate, regardless of affiliation.
“If the vote was held a month (after the impeachment decision), they probably would have lost,” said a top Washington Republican operative. “But given 9% inflation, given the high gas prices we saw, if you are talking with conservative voters, they may be more concerned with the current situation in the country than they are 16 or 18 months ago.”
Herrera Beutler is facing author Heidi St. John, who has received a burst of super PAC money; state Rep. Vicki Kraft; and retired special forces officer Joe Kent, who Trump has backed. While Newhouse faces former NASCAR driver Jarod Sessler, state Rep. Brad Klippert and vocal election denier Loren Culp, who has been endorsed by Trump.
Herrera Beutler and Newhouse aren’t the only decisions for Republicans on Tuesday. The party will also look to nominate a candidate to face Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. Tiffany Smiley is seen as the leading Republican in the race, but Washington voters have not been represented by a Republican in the Senate since 2001.