Primary Elections 2022: Live Midterm Updates
Two states hold primary elections on Tuesday. In one, Joe Biden couldn’t get 40% of the vote in 2020; in the other, it could not even reach 30%.
You guessed it: most of the action is on the Republican side.
In West Virginia, two Republican incumbents are battling for a new congressional district. In Nebraska, the Republican primary for governor has become a three-candidate tie.
Across the aisle from Nebraska, Democrats are preparing to take another shot at a House seat based in Omaha — a seat of particular national relevance, given that it’s the only district in the State Congress that gave Joe Biden an Electoral College vote in 2020.
Here’s what we’re looking at.
Trump’s endorsement battles with incumbent GOP governors
Because Nebraska and West Virginia are so deeply Republican, the winners of Tuesday’s Republican primaries will be heavily favored to win the November general election. The results will likely decide whether Donald Trump’s cronies will be elected to Congress and state executive offices.
“That’s why all the attention is on the primary,” said Sam Fischer, a Republican strategist from Nebraska.
Trump notched a win in Ohio last week when JD Vance surged to the top of a crowded Republican primary after being endorsed by the former president. On Tuesday, the potency of a Trump endorsement will be tested again.
But in Nebraska and West Virginia, two of the candidates who lack Trump’s support have a different trump card: an endorsement from the state’s current governor.
Unlike Ohio, where Gov. Mike DeWine refused to endorse a Senate nominee as he faced his own challenge, Republican governors in Nebraska and West Virginia appear to have had few qualms about endorsing candidates neglected by Trump. In fact, both leaders — Governor Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia — have publicly criticized Trump’s endorsement decisions in their respective states.
In Nebraska, Trump backed Charles Herbster, a wealthy farm business owner. Ricketts, the incumbent governor, has a limited term and has not only endorsed another candidate – Jim Pillen, a regent at the University of Nebraska – but has also publicly disparaged Herbster.
In West Virginia, Governor Justice backed Rep. David McKinley in the state House race after Trump endorsed Rep. Alex Mooney. Justice recently said he believes Trump made a mistake.
What is more important in GOP races: the messenger or the message?
In West Virginia and Nebraska, governor-endorsed candidates have accused Trump’s picks of being outsiders.
McKinley calls his Trump-backed opponent “Maryland Mooney,” drawing attention to the congressman’s past in the Maryland Legislature and in the Maryland Republican Party. True to the “M” theme, Pillen slammed his rival as “Missouri Millionaire Charles Herbster,” citing reports that Herbster has a residence in Missouri.
But if the messenger is more important than the message, the Trump-backed candidates have the advantage.
Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist who has worked with Mitch McConnell and George W. Bush, said with great Republican enthusiasm this year, he expects high turnout, which means some voters who wouldn’t normally show up that in a presidential race – that is, when Trump is on the ticket – are likely to vote midterm.
These voters are some of Trump’s most loyal supporters — and some of the most distrustful of any other politician, Jennings said.
“These are Trump’s new Republicans who came into the party with him, and they’re the people least likely to care what an establishment or an incumbent politician would say,” he said.
In Nebraska, the feud between Herbster and Pillen could have an unintended consequence. As they vie to be the most Trumpiest and most authentically local candidates, voters may tire of political snipers and throw their support behind Brett Lindstrom, a state senator who is the third leading candidate.
“The main question is, will Nebraska primary voters ignore the negative attacks from Herbster and Pillen?” said Fischer, the state’s Republican strategist. “And will Lindstrom take advantage of it?”
There would be a precedent. In a 2012 Republican primary for Nebraska Senate, Deb Fischer won a close race after a fierce battle between two other candidates. And in another GOP Senate primary in Indiana in 2018, two of the state’s congressmen engaged in a protracted feud that stemmed from college decades earlier. Exhausted voters went with little-known Mike Braun, now a junior state senator.
How important are sexual misconduct allegations in Republican primaries?
While Herbster has the primary’s most prized asset — Trump’s endorsement — he also faces the most serious questions about his personal history. Two women, including a Republican senator, publicly accused him of groping them at a political event in 2019.
Herbster took an approach long taken by Trump, denying the allegations and calling them successful political work by his critics.
How voters react to the allegations could indicate — at least in Nebraska — where the GOP’s base stands in tolerating candidates accused of abusing women.
“If you can win with these allegations in Nebraska, you can probably win anywhere,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican strategist. But if Herbster loses, DuHaime said, Trump can point to the allegations against him as the culprit, rather than the waning power of his endorsement.
Later that year in Georgia, another Trump-endorsed candidate who has faced domestic abuse allegations, Herschel Walker, is running for the Senate, though he won’t face a competitive primary.
And in Missouri, where Trump has yet to endorse, former Gov. Eric Greitens alarmed some Republican insiders by persisting in his Senate bid even after his ex-wife accused him of abusing her. and their children, the latest in a series of scandals for Greitens.
Will the Democrats’ fresh start pay off in a battlefield neighborhood?
The Democratic primaries in Nebraska’s second congressional district were among the most eventful in recent House history, though few people noticed.
In 2018, Kara Eastman, then an underfunded candidate backed by the progressive group Justice Democrats, defeated former district congressman Brad Ashford in the primary. Democrats, convinced Eastman was too liberal for the Republican-held suburban seat, largely ignored the district, but were surprised at how close Eastman came to winning.
In 2020, Eastman won the primary again — this time with support from the Democratic establishment and with a messaging overhaul. She beat Ashford’s wife, Ann Ashford, in the primary. Then Brad Ashford crossed party lines to endorse Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican who won re-election.
This year, the Democrats are trying again, but with a new candidate. The primary goes to Tony Vargas, a state senator, and Alisha Shelton, a mental health practitioner who placed third in the 2020 Senate primary.
“Tony Vargas and Alisha Shelton have built their careers helping Nebraska working families move forward,” said Johanna Warshaw, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “No matter who wins the Democratic primary, either candidate is well positioned to take on Don Bacon and his hardline policies in that Biden-winning seat.”
What to read
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Our colleague Ruth Graham tells the story of Kevin Thompson, an evangelical pastor from Arkansas who split from his church as Trump-era politics unnervingly encroached on his job.
California will hold its primary elections next month. Here are three races we watch.
Poll examines opinions on immigration and a conspiracy theory
Late last month, my colleague Jazmine Ulloa wrote about a fixation among Republican leaders and candidates over the false claim that undocumented immigrants vote fraudulently. Today, one of the nation’s most reputable pollsters indicated just how widespread that view is among the American public.
The Associated Press-NORC poll, conducted in December, found that nearly a third of American adults agreed with the following statement: “There is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace Americans from strain by immigrants who agree with political opinions.” People the study identified as tending to “indulge in conspiratorial thinking” were twice as likely to agree with the statement.
Donald Trump has made similar false claims throughout his tenure as president, but they have been repeatedly debunked. Voter fraud in general is rare.
The poll also found that 29% of adults were “extremely” or “very” concerned that Americans born in the United States were “losing their economic, political and cultural influence” due to the growing immigrant population.
Such concerns were raised by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who repeatedly borrowed a racist conspiracy theory, “the great replacement,” to argue that Democrats import supporters.
As my colleague Nicholas Confessore explained in a three-part series that analyzed 1,150 episodes of Tucker Carlson’s show, this is just the latest iteration of a push to stoke immigration fears – one that seems to be gaining momentum before the mid-terms.
Is there anything you think we’re missing? Something you want to see more? We would love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].