Posted June 22, 2022 at 6:23pm
Republican runoff elections in Alabama and Georgia and primaries in Virginia were the latest to show that Republican voters are willing to consider candidates who don’t have former President Donald Trump’s endorsement — as long as nobody on the ballot is questioning his influence over the GOP.
Nominees who beat his endorsed candidates generally embraced the “America First” agenda that Trump popularized, and in some cases they repeated his baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Their victories are a testament to Trump’s enduring imprint on the GOP, even as a House select committee has used testimony from Republicans in his inner circle and key state positions to scrutinize his election fraud claims and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol. Here are several takeaways from Tuesday’s elections:
Georgia losing streak continues
Two Trump-backed candidates seeking open seats were soundly defeated in Georgia on the same day the state’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, testified in Washington about repeatedly rejecting fraud claims from Trump and his allies.
Raffensperger is one of three Republicans elected statewide, along with Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr, whom Trump blamed for his 2020 loss. The former president endorsed and campaigned for their challengers, who lost in primaries three weeks ago.
Tuesday’s Republican runoffs offered a more nuanced picture. In the races where Trump clearly endorsed, in the 6th and 10th Districts, all the candidates on the ballot had promoted elements of Trump’s election fraud claims. Emergency room physician Rich McCormick and trucking company owner Mike Collins both won by large margins after overwhelming their opponents in fundraising, spending and outside support. Both winning candidates argued that they were the better models of Trump-style conservatism.
McCormick, who was the Trump-endorsed nominee when he ran in 2020 in the neighboring 7th District, beat former Ethics Commission Chairman Jake Evans with 67 percent of the vote running in a redrawn 6th District on Tuesday.
McCormick hammered Evans for a law review article published in 2015 that he called a “woke manifesto” for arguing in support of reforms to account for racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He will face Democrat Bob Christian in a November race rated Likely Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.
Collins got 75 percent of the vote against former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones in the Solid Republican 10th District. Collins is the son of former Rep. Mac Collins and was also endorsed by Kemp, who lives in the district.
Both Collins and Jones attacked each other’s conservative credentials. Their campaigns also veered into personal attacks, with Collins sending out mailers calling Jones, who is Black, a “RADICALLY ANTI-WHITE RACIST” and Jones filing a police report claiming Collins was inciting violence against him by handing out red rape whistles affixed with Jones’ name, a reference to Jones’ alleged history of misconduct toward women.
The 10th District is open after GOP Rep. Jody B. Hice lost his bid, with Trump’s endorsement, to oust Raffensperger last month.
In a third GOP runoff, attorney Chris West won the 2nd District nomination to face Democratic Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr.
West, who also claimed during his campaign that there was fraud in Georgia’s 2020 elections, overcame a second-place finish in the May primary and a significant fundraising disadvantage to beat retired Army Capt. Jeremy Hunt, 51 percent to 49 percent. Hunt had a national profile as a Fox News contributor but moved to the district in February.
An Alabama win?
Trump’s influence in Alabama, which featured a contentious and expensive GOP primary runoff Tuesday between Katie Britt and Rep. Mo Brooks, is harder to evaluate. Britt, a former top aide to retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby, beat Brooks by 26 points.
Trump initially endorsed Brooks, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who represents Alabama’s 5th District, but then revoked that endorsement as Brooks lagged in the polls and amid a falling-out over Trump’s focus on the 2020 election.
Trump threw his backing to Britt in the runoff, but she was already favored to win.
“Katie ran a good race,” Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Wednesday during a breakfast with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “She’s going to be a very good U.S. senator. I think she’s reflecting what people in Alabama care about.”
Scott, who said he talks with the former president every two to three weeks, added, “I’m sure Trump is happy that Katie won since he endorsed her.”
Hours later, Trump touted, “12 WINS & ZERO LOSSES” on his social media site, referring to his Republican primary endorsements for Senate candidates.
But even if Britt’s win was inconclusive when it comes to Trump’s thumb on the scale, it was a clear victory for party establishment groups, including the Value in Electing Women PAC.
Britt, heavily favored to win the seat in November in a race that Inside Elections rates as Solid Republican, served as head of the Business Council of Alabama, an association for businesses in the state, before launching her campaign. She also understands how to wield influence in the Senate, where she worked for Shelby, and has a large network in Washington, D.C., and Alabama to draw from.
Trump did not endorse a candidate to replace Brooks in the 5th District. Dale Strong, a volunteer firefighter who chairs the Madison County Commission, won the primary runoff Tuesday with 63 percent of the vote and is favored to win in November.
Virginia battlefields set
In Virginia, Republican voters picked challengers for Democratic incumbents in what will be closely watched races this November, although Trump did not weigh in on the primaries.
In the 2nd District, state Sen. Jen Kiggans’ defeat of a candidate running on an America First platform and two other opponents was a victory for the party’s establishment wing. A nurse practitioner and Navy veteran, Kiggans will face Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria. Kiggans appealed to conservatives during the primary, focusing in one ad on election security and arguing that schools shouldn’t cover transgender issues and critical race theory, and she has been named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program for promising challengers. Redistricting tilted the district more in Republicans’ favor, and Inside Elections rates the race as a Toss-up.
Both Luria and Kiggans served in the Navy, and the district is home to a naval base and a large population of veterans and active-duty servicemembers. Luria has sought to focus on defense issues and the defense budget since her 2018 election, and she also is the only vulnerable Democrat to sit on the House committee investigating Jan. 6.
Kate Fegley, Luria’s campaign manager, called Kiggans an “election denier” in a statement on Tuesday night. Democrats have criticized Kiggans for voting in favor of a $70 million audit of the 2020 election.
In the 7th District, Yesli Vega, a former police officer and Prince William County supervisor, will face Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger in a race that Inside Elections rates Tilt Democratic.
Vega, the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, defeated five other candidates in a race that didn’t have a presumed front-runner.
Vega touted endorsements from conservatives such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 5th District Virginia Rep. Bob Good and Ginni Thomas, an activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said those endorsements “helped her distinguish herself” in the crowded primary field.
“Hispanic voters are abandoning Democrats because Democrats took them for granted and saddled them with higher costs, soaring crime and a crisis along our southern border,” Mike Berg, a spokesman for the NRCC, said in a statement.
Vega winning the nomination comes a week after Mayra Flores flipped a seat in South Texas in a special election to fill the remainder of former Rep. Filemon Vela’s term. She was sworn in on Tuesday.
Spanberger won her second term in 2020 by a 2-point margin, but redistricting made the district more Democratic, and it would have backed President Joe Biden by 8 points. In 2021, however, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin won the district by 5 points. A former CIA officer, Spanberger has touted her independent streak, but she will have to introduce herself to some voters who are new to the 7th District under the redrawn lines.
“The liability that Spanberger faces has little to do with anything she says or does on the campaign trail but rather the normally painful midterm elections for the president’s party and voter anxiety over inflation, gasoline prices and the like,” Farnsworth said.
Both Kiggans and Vega enter the general election trailing their opponents in fundraising. Without primary opponents this year, Luria and Spanberger have both built up war chests in advance of expected competitive races. As of June 1, Luria had $4.8 million on hand, while Spanberger had $4.3 million.