GOP member-vs.-member fight tops Tuesday primaries

Mooney, McKinley face off in West Virginia as Nebraskans pick nominees to replace Fortenberry

Republican Reps. David B. McKinley, left, and Alex X. Mooney face off in a Republican primary in West Virginia's 2nd District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photos)
Republican Reps. David B. McKinley, left, and Alex X. Mooney face off in a Republican primary in West Virginia's 2nd District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photos)
Posted May 9, 2022 at 6:00am

West Virginia voters will choose Tuesday between two Republican House incumbents, while Nebraskans will pick nominees to replace a congressman who ended his campaign after a criminal conviction — but remains on the ballot.

The race in West Virginia's 2nd District pits four-term Rep. Alex X. Mooney, who has the support of former President Donald Trump, against six-term Rep. David B. McKinley, who backed Trump more often on legislation according to CQ Vote Watch but got on the former president's enemies list for votes last year supporting a bipartisan infrastructure bill and an independent probe into the Jan. 6 riot.

Mooney led McKinley, 48 percent to 33 percent, in a poll of 350 likely Republican voters released Friday by West Virginia MetroNews, a talk radio and streaming network. The survey, taken online and by phone April 28 through May 4 by Research America, had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.

Mooney and McKinley ended up in a primary after West Virginia lost one of its three House seats through reapportionment after the 2020 census. In the new 2nd District, about twice as many voters were previously McKinley's constituents as Mooney's. But the MetroNews poll found Mooney had a 41-point lead in the state's eastern panhandle, where he lives in Charles Town, while McKinley had only a 16-point lead in the state's northern panhandle, where he lives in Wheeling.

Mooney featured Trump's endorsement in his ads, had the former president join him in a telephone rally and traveled to Pennsylvania on Friday to join Trump at a rally near Pittsburgh.

Mooney remains the subject of two ethics probes in the House: one regarding his use of campaign funds and another that is examining whether he tampered with a prior investigation and misused taxpayer dollars. He also faced criticism as a former state senator from Maryland in contrast to McKinley's lifelong residence in the Mountain State.

Mooney had a clear financial advantage in the campaign, spending $5.1 million to McKinley's $1.9 million through April 20, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Outside groups, led by the anti-spending Club for Growth, provided even more support, spending $1.4 million to support Mooney or attack McKinley. Outside spending to support McKinley or attack Mooney totaled $667,000, with most of that coming from Defending Main Street, a super PAC funded primarily by labor unions.

McKinley had the support of the state's Republican governor, Trump ally Jim Justice, as well as Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III.

Trump had urged House and Senate Republicans to reject the infrastructure bill, which was supported by Manchin, Justice and GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, to deny President Joe Biden a legislative victory. But McKinley, a civil engineer and former state Republican chairman, had campaigned on a promise to boost infrastructure and said in an interview he couldn't pass up an opportunity to help the state.

And while he faced attacks, McKinley did not challenge Trump's false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Asked at a recent town hall if Trump lost in 2020, McKinley said, “I'll never know. I'll never know.”

The race in November is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. The Democratic primary candidates, Angela J. Dwyer and Barry Lee Wendell, did not file FEC reports, indicating they had not raised or spent more than $5,000.

Dwyer focused on lowering the poverty rate, producing jobs and advancing opportunities for women and minorities. She works as a security operations manager and graduated from Morgan State University, according to her campaign website.

Wendell said in a Youtube video that if elected he wants to “pass as much as possible” of Biden’s "Build Back Better" plan and would vote to forgive most outstanding student loans.

Fortenberry still on ballot

Nebraska’s 1st District was poised for the most competitive Republican primary it had seen in years until former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s March criminal conviction and subsequent resignation from Congress

Since then, the local political apparatus has consolidated around state Sen. Mike Flood, the only one of the four candidates who is raising any money. The biggest question Tuesday will be how many votes go to Fortenberry, whose name remains on the ballot even though he resigned as a candidate. 

Flood had raised $895,000 and still had $220,000 in the bank as of April 20. He is up against Air Force veteran Curtis Huffman, teacher and dance instructor Thireena Yuki Connely and retired Air Force officer and real estate agent John Glen Weaver.

The state Republican Party has already selected Flood as its nominee for the June 28 special election to replace Fortenberry for the rest of his current term. 

The Democrats’ nominee for the special election, state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, is also running in the primary for a full term against college student Jazari Kual Zakaria.

Brooks is the only candidate in that race who has raised any money, with $540,000 raised and $281,000 on hand as of April 20. Trump would have carried the newly drawn district by 11 points in 2020. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the November race Solid Republican. 

Flood, an attorney, is a former speaker of the Nebraska Legislature and owns a statewide network of 15 radio stations and seven TV stations called News Channel Nebraska, which he started with the purchase of his first radio station when he was 24. He told the Lincoln Journal Star that his priorities would include addressing automation’s impact on Nebraska’s workforce and expanding broadband access in rural communities. 

Democrats vie to face Bacon

In Nebraska's 2nd District, two Democrats are vying to challenge GOP Rep. Don Bacon in November. 

State Sen. Tony Vargas is the top fundraiser. He pulled in $1 million and had $200,000 on hand. Alisha Shelton, a mental health therapist, raised $320,000 and had $28,000 on hand. Vargas, a former science teacher, also has support from national groups, including 314 Action, which supports people with science backgrounds running for Congress, and CHC Bold PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. 

Bacon faces commercial roofing salesman Steve Kuehl in the GOP primary. But Kuehl acknowledged in a Facebook post accompanying his campaign launch that he didn’t have a chance of defeating the three-term incumbent, and he had raised a paltry $5,000 to Bacon’s $2.3 million. 

Outside groups have spent $646,000 to support Bacon, $530,000 from Police Coalition of America PAC and $116,000 from Support Our Firefighters and Paramedics PAC.

National Democrats have considered Bacon’s district a top target in previous cycles, and the district is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of places “in play.” But redistricting didn’t substantially change its boundaries — Biden would have won it by 6 points in 2020 — and Bacon was reelected by 5 points. 

Inside Elections rates the race Lean Republican