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Trump gubernatorial endorsements show questionable judgment

The former president's picks have lost, and more losses are likely on the way

Gov. Brian Kemp takes a photo as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger looks on at an annual cookout in Glennville, Ga., in April. Kemp is expected to defeat former Sen. David Perdue — former President Donald Trump's pick — this week in the GOP gubernatorial  primary.
Gov. Brian Kemp takes a photo as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger looks on at an annual cookout in Glennville, Ga., in April. Kemp is expected to defeat former Sen. David Perdue — former President Donald Trump's pick — this week in the GOP gubernatorial primary. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — Former President Donald Trump has endorsed dozens of candidates in 2022 Republican primaries for the House, the Senate and governor. Many have been safe Republican incumbents like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Other times, Trump has endorsed high profile challengers or open seat hopefuls in competitive contests, including J.D. Vance in the Ohio Senate race, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary, and Herschel Walker in Georgia’s Senate race.

Many in the media are tracking the endorsements, and the primary victory of a Trump-endorsed Pennsylvania gubernatorial hopeful, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, has already been seen by some as evidence of Trump’s continued influence in his party.

But there already are more than a few signs that Trump’s endorsements in governors’ races will be less important than in contests for Congress, and Trump losses in gubernatorial contests could make the former president look increasingly weak.  

In Idaho, the former president failed to deliver, when Trump-endorsed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin fell to incumbent Gov. Brad Little by more than 20 points, 53 percent to 32 percent, in the Republican primary. 

And in Nebraska, Trump-endorsed businessman-rancher-farmer Charles Herbster lost by almost 4 points to Jim Pillen, a veterinarian who chaired the Nebraska State Board of Regents. Pillen had been endorsed by outgoing GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Republican Gov. Kay Orr.

Trump is likely to suffer another gubernatorial loss this week in Georgia, where former Sen. David Perdue is widely expected to lose the state’s Republican primary to incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp. Perdue trailed Kemp by more than 30 points in a recent Fox News poll.

In mid-July, Trump faces another test, when his endorsed candidate in Maryland, former state Del. Dan Cox, battles for the GOP nomination against a handful of opponents, including Kelly Schulz. 

In addition to Trump, Cox has been endorsed by Mastriano and Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, both of whom have supported Trump’s unfounded allegations about voter fraud in the 2020 election.  

On the other hand, Schulz, a former state delegate, state secretary of Labor and state secretary of Commerce, has been endorsed by popular outgoing Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan and dozens of Republican state legislators and local officials. 

According to The Baltimore Sun, Cox has called for the impeachment of Hogan for “malfeasance in office, misuse of the police power, violations of the separation of powers, theft of the people’s liberty and property, deprivation of the religious liberties of the people, and abuse of power under false pretenses.”

The former president’s endorsement record in congressional races is not perfect after North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn lost his bid for renomination. But Trump is likely to do better in House and Senate contests than in gubernatorial contests. 

Voters know their governors much better than they know their members of the House of Representatives or even their senators, who spend much of their time in Washington, D.C.

Governors are in the news more frequently than are most members of Congress, and often their jobs entail attracting new businesses, fixing the roads or improving schools — not the knee-jerk, ideological issues that automatically polarize voters these days.

That’s why Maryland voters could reelect Hogan twice and still vote for Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden for president, Massachusetts voters could reelect Republican Charlie Baker and still vote for Clinton and Biden, and liberal (and reliably Democratic) Vermont voters could continue to reelect Republican Gov. Phil Scott every two years since he was first elected in 2016.

While governors’ races have become more ideological (and voters more partisan) recently, they still are less so — and more dependent on the quality of the nominees — than are races for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. That’s why Democrat Laura Kelly was able to be elected Kansas governor in 2018 in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since the 1930s.

By injecting himself into gubernatorial contests, Trump risks more defeats, which, in turn, could make him look weaker.

Trump easily could have walked away from gubernatorial contests, declining to endorse. They are, after all, state races, not federal contests. But since everything is seemingly personal with the former president, he apparently can’t do that. And because of that, he will likely suffer more embarrassing primary and general election gubernatorial defeats this year.

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