Primaries show uneven power of Trump — and progressives
Walker, Greene coast in Georgia; others backed by Trump make runoffs after finishing second
Voters rejected former President Donald Trump’s endorsed candidates in four statewide races in Georgia on Tuesday, but his preferred Senate candidate won. House primaries there and in other states offered a more muddied picture of his enduring influence on the Republican Party, however. Indeed, many candidates he didn’t endorse still pledged their allegiance to him, a further sign he is the de facto leader of the party.
In Democratic primaries, voters also sent mixed messages, with two decisive wins for progressives in Georgia and Texas while a couple of high-profile races in competitive Texas districts were still too close to call Wednesday afternoon. Here are takeaways from the primaries in Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Minnesota and Arkansas.
Walker win tops uneven scorecard
Trump endorsed 13 candidates up and down the ballot in Georgia as he sought to relitigate his 2020 election loss there. Candidates in four of those races lost, including former Sen. David Perdue, who was running for governor, and Rep. Jody B. Hice, who was vying for secretary of state. Those races and statewide contests for insurance commissioner and attorney general got national attention because of Trump’s attempt to punish officials who did not push his baseless claims of election fraud. Their losses showed that Republican voters won’t always walk in lockstep with the former president — especially when it comes to his personal vendettas.
But in one of the biggest prizes of the night, Trump-endorsed former NFL star Herschel Walker won the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in November. Walker received 68 percent of the vote, sailing past his five opponents. Second-place finisher Gary Black, the state agriculture commissioner, got just 13 percent.
And in Georgia’s solid-red 14th District, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose defiance of political norms has raised her national profile in a way that is often compared to Trump’s, beat back five challengers with 70 percent of the vote. Second-place finisher Jennifer Strahan, a health care executive who was also pro-Trump, got only 17 percent in spite of support from national Republicans attracted to her call for a more pragmatic approach to lawmaking. Greene will face Army veteran Marcus Flowers, who raised nearly $8.2 million and won the three-way Democratic primary with 75 percent of the vote.
Trump’s influence also weighed heavily on competitive GOP primaries, even when the candidates he selected did not deliver decisive victories.
In the race for the GOP nomination for the heavily Republican 10th District seat that Hice gave up, Trump-endorsed former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones got just 22 percent. But it was enough in the eight-candidate field to get him into a runoff with trucking company owner Mike Collins, who argued that he was the better representative of Trump’s values. Collins, who is the son of former Rep. Mac Collins and came close to winning the seat in 2014, was the top vote-getter with 26 percent. Georgia requires candidates to clear 50 percent to win a nomination outright.
Trump’s pick in suburban Atlanta’s 6th District, former state Ethics Board Chairman Jake Evans, also finished second, with 23 percent. He’ll be in a runoff with emergency room physician Rich McCormick, who got 43 percent. Evans got Trump’s endorsement in the final weeks of the race, but McCormick, a retired Marine helicopter pilot, was endorsed by Trump when he was the 2020 nominee in the neighboring 7th District. The 6th District seat is currently held by Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, who chose to run in the 7th District after the 6th was redrawn in a way that Trump would have carried it by 15 points in 2020.
Perhaps no congressional race offers a more convoluted assessment of Trump’s political influence than the Alabama Senate GOP primary. The former president initially gave an enthusiastic endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks — but then revoked it and called Brooks “woke” for not indulging, sufficiently, Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. Brooks also came in second on Tuesday, with 29 percent, and will face front-runner Katie Britt, who got 45 percent, in a June 21 runoff. Voters before the primary said they received recent, but undated, mailers touting Trump’s endorsement of Brooks, to which Trump said in a statement: “Can’t do that Mo!”
Trump did not subsequently endorse Britt, a former top staffer to the state’s longtime retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby, or any of the other four contenders Tuesday. He hadn’t made a public pick in the runoff by Wednesday evening.
Two wins for progressives
McBath’s decision to switch districts paid off, and she took a decisive victory over Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, the incumbent in the 7th District who flipped the seat in 2020. McBath’s win offered some hope to progressives frustrated with their party’s failure to follow through on sweeping promises while Democrats have control in Washington. McBath got 63 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Bourdeaux, who progressives thought shared some of the blame for derailing President Joe Biden’s massive social spending and climate change package when she joined a group of nine moderates who refused to vote on it last summer until the House first approved a Senate-passed infrastructure package. McBath, a gun control activist whose son was murdered at a gas station in 2012, outraised Bourdeaux by more than $1 million and got more than $4 million in outside support, while hardly any groups spent on Bourdeaux’s behalf.
Progressives also claimed credit for attorney Jasmine Crockett’s 21-point victory over state Rep. Jane Hope Hamilton in the race to replace retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in the Dallas-area 30th District in Texas. Crockett got support from national progressive groups, including Our Revolution, a group that was spun out of the 2016 presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. She also had a vocal endorsement from Johnson, who represented the heavily Democratic district for decades, raising the question of whether local political allegiances were also at play.
McBath and Crockett both benefited from millions of dollars in outside spending from new super PACS funded by cryptocurrency financiers that have infused massive amounts of money into Democratic primaries this cycle. Protect Our Future, a super PAC backed by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, spent $2 million worth of ads praising McBath and $1.4 million supporting Crockett. Another cryptocurrency PAC, Web3Forward, spent $1.3 million to help Crockett’s campaign.
Tighter margins in battleground districts
The margins were closer in runoffs for Texas House districts expected to be competitive in November. In the 15th District, where the November race is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, progressive activist Michelle Vallejo was leading more moderate lawyer and Army veteran Rubin Ramirez by just 23 votes Wednesday afternoon. The race had not been called by The Associated Press.
The winner will face GOP nominee Monica De La Cruz, a Trump-endorsed insurance agency owner, in a south central district that would have narrowly voted for Trump over Biden.
And Rep. Henry Cuellar, a top target for progressives because of his opposition to abortion rights and gun control legislation and his critique of Democrats’ immigration policies, held a 175-vote lead over immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros in the 28th District as of Wednesday afternoon. Cuellar had declared victory, but the race was still uncalled by the AP.
This was Cisneros’ second attempt to unseat Cuellar. She was flooded with outside support after the leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, but Democratic House leaders did not bow to pressure from progressive groups to drop their support of Cuellar. He argued that the party’s hard-line position on abortion and other social issues risked alienating socially conservative voters in his largely Latino district.
The race in November is rated Likely Democratic by Inside Elections, but Republicans see it as a pickup opportunity. Republican Cassy Garcia, a former aide to Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, won the GOP runoff for the nomination with 57 percent of the vote.
Widow’s campaign falls short
In Minnesota, former Trump administration agriculture official Brad Finstad beat state Rep. Jeremy Munson by 1.2 percentage points in the special election to fulfill the rest of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term this year. Finstad’s win was hailed by GOP groups, including American Dream Federal Action, that spent a combined $1.5 million to help him beat Munson, who had support from members of the House Freedom Caucus.
A third candidate, Jennifer Carnahan, Hagedorn’s widow, focused her campaign on trying to build on her husband’s legacy in Congress. She got 8 percent of the vote.
Carnahan is the third widow to run for their late spouse’s congressional seat in the past two years and the second to lose a primary. Historically, being elected to finish a spouse’s term was a common way for women to first get to Congress, but it doesn’t guarantee a candidate will be successful. Carnahan, the former chair of the state GOP, had her own baggage she carried into the race and was significantly outspent.
Vulnerable incumbents weren’t
Arkansas Sen. John Boozman beat back a Republican primary challenge from former NFL player Jake Bequette, who had the support of a super PAC bankrolled by conservative mega-donor Richard Uihlein. Boozman got 58 percent to Bequette’s 22 percent in the four-candidate primary.
And in Georgia’s 13th District, House Agriculture Chairman David Scott fended off a primary from his left, winning 66 percent of the vote while three challengers shared the rest.
Kate Ackley and Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.