Overtime campaigns near end in Alabama and Georgia, while Virginia picks challengers
Once again, GOP voters will weigh the value of Trump support
Some pivotal elections will be settled with runoffs Tuesday, including a high-profile and pricey GOP primary to pick the likely successor to retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama.
Voters in Georgia, who rejected former President Donald Trump’s endorsed candidates in statewide races in May, will also pick nominees in two Republican House primary runoffs that feature Trump-endorsed candidates. A third contest will determine the Republican challenger to Democrat Sanford Bishop in a district the GOP is targeting in November. Republican voters in Virginia will also pick challengers to two battleground Democratic incumbents, Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger.
Here’s what we’re watching Tuesday:
Who will be Alabama’s junior senator?
Outside groups invested more than $3.3 million in the weeks leading up to Alabama’s Senate GOP primary runoff between Katie Britt, a former top aide to Shelby, and Rep. Mo Brooks. Super PACs and other groups spent a total of $30.8 million in an attempt to sway the outcome of the race, Federal Election Commission reports show.
Britt, the leading contender in the state’s May 24 primary, did not clear the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff, forcing another election between her and the second-place finisher Brooks, an early favorite for the seat who quickly nabbed an endorsement from Trump. However, Trump revoked his blessing of Brooks’ nomination and on June 10 endorsed Britt, calling her a “fearless America First Warrior,” in a statement.
The contest has exposed other fissures within the GOP, splitting the Club for Growth, which backed Brooks, and Trump as well as other conservative groups, including one that took in millions of Shelby’s political money.
Shelby’s leadership PAC, Defend America PAC, donated to Britt’s campaign and also gave at least $2.5 million to a group called Alabama Christian Conservatives, which has spent about $3.6 million supporting Britt, FEC disclosures show. Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also gave $3 million to a group that donated about that amount to Alabama Christian Conservatives. The Club for Growth spent more than $4.4 million on ads attacking Britt and supporting Brooks.
Curiously, Trump said in his endorsement of Britt that the “opposition says Katie is close to Mitch McConnell, but actually, she is not — in fact, she believes that McConnell put Mike Durant in the race to stop her, which is very possibly true.” Durant, an Army veteran and business executive who mostly self-funded his campaign, came in third in the May 24 primary and did not make the cut for the runoff.
The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Will Boyd, the party’s 2018 lieutenant governor candidate. If she wins in November, Britt would be the first woman elected to the Senate from Alabama and, at age 40, one of the chamber’s younger members and one of very few with school-age children. Alabama has had two women senators who were appointed to the chamber.
The race has also split senators, with Arkansas’ Tom Cotton and Iowa’s Joni Ernst both endorsing Britt, while Texas’ Ted Cruz and Kentucky’s Rand Paul gave Brooks their backing.
Though Shelby has been generous with his campaign cash and has made no secret of his support for Britt, he has not been a major presence on the trail.
The Value in Electing Women, or VIEW, PAC endorsed Britt and is running an online ad in support of her. The group’s executive director called her the future of the GOP.
“A lot of people tried to make it about her being Shelby’s person, but that motivated her even more to demonstrate she was her own person,” said VIEW PAC’s Julie Conway. “Katie was going to win this race on her own merit all along. President Trump’s endorsement was icing on the cake, but the cake was already made.”
Recent polling in the runoff had Britt leading Brooks, 58 percent to 33 percent with about 9 percent undecided, according to a memo from McLaughlin & Associates of a survey conducted between June 13-16. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the November race Solid Republican.
Who replaces Brooks?
Voters in Brooks’ old seat, the 5th District, also will pick their GOP nominee in the heavily Republican enclave. Dale Strong, a volunteer firefighter who chairs the Madison County Commission, is the favorite against Casey Wardynski, a former assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and Reserve affairs and one-time superintendent of the Huntsville school district. The winner will face Democrat Kathy Warner-Stanton in a district Trump would have carried by 27 points in 2020.
Who faces Luria, Spanberger and Bishop?
Two primaries in Virginia and a runoff in Georgia will determine who carries the Republican banner in closely-watched general election races.
In Virginia’s 2nd District, state Sen. Jen Kiggans is considered the frontrunner in both fundraising and endorsements. She raised $1.3 million and had $489,000 in cash on hand on June 1, more than the other Republicans in the primary but far less than the $3.4 million held by Luria, who is unopposed on the Democratic side.
Kiggans has support from members including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik. Retired Naval officer Jerome Bell has sought to position himself as the “America First” candidate in the race and Trump brought him on stage at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, although he hasn’t issued a formal endorsement in the race.
Though nearly 40 percent were undecided, a May poll of likely Republican primary voters from Basswood Research found Kiggans with nearly 44 percent support, far ahead of almost 9 percent for Tommy Altman and 8 percent for Bell. None of those polled said they would support the fourth candidate in the race, Andy Baan.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to McCarthy, spent $450,000 to support Kiggans. Three other PACs, including ones focused on law enforcement, spent a combined $360,000 to support her. The Free American PAC spent $54,716 to support Bell and $87,782 opposing Kiggans. The PAC has not yet disclosed where it got the funds. Inside Elections rates the November election a Toss-up.
The GOP race in Virginia's 7th District is more wide open. Six candidates and a lack of public polling has made it difficult to gauge if any candidate is clearly in the lead.
The National Republican Congressional Committee named four candidates to its “On The Radar” program for candidates for campaigns that meet certain benchmarks: Derrick Anderson, Bryce Reeves, Yesli Vega and Crystal Vanuch.
Reeves, a state senator, has the highest name recognition in the race, while Vega sits on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Vanuch is the chair of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors. Anderson, a former Army Special Forces “Green Beret,” hasn’t previously run for office.
David Ross, who sits on the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, and Gina Ciarcia, a teacher, round out the primary field.
Reeves leads the field in fundraising, bringing in $681,000 as of June 1, while Anderson raised $599,000, Vanuch raised $518,000 and Vega raised $506,000. Spanberger, who doesn’t face a primary opponent, has raised $4.8 million and had $4.3 million on hand.
A range of super PACs have spent money to support Reeves, Anderson and Vega. Resolute PAC and Clean Up Congress PAC spent a combined $252,000 to support Reeves, while the Keeping America Great PAC and Virginia Conservatives Fund spent $32,000 opposing him. Those groups also will disclose where the money came from after the primary.
Spending $183,000 combined to support Vega were Truth and Courage PAC, House Freedom Action, which is affiliated with the House Freedom Caucus, and Keeping America Great PAC.
The American Liberty Fund, Virginia Conservatives Fund and Clean Up Congress PAC spent a combined $119,000 to support Anderson. Inside Elections rates the race Tilt Democratic.
In Georgia, former Army captain Jeremy Hunt and attorney and Georgia Air National Guard officer Chris West are competing for the GOP nomination in the southwestern 2nd District, one of the state’s only competitive districts in November.
Hunt finished first in the May primary with 37 percent to West’s 30 percent. He had a heavy fundraising advantage that has allowed him to outspend West 6-to-1 leading into the runoff. He was also the only candidate with outside support during the runoff, with $300,000 from the American Values First PAC after the May 24 primary. American Patriots PAC also spent $320,000 combined on direct mail and ads promoting Hunt and opposing West.
The money has helped Hunt fend off attacks that he is not deeply connected to the district. He left Yale Law School to enter the race and registered to vote in Muscogee County in February, according to local reports. He was also the target of a lawsuit filed last week by Wayne Johnson, who finished third in the May primary, alleging that Hunt and Fox News conspired to elevate his campaign through multiple appearances on its programs. Hunt, who is Black, has offered a perspective on minorities in the GOP as the party has sought to tout its recruitment of diverse candidates, many of whom are military veterans.
Bishop, the incumbent, is a member of the DCCC’s Frontline incumbent protection program. The district became more Republican after redistricting, and the November race is rated Likely Democratic by Inside Elections.
More Trump tests in Georgia
GOP runoffs in Georgia’s 6th and 10th Districts are posing another test to Trump’s power as a kingmaker after his endorsed candidates in statewide races suffered staggering defeats in May’s primaries.
Trump’s picks in both House races were the second-place finishers in May and were outraised and outspent by their runoff opponents.
In the 6th District race to replace Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, Trump-endorsed former Ethics Commission Chairman Jake Evans, who got 23 percent of the vote in May to 43 percent for emergency room physician Rich McCormick, has sought to portray himself as the more solid conservative. McBath moved to the neighboring 7th District, where she won the Democratic nomination in May, after redistricting made the 6th District more friendly to Republicans. The 6th District race in November is rated Likely Republican by Inside Elections.
McCormick, whose $2.9 million in spending more than doubled his opponent’s, has been hammering Evans for a law review article published in 2015 in which he argued for reforms to account for racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The position aligns with arguments coming from the left in recent years, and McCormick has attacked it in mailers and other campaign materials as a “woke manifesto.”
McCormick has also benefited from more than $1.7 million in outside money supporting him and opposing Evans since the May primaries. About $1.2 million of that came from the conservative School Freedom Fund Fund, a super PAC affiliated with the anti-tax Club for Growth that has been airing advertisements tying Evans to “Critical Race Theory radicals.” Evans got comparatively little outside support, totalling $324,000, with just $11,000 spent on phone calls and texts to get out the vote from Trump’s Make America Great Again Again! PAC.
Trump’s endorsed candidate in the 10th District, where the race is rated Solid Republican, is former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones. Jones got 22 percent of the vote in the May primary to 26 percent for trucking company owner Mike Collins. But Collins, the son of former Rep. Mac Collins who came close to winning the seat in 2014, has more than doubled Jones’ fundraising, allowing him to spend $517,000 on the race to Jones’ $397,000.
Trump’s Make America Great Again Again! PAC is the only outside group reporting spending during the runoff, with $10,000 in support of Jones.
Gov. Brian Kemp, who lives in the district and just won his own primary against a Trump-endorsed opponent, endorsed Collins.
Both Collins and Jones have attacked each other’s conservative credentials. Their campaigns have 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’ history of misconduct toward women.
The 10th District is open after GOP Rep. Jody Hice decided to run for secretary of state , with Trump’s endorsement. He lost to incumbent Republican Brad Raffensperger in May.