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Election takeaways: Trump support, big money can only go so far

What happened in Colorado, New York, South Carolina and Utah elections on Tuesday

Westchester County Executive George Latimer speaks to supporters in White Plains, N.Y., after winning the  Democratic primary in New York's 16th District on Tuesday.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer speaks to supporters in White Plains, N.Y., after winning the Democratic primary in New York's 16th District on Tuesday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A trio of former President Donald Trump’s preferred candidates went down in defeat Tuesday, and a member of the House’s liberal “Squad” became the first Democratic incumbent to lose a primary.

Other incumbents facing challengers, however, won or were winning. 

Here are five takeaways from results of a runoff in South Carolina and primaries in Colorado, New York and Utah.

Trump backing has limits

It’s not every day that the former president comes out on the wrong end of a Republican primary election, but that happened three times on Tuesday.

In Utah, Republican Rep. John Curtis won the primary in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Mitt Romney by defeating multiple candidates, including Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who ran as the Trump-backed candidate and had won the state GOP convention’s backing in April.

Despite Utah’s reliably Republican voters, Trump has not found the same level of support in the Beehive State GOP as he has found elsewhere, so the idea that the former president’s endorsement did not win the day in a primary, especially against a sitting House member, wasn’t too much of a surprise. 

But two other House contests might say more about the limits of Trump’s support.

Sheri Biggs defeated Trump-backed pastor Mark Burns in a runoff for the 3rd District GOP nomination in South Carolina, after Burns had been the top vote-getter in a more crowded primary two weeks ago. 

Biggs, a nurse practitioner and a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, had the backing of Gov. Henry McMaster, a Trump ally, for the seat that’s open because of the retirement of GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan. 

Biggs won narrowly, getting only 51 percent of the vote, according to tallies by The Associated Press. But it was a different story in Colorado’s 5th District, where Rep. Doug Lamborn is retiring and former radio talk show host Jeff Crank trounced state Republican Party chairman Dave Williams, who had Trump’s endorsement. Crank got 65 percent of the vote to 35 percent for Williams, who had faced criticism, and even a call to resign, after he used the party’s social media feed to call for burning pride flags.

Neither Biggs nor Crank should be considered never-Trumpers, however, and that was made clear in statements congratulating them from the Conservatives for American Excellence super PAC, which spent more than $1.1 million combined supporting them or attacking their opponents.

“Jeff Crank … supports building the wall so we stop illegal immigrants from coming into our country and he will work alongside President Trump to get our economy working again,” one statement said. 

“Sheri Biggs has always put her country over herself,” another said. “South Carolina chose to send the right candidate to Congress who will work with President Trump to push through an America First agenda.”

Trump also backed Rep. Celeste Maloy, but it wasn’t enough to give her a smooth trip through the GOP primary in Utah’s 2nd District. 

In a race that had not been called Wednesday afternoon, Maloy had a narrow lead over retired Army Col. Colby Jenkins, who had the support of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Maloy won a special election to fill the seat last year but finished behind Jenkins in the state party convention in April.

Money wins 

The most expensive House primary ever, according to AdImpact, ended with the target of most of the spending losing. Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s bid for renomination in New York’s 16th District came up short against Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

Super PACs supporting Israel and the cryptocurrency industry put in more than $17 million to boost Latimer or oppose Bowman, while groups backing Bowman spent less than $3 million.

Since there has not been a race call in last week’s Republican primary in Virginia’s 5th District, where Rep. Bob Good is trailing Trump-backed challenger John McGuire but seeking a recount, Bowman arguably was the first House member beaten by a challenger who is not another House member. 

On a smaller scale, the Republican nomination to take on vulnerable Democratic Rep. Yadira Caraveo in Colorado’s 8th District went to the candidate who spent the most and got outside help, state Rep. Gabe Evans.

Reports to the Federal Election Commission showed Evans raised $646,000 to rival Janak Joshi’s $189,000 and the low-tax, low-spending group Americans for Prosperity Action spent another $331,000 to boost Evans. He ended up winning with almost 78 percent of the vote. 

In New York’s 1st District, meanwhile, former chemistry professor Nancy Goroff put $1.2 million of her own money into a Democratic primary battle against former CNN political analyst John Avlon. But Avlon had raised more than $1.7 million from donors, however, and outside groups put in another $1.6 million to support him. 

He got 70 percent of the vote to win the nomination to face Republican Rep. Nick LaLota.

Money doesn’t always win

State Sen. Mike Kennedy won the Republican nomination to fill Curtis’ seat in Utah’s 3rd District by taking 36 percent of the vote in a five-candidate field. 

Finishing second was Case Lawrence, who founded a national chain of trampoline parks and put $3.1 million of his own money into the race. Third-place finisher J.R. Bird, the mayor of Roosevelt, loaned his campaign $1 million. 

Kennedy did put some of his own money into the race, but only about $156,000 through June 5, FEC reports show. His total spending through that date was $378,000, compared with Bird’s $1.1 million and Case’s $2.8 million.

With short horizon, set big plans

Greg Lopez probably will be renting rather than buying when he gets to Washington after winning the special election for the unexpired term of Rep. Ken Buck, who resigned his seat in Colorado’s 4th District. That’s because Lopez did not run in the simultaneous primary on Tuesday for a full term. 

While he’s here, though, Lopez plans to join the House Freedom Caucus and take on some chewy issues. 

“I’m looking to bring some options and different angles on how we can solve the border crisis, as well as bringing attention to our national debt,” he said. “Those are the two topics that I’m focusing in on, because I am realistic on what I can achieve in six months.”

Change of scenery can help

GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert went into this cycle as one of the most vulnerable House members after narrowly beating Democrat Adam Frisch in Colorado’s 3rd District in 2022. Instead of again facing Frisch, as well as a challenge from a fellow Republican, attorney Jeff Hurd, Boebert decided to run in the 4th District after Buck said he wouldn’t run again. 

She had Trump’s endorsement, and on Tuesday she won the GOP nomination by taking 43 percent of the vote against five challengers. Colorado does not have a runoff law.

Hurd, meanwhile, beat four challengers and won the nomination in the 3rd District with 41 percent of the vote. That was a win for the GOP establishment, which was backing him over former state Rep. Ron Hanks. Democrats had tried to play in the election with ads that criticized Hanks as too conservative, a sign he might have been seen as a weaker challenger to Frisch, who was unopposed in the primary.

Another Republican who switched districts, New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, moved in 2022 to run in the 24th District after the state map was redrawn. That year, Tenney faced a Republican primary challenge from attorney Mario Fratto and won by nearly 14 points in a three-way race.

Fratto challenged Tenney again on Tuesday, and she won this time by 22 points in a head-to-head matchup.

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