After a relatively quiet July, the midterms came roaring back Tuesday, with primaries across five states that commanded national attention.
Former President Trump, yet again, made himself a central character by weighing in on the day’s most hard-fought contests. His endorsements have been viewed as a barometer of his continued sway over the GOP base, and few carried higher stakes than his picks for governor in Arizona and Michigan — two battleground states where his lies about election fraud in 2020 persist. And his endorsement in the Missouri Senate race broke new ground in creativity, even if it fell short on clarity.
His quest for intraparty payback also continued apace in Michigan and Washington state, as he backed challengers to three House Republicans who voted for his impeachment in January 2021.
While Trump’s influence has been a subplot throughout the entire primary season, an election in Kansas offered insight into a new dynamic: the politics of abortion after the end of Roe vs. Wade. A referendum on the ballot sought to determine whether the right to abortion was protected in the state’s constitution, offering the first gauge of how voters are reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning federal protection for abortion.
Here are the key takeaways so far:
A decisive vote on abortion in Kansas
In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Kansas Constitution protects the right to have an abortion. On Tuesday, voters resoundingly rejected an effort to pass a constitutional amendment drafted by abortion opponents to overturn the ruling.
The amendment would have allowed Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, to pass bills restricting abortion access in the state. Those could potentially override a veto from Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who is up for reelection this year. That wouldn’t just affect Kansans — hundreds of Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma residents travel to the state each year to end pregnancies.
The soaring turnout and resounding defeat of the amendment, including in parts of the state that voted for Trump in 2020, is the first indicator of just how unpopular efforts to roll back abortion protections are among voters, even in red states. Polling places across the state saw long lines and turnout was high, despite few competitive races on the ballot.
The convincing win in a solidly red state thrilled national Democrats, who have been grasping for a political lifeline amid high inflation and middling approval numbers for President Biden. Now they have some evidence that abortion rights can be a powerful motivator.
“It is time to reevaluate the conventional wisdom about the midterms after this vote in Kansas,” tweeted Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz. “People are mad as hell at having their rights taken away.”
The never-ending 2020 election in Arizona
Trump has not gotten over his narrow loss in Arizona nearly two years ago, and neither have his chosen candidates in state’s top races. Nor, it appears, have Arizona Republican voters.
Trump’s favored contenders — former news anchor Kari Lake for governor, venture capitalist Blake Masters for U.S. Senate, and state legislator and election denier Mark Finchem for secretary of state — have all embraced the false rallying cry that Trump actually won in the battleground state.
That message propelled Masters and Finchem to wins in their races. Lake, meanwhile, was in a tight race with Karrin Taylor Robson, whose gubernatorial run was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
Lake, who was making allegations of voting fraud without evidence long before the polls closed, said late Tuesday she was sure she would pull out a win to face the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Katie Hobbs, in November.
When 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 incursion on the U.S. Capitol, they knew it would be a fateful vote for their careers. Since then, four decided to retire rather than seek reelection. One, Rep. David Valadao of California, narrowly survived his primary. Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina decisively lost his. Now the fate of three more will be determined on Tuesday. Unsurprisingly, Trump has backed challengers for all three.
In Michigan, Rep. Peter Meijer, the only freshman to vote for impeachment, lost to John Gibbs, who served in the Trump administration and does not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The Democrats’ congressional campaign arm, sensing Gibbs would be more beatable in November, had run ads highlighting his loyalties to Trump and saying he is too conservative for the district — which, in a Republican primary, amounted to a de facto campaign contribution.
If Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse advance after Tuesday’s vote, it will likely be because their home state, Washington, does not have partisan primaries. Instead, the top two vote getters advance to the general election.
Herrera Beutler faced multiple well-funded challengers, including Trump’s pick, Joe Kent, a former Green Beret who has connections to right-wing extremist groups such as the Proud Boys. Newhouse squared off against Loren Culp, who ran for governor in 2020 and blamed his loss, without evidence, on fraud. Culp, whom Trump endorsed, claimed election tampering in Tuesday’s race days before the polls closed, pointing to a local newspaper’s website that appeared to show a vote tally. The paper’s editor clarified that Culp was looking at a test page, not actual voting results.
A messy primary in Michigan
Republican Tudor Dixon will face off against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after surviving Michigan’s chaotic gubernatorial primary. Dixon, a conservative former political commentator, beat out four other Republicans including Ryan Kelley — who was arrested by the FBI in June on charges related to his presence at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Five other GOP candidates, including two front-runners, were disqualified in May over fake signatures used to qualify for the ballot.
Despite Trump’s last-minute backing, Dixon has already faced criticism from his allies. She has been called the establishment pick because she’s backed by former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who earned the ire of Trump world when she quit his administration after the Capitol attack.
Democrats in the state had their own acrimonious battle in a congressional district northwest of Detroit, after redistricting drew incumbent Reps. Andy Levin and Hayley Stevens into the same seat. Levin had the backing of prominent progressives such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while Stevens was supported by Hillary Clinton.
The campaign also became a proxy for the direction of America’s Israel-Palestine policy; pro-Israel group AIPAC poured millions into TV ads against Levin, who has criticized the country’s treatment of Palestinians. Stevens emerged the winner of the intraparty battle.
Congratulations to ‘ERIC’
The race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri was long on candidates — 21 contenders are on the ballot — and on drama. Most of the controversy surrounded former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018 amid accusations of sexual assault and blackmail, which are typically not great for one’s political prospects. Nor are domestic abuse allegations, which Greitens’ ex-wife made amid their ongoing custody battle.
Nevertheless, Greitens, who ran an ad depicting himself pretending to hunt moderate Republicans, looked well-positioned in the race thanks to his high name identification. A group of Republicans who worried Greitens may put a solidly red seat within reach for Democrats hammered him with a barrage of negative TV ads. That propelled state Atty. Gen. Eric Schmitt to the top of the polling heap.
Trump kept his preference mum until the day before the primary, when he announced that “ERIC” was his pick. Which Eric? That remains unclear. Both Greitens and Schmitt claimed the endorsement for themselves. By appearing to back them both, Trump ended up simultaneously winning and losing this race at the same time.
The unambiguous winner overall was Schmitt, who nabbed the Republican nomination on Tuesday.
Mason reported from Los Angeles and John from Grand Rapids, Mich.