As midterm election season rolls on, primaries in Arizona, Missouri, Michigan and Washington state represent the latest chapter in the ideological battle among Democrats and yet another test of former President Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party.
Tuesday’s races include several that could have a major impact on the battle for Congress, including one in a swing House seat in Michigan and another to determine who will face Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) in a crucial Senate contest.
And two races in Arizona could eventually have a major impact on the 2024 presidential election, with devoted election deniers up for the GOP nominations for both governor and secretary of state.
Here’s what HuffPost is watching:
Missouri’s Trump ‘Endorsement’ And A Democratic Divide
Even by the outré standards of GOP primaries this cycle, the battle for the Republican nomination in Missouri has been chaotic, wacky and often disturbing. Every candidate with a chance has worked overtime to ingratiate themselves to Trump, hiring his former advisers and singing his praises relentlessly.
One candidate, Rep. Billy Long, laid out a plan to make Trump president again by convincing President Joe Biden to appoint him as vice president and has handed out fake $45 bills with Trump’s face on them. Another, gun-toting lawyer Mark McCloskey, falsely implied a Vanilla Ice performance at a county fair was in support of his campaign. Another, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, was apparently shunned by Trump for saying his behavior on Jan. 6, 2021, was “unpresidential,” even though she voted against certifying the election.
Ultimately, Trump’s endorsement came down to two men: former Gov. Eric Greitens and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Greitens, in a normal political era, would be persona non grata: He has been credibly accused of sexual and domestic abuse. He angled aggressively for Trump’s endorsement, hiring Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, as a top aide. Schmitt, by contrast, is a run-of-mill Republican ― something that, at this point, does mean embracing Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
Republican donors in Missouri, fearing Greitens could cost them a seat, have funded a super PAC called Show Me Values PAC that has spent $6 million on ads attacking Greitens, including one in which a female narrator reads aloud from an affidavit filed by Greitens’ ex-wife.
That’s led to a turnaround in the polls: While Greitens has led for most of the race, most recent surveys show Schmitt pulling into the lead. The only remaining variable was Trump’s endorsement. And on Monday night, he delivered it.
“I trust the Great People of Missouri, on this one, to make up their own minds, much as they did when they gave me landslides victories in the 2016 and 2020 Elections, and I am therefore proud to announce that ERIC has my Complete and Total Endorsement!,” he wrote.
Both Erics claimed the endorsement.
While Missouri is solidly red at this point, Democrats do have a contested primary of their own. The race pits Lucas Kunce, a Marine veteran and antitrust expert who is running a class-focused progressive campaign, against Trudy Busch Valentine, an heiress to the beer fortune who has run as a more mainstream Democrat.
Kunce, with his broadsides against corporate consolidation, willingness to deploy salty language and some big-name endorsements ― including from Missouri native and Mad Men star Jon Hamm and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ― has received far more media attention. But Busch Valentine has a familiar last name and loaned her campaign $3 million to deploy television ads. There’s been only sporadic polling in the race, but the campaigns expect a tight contest.
Pro-Israel Groups Spend Big In Michigan
Deep-pocketed pro-Israel groups are trying to shape the outcomes of Democratic primaries in three safely Democratic House seats in the Detroit area.
The contest that has gotten the most attention is in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District in suburban Oakland County, where redistricting prompted a faceoff between Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin. A super PAC aligned with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has spent more than $4.2 million to defeat Levin, who is both Jewish and more progressive than Stevens, in the hopes of punishing him for supporting additional U.S. pressure on Israel to end its occupation of lands conquered in 1967.
The race is also set to test the appeal of female Democratic candidates after the Supreme Court’s June decision overturning the federal right to an abortion, and the extent of progressive influence among the highly educated suburbanites who have become a core part of the Democratic electorate.
In Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, which encompasses a swath of Detroit’s west side and adjacent communities, Rep. Rashida Tlaib faces a primary from Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, a more moderate Democrat. Winfrey, who has faced criticism for her management of elections over four terms in office, is backed by two pro-Israel groups that have bundled donations for her, and a super PAC funded by a pro-Israel hedge fund manager that has also spent almost $700,000 on her behalf.
Winfrey and her allies have attacked Tlaib for remarks calling for the abolition of police, her vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and her refusal to explicitly endorse Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential race. But the pro-Israel groups supporting Winfrey are targeting Tlaib for a mostly unrelated reason: her outspoken pro-Palestinian views, including her support for a binational state in Israel and Palestine.
Michigan’s redrawn 12th District includes all of Dearborn, where a large Arab American community tends to be more sympathetic to Tlaib’s foreign policy stances. But it is also home to Southfield, a majority-Black, middle-class city that may be more receptive to Winfrey’s pitch.
Finally, nine Democratic candidates are vying for the chance to fill Michigan’s open 13th Congressional District, which comprises portions of Detroit and its affluent eastern suburbs. The top three contenders are state Sen. Adam Hollier, state Rep. Shri Thanedar and Portia Roberson, chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.
Although the ideological stakes of the race are less clear than in other districts, Hollier is favored both by AIPAC’s super PAC, which has spent more than $4.1 million on his behalf, and the cryptocurrency billionaire-backed super PAC Protect Our Future, which has chipped in another $1 million to elect him. Roberson is backed by the influential pro-choice group EMILY’s List.
Thanedar, who amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune as a chemical testing entrepreneur, has spent well over $5 million of his own money running. A win for Thanedar, who has spoken out against U.S. military aid to Israel, would disappoint both pro-Israel groups and some Black voters eager to ensure Detroit has at least one Black representative in Congress.
Three House Republicans Who Voted To Impeach Trump
Three of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump following the U.S. Capitol riot face Trump-backed primary challenges on Tuesday: Reps. Peter Meijer (Mich.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) and Dan Newhouse (Wash.).
Meijer, a first-term lawmaker representing Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District in the western part of the state, appears to be in the greatest danger of losing his primary. It is also the race where a victory for the Trump-aligned candidate would have the biggest implications for the general election. Redistricting has made Michigan’s 3rd more Democratic, making it a rare pickup opportunity for the party this election cycle. To that end, House Democrats’ campaign arm has spent almost $450,000 boosting Meijer’s challenger, John Gibbs, on TV.
In Washington state, Herrera Beutler and Newhouse both have the benefit of running in a nonpartisan “jungle” primary, in which the top two vote-getters proceed to the general election regardless of party. Herrera Beutler, who is running in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, is explicitly appealing to moderate Democrats and independents, who lack a competitive Democratic candidate to rally behind. She and Newhouse, who is running in Washington’s 4th Congressional District, are also both expected to profit from a divided field of Trump-aligned challengers.
Election Denial On The Ballot In Arizona
Many politicos see the GOP gubernatorial primary in Arizona as a proxy war between Trump and the current GOP governor, Doug Ducey. Trump backed a candidate who is essentially a female version of himself, former Phoenix news anchor Kari Lake, while Ducey, who is term-limited from running for another term, endorsed real estate developer Karrin Taylor Robson, whose mild-mannered demeanor and business background harken to a now-vintage era of the GOP.
The latest polling on the race shows Lake ahead of Robson, but strategists in the state aren’t waging any bets before Tuesday.
Democrats see Lake as the easier candidate to beat in November. A former Obama supporter, Lake has called the 2020 election “corrupt” and “stolen” and has suggested she would dispute the results if she doesn’t win ― positions that might alienate swing voters. Robson has propped up her campaign with millions of dollars of her own to argue she has the better resume and temperament to lead the state. She recently caught flak for flying her family’s private jet to a campaign event in Tucson.
This GOP primary will reveal whether the Republican base is sick of looking back to the last major election — or whether it truly craves another version of Trump at Arizona’s helm.
But election denial is also key in two other races further down the ballot: State Rep. Mark Finchem, who helped organize “Stop the Steal” campaigns in Arizona and was present outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, is the apparent front-runner in the GOP primary for secretary of state. He won Trump’s endorsement, holds a sizable lead in pre-primary polls, and has few rivals in Arizona ― or anywhere else ― when it comes to his commitment to spreading lies about the country’s election system.
Finchem, who in the past identified as a member of the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers, is a member of the so-called America First slate of secretary of state candidates seeking to take over top elections offices ahead of the 2024 presidential contest. He has said he wouldn’t have certified the results of Arizona’s 2020 election, which Joe Biden narrowly won.
He has said, baselessly, that early voting is “a contributor to election fraud,” and questioned its constitutionality. He also wants to force Arizona officials to hand count all ballots instead of using electronic machines. He is among the sponsors of a bill that would give the Arizona state legislature the ability to reject election results, as The New York Times reported this week.
His chief primary rival may be Beau Lane, a political newcomer who won the endorsement of Gov. Doug Ducey and other prominent Arizona Republicans who have broken with Trump over election lies. Lane ― unlike Finchem and fellow state Rep. Shawnna Bolick, another secretary of state candidate ― has not called for the decertification of the 2020 results, and may be the GOP’s best hope of winning the race in November. He has supported other voting changes, though, including purges of Arizona’s early voting list and new voter-ID requirements.
State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita hasn’t been as aggressive on the 2020 election as Finchem or Bolick, but that’s not saying much. She has successfully pushed new laws to curb voting rights in Arizona, including a law that banned third-party ballot collection, a practice that made it easier to vote, especially for many of the state’s Native American tribes. Ugenti-Rita also initially supported the conspiratorial Cyber Ninjas “audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 results before ultimately criticizing it.
The winner will face either state Rep. Reginald Bolding or former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, who will face off for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s primary.
And while state legislative races usually don’t make national news, Rusty Bowers’ race for Arizona Senate is the exception to the rule.
Bowers became a memorable figure in the House Jan. 6 probe after he testified emotionally about the pressures he faced, including from Trump himself, to overturn the election results in his capacity as speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives.
Naturally, Bowers has a Trump-backed opponent in this conservative, east-of-Phoenix district, former state Sen. David Farnsworth, who says he believes all the things Bowers doesn’t about the 2020 election.
Bowers’ political future could hinge on whether GOP voters are willing to reject Trump’s election lies.
The headline race in the state, however, is likely the nasty GOP Senate primary to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Trump-endorsed Blake Masters, a protege of venture capitalist and democracy critic Peter Thiel, is a slight favorite against Jim Lamon, a businessman who has poured $14 million of his own money into the contest.
Lamon has used ads to highlight Masters’ controversial past writings and statements, including once praising the Unabomber as an “underrated subversive thinker.”
Those writings mean Democrats would likely prefer to face Masters, but the race will be a toss-up contest regardless of who triumphs in the primary.