The Washington Post

GOP rift comes to a head in last primaries

Coming races could lift more Trump picks who are 2020 election deniers

- BY HANNAH KNOWLES AND COLBY ITKOWITZ

A final stretch of primaries for state and federal offices kicks off Tuesday, setting the stage for a six-week battle inside a divided Republican Party pitting candidates loyal to former president Donald Trump and his false election claims against rivals looking to move past those fights in this fall’s midterm elections.

Two gubernator­ial candidates in Arizona and Wisconsin backed by Trump will face off this month against those endorsed by former vice president Mike Pence, who split with Trump after refusing pressure to reject the results of the 2020 presidenti­al race. Four members of Congress who voted to impeach Trump after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol are also trying to beat back challenger­s who embrace Trump’s false claims that he won. And an Arizona lawmaker who led calls to “decertify” the 2020 results and wants to ban the use of voting machines may win the GOP nomination Tuesday to oversee elections in a key battlegrou­nd for 2024.

With less than 100 days to go until the November midterms, lasting rifts over the past election will take center stage as some Republican­s hope to focus on unifying concerns such as inflation to regain control of Congress. Trying to overcome those economic head winds and low approval ratings for President Biden, Democrats argue the GOP’S candidates — and their campaigns against the democratic process itself — will prove too extreme for general-election voters. Some Republican­s also worry about nominating divisive candidates in the coming weeks.

Tuesday’s contests in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington state could elevate more Republican­s who, like Trump, have baselessly undermined faith in elections and pitch themselves as populist fighters against not just Democrats but also the GOP establishm­ent.

“I think what is going to be clarified here over the next few weeks, have the lunatics really taken over the asylum? . . . Are you going to see election truthers taking over the voting mechanisms up and down the ballot?” said Jon Reinish, a Democratic consultant. “That’s going to present the American people with a real choice to make that is going to be very stark.”

In many races, the GOP candidates diverge on tone rather than policy.

“Everybody is pro-gun, pro-life, pro-border, pro-low tax, low regulation. The fight is not about what we stand for, but who we are,” said Stan Barnes, a former state senator and GOP strategist in Arizona. It is shaping up to be “a perfect political science experiment about the future of the Republican Party.”

In Arizona, Republican candidates for Senate, governor, attorney general and secretary of state have all campaigned heavily on their alignment with Trump while promoting his false narrative of the 2020 election. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), co-chair of the Republican Governors Associatio­n, has thrown his weight behind a more traditiona­l conservati­ve candidate for governor, developer Karrin Taylor Robson, as well as a secretary of state candidate, Beau Lane, who acknowledg­es that Biden won in 2020.

Pence, a friend and ally of Ducey, also endorsed Taylor Robson over Trump’s favored candidate, former TV anchor Kari Lake. Lake has said she would not have affirmed Biden’s victory — as Ducey did — and has already claimed there is “some stealing going on” in the 2022 election, without providing evidence. Trump and Pence, both considerin­g a run for the presidency in 2024, stumped for their candidates in split-screen campaign events on the same Friday last month.

A similar scene played out this

spring in Georgia, where Trump recruited former senator David Perdue to challenge onetime ally Gov. Brian Kemp (R) for his decision to certify Trump’s election loss. Kemp won overwhelmi­ngly with Pence’s endorsemen­t. But the Arizona governor’s race appears to be far more competitiv­e.

In Missouri, Trump promised Monday to issue a last-minute endorsemen­t in the Senate primary — only to cast his lot behind “Eric” without identifyin­g a surname, effectivel­y leaving the door open to either Eric Greitens or state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, both of whom lobbied for his support. Greitens resigned from the governor’s office in scandal and, as a Senate candidate, denied fresh allegation­s of abuse from his former wife — stoking Republican fears he could imperil an otherwise safe seat and leading to an establishm­ent-led effort to defeat him.

In Arizona, state lawmaker Mark Finchem is running for secretary of state — part of an official slate of election deniers seeking oversight of voting in 2024. Other members of that coalition include Jim Marchant, who won the Republican nomination for secretary of state in Nevada, and Kristi

na Karamo, the GOP’S pick for secretary of state in Michigan.

Finchem has sought to upend Arizona’s popular and well-establishe­d mail voting system and was photograph­ed near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when a proTrump mob stormed the building to disrupt certificat­ion of the 2020 election. He recently embraced the support of Andrew Torba, the founder of a far-right social media site, who has said non- Christians are not real conservati­ves.

Republican­s warned against writing off candidates like Finchem and Lake in the general election, as GOP candidates tap into a favorable political climate nationwide. “My Democratic friends in Arizona are pulling for [Lake and Finchem] and believe that those are the candidates they want to run against,” said Barnes, the GOP strategist. “But I think they may regret that.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have pursued a controvers­ial strategy in some races of seeking to elevate GOP campaigns that they view as more extreme, and thus more beatable, in November. In Michigan, the Democratic Congressio­nal Campaign Committee has spent $435,000 on ads boosting

an election-denier challenger to Rep. Peter Meijer, one of 10 House Republican­s who voted to impeach Trump in 2021. He is in a tight race Tuesday with John Gibbs, a former Trump administra­tion official.

In Washington state, Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) and Dan Newhouse (R) are also hoping Tuesday to fend off critics of their votes to impeach; a top-two, allparty primary system could ease their path.

Some Republican­s see incumbents who have broken with Trump as their most electable candidates in the fall, and Tuesday could intensify the criticisms that Trump has hurt the party’s chances with his endorsemen­ts. Some of his chosen candidates are struggling in crucial swing-state races such as Pennsylvan­ia’s Senate contest.

Jason Roe, a strategist and former executive director of the Michigan GOP, said the party’s growing interest in trying to flip a Senate seat in Democratic-leaning Washington state underscore­s their candidates’ struggles in swing states.

“It doesn’t give you a lot of confidence that we are holding the best hand at this moment,” he said with a laugh.

State legislativ­e primaries in Michigan will also pit some of Trump’s favored candidates against those backed by a former Cabinet member and major GOP donor, Betsy Devos, as well as one of his most vocal GOP critics: Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), who also voted to impeach.

Jase Bolger, a former GOP speaker for the Michigan House of Representa­tives, predicted the party will coalesce behind its nominees despite the infighting. He recalled the party’s divisions in 2010, when Republican­s flipped the House of Representa­tives after members of the conservati­ve “tea party” movement had railed against the GOP establishm­ent. “Again, those difference­s, those struggles paled in comparison to the difference­s in the general election,” Bolger said.

Trump and Pence have endorsed different candidates in the Wisconsin GOP gubernator­ial primary, which will be held Aug. 9. Trump’s pick, Tim Michels, a constructi­on executive, has perpetuate­d the falsehood that widespread voter fraud cost Trump the election, though Michels has refused to say whether he would support a GOP effort in the state legislatur­e to retroactiv­ely decertify Biden’s 2020 victory, saying recently that it wasn’t “a priority.”

Michels will face former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who earned Pence’s endorsemen­t last week, and state Rep. Tim Ramthun in the primary next week. Kleefisch has also questioned the 2020 results, but has called overturnin­g Wisconsin’s results impossible.

The winner will face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who currently is a buffer to the GOP legislatur­e’s ambitions, setting up one of the most high-stakes gubernator­ial races in the country.

Wisconsin Democrats will also decide who will take on GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in November. Last week, several candidates in a crowded Democratic primary stepped aside, effectivel­y clearing the way for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes to win the party’s nomination.

The following week there are dramatic showdowns in Wyoming and Alaska. Of all the Republican­s up for reelection this year, there’s likely no one Trump wants to beat more than Rep. Liz Cheney (RWyo.). Since the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots, Cheney has spoken out about Trump’s culpabilit­y, voted to impeach him over it and has helped lead the House committee investigat­ing the former president’s role in the attack. Cheney is up against Harriet Hageman, who has the full weight of Trump and his allies behind her.

The Aug. 16 election will also test the endurance of Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, who was John Mccain’s running mate in the 2008 presidenti­al election. Palin is running to succeed the late congressma­n Don Young, who died in March after nearly 50 years in the House. Alaska voters will decide in a special election whether to send her to Washington to fill the last few months of Young’s term and whether she should advance past the primary to vie for the seat in the November election.

The last major day of primary elections is Aug. 23, in Florida and New York, two states that were rankled by the redistrict­ing that occurs after the once-a-decade U.S. Census. In Florida, a stalemate between state lawmakers and Gov. Ron Desantis ended with the Republican governor getting the map he wanted — one that added opportunit­ies for Republican­s to pick up seats and diminished the influence of Black voters in two House districts. Two Democratic House members, Reps. Charlie Crist and Val Demings, are giving up their seats to run for higher office against Desantis and Sen. Marco Rubio (R), respective­ly.

New York’s congressio­nal primary was delayed over a protracted legal battle over new congressio­nal maps drawn by the state’s Democratic lawmakers. A judge found the map unconstitu­tional and appointed an outside mapmaker to redraw it. The result thrust two titans of the New York congressio­nal delegation, Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney, into an unwanted primary matchup. The two octogenari­ans have served side-byside in Congress for 30 years. The district reshufflin­g complicate­d other races in and around New York City, forcing incumbents to run outside of their current districts and into competitiv­e primaries.

 ?? Emily ELCONIN/REUTERS ?? A city employee carries a sign to place outside a Birmingham, Mich., precinct the day before Michigan Democrats and Republican­s choose their nominees for November’s elections.
Emily ELCONIN/REUTERS A city employee carries a sign to place outside a Birmingham, Mich., precinct the day before Michigan Democrats and Republican­s choose their nominees for November’s elections.

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