Aug 2 (Reuters) – Candidates backed by Donald Trump prevailed in multiple Republican primaries on Tuesday, while a statewide ballot initiative in Kansas that would have allowed new restrictions on abortion was soundly rejected.
The results showed that the former president, and his false claims that the 2020 election was tainted by fraud, still hold sway over Republican voters. They alsosuggested that anger over the Supreme Court’s June decision to end the nationwide constitutional right to abortion could fire up Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections.
In Michigan, Tudor Dixon, a conservative commentator who has echoed Trump’s election claims, won the Republican nomination for governor and will face Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in one of the most high-profile races this November, which will also revolve around abortion rights.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, endorsed by Trump, secured the Republican nomination for governor. He will face Democratic Governor Laura Kelly in November in what is expected to be a highly competitive race.
With 95% of the estimated vote counted, just under 60% of Kansas voters had cast ballots in support of the state constitution’s abortion protections, a resounding victory for abortion rights advocates in a strongly conservative state.
Unlike the Republican gubernatorial primaries, Kansas’ abortion initiative reflected the choices of voters of both major political parties, as well as independents.
TEST OF TRUMP INFLUENCE
Tuesday’s elections, including key contests in Arizona and Washington state, represent the latest test of Trump’s sway over the Republican electorate. Several Trump-backed candidates have embraced the former president’s falsehoods about voter fraud, raising concerns among some Republicans that they could be too extreme to defeat Democrats on Nov. 8.
In Michigan, U.S. Representative Peter Meijer, one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack by Trump supporters, lost to far-right challenger John Gibbs.
Gibbs, backed by Trump, was the beneficiary of Democratic advertising during the Republican primary, part of a risky strategy of trying to elevate more vulnerable Republican candidates in swing districts even as party leaders warn they pose a danger to democracy.
Another Republican who voted to impeach Trump, Jamie Herrera Beutler of Washington, also faced a Trump-endorsed primary challenger on Tuesday night.
With an economy teetering on the brink of recession and inflation surging, just 38% of Americans approve of President Joe Biden’s job performance, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll completed on Tuesday – still near Biden’s record low of 36%, hit in May. One in three voters said the biggest problem facing the United States today is the economy.
Biden’s unpopularity is weighing on Democrats heading into November general election, when Republicans are favored to win control of the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate.
Control of either chamber would give Republicans the power to stymie Biden’s legislative agenda while launching politically damaging hearings.
As he flirts publicly with the possibility of running for president again in 2024, Trump has endorsed more than 200 candidates. Most are safe bets – incumbent Republicans in conservative districts – but even in competitive races most of his candidates have prevailed.
“Trump remains really popular with Republican primary voters. I don’t think you can underestimate how he has remade the party in his image,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist. “Republicans who run against Trump tend to get trampled.”
On Tuesday, Arizona voters were picking between Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Karrin Taylor Robson, who has the backing of Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence.
Lake, a former news anchor, echoes Trump’s false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of fraud and has said she would not have certified Biden’s statewide victory in 2020. At a recent campaign stop, Lake claimed without evidence that fraud has already occurred during early voting, suggesting she may not accept a defeat on Tuesday.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who built a national profile by vociferously denying Trump’s allegations, easily won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Edison Research projected.
The race to replace her as the state’s top election official also includes a Trump-endorsed candidate, state Representative Mark Finchem, who was present at Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, speech in Washington that preceded the U.S. Capitol attack. He wrote on Twitter on Thursday, “Trump won,” prompting a Democratic candidate, Adrian Fontes, to call him a “traitor.”
Arizona Republicans were also picking a challenger to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Kelly, seen as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents.
Blake Masters, a former tech executive who has backed Trump’s false fraud claims, has Trump’s endorsement and the backing of tech billionaire Peter Thiel. He is leading in polls against Jim Lamon, a former power company executive, and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whom Trump blames for not reversing Biden’s 2020 statewide victory.
In Missouri, Attorney General Eric Schmitt won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, boosting his party’s chances of holding the seat after scandal-hit former Governor Eric Greitens finished well behind.