Democrats have a lot riding on Tuesday’s primaries. The Republican primaries, that is.
Facing hurricane-force electoral headwinds in November, Democrats have launched an unprecedented effort to meddle in GOP nominating contests across the country, elevating extreme candidates and attacking Republican hopefuls they view as greater threats in the general election.
Tuesday’s races feature four races in which Democratic candidates or groups are seeking to influence Republican primary voters, including a more-than-$30-million effort in the Illinois governor’s race. There are also multi-million-dollar campaigns to boost far-right Republican statewide candidates in Colorado, the one-time swing state where then-President Donald Trump was trounced two years ago.
Plenty of other big-ticket primaries on Tuesday don’t involve inter-party meddling, including two member-versus-member congressional races in Illinois and a handful of Republican incumbents taking heat for voting to investigate the Jan. 6 attacks at the Capitol. There’s also the tabloid-fodder GOP race for New York governor, a Republican pile-up for a Senate seat in safely red Oklahoma and a handful of open House races splitting both parties’ establishment and confrontational wings.
Here are seven things to watch in Colorado, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma and Utah:
Stuck in the meddle with you
It’s pretty clear that Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and other Democrats didn’t want to face Richard Irvin in November.
The mayor of suburban Aurora, Ill., Irvin has been bolstered by an extraordinary $50 million in donations from conservative billionaire Ken Griffin. But despite Griffin’s largesse, Irvin is expected to fall flat on Tuesday, in large part because of Pritzker and the Democratic Governors Association, which have blasted Irvin on the airwaves for months — mostly with ads intended to dissuade GOP voters from supporting him, calling him soft on crime and insufficiently conservative.
The ultra-wealthy Pritzker has already spent nearly $33 million on advertising, according to AdImpact, and the DGA has kicked in another $19-plus million, mostly in the pricey Chicago media market. It’s all been designed to sink Irvin’s campaign below that of Darren Bailey, a state senator seen as less able to win over the sizable share of Democrats any Illinois Republican would need to prevail statewide.
The coup de grace likely came three days before the primary, when Trump endorsed Bailey, who had already surmounted Irvin in the polls. It gives Trump a chance to improve his spotty primary-endorsement record in governor’s races after losses in Georgia, Idaho and Nebraska — but the stat-padding former president will hardly deserve any credit.
Meddling, part 2
Meanwhile, Democratic groups are also meddling in three Colorado primaries, trying to bolster the reelection prospects of Gov. Jared Polis and Sen. Michael Bennet and the party’s chances of winning a newly drawn House seat.
In the Senate race, a new group called “Democratic Colorado” has spent $4.2 million in an effort to deny businessman Joe O’Dea the GOP nomination to face Bennet. The group’s ads target Republican primary voters: One highlights state Rep. Ron Hanks’ conservative credentials, while the other says O’Dea is a “phony” for supporting President Joe Biden’s “$1.2 trillion spending bill” and making campaign donations to Bennet and then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, “even after he signed new gun safety measures into law.”
It’s the same story in the governor’s race: A newly created group, “Colorado Information Network,” has spent $1.7 million on ads elevating the underfunded Greg Lopez over Heidi Ganahl, a member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents who’s seen as a more credible Polis opponent.
And in the new, 8th Congressional District, House Majority PAC, a super PAC with ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is running ads calling Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine a “conservative warrior,” in an apparent effort to elevate Saine over state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer.
The races represent an escalation of Democrats’ meddling efforts after previous attempts to lock GOP Reps. David Valadao and Young Kim out of the general election in California’s top-two primary last month fell flat. With Bailey’s likely victory in Illinois, Democrats would succeed in denying Irvin the nomination — but wins by Hanks, Lopez or Saine in Colorado would further vindicate Democrats’ strategy.
The member-versus-member races
Trump visited Illinois last weekend to campaign for freshman GOP Rep. Mary Miller against one of her colleagues, in a race that highlights the divide among Republicans on Capitol Hill.
In one corner are Trump and Miller, who earned almost-instant infamy when she said “Hitler was right about one thing” in a speech in front of the Capitol on her second full day in office. Miller courted more controversy at the Trump rally, when she called the Supreme Court’s ruling last week dismantling federal abortion rights a “victory for white life” — a campaign aide said after that Miller misspoke and meant to say “right to life.”
On the other side is GOP Rep. Rodney Davis, a five-term congressman who’s set to become chair of the House Administration Committee if Republicans win control of the House. Unlike Miller, Davis voted against objections to the 2020 election results and for a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. But his ads attacking Miller mostly focus on her anti-establishment votes against government-funding bills — hitting her for voting against increased defense spending, for example, along with some liberal Democrats.
The race is a major test of Trump’s sway — and, given Miller’s various controversies, his judgment. Trump-backed Rep. Alex Mooney easily defeated fellow Rep. David McKinley in West Virginia in the only previous member-versus-member primary this year. But in Illinois, Davis has outspent Miller on advertising by a roughly three-to-one margin, and the race is more competitive.
Further north, Democratic Reps. Sean Casten and Marie Newman are squaring off for one Chicagoland seat after redistricting. Newman ousted then-Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in a primary two years ago over Lipinski’s opposition to abortion rights.
But campaigning for the seat has essentially stopped after Casten’s 17-year-old daughter, Gwen Casten, died unexpectedly two weeks before the primary.
And there’s one more Illinois incumbent with a tricky primary: Democratic Rep. Danny Davis is facing a rematch against liberal challenger Kina Collins, whom he easily defeated last year. But progressives have targeted Davis’ Chicago district anew, and Collins has outraised the 13-term incumbent, who got a late endorsement from President Joe Biden last weekend.
The scion also rises?
When then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace last year, it looked like his successor, Kathy Hochul, would face a difficult battle for the Democratic nomination. There was state Attorney General Letitia James, building a national profile as a thorn in Trump’s side, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, working to lock down the left, and even the possibility of a Cuomo comeback attempt.
But it all mostly fizzled out. James quit the campaign, Cuomo didn’t run, and polls show Hochul way ahead of Williams and Rep. Tom Suozzi.
Now, it appears the only question is who Hochul will face in November between a crowded field of Republican men.
The establishment pick is Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is giving up his Long Island House seat. He’s the choice of state GOP insiders — but despite being a top Trump ally in Congress, he hasn’t received the former president’s backing: Trump hasn’t endorsed in the race.
The list of Zeldin opponents includes businessman Harry Wilson, who’s spent nearly $7 million on ads promoting himself as a private-sector turnaround expert; 2014 nominee Rob Astorino; and famous-named Andrew Giuliani, the son of the now-controversial former mayor, who became a national celebrity as a child mugging for the camera at his father’s official events.
A sin of bipartisan commission
Of the 35 House Republicans who supported a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission last year, five are on the ballot on Tuesday: Davis and GOP Reps. John Curtis (Utah), Stephanie Bice (Okla.), Blake Moore (Utah) and Michael Guest (Miss.).
Guest edged his leading opponent in Mississippi’s June 7 primary, former Navy fighter pilot Michael Cassidy, by just 268 votes — but with only 47 percent of the total votes cast, he failed to reach the threshold to win the nomination. The two men are now facing off head-to-head in the lower-turnout runoff, and Guest and House Republicans’ top super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund, have spent the past 21 days knocking down Cassidy’s conservative bona fides in hopes of overcoming voters’ skepticism of the incumbent.
Of Curtis, Bice and Moore, Curtis has taken his primary most seriously, spending nearly $400,000 on advertising, according to AdImpact.
Two other House Republicans to watch on Tuesday: Reps. Steven Palazzo (Miss.) and Doug Lamborn (Colo.).
Palazzo is in imminent danger. He finished first in the June 7 primary — but only earned 31 percent of the vote. That was ahead of Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell (25 percent), but Palazzo’s paltry percentage is a sign of dissatisfaction with the incumbent, who has faced allegations of misusing campaign and official funds.
Lamborn, meanwhile, has had primary problems before, despite being among the most conservative members of Congress. He could face another close shave this year against state Rep. Dave Williams.
Thirteen Republicans appear on the ballot in the special primary election to replace Sen. Jim Inhofe when the 87-year-old incumbent resigns at the end of the year — a crowded contest for what is widely seen as a safe GOP seat.
The favorite is Rep. Markwayne Mullin, but there are other bold-faced names in the race. There’s Scott Pruitt, the former state attorney general and Trump-era EPA administrator who resigned from that office amid myriad scandals, and former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who was the runner-up in the last special election for Senate in Oklahoma. He came in behind now-Sen. James Lankford in the race to replace then-Sen. Tom Coburn.