After a Lull, Primary Season Heats Up With Five Early August Contests 

July 29, 2022 by Dan McCue
After a Lull, Primary Season Heats Up With Five Early August Contests 
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., speaks at a Memorial Day observance event on May 30, 2022, in Vancouver, Wash. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian via AP)

WASHINGTON — This year’s omicron- and redistricting-attenuated primary season kicks back into high gear next week with contests across five states after what seemed like a mostly bucolic and restful hiatus from vote counting in July.

According to the Cook Political Report, heading into primary day four incumbent House members share a “genuine risk” of losing their primaries.

These are Democratic Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin, who are facing each other in Michigan’s redrawn 11th Congressional District, which encompasses suburban Detroit, and Republican Reps. David Schweikert, of Arizona and Peter Meijer, of Michigan.

But surprises are sure to abound and as the calendar draws ever closer to November, each new primary has more relevance as a possible harbinger of what’s to come in the fall.


Arizona

The race in Arizona’s newly minted 1st Congressional District has been ugly. Schweikert, currently the incumbent in the state’s 6th Congressional district, is running in the 1st due to redistricting.

The district includes portions of Phoenix and Scottsdale and is generally seen as leaning Republican this election cycle.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran, a Democrat, is the incumbent in the 1st District, but he’s now running in the state’s 2nd Congressional District (more on that race in a moment).

Schweikert, a six-term incumbent who was reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee and fined $50,000 for campaign finance violations, appears to be in the race of his political life.

Earlier on, Schweikert’s young and largely self-funded Republican primary opponent, Elijah Norton, maintained a laser-like focus on the incumbent’s ethics problems.

Schweikert’s campaign has said his former chief of staff is responsible for many of the campaign finance violations cited in House Ethics Committee and Federal Election Commission filings.

Lately however, Norton, founder and owner of Veritas Global Protection Services, a Phoenix-based car insurance company, has been widening his attacks, accusing Schweikert of being soft on border protection and other issues conservative Arizonans care about.

The election took a wild turn in mid-July when a Phoenix man, Leslie Hammon, sued Schweikert for defamation in Maricopa County Superior Court over advertisements that appeared intended to “out” Norton as gay ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

This combination of photos shows from left, Republican candidates for Arizona governor Karrin Taylor Robson and Kari Lake prior to an Arizona PBS televised Republican debate June 29, 2022, in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have endorsed Karrin Taylor Robson against former television news anchor Kari Lake, who is backed by former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

“Schweikert’s advertisements are intended to convey, and clearly do convey, a message that gay people do not belong in Congress or any other public office,” Hammon claims in his lawsuit. 

“They also clearly convey the patently false assertion that Hammon and Norton are currently or have previously been in a romantic or sexual relationship. Pandering to homophobic narratives in the hopes of being reelected is truly despicable and demeaning to the congressional office,” the lawsuit says.

The ads in question were featured in Schweikert mailers and street signs. They show Hammon — whose face is pixelated in the ads — standing next to Norton, and the two men have their arms around each other.

In his lawsuit, Hammon said he met Norton through Norton’s then-girlfriend and that the photo was taken four years ago while both were at a club.

He further contends he never gave anyone permission to use the photo, nor was he ever sexually involved with Norton, as suggested by the ads.

Though Schweikert might seem down, he did recently receive former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. And then there’s what one might call the “it” factor in the contest — the presence of a third candidate in the race, Josh Barnett.

Barnett is a QAnon sympathizer and he appears to have the support of the far-right in Arizona, even picking up the endorsement of far-right gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.

Whoever wins will likely have to face Democrat Jevin Hodge, who currently runs a Head Start Center.

In Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, moderate Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran is dealing with two headaches in particular — a strong, six-person Republican field and a newly redrawn district that lost the moderate Tucson suburbs and added a deeply conservatve area — Yavapai County — to take its place.

The current frontrunner in the Republican primary is former Navy SEAL Eli Crane, founder of a bottle opener company seen on the television program “Shark Tank.” His main opponent right now appears to be state Rep. Walt Blackman, who has openly thanked the White nationalist and neo-facist Proud Boys for their support.

A wide Republican field is also vying for the U.S. Senate. As the race reaches the final stretch, the longtime front-runner, state Attorney General Mark Brnovich appears to be fading, thanks in part to former President Trump’s endorsement of a rival, political newcomer Blake Masters, who also has the support of tech billionaire Peter Thiel.

Picking up steam in the final weeks of the race is Jim Lamon, a business executive who has largely self-funded his campaign.

The primary winner will face incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who is running unopposed in his primary.

Trump is also trying to be a big factor in Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial primary.

The former president has endorsed the aforementioned Kari Lake, a one-time local news anchor and purveyor of false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, meanwhile, is supporting Karrin Taylor Robson, whom he appointed to serve on the Arizona Board of Regents. 

Kansas

In Kansas the vote everyone will be watching is on a statewide ballot issue.

That’s because Kansans will be the first voters in the country to vote on a statewide abortion referendum since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade.

What they are being asked to consider is a proposed change to the state constitution that would clear the way for its Republican-controlled Legislature to more strictly regulate or ban abortion. 

If abortion opponents are successful, Kansas will become the fifth state in the nation to add language to its state constitution declaring that it doesn’t grant the right to abortion. 

The other four — Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia — ban most abortions.

Voters in Kentucky will decide in November on whether their state constitution should state that it doesn’t protect abortion rights, and Republicans in Iowa and Pennsylvania are pursuing similar initiatives. 

Meanwhile, Vermont will decide in November whether to add an abortion rights provision to its constitution, while abortion rights supporters in Colorado are aiming for a 2024 initiative.

In Michigan, a ballot initiative likely is headed for a November vote on whether to enshrine abortion rights language in the state constitution.


Michigan

In the Wolverine State, the big race this year pits first-term Republican Rep. Peter Meijer against John Gibbs, a Trump acolyte who over the years has defended his hardline anti-abortion stance by saying “many great Americans all around the country … were actually conceived from rape,” and once claimed that John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman, took part in a Satanic ritual.

During this race, Gibbs has largely attacked Meijer on the basis of his being one of just 10 Republican members of the House who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

In a somewhat controversial move, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official campaign arm of the House Democrats, has reportedly spent close to half a million dollars on an ad campaign to boost Trump’s candidate on the theory Democratic attorney Hillary Scholten will have a far better chance of winning in November against such a polarizing figure.

In Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, incumbent Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee hasn’t faced a competitive reelection bid since he took over his uncle Dale Kildee’s seat in 2012.

This week’s Republican primary in the newly redrawn and more Republican-friendly district may change that.

At present, the front-runner in the primary appears to be former Lansing, Michigan, news anchor Paul Junge, who worked in the Trump administration in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

His leading opponent is Candice Miller, a pro-Trumper and former congresswoman, who currently serves as the public works commissioner in Macomb County, Michigan.

With Michigan’s 11th Congressional District we come to the Haley Stevens/Andy Levin race. The district is solidly Democratic, and Stevens has emerged in recent polls as the overwhelming front-runner.

Some of this is due to luck of geography — when the district was redrawn, 45% of the voters in it were people Stevens already represented (this compared with about a quarter of the district’s residents who’d previously been represented by Levin).

Stevens has also significantly outspent Levin by something like $2.8 million to $1.9 million.

Missouri

In Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, incumbent Democratic Rep. Cori Bush is facing off against the far more moderate state Sen. Steve Roberts, who has the support of several establishment Democrats.

So far, Bush appears to be ahead, but Roberts’ believers are banking on a slow and steady building of momentum ultimately pulling off a squeaker.

The potential for primary night drama heats up with the state’s 4th Congressional District, where seven Republicans are vying for a solidly Republican open seat.

In this Nov. 8, 2017, file photo, Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., makes a point during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The leading contenders heading into the final weekend are state Sen. Rick Brattin, a former Kansas City news anchor; Mark Alford, a rancher; Navy veteran Taylor Burks; and Kalena Bruce, an accountant.

The race could ultimately come down to Brattin, a conservative who helped found a state-level version of the Freedom Caucus, and the more moderate Bruce, who has the support of the Missouri Farm Bureau and Gov. Mike Parson. 

Another interesting race is taking place in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District, where eight Republicans are vying for another open seat in a strongly Republican district.

The front-runners are state Sen. Eric Burlison, who is backed by the Club for Growth, and former state Sen. Jay Wasson, a wealthy developer. 

Washington State

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray was first elected to the U.S. Senate from Washington state in 1992 and prognosticators see her winning this year’s nonpartisan primary, where the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election.

But Republicans appeared convinced they’ve got a candidate in Tiffany Smiley, a nurse and veterans advocate, who can give Murray a run for her considerable campaign money.

The question is how close Smiley will come to Murray when all the votes are counted.

This is also one the races this week where the Supreme Court’s recent reversal of Roe v. Wade is front and center.

Murray continues to express her outrage over the decision; Smiley says she supports it on the grounds it leaves it to voters in each state to decide if they want to allow abortions.

The race has also been noteworthy for the number of negative ads Murray has run assailing Smiley, a sign, the GOP contends, that she’s worried about Tuesday’s outcome.

In the 3rd Congressional District, Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is facing perhaps the toughest primary she’s had since first being elected to the House in 2010.

Weighing heavily on her bid for reelection is her vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, which angered many of her constituents.

Under Washington’s primary system, the top two vote-getters in each race Aug. 2 advance to the November election, regardless of party. Washington is a vote-by-mail state, and voters don’t have to declare a party affiliation.

The main Democrat in the race, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, has secured the support of key Democrats in the state.

But the Republican field is sharply divided. 

Trump himself has endorsed former Green Beret Joe Kent, a regular on conservative talk shows who often echoes the former president’s complaints — and falsehoods — about the 2020 election.

Also likely to play a decisive role in the primary’s outcome is Heidi St. John, a Christian author, who initially promised to drop out of the race if Trump endorsed somebody else and has since raised her profile by attacking Kent as a conservative in name only.

If Kent and St. John both do well on Tuesday, Herrera Beutler could conceivably not make it through the primary.

In the 4th Congressional District, Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse is also facing headwinds due to his vote to impeach Trump, but in his case, continued strong support in the state’s agriculture community just might save him.

Immediately after his vote for Trump’s impeachment, several local Republican party leaders called for him to resign. But overtime, emotions have subsided, and his record appears to be buoying him anew.

With almost everyone but Donald Trump, that is.

The former President has endorsed former gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp, who is perhaps most famous for refusing to concede the 2020 governor’s race to Democrat Jay Inslee despite a more than 500,000 vote disparity.


The other contenders in the primary field of seven are former NASCAR driver Jerrod Sessler and state Rep. Brad Klippert, who jumped into the race early, but have yet to really catch fire.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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