Republican voters in Michigan and Arizona – two states at the center of former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election denial campaign – are choosing their nominees in crucial Senate and governors’ races on Tuesday, as the shape of the 2022 midterms comes into focus less than a hundred days from Election Day.
Trump’s loss two years ago in those battleground states seeded right-wing anger and turned Republican primary campaigns up and down the ballot into referendums on his election lies. Allies of the former President are seeking crucial offices to the balance of power in Washington and in state governments, where the GOP is hoping to gain control of the election apparatus ahead of the 2024 presidential contest.
A trio of House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, US Capitol riot are also facing voters for the first time. Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer and Washington Reps. Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler – three of only 10 Republicans to back Trump’s second impeachment – each face challengers from their own party.
Tuesday also provides voters with their first chance to directly respond to the US Supreme Court’s striking down of federal abortion rights earlier this summer – an issue that national Democrats hope will energize their base in the fall. A Kansas ballot measure asks voters, regardless of political affiliation, whether to amend the state constitution to remove a protected right to abortion. The procedure is currently legal up to 22 weeks in Kansas, where people from Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri have traveled for services amid Republican-led efforts to roll back abortion rights.
The results of Senate primaries in Arizona, where Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly is awaiting a GOP challenger, and Missouri, an increasingly conservative state that Trump won by double digits in 2020, will clarify the road ahead for Democrats’ efforts to retain their narrow majority.
In both states, crowded Republican fields have been dominated by election deniers. Late Monday, Trump issued an endorsement in the high-stakes Missouri race to simply “Eric,” without specifying whether he meant state Attorney General Eric Schmitt or former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in 2018 amid a sex scandal and accusations of campaign misconduct and who more recently has faced allegations of abuse from his ex-wife of him. Greitens has denied all those allegations, but is viewed by some Republican leaders as an unnecessarily risky potential general election candidate.
Trump said earlier this month that he would not be backing Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who’s backed by the state’s junior senator, Josh Hawley. One of two members of Congress seeking the nomination, she was critical of Trump in the aftermath of January 6, but still voted against certifying the presidential vote and touts her voting record of her with Trump on the trail.
Arizona’s long Republican primary slate will provide a series of tests for Trump allies. Republicans will choose a nominee to face Kelly, the endangered Democratic Senate incumbent. Blake Masters, an acolyte of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, is Trump’s pick in that race. He is facing off with businessman Jim Lamon, who piled cash into a partisan “audit” of the 2020 results in Maricopa County and state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who recently returned a report debunking a popular right-wing myth around “dead voters” but has mixed his defenses of the state’s election integrity with indulgences of conspiracy-minded activists.
The race to succeed term-limited Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has split the party, with Ducey and former Vice President Mike Pence endorsing Karrin Taylor Robson and Trump backing former television reporter Kari Lake, whose campaign has been fueled by the former President’s election lies.
Down the ballot in Arizona, the favorite for the GOP nomination for secretary of state – and the chance to run the state’s next round of elections – is Trump-backed election-denying state Rep. Mark Finchem, who attended the January 6, 2021, rally in Washington. Democratic Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is running for governor and favored in her primary against Marco Lopez.
In Michigan, another state that flipped from red to blue in the 2020 presidential race, Trump’s choice will win the Republican nomination for governor, CNN projects. Tudor Dixon, who was boosted last week with the Trump endorsement, also had the backing of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. A conservative commentator who had coalesced support from prominent Republicans in the state, she beat back criticism that she was an establishment candidate who wasn’t “MAGA” enough.
Dixon will be taking on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is seeking a second term. Whitmer is a key piece of the Democratic bulwark against Republican power in Michigan, where the GOP controls both legislative chambers.
But the most anticipated race of the night, at least in Michigan, is for the GOP nomination in a western House district that has become a flashpoint in both parties’ national infighting. Meijer, who was first elected in 2020, is facing a primary challenge from John Gibbs, a fervent election denier running with Trump’s support.
Gibbs, though, has also been the beneficiary of Democratic meddling. The party’s House campaign arm, believing that Gibbs is a less viable general election candidate, has run more than $300,000 in ads ostensibly attacking his alliance with Trump with the goal of boosting him in the primary. But that strategy has angered some on the left who think it undermines their broader messaging against political extremism in the GOP, while sparking fears the gamble could backfire if Gibbs is actually elected and makes it to Congress.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the newly drawn 11th Congressional District will have to choose between Reps. Andy Levin and Haley Stevens, who both opted into the newly drawn seat with competing claims over the territory and its constituents.
The campaign has emerged as the latest chapter of a proxy fight between moderates and progressives, with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) backing Stevens and its new super PAC, United Democracy Project, spending more than $4 million to boost her bid. UDP’s outlay, along with bundling by AIPAC, spurred another pro-Israel group, the liberal J Street, to jump in on Levin’s behalf, splashing $700,000 in a July ad buy for him.
This story has been updated with additional developments.