6 takeaways from primaries in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas
Republican voters in Georgia on Tuesday showed there are limits to how seriously the party will entertain former President Donald Trump’s grievances.
Election deniers endorsed by Trump were trounced in a series of primaries against Republican officials who had rejected the former President lies about the 2020 election being stolen – but had otherwise enacted conservative policies popular with GOP voters.
Tuesday’s primaries in Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas and primary runoffs in Texas were overshadowed by the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Texas.
Here are six takeaways from Tuesday’s elections:
Georgia Republicans reject Trump’s bids for vengeance
Trump spent more than a year vowing payback and promising to recruit and support primary challengers, after Georgia Republican state officials rejected his lies about fraud costing him the 2020 election there.
On Tuesday, those Republicans targeted by the former President didn’t just win – they crushed their Trump-backed opponents.
Gov. Brian Kemp beat his challenger, former Sen. David Perdue, by 50 percentage points. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger fended off a stronger challenge from Rep. Jody Hice. And Attorney General Chris Carr easily dispatched attorney John Gordon.
It was the most embarrassing primary showing for Trump yet, and demonstrated that while Trump remains the GOP’s dominant figure, capable of steering outcomes in some open-seat races, there are limits to his influence – and many Republican voters are willing to ignore the former President’s wishes.
“Conservatives across our state didn’t listen to the noise,” Kemp said at his victory party at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta on Tuesday night. “They didn’t get distracted. They knew our record of fighting and winning for hard-working Georgians.”
Georgia to be the center of the political universe once again
A hotly contested gubernatorial rematch and a star-studded Senate showdown: Tuesday’s primaries made clear that, much like in 2020, Georgia will be the center of the political universe in 2022.
Kemp is set for a rematch against Stacey Abrams, the former state legislative leader who rose to national prominence during and after her near-miss against Kemp in the 2018 governor’s race.
The pressure is on Abrams, who now must prove that her strong showing in 2018, in a favorable year for Democrats, was not the high-water mark of her political career. She surprised some with her strength four years ago – something that won’t happen this November after four years on the national scene – but her political operation is more developed, too.
Meanwhile, now that former football star Herschel Walker is officially the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia, he’ll square off against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, whose election in an early 2021 runoff helped give Democrats their thinnest of Senate majorities.
The race will be expensive – Warnock has turned into a fundraising powerhouse and Republicans have shown they are willing to spend millions on Walker – but will go a long way to determining which party controls the Senate for the next two years.
Down to the wire in South Texas
The runoff between Rep. Henry Cuellar, the lone remaining anti-abortion rights Democrat in the House, and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros is neck-and-neck as the final votes trickle in.
No matter who ultimately prevails, their close contest offers a preview of intra-party Democratic fights to come – especially over whether support of abortion rights should be a litmus test for candidates, and the influence of outside money on the party’s primaries.
Victory for Cuellar would also underscore the continued divide between moderate House leadership and younger progressive Democrats in their ranks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who traveled to Texas to campaign for Cuellar, all stood with the congressman despite frustration from pro-abortion rights voters and – as crystallized in a series of tweets late Tuesday night – progressive lawmakers like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“On the day of a mass shooting and weeks after news of Roe, Democratic Party leadership rallied for a pro-NRA, anti-choice incumbent under investigation in a close primary. Robocalls, fundraisers, all of it,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote, calling their support for Cuellar “an utter failure of leadership.”
The Bush dynasty falls to Trumpist Texans
Two-term Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, buoyed by an endorsement from Trump after leading a lawsuit that sought to overturn the 2020 election, made short work of Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush in their Republican primary runoff.
The result, though unsurprising, still registers as a definitive blow against the Bush family political dynasty.
George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush and grandson of the later former President George H.W. Bush eked his way into the runoff – then lost to an incumbent who is under indictment for alleged securities fraud and was accused by his own staff of abusing his power.
But Paxton, who addressed the pro-Trump crowd in Washington on January 6, 2021, before the storming of the US Capitol, never seemed like he was losing what had initially been a four-way race.
Alabama Senate race advances to runoff
The Alabama Senate candidate that Trump backed away from is advancing to a runoff.
In the Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, former Shelby chief of staff and Alabama Business Council chief executive Katie Britt led the pack, but fell short of the 50% required to avoid a runoff.
In second place, and set to square off with Britt in the runoff, is Rep. Mo Brooks – the staunch conservative congressman whom Trump had previously endorsed. But when Brooks dropped in the polls months before the primary, Trump rescinded his endorsement.
Trump claimed he had withdrawn his support for Brooks because he had gone “woke” by suggesting Republicans should look forward to 2022 and 2024, rather than focusing on Trump’s grievances about the 2020 election. However, anti-abortion rights organizations and other Republicans, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, stuck with the Alabama congressman.
The winner of the June 21 runoff is all but certain to win in November in the deep-red state.
Sanders one step closer to Arkansas governor’s mansion
Former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is one step closer to becoming part of the first father-daughter combo to lead the same state – albeit years apart – and to returning to the governor’s mansion she grew up in.
CNN projected on Tuesday that Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, would win the Republican primary for the Natural State’s governor. The win was expected after Sanders largely cleared the field, forcing Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin to end their campaigns.
Sanders’ victory is a win for Trump, who backed his former press secretary, and positions her for near certain victory in November: Although Arkansas has voted for Democrats in the past – see: former Gov. Bill Clinton – the state has moved much further to the right in recent decades.