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Heart of the Primaries 2022, Republicans-Issue 22 (May 12, 2022)

By Amee LaTour

Welcome to The Heart of the Primaries, Republican Edition

May 12, 2022

In this issue: Takeaways from Tuesday’s big primaries and the Connecticut GOP endorses Klarides

Primary results roundup

The big stories of the night: Mooney defeats McKinley, Pillen defeats Herbster

West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District: Rep. Alex Mooney defeated Rep. David McKinley and three others. Based on unofficial returns, Mooney received 54% of the vote and McKinley received 36%.

The incumbents ran against one another because the state lost a congressional district following the 2020 census. McKinley currently represents 66% of the new 2nd District and Mooney represents 34%.

Mooney’s backers included former President Donald Trump (R) and the House Freedom Fund. Gov. Jim Justice (R) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) were among McKinley’s supporters. Throughout the primary, Mooney criticized McKinley’s vote for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. McKinley criticized Mooney for previously holding office in Maryland and running unsuccessful campaigns in both Maryland and New Hampshire.

Three independent race forecasters consider the general as Solid or Safe Republican

Nebraska Governor: University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen defeated Charles Herbster, state Sen. Brett Lindstrom, and six others. Pillen received 34% of the vote to Herbster’s 30% and Lindstrom’s 26%.

Incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) endorsed Pillen, while Lt. Gov. Mike Foley (R) backed Herbster. Herbster also had an endorsement from Trump. The Nebraska Farm Bureau endorsed Pillen. 

Herbster chaired Trump’s Agriculture and Rural Advisory Committee. As we wrote previously, the Nebraska Examiner‘s Aaron Sanderford reported last month that eight women, including state Sen. Julie Slama (R), had accused Herbster of sexual misconduct occurring between 2017 and 2022. Herbster denied the allegations and said they were “part of a greater scheme calculated to try and defeat [his] candidacy.” At a May 1 rally, Trump said Herbster was “innocent of these despicable charges.”

Pillen said he had a record of resisting critical race theory, while Herbster said Pillen didn’t do enough to oppose it. The Nebraska Examiner wrote that “Herbster pointed to Pillen’s 2018 vote, as a University of Nebraska regent, in support of hiring a leader to create a new Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. … Pillen’s campaign said that he was the first elected university regent in the U.S. to stand up against critical race theory and that he is a recognized leader in higher ed on the issue.”  

Ricketts is term-limited. Major independent observers rate the general election as Solid or Safe Republican. Republicans have had trifecta control of Nebraska state government since 1999.

Nebraska State Board of Education District 7: Elizabeth Tegtmeier and incumbent Robin Stevens advanced from the top-two primary. Tegtmeier received 62% of the vote to Stevens’ 20%. The third candidate, Pat Moore, received 17%. The race has featured conflict around proposed health education standards the board considered and then voted to pause in 2021. The election is nonpartisan, though the candidates are affiliated with the Republican Party.

Defeated incumbents

U.S. House:

McKinley is the first U.S. House incumbent to lose a primary this cycle. In Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, former U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R) resigned on March 31 after being found guilty in a federal campaign finance investigation, but his name remained on the ballot. State Sen. Mike Flood (R) won that race.

State executives:

Nebraska held several primaries for state executive offices. District 4 Public Service Commissioner Rod Johnson (R) lost to Eric Kamler (R).

There are three races featuring incumbents that remain too close to call. In one of those races, the Republican incumbent is trailing a challenger as of Thursday morning: Challenger Kevin Stocker (R) has a 3-percentage-point lead over Public Service Commissioner Mary Ridder (R) in District 5.

State legislature:

All eight Republican incumbents seeking re-election to the Nebraska Senate (the state’s only legislative chamber) will advance to the general election. 

Since 2010, only one incumbent Nebraska state senator has lost in a contested primary: Sen. Nicole Fox (R) in 2016. Ricketts appointed Fox to the seat in 2015 after the Democratic incumbent resigned.

In West Virginia, one incumbent is confirmed to have lost: Incumbent George Miller (R) defeated incumbent Ken Reed (R) in the state House. There are 17 Republican primaries featuring incumbents—16 in the House and one in the Senate—that remain too close to call.

In 2020, 10 GOP state legislators in West Virginia lost primaries. Four lost in 2018.

The following table shows data from 15 states for which we have post-filing deadline information and from four states—Indiana, Nebraska, Texas, and West Virginia—where state legislative primaries have taken place.

Media analysis

The Wall Street Journal‘s Joshua Jamerson said the incumbent-vs.-incumbent primary in West Virginia’s 2nd tested Republicans’ sentiment on compromise:

The West Virginia race offers a glimpse at GOP sentiment toward the infrastructure law and the broader idea of compromising with Democrats. An aide to McKinley, before the results came in, said Mr. Mooney’s criticisms have made traction with voters, causing Mr. McKinley to explain his vote and tout the money being steered toward West Virginia.

FiveThirtyEight‘s Nathaniel Rakich said that Herbster’s loss doesn’t indicate a decrease in Trump’s influence:

[Nebraska’s Republican gubernatorial primary] had been seen as a proxy war between Trump and the establishment and moderate wings of the GOP. And thanks to Pillen’s win, the next governor of Nebraska will likely1 be someone with deep ties to the state’s political and economic establishment who has accepted President Biden’s election, rather than someone who believes that China orchestrated the coronavirus pandemic and spent Jan. 6, 2021, in the Trump war room. …

But at the same time, this loss isn’t evidence that Trump’s influence with the Republican base is slipping. Herbster was far from a perfect candidate … Ultimately, Trump’s endorsement wasn’t powerful enough to drag Herbster to victory, but his endorsement remains an asset in any Republican primary. Just ask Rep. Alex Mooney, who decisively won his primary last night in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. 

Connecticut GOP endorses Themis Klarides for U.S. Senate

The Republican Party of Connecticut voted to endorse Themis Klarides for U.S. Senate at its convention Saturday and guaranteed two other candidates spots on the ballot.

Klarides received 57% of the delegate vote, followed by 23% for Leora Levy and 20% for Peter Lumaj. Candidates who received 15% or more of the delegate vote qualified automatically for the primary without needing to collect petitions.

The CT Mirror wrote that “Levy and Lumaj embrace Trump and oppose abortion and gun control, positions separating them from Klarides.” Klarides served as state House minority leader from 2015 to 2021. Klarides voted in favor of a bill that introduced a new set of regulations on firearms following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Klarides also supports a legal framework for access to abortion. Klarides said she voted for write-in candidate Lawrence Cafero rather than Donald Trump (R) for president in 2020. 

The three convention-qualified candidates, as well as any who qualify via petition ahead of the June 7 filing deadline, will compete in an Aug. 9 primary. Incumbent Richard Blumenthal (D) is seeking re-election. 

Klarides said, “Listen, we agree on way more than we disagree on, and it’s healthy to disagree on some things. If we agree on 70%, you need to focus on the candidate that has the best chance to win in November. I’m the only [Republican] candidate in the race that’s ever won an election. I’ve won 11 elections in a Democrat-leaning district.”

Levy said, “I put a lot of my own money in, much more than my opponent has. … No matter what, I will let the Republican voters of the state of Connecticut decide who their candidate will be to go up against Dick Blumenthal.”

Lumaj said, “I want to make sure that if I get to the U.S. Senate we get someone who has the backbone and the character and fortitude to defend the Constitution.”

A Republican has not been elected to the U.S. Senate in Connecticut since 1982 or to the House since 2004. Independent forecasters currently rate the Senate general election Safe or Solid Democratic.

Super PAC switches gears from Ohio to Pennsylvania, Barnette rises in polls

The USA Freedom Fund spent on ads supporting Josh Mandel and opposing J.D. Vance, the winner in Ohio’s U.S. Senate primary. The PAC is now spending in Pennsylvania opposing Mehmet Oz’s Senate bid. Meanwhile, candidate Kathy Barnette has risen in polls in recent weeks, showing numbers on par with Oz and David McCormick.

The day after Vance’s Ohio win, USA Freedom Fund released an ad saying Oz “glorif[ied] transgender kids” on his TV show. 

Axios reported that “Mandel and David McCormick, Oz’s top primary opponent, share a general consultant: the powerhouse Republican firm Axiom Strategies.” Axiom worked on Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign and Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 Virginia gubernatorial campaign.

Former President Trump endorsed Vance in Ohio and Oz in Pennsylvania. Axios wrote, “During the Ohio race, the USA Freedom Fund was largely funded by the Club for Growth, which feuded with Donald Trump and his allies over its attacks on Vance.” The Club endorsed Mandel in Ohio and has not endorsed in Pennsylvania’s Senate race. A Club representative said the group was not involved with USA Freedom Fund’s Pennsylvania effort.

In several recent polls, Barnette was effectively tied with Oz and McCormick. A Trafalgar poll from early May showed Oz with 25%, Barnette with 23%, and McCormick with 22%. The margin of error was +/- 3.0 percentage points.

The primary is May 17.

Percentage of each congressional caucus not seeking re-election

Fifty-five members of Congress are not running for re-election in 2022, including 33 Democrats and 22 Republicans. For Democrats, this is a larger percentage of the party’s House and Senate caucuses to retire in one cycle—12.2%—than in any cycle dating back to 2014. For Republicans, this represents 8.4% of the party’s caucuses.

The highest recent percentage of Republicans retiring was in 2018, when 12.6% of the party’s caucus—37 members—didn’t run for re-election. That year, Republicans gained two Senate seats and lost 35 House districts.

The lowest recent percentage of Democrats retiring was in 2020, when 10 members—3.6% of the caucus—didn’t run. Democrats gained three Senate seats and lost 10 House districts. 

The lowest recent percentage of Republican congressional retirements was in 2016. Twenty-six Republicans announced their retirement—8.6% of the caucus. Republicans lost two Senate seats and five House districts.

Competitiveness data: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s filing deadline for congressional and statewide candidates was March 15. The filing deadline for state legislative candidates was March 28.

We’ve crunched some numbers to see how competitive the primaries will be compared to recent election cycles.

Notes on how these figures were calculated:

  • Candidates per district: divides the total number of candidates by the number of districts holding elections.
  • Open districts: divides the number of districts without an incumbent running by the number of districts holding elections.
  • Contested primaries: divides the number of major party primaries by the number of possible primaries.
  • Incumbents in contested primaries: divides the number of incumbents in primaries by the number seeking re-election in the given election cycle.
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