Trump has another problem: 6 takeaways from a big primary night
How to Counter Trump and Live to Tell the Story
Two weeks after Donald Trump was humiliated in the Georgia primaries, a group of quiet Republicans on Tuesday shed light on the limits of Trump’s influence on the GOP.
It’s still huge, of course. But five of the 35 House Republicans who voted to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill appeared on the ballots Tuesday. And all seem to have survived to fight another day.
In Mississippi, Representative Michael Guest was trailing a Trumpian challenger, Michael Cassidy, who hit Guest directly for his vote for the commission. With 89% of the expected vote, he appeared to be heading for a runoff on June 28. And it was too early in California to see how Rep. David Valadao, who resisted Trump to vote for both impeachment and the Jan. 6 commission, would fare.
For the most part, the Republicans who crossed paths with Trump did not suffer from their infidelity.
In Iowa, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks ran unopposed. In South Dakota, Rep. Dusty Johnson defeated his hard-core challenger, Taffy Howard. And in New Jersey, where Trump once sought to encourage a lead challenge to Rep. Chris Smith, the incumbent veteran fended off a challenge from Mike Crispi, a Roger Stone-backed Republican podcast host. [One inspired headline from the state on Tuesday night read in part, “Crispi creamed by Smith.”]
It wasn’t much better for Trump beyond the Five House. In South Dakota, Sen. John Thune, who infuriated Trump when he said his efforts to nullify the 2020 election “would be like a hound”, beat down other grudges who challenged him.
“[Thune’s] a popular incumbent who is very connected to his state and who is conservative,” said a South Dakota Republican familiar with the Thune and Johnson campaigns. The Republican said it matters more than “Florida bloviating.”
As for what Tuesday said about Trump’s influence on the party, Bob Heckman, a Republican consultant who has worked on nine presidential campaigns, said, “I think the jury is out now, and it wasn’t the case before.”
“If I were a candidate, I would certainly rather have Trump’s endorsement than oppose, but there are many other factors beyond that,” said Heckman, a close friend of Smith. “Before it was seen as a done deal that Trump could kill you, and now it’s not so clear.”
Democrats have a turnout problem
Democrats grew concerned last week over their turnout woe in California, which was several million votes behind last year’s governor’s recall.
It was even worse on primary day. According to California political data firm Political Data Inc., about 3.3. million ballots had been returned by early morning Tuesday, far fewer than at the same time last year.
Primary election turnout has traditionally not been a good predictor of general election turnout. One explanation for the lack of interest in Tuesday’s primary is that the races in California were just too boring to worry about.
But California is not a trivial state for Democrats. It is a bastion of progressivism that has bent over backwards to adopt policies that make it easier for people to vote. For Democrats already facing a bleak national midterm election landscape, any sign of apathy is cause for concern.
California-based Doug Herman, who was a top mail strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, said it “points to turnout issues for the fall if the primary [turnout] is it low.
He said, “That’s a red flag for sure.”
A backlash for liberal prosecutors
Not so long ago, progressive prosecutors were the best on the left.
There was Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, George Gascón in Los Angeles and Kim Foxx in Cook County, Illinois. Progressives wanted to overhaul the criminal justice system, and they targeted district attorney races to do so.
But in a sign of how quickly politics is moving around criminal justice this year, the movement suffered a major blow on Tuesday. In San Francisco, one of the most progressive enclaves in the country, Chesa Boudin was recalled — down more than 20 percentage points as the returns came in.
A former deputy public defender, Boudin had become a leader in national criminal justice reform efforts. But amid a rise in violent crime nationwide, even voters in San Francisco have had enough.
The movement is far from dead. In New Mexico, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who in 2016 benefited from mega-donor George Soros’ efforts to elevate reform-minded prosecutors, won his primary for state attorney general on Tuesday.
Nor will San Francisco become less Democratic after Boudin’s ouster. The city’s Democratic mayor, London Breed, is unlikely to appoint a law-and-order Republican to the seat.
But ever since it became clear that Boudin was about to leave, progressives in California and elsewhere have grimaced. His defeat will embolden critics of criminal justice reform, not only among Republicans, but also among moderate Democrats.
The downturn of Kristi Noem
The most interesting thing about the 2024 presidential primary is none of what happened in Tuesday’s primaries in Iowa, the nation’s first caucus state. Rather, it’s what Kristi Noem did in South Dakota, one state down the road.
Noem, the governor of South Dakota and potential candidate for president or vice president, has never really been at risk of losing re-election. But to say she had a rocky first term would be an understatement. Noem incensed conservatives when she dithered on legislation banning transgender women and girls from playing women’s sports, and frustrated them again when she delayed a highly politicized review of social studies standards for the ‘State. Then there was the controversy surrounding Corey Lewandowski, adviser Noem let go after accusations he made unwanted sexual advances to a woman at a charity event last year.
Noem’s victory as Republican governor of the state in the primary was a show of strength and should give him some sort of reset.
His opposition was somewhat marginal. Steve Haugaard, the Republican state representative and former State House speaker who ran against right-wing Noem, was severely underfunded. The election, a longtime Republican activist in the state said Tuesday, amounted to little more than a “referendum or protest vote.”
But Noem beat him, winning 76% with 96% of the expected votes. And after nearly losing the gubernatorial election in 2018, she is set to sail in November.
Choose your own political adventure
Political parties have a rich tradition of messing around in each other’s primaries, especially when they see an opportunity to elevate a candidate they think they can wipe out in the fall. Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, sought to do just that this year, when it ran an ad designed to elevate Republican Doug Mastriano in the primary.
But the spirit of the game is on another level in California, thanks to a top-two primary in which the top two voters advance to November’s general election, regardless of party affiliation.
Two Republicans, Rep. Young Kim of Orange County and David Valadao of the Central Valley, entered Tuesday at risk of being left out of the general election altogether – with Democrats doing their best to help Republicans perceived as weaker candidates to finish in front of them.
In the race for Valadao, the House Majority PAC, aligned with the Democratic leadership, spent money to boost Chris Mathys. In Orange County, Democrat Asif Mahmood ran ads focusing not on Kim, but on fellow Republican, Greg Raths.
The effort may be in vain. In early returns, Valadao and Kim were in position to advance. But it was still early days in California, and given the potential gain for Democrats if either incumbent faltered tonight — a weaker candidate in one of the two districts Joe Biden carried in 2020 — that was probably worth the cost.
Caruso’s Risky Runoff
Billionaire developer Rick Caruso led Rep. Karen Bass in the Los Angeles mayoral race, with the two advancing to a runoff in November.
But Caruso may regret not having been able to finish Bass in primary. If he had obtained the majority of votes, he would have won.
Instead, Bass has life. When the Associated Press called the race at 10 p.m., Caruso was only ahead of it by about 3 percentage points, 41% to 38%, despite spending more than $37 million of his personal fortune.
In the nation’s second-largest city, voters turned to his promises to crack down on crime and homelessness. But the second round could prove tricky for Caruso. Bass is a well-known Democrat with a long history of activism in the city. In a runoff, with no other progressive candidates to siphon Bass’ votes, Caruso will face stiffer competition.
Lara Korte contributed to this report.