August usually is rather quiet politically — Not this year.
August will see 15 primaries, Donald Trump struggle to maintain his hold on the Republican party and Democrats scramble to avoid a midterm debacle.
The first big test — on Tuesday — isn’t a primary but a referendum in Kansas on whether to overturn the state’s constitutional protection for the right to an abortion. This is the first direct citizen vote on the issue since the Supreme Court overturned an almost half-century constitutional protection for a woman’s right to an abortion.
The anti-abortion side starts with an advantage. Kansas is a deep red state that Donald Trump carried by 15 points. Conservatives slated the vote for the primaries, which are mostly Republican, as more advantageous for their position than in November.
Both sides are waging an intense and expensive struggle. If the pro-choice side ekes out a victory, retaining the constitutional right to abortion in the state, it would unnerve anti-abortion Republican candidates around the country — worrying even in Kansas.
The big test for Trump on Tuesday is Arizona. A bitterly contested gubernatorial contest between Kari Lake, who’s supported by Trump, and Karrin Taylor Robson, who is backed by most of the Republican establishment and Trump’s Vice President, Mike Pence. Although both are staunch conservatives and 2020 election deniers, a Lake win would be a boost to the former president amid signs that his standing is declining.
The winner is likely to run against Katie Hobbs, currently Arizona’s secretary of state. Incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is retiring.
In Arizona’s Senate primary, Blake Masters, the Trump-backed candidate, is expected to win; the former libertarian has gone full Trump, bashing immigration and suggesting Biden should be impeached for his border policies. He once embraced radically fringe views, writing — among other things — that America shouldn’t have entered World War II. The general election is a must-win for Democrats, with incumbent Mark Kelly, a former astronaut.
In Michigan, Trump is waging a revenge campaign against Rep. Peter Meijer, a mainstream conservative and one of the ten house Republicans who voted to impeach him. Democrats currently are trying to help Meijer’s Trump-backed right-wing opponent, figuring that would give them a better shot in November.
In Michigan’s governor contest, all the GOP front-runners embrace the baseless claim the 2020 election was fraudulent. The winner faces an uphill battle in the fall against Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Trump almost certainly will score a get-even victory in two weeks with his vitriolic campaign against Wyoming conservative Rep. Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the Jan. 6 House Select Committee and the most forceful and articulate critic of the former president’s offenses. Polls show Cheney losing by double digits to a Trump stand-in.
Even in defeat Cheney will remain a powerful presence nationally and can be expected to campaign against Trump if he seeks the 2024 presidential nomination.
The ex-president also is going after two Washington state House Republicans who voted for his impeachment: Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse, both conservatives. I’m relying here on a fabulous stringer: Robert W. Merry, an historian who also was — and is — a great reporter. The Merrys live in Washington state. Both Beutler and Newhouse are likely to win on Tuesday, since Washington has an open primary with Republicans, Democrats and independents all eligible to vote; the top two finishers move on to the general election. Newhouse would be a strong favorite in November, but Beutler — in a more evenly divided district — would have a competitive contest.
On the Senate side, two August primaries aren’t going as well as Democrats had hoped.
One is Missouri, where Republican Eric Greitens, who was forced out as governor on ethics charges and has been accused of assault by both his wife and his mistress, was leading in GOP primaries as recently as June — but Greitens has slipped significantly and with him Democratic hopes for an eventual upset in this deeply red state.
The most vulnerable Republican incumbent is Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, who’s ensnared in a number of weird controversies and semi-scandals. Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, a staunch liberal, will win the Aug. 9 Democratic primary, but Democrats fear he may be vulnerable to GOP attacks, especially on crime. Most every poll shows Johnson trailing.
These Senate primaries matter, as currently the November outlook is as divided as the current 50-50 Senate. Democrats see three takeover possibilities — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina — with a chance, at least, in Ohio and even Iowa, where seven-term incumbent Chuck Grassley would be 95 at the end of his next term. Likewise, Republicans see three possible pickups in three Democratic-held seats — in Nevada, Arizona and Georgia — and maybe an upset in New Hampshire.
The conventional wisdom, probably correct, is Republicans will win control of the House, where Democrats currently have a five-seat margin. The Cook Report’s David Wasserman, the resident guru on House elections, says to keep the majority, Democrats would need to win the overall popular vote for the House by 2 percent to 3 percent. There have been four recent non-partisan polls on congressional preference, all giving Democrats an advantage averaging four points.
The odds remain with the GOP, though it may be closer than anticipated.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.