Campaign Report — August primaries start with a bang

Blake Masters, who is running for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate from Arizona, walks to the stage to speak prior to former President Donald Trump speech at a Save America rally Friday, July 22, 2022, in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Welcome to The Hill’s Campaign Report, tracking all things related to the 2022 midterm elections. You can expect this newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday leading up to November’s election. 

Email us tips and feedback: Max Greenwood (mgreenwood@thehill.com), Julia Manchester (jmanchester@thehill.com), and Caroline Vakil (cvakil@thehill.com).  

What we’re watching in today’s primaries 

The August primaries are finally here and first on the roster are Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Washington. (Voters in Ohio are set to choose their nominees for local and state offices, as well). Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of what to look for when results start rolling in tonight. 

Arizona: The marquee race here is the GOP gubernatorial primary, in which former Vice President Mike Pence and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) have pitted themselves against former President Trump. Pence and Ducey are backing developer Karrin Taylor Robson in the nominating contest, while Trump has endorsed former local TV anchor Kari Lake, turning the race into a proxy war between competing GOP heavyweights — and their respective factions of the party. Trump is also backing venture capitalist Blake Masters in the Republican Senate primary and recent polling shows him as the heavy favorite to win tonight. 

Michigan: Republicans are set to choose their nominee to take on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). The current frontrunner in the primary is Tudor Dixon, who has the support of the wealthy DeVos family — including former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — and Trump. Still, the primary has been mired in chaos for months. The party’s two strongest candidates were removed from the ballot earlier this year after submitting nominating petitions that included what election officials said were thousands of forged signatures. At the same time, two other candidates — Kevin Rinke and Ryan Kelley — are contending with their own controversies. Kelley, is facing misdemeanor charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol while Rinke has come under fire for decades-old lawsuits alleging he made sexual and racist comments to employees. The question is whether the eventual nominee can emerge from the primary in a strong enough position to beat Whitmer in November. 

We’re also watching the GOP primary in Michigan’s 3rd District, where freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), one of 10 House Republicans who voted last year to impeach Trump, is facing a primary challenge from former Assistant Housing and Urban Development Secretary John Gibbs. Trump is backing Gibbs in that race. 

Oh, and don’t forget the member-on-member primary matchup between Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) and Andy Levin (D-Mich.) in Michigan’s 11th District. 

Missouri: The Republican Senate primary in Missouri has been among the closest-watched in the country this year for a few reasons: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) isn’t running for reelection, leaving the seat open, and Eric Greitens, the former Missouri governor who resigned in disgrace four years ago, is running to replace him. Greitens led in the polls for much of the past year, though more recent surveys have shown him slipping behind Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.). His sinking poll numbers appear to be due in no small part to a late effort by anti-Greitens groups to weaken the former governor through a series of damaging ads. The concern among many Republicans is that a Greitens win on Tuesday could potentially cost them the seat in November.  

Trump also injected some chaos into the race at the last minute, announcing on Monday that he was endorsing an unspecified “ERIC” in the primary. Both Greitens and Schmitt have claimed the endorsement as their own, though it’s unclear whom Trump is actually backing.  

Kansas: The most consequential vote taking place in Kansas on Tuesday isn’t in a primary, but rather on a proposed amendment to the state constitution. Voters will decide the fate of Amendment 2, which would add language to the constitution saying it doesn’t grant the right to abortion. This would effectively reverse a 2019 state Supreme Court decision and put access to the procedure in the hands of the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. The vote is getting particularly close attention, because it will be the first time since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade that voters will make a decision on abortion rights. It also could have an impact on residents of nearby states with more abortion restrictions who may be looking to Kansas as an option to receive the procedure. 

Washington state: Two more House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot are set to face voters on Tuesday: Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse. Both are facing Trump-backed primary challengers; Herrera Beutler’s main rival is Republican Joe Kent, while Newhouse’s biggest competition comes from Loren Culp. Of course, Washington State features a jungle primary system in which the top two finishers advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. That could give Herrera Beutler and Newhouse some room to court moderates and independents in order to build a winning coalition.  

Related:

AD WATCH 

First in The Hill: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) is preparing a $20 million ad blitz this fall as part of his bid to oust Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his campaign tells Max. The biggest chunks of money are going to the Tampa, Miami and Orlando media markets, but the campaign is still planning to spend more than $2 million in North Florida, a less vote-heavy area for Democrats.  

Of course, Crist still has to make it through a primary; he’s up against state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the state’s Aug. 23 nominating contest. And then there’s DeSantis, who is among the best-funded governors running for reelection this year. He’s already raised more than $100 million for his reelection – a figure more in line with a top-tier presidential campaign than a gubernatorial bid. 

 
Another first: End Citizens United, a political action committee, is rolling out a $2 million ad buy in Pennsylvania hitting celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate nominee in the state, over his ties to the pharmaceutical industry. It also takes a swipe at his ties to New Jersey, dubbing him “Jersey Oz.” (Remember, Oz moved to Pennsylvania not long before announcing his Senate campaign and still owns a home in New Jersey). 

POLL WATCH 

We have a new batch of Harvard CAPS/Harris polling out and let’s just say it shows some mixed results for Democrats this year, as well as some good news for those hoping for a DeSantis 2024 run.

Watch the debrief on this week’s polling with The Hill’s Bob Cusack talking with co-director of the Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey Mark Penn here, or listen to it here.

Here’s a few quick takeaways: 

The generic ballot: Democrats and Republicans are tied 50-50 on the generic ballot question, which asks voters whether they plan to support a Democrat or Republican for Congress this fall. That’s a slight uptick for Democrats. The same poll from May showed the GOP with a slight 2-point edge on the question.  

The 2024 primary: Trump has long remained the favorite to win the GOP’s 2024 nomination, and that’s still the case in the latest Harvard CAPS/Harris poll. In a hypothetical eight-way primary for the GOP’s 2024 nod, Trump is far and away the front-runner, scoring 52 percent support. Trailing in a distant second is DeSantis at 19 percent. Of course, if Trump’s not on the ballot, DeSantis takes the top spot with 34 percent support.  

Jan. 6 fallout: A majority — 54 percent — of voters believe that Trump should face criminal charges for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. At the same time, however, 69 percent also said that the country should move on from the attack on the Capitol, while 54 percent said that Trump should still be allowed to run for president again, regardless of what transpired on Jan. 6, 2021. 

OP-EDS ON AND OFF THE TRAIL

AOC is the Democrats’ best shot against Trump in 2024, By Michael Starr Hopkins of Northern Starr Strategies: https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/3583238-aoc-is-the-democrats-best-shot-against-trump-in-2024/ 

The GOP is poised for a takeover — unless Trump announces his candidacy, By former Rep. Peter King (D-N.Y.) https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/3579651-the-gop-is-poised-for-a-takeover-unless-trump-announces-his-candidacy/ 

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and check out The Hill’s Campaign page for the latest news and coverage. See you Thursday.