Five takeaways from primaries in Georgia, Alabama and beyond
Tuesday marked yet another eventful primary night with former President Trump’s political brand once again being put to the test.
Trump’s endorsement suffered a major loss in Georgia’s gubernatorial race with incumbent Brian Kemp’s (R) victory over former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). On the Democratic side, the runoff between incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and progressive activist Jessica Cisneros remained razor-thin going into midnight.
The contests were largely overshadowed in the news media by the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which left at least 19 people dead. Candidates from both parties reacted to news of the shooting, but the primary contests continued in a number of states including Texas.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries.
A resounding defeat for Trump in Georgia
Out of all the states that have held primaries so far this year, Georgia dealt Trump perhaps the biggest blow.
His preferred candidate in the GOP gubernatorial primary, Perdue, was easily dispatched by Gov. Brian Kemp despite Trump’s best efforts to oust him.
Georgia Republican voters also delivered a resounding rejection of John Gordon, Trump’s endorsed candidate in the GOP primary for state attorney general, renominating incumbent Chris Carr for a second term.
Meanwhile, in the GOP primary for secretary of state, incumbent Brad Raffensperger defeated his Trump-backed challenger, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), scoring an outright win and avoiding a potentially chaotic June primary runoff.
And while he appears to be headed toward a June primary runoff, former Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones, whom Trump lured out of the governor’s race with the promise of endorsing him for a congressional seat instead, isn’t poised for a first-place finish in the GOP nominating contest in the state’s 10th Congressional District.
The string of defeats in Georgia only adds to Trump’s woes in the state after his 2020 electoral loss there to President Biden. But they’re also likely to raise further questions about his status as a Republican kingmaker and just how far GOP voters are willing to go to strengthen his grip over the party and its candidates.
Voters reject proponents of Trump’s election claims
If Trump has made one thing clear since leaving Washington last year, it’s that any candidate who wants his endorsement will also have to further his claims that widespread voter fraud robbed him of a second term in the White House.
In Georgia, however, voters weren’t as inclined to side with Trump on that issue as he had hoped.
Republicans overwhelmingly rejected Perdue’s challenge to Kemp despite his frequent willingness on the campaign trail to resurface and relitigate the 2020 election and Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud.
The same was true in the GOP primary for state attorney general. Carr drew Trump’s ire in the wake of the 2020 election for refusing to help him overturn his loss in Georgia. Nevertheless, Republican voters weren’t drawn to the candidate whom Trump endorsed to replace Carr.
Likewise, Raffensperger triumphed over Hice despite vocally criticizing Trump’s false election claims and defending his state’s handling of the 2020 election in the face of attacks by the former president and his allies.
While Georgia is just one state, the results suggest that Republican voters may not be as interested as Trump is in relitigating the outcome of the last presidential election — something the former president has centered his political brand on.
But Trump acolytes still won elsewhere
While Perdue’s loss in his Georgia primary was Trump’s biggest loss of the night, other candidates endorsed by the former president advanced to their respective general elections.
Republican Herschel Walker sailed to victory in Georgia’s GOP Senate primary, setting up a match-up with incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock (Ga.). Trump called into Walker’s victory party on Tuesday evening to congratulate the newly minted Republican Senate nominee.
Trump’s former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also sailed to victory in Arkansas’ GOP gubernatorial primary. Huckabee Sanders, who is the daughter of the state’s former Gov. Mike Huckabee, was endorsed by Trump shortly after announcing her candidacy. She faced one other opponent but was widely considered the race’s front-runner throughout the campaign. Democrats will likely have a difficult time defeating Huckabee Sanders in the general election given Arkansas’ solid GOP lean. If elected, Huckabee Sanders would be the first female governor of the state.
Meanwhile, in Texas, incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton (R ) won his runoff against the state’s Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Trump endorsed last year despite the attorney general’s own legal issues including an indictment in state court for securities fraud and allegations of bribery and abuse of office.
It was a good night for incumbents
It’s rarely easy to beat an incumbent. But Tuesday’s primaries showed just how difficult it is to oust a current office-holder.
In Georgia, Kemp easily won renomination for a second term in the governor’s mansion, despite facing repeated attacks from Trump and his endorsed candidate Perdue. The same was true in the GOP primary for state attorney general.
At the same time, Warnock coasted to victory in a primary that was only nominally contested. Stacey Abrams, who isn’t a sitting governor but whose reputation and name ID rival that of an incumbent, ran unopposed in the Georgia Democratic gubernatorial primary.
In Texas, Paxton dispatched Land Commissioner George P. Bush in a primary runoff that saw the incumbent attorney general win by a more than 30-point margin.
And in Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey coasted to victory in her primary, beating out Trump’s former ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard.
Of course, incumbents have a lot going for them – strong political connections, deep-pocketed donors, high name recognition and a record to run on, among other things.
But Tuesday night made clear that incumbency pays off, especially in the most difficult races.
The establishment also won out
Tuesday was a good night for the non-Trump, establishment wing of the GOP.
The establishment saw its major victory in Kemp’s gubernatorial primary win. Figures like former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) all campaigned for the Georgia governor, pitting themselves up against Trump’s endorsement of Perdue.
Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Sen. John Boozman (R) fended off a number of right-wing challengers including former NFL player Jake Bequette. Boozman’s opponents hit him over his vote to affirm the 2020 election results and remarks that Trump had “some responsibility” for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. However, Boozman had the support of Trump and former Trump officials like Huckabee Sanders. The night isn’t shaping up poorly for the Democratic establishment either.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), is holding his own against progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros in a race that divided Democrats on Capitol Hill with the Democratic House establishment largely backing Cuellar, while the party’s left flank broke for Cisneros.
While the race remains too close to call, the match-up is a reminder of just how influential the political establishment remains, even in the face of a unified progressive opposition.