Takeaways From Tuesday Primaries: 4 Trump-Backed Candidates Win, Omar Survives

Takeaways From Tuesday Primaries: 4 Trump-Backed Candidates Win, Omar Survives
Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels (L), speaks as former President Donald Trump listens at a rally in Waukesha, Wis., on Aug. 5, 2022. (Morry Gash/AP Photo)
John Haughey

November general election slates for 16 congressional, four gubernatorial, and three U.S. Senate races were set in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Vermont in the Aug. 9 primary elections.

Among first-glance takeaways are triumphs by four candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump and the narrow victory by “squad” leader Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in her Democratic primary. A Minnesota Republican congressional candidate won two races on the same day, and Vermont voters are positioned to elect the state’s first woman to Congress.

Trump Endorsements

The former president backed three victorious candidates in Wisconsin and one in Connecticut.

Leora Levy won the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Connecticut and will challenge incumbent two-term Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Trump-endorsed Derrick Van Orden, a former Navy SEAL, won his Wisconsin congressional district primary, as did two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

In Wisconsin’s Republican gubernatorial primary, Trump-backed businessman Tim Michels won by 4 percentage points over a party rival endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence.

With Michels’s triumph, Trump took a 2–1 lead over Pence in head-to-head gubernatorial endorsements.

In May, Pence-supported Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp easily defeated Trump-supported challenger David Perdue. In the Aug. 2 primaries, Trump-endorsed Kari Lake defeated Pence-backed Karrin Taylor Robson in Arizona.

Gubernatorial Primaries

Republicans elected challengers to face incumbent Democrats in Wisconsin and Minnesota, while three-term Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, rolled to an easy primary win and will square off against Democrat Brenda Siegel, who was uncontested in her party primary.

Michels, who owns a construction company, entered the Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial primary race in April, secured Trump’s endorsement in June, and poured $12 million of his own money into TV ads, portraying himself as a businessman and an outsider.

Michels trumped former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who was backed by Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

A former TV news anchor, Kleefisch launched her campaign last September and appeared to have a significant lead before Michels joined the race.

Trump criticized Kleefisch during an Aug. 5 rally for Michels in Waukesha, Wisconsin, as “the handpicked candidate of the failed establishment, the RINOs.” Although she claimed that the 2020 election was “rigged,” she is the lone Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate who dismissed attempts to overturn the outcome.

Biden won Wisconsin in 2020 by 21,000 votes. Trump called for state legislators to invalidate the results.

Michels will face Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat who defeated Walker by 1 percentage point in 2018, didn’t face a primary opponent, and has $11.1 million in his campaign war chest to seek a second term.

In Minnesota, Republican Scott Jensen will take on incumbent Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, in November after both cruised to primary wins over nominal opposition on Aug. 9.

Jensen is a fierce critic of Walz’s initial COVID-19 response and, at a recent forum, called the incumbent’s mitigation measures at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic an “abomination of government overreach.”

Jensen has previously made remarks downplaying COVID-19, including a past assertion that hospitals were inflating the number of cases to collect more stimulus money. He also touts his unvaccinated status, sowing doubts over the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

In Connecticut, incumbent Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, will seek a second term on Nov. 8 against Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski. Both were uncontested in the Aug. 9 primary.

US House Primaries

In Minnesota, Republican Brad Finstad won twice on Aug. 9—defeating Democrat Jeffrey Ettinger in a special election for Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District and then winning his Republican 1st Congressional District primary against state Rep. Jeremy Munson to run for the seat again in November.

Finstad, a former state representative and head of Minnesota’s USDA Rural Development program, defeated both Ettinger, a former Hormel Foods CEO, 77 percent to 23 percent, and Munson, 76 percent to 22 percent, according to The Associated Press.

He will assume the House seat left vacant after former Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.) died in February from kidney cancer. He will face Ettinger—who lost one race but won his Aug. 9 primary—in November and will be the favorite in the deep red southern Minnesota district.

In the 4th Congressional District, May Lor Xiong edged three Republican rivals with 44 percent of the vote, and in November she'll take on 11-term incumbent Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who rolled to an easy primary win.

Omar, the first Somali American elected to Congress, faced a difficult test in her Democratic 5th Congressional District primary against former Minneapolis City Councilman Don Samuels. Omar won by 2 percentage points.

Samuels, a Jamaican immigrant, ran as a moderate who claimed that Omar’s progressive platform makes her divisive and ineffective. He made crime his top campaign issue.

Omar will seek a third term in November against Cicely Davis, who defeated former NBA player Royce White in their Republican primary. Royce will be an underdog in the 5th Congressional District, which hasn’t elected a Republican since 1960.

In Wisconsin, 13-term Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) is retiring from the 3rd Congressional District. State Sen. Brad Pfaff, a Democrat, garnered 39 percent of the tally to defeat small-business owner Rebecca Cooke, former CIA officer Deb McGrath, and Mark Neumann, a La Crosse alderman.

Pfaff will take on Trump-endorsed Van Orden, who was on the grounds during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol breach but maintains he never entered the building. He lost by 1 percent in 2020 to Kind.

“The real campaign starts today,” he said in a statement. ”My opponent Brad Pfaff has never had a job outside of politics and enthusiastically supports President [Joe] Biden and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s radical policies and spending that are destroying America in real time.”

Pfaff said in his victory speech: “Make no mistake, this election will be one of the most important of our lifetime. Derrick presents a clear and present danger to democracy and has proven time and time again that he lacks the temperament, character, or the judgment to be in Congress.”

In Vermont, which has never elected a woman to serve in Congress, state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, a Democrat, beat Lt. Gov. Molly Gray.

Balint was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and boosted by nearly $1 million in contributions from the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s PAC. She'll be vying against Liam Madden for the state’s lone congressional seat, which is being vacated by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who’s running to succeed the retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

US Senate Primaries

In Wisconsin, Johnson breezed to a Republican primary victory but faces a tight race against Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat, in the general election.

The Johnson–Barnes contest will be among the most-watched Senate races in the nation—and one of the most expensive. According to his campaign’s July 20 Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filing, Johnson has received nearly $17.7 million in contributions. He had spent all but about $2 million. Barnes’s campaign reported to the FEC that it had raised about $7 million and had spent all but $990,000.

Johnson is regarded as one of the most vulnerable Republican senators seeking reelection for his comments on COVID-19, the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol breach, and his wealth.

Johnson, an accountant whose family owns a plastic manufacturing company, was first elected in 2010 after defeating Democratic incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). He beat Feingold again in a 2016 rematch.

Johnson, who served as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee from 2015 to 2021, said the “size, scope, and cost of government” is the “root cause” of problems such as budget deficits, a slowed economy, and high unemployment.

Barnes served two terms in the state Legislature before being elected Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor in 2018. His priorities include “fighting inflation and lowering taxes,” “reproductive justice” in the form of “abortion rights,” legalization of marijuana use, “LGBTQIA-plus rights,” helping “those who are coming to the U.S. in search of better lives,” and “climate change” that’s “already taking a toll on our communities.”

Looking Ahead

With the Aug. 9 primaries in the books, 41 states have completed interparty preliminaries, with seven states set to do so between Aug. 16 and Sept. 13.

Alaska and Wyoming—the nation’s two least-populated states—will stage their primaries on Aug. 16. Three Trump-endorsed candidates will feature in those races.

Former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is taking on Republican Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola to fill out the late Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) term in a special election under the state’s ranked voting system. She’s also facing Begich in the Republican primary for the state’s lone congressional seat, where the winner will again meet Peltola.

Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka is challenging four-term incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in an 18-candidate field that includes seven Republicans, three Democrats, five independents, two Alaska Independent Party candidates, and one Libertarian. The top four vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

Murkowski is one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump of incitement to insurrection in his second impeachment trial after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol breach. Trump has called Murkowski “one of the most destructive two-faced senators.”

In Wyoming, Trump-endorsed Harriet Hageman will challenge—and polls say defeat handily—Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in one of the nation’s most-watched and costliest Republican primaries on Aug. 16.

Cheney was among 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment. She co-chairs the House January 6 Investigation Committee.

John Haughey reports on public land use, natural resources, and energy policy for The Epoch Times. He has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government and state legislatures. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and a Navy veteran. He has reported for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida. You can reach John via email at [email protected]
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