One way to look at the primary elections of June 7, 2022, is as a referendum on the events of Jan. 6, 2021. Are enough voters still offended by the violent right-wing attack on the Capitol a year and a half ago that Democrats can use it as a campaign issue to fend off a likely Republican takeover of Congress this fall?
It remains unlikely. But there are signs that Republican voters are not punishing candidates who spoke out against the attack and supported the congressional investigation of it. Five of the 35 Republicans who bucked former President Donald Trump and voted to form a Jan. 6 commission were on ballots Tuesday — and for the most part, they beat back their more conservative challengers.
Democrats were especially interested in how incumbent Representative David Valadeo would fare in California’s newly redrawn 22nd District, located in the Central Valley. Valadeo, the only California Republican who voted to impeach Trump for his role on Jan. 6, was running against Republican businessman and military veteran Chris Mathys. In a sign of how badly Democrats wanted to run against Mathys, a Super PAC tied to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ran an advertisement that tried to boost him, noting no fewer than three times that that Valadao “voted to impeach President Trump.”
Unfortunately for Democrats, they’re unlikely to face the ultra-MAGA Mathys in November. Ballots are still being counted, but Valadeo appears to be the first House Republican who voted to impeach Trump to survive a primary.
His race will be one of the most competitive this fall, when Democrats are hoping to blunt a Republican takeover by making such contests a choice between two candidates, rather than a referendum on the Democrats’ handling of the economy or President Joe Biden’s dismal approval ratings.
Some Democrats, including in the White House, want to use Jan. 6 to frame this election as a choice. Yes, it’s disconnected from the daily reminders of inflation that voters see when they fill up at the gas station or check out at the grocery store. But Democrats are hoping that swing voters aren’t one-dimensional. They want them to see the insurrection as part of a larger narrative about the Republican Party.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund has spent several months researching how voters perceive the Republican brand. It has two main takeaways: Voters see the party as pushing an extreme agenda; and they see it as willing to do anything, including violence and overturning an election, to get and keep power.
“This story of a party that has changed, that’s radicalized, that’s been willing to do anything for power, helps center January 6 in a context that does matter to voters,” said Navin Nayak, the organization’s president.
Interestingly, their polling shows that Republicans in battleground districts are more vulnerable when associated with the MAGA movement than they are when associated with the party “for the rich.”
Nayak told me that the Jan. 6 hearings, which will be televised in primetime this week and will continue over the coming weeks, will be important “to remind people that this was not an isolated incident, that it was at the core of who the Republican Party has become.” Just this week, five members of the far-right group the Proud Boys were indicted on sedition charges for their role in the insurrection.
Also, keep an eye on California’s newly drawn 41st District: If national Democrats begin to focus more attention there, it will be a sign they think they are making progress.
Because of the state’s jungle primary system, Republican incumbent Ken Calvert has ostensibly been running against his general election opponent, former assistant U.S. attorney Will Rollins. The 37-year old Democrat made Calvert’s vote to overturn Biden’s victory central to his campaign and appears to have performed well even though he hasn’t attracted much attention or money from national Democrats — yet.
Another factor to consider: One top Democratic campaign strategist told me Americans are desensitized. In focus groups, swing voters say Jan. 6 was a terrible event and the perpetrators should be held responsible. But as soon as Trump or Republicans are mentioned, they say the attempted coup shouldn’t be turned into a political football.
So the overall takeaway from these primary contests remains grim for Democrats. This week’s hearings will remind voters of the terrible events of Jan. 6, which do not reflect well on Republicans. But as the general election approaches, and voters begin to focus more on tangible day-to-day issues such as inflation, Republicans will have the advantage.
More From Bloomberg Opinion:
• What Did We Learn From Tuesday’s Primaries?: Jonathan Bernstein
• Tell the Jan. 6 Story to Boost Democracy, Not Democrats: The Editors
• Trump’s Jan. 6 Insurrection Never Ended: Mark Gongloff
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Julianna Goldman is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist who was formerly a Washington-based correspondent for CBS News and White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Television.
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