On a day marked by tragedy in Texas, voters there and in states including Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas headed to the polls to select candidates for the November general election.
Former senator David Perdue (R-Ga.) lost his primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp (R) overwhelmingly, trailing 73 percent to 22 percent with 96 percent of votes in. Perdue had in recent days attempted to throw cold water on a Fox News poll that showed him down 60-28. He’ll lose by a substantially wider margin than that.
While the overall result isn’t surprising, its significance shouldn’t be lost. This was perhaps the one race former president Donald Trump most targeted to make a statement about the 2020 election. He even recruited Perdue to run against a former ally who earned Trump’s ire for the sin of acknowledging the reality that Joe Biden won Georgia in 2020.
Members of the GOP establishment in turn targeted the race to send a message that Trump should give up on his “vendetta tour,” punctuated by a Kemp endorsement from Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence.
It’s unlikely this will chasten Trump much. Election deniers are winning primaries elsewhere, and they’ll continue to do so. But there was a time relatively recently when we were wondering whether the idea of a stolen election would be a litmus test in the GOP primaries; Kemp has now showed you don’t absolutely have to toe that line.
That doesn’t mean others will be able to replicate his success. Kemp had built credibility with the conservative base, and it’s not like he denounced Trump’s lies as a handful of other Republicans have. He also made a point to support new voting restrictions in Georgia, giving Trump supporters who doubted the 2020 election less strongly something to grab hold of.
And echoing the stolen-election myth remains the easy path for any Republican. The likes of Kemp were simply forced to make an early decision by virtue of their jobs, and then own it. But he did own it well.
Perdue’s campaign, meanwhile, is likely to be remembered for some time as one of the most catastrophic in recent memory, less than 17 months after his previous loss helped cost the GOP the Senate.
This race is also the latest to suggest Trump is hardly a GOP kingmaker. Perdue is now the sixth candidate in a big, contested race to win less than one-third of the vote. Trump has lost four of those races this month, with another yet to be determined. He’s winning more than he’s losing in such races, but not by much.
2. From bad to worse for Trump’s ‘vendetta tour’
In some ways, Tuesday’s biggest surprise in Georgia was Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who had been left for political dead after more directly repudiating Trump’s voter-fraud claims.
Then he, unlike many Republicans who denounce Trump, actually ran for reelection. He got a high-profile, election-truther opponent in Rep. Jody Hice. And now he’s survived — and without a runoff, even.
Raffensperger led Hice 52 percent to 33 percent with about 96 percent of the vote in, clearing the 50 percent threshold. (He needed 50 percent plus one.) Hice was basically only winning counties in his congressional district. If you had said Raffensperger would be in this position 12-16 months ago, few would’ve believed you.
Back in November, we highlighted the Kemp and Raffensperger races as the two biggest tests of Trump’s stranglehold on the GOP. They’ve now showed — more than anyone before them — that his grip isn’t so strong.
Combined with Chris Carr’s easy win over a lackluster Trump-backed challenger for attorney general — Carr had said there was no widespread voter fraud — Trump went 0 for 3 in endorsing against statewide Georgia Republicans who assured the election was valid.
Trump-backed Senate candidate Herschel Walker won easily in a largely uncompetitive race, and Trump’s candidate appears as though he’ll win for lieutenant governor. But when up against those who supposedly wronged him, Trump lost.
3. The fate of moderate Dems’ ‘unbreakable nine’
The anti-abortion-rights Democrat is an endangered species. But at least for one more race, it put up a fight against extinction.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), perhaps the last such Democrat in the House, appeared to be in trouble in his runoff. He won very narrowly in 2020 and led 49-47 in the March primary, but the news that the Supreme Court appeared primed to overturn Roe v. Wade led to questions about whether the Democratic base would renominate him over Jessica Cisneros, his 2020 primary opponent. Yet it remained a very tight race into early Wednesday morning, with Cuellar looking like he just might pull this off.
Cuellar led Cisneros 50.2-48.8 with about 97 percent of the vote counted.
Cuellar’s district is unusual, in that it includes plenty of socially conservative Democrats — many of them Hispanic Catholics. But the fact that he’s come even this close to hanging onto his seat suggests there’s still at least some partisan nuance on this issue.
In Tuesday’s other big test of the path of the Democratic Party, the left won. Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) easily defeated fellow incumbent Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.). The newly redrawn district included much more Bourdeaux territory, but was also heavily Black. Both candidates had left-leaning records, but Bourdeaux was among nine Democrats who pushed for a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill before Democrats’ social-spending bill. In that, she was joined by both Cuellar and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who lost his own primary last week in a heavily redrawn district. (All three are Blue Dog Democrats.)
4. The Bush dynasty at an end?
Speaking of those at risk of extinction: the Bush political dynasty.
Two decades ago, Texas vaulted a Bush to the White House. Now it has rejected his nephew of the same name in a primary against indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton (R).
George P. Bush was trailing Paxton more than 2-to-1 in their runoff when AP called it for Paxton. Bush had trailed significantly in the March primary, too, but some polls suggested a potentially tight race Tuesday.
In the end, it was the third loss for the Bush family in the Trump era, including George P. Bush’s father, Jeb, flaming out against Trump in the 2016 presidential primaries, and Pierce Bush failing to make a runoff in a 2020 House primary in the Houston area.
George P. Bush was considered the future of the family’s political fortunes, but though the Texas land commissioner tried to climb the ladder slowly, it still failed. You’ve got to think any attempt to resurrect the dynasty will have to wait for a while.