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The Trailer: Three things to watch this primary day

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David Weigel is away. The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips, author of the weekday 5-Minute Fix politics newsletter, brings you today's Trailer.

In this edition: The main events this week are Republican run-offs in Southern states — and Virginia Republicans choosing how MAGA to go in trying to win back a swing congressional district. Also, how is Trump’s endorsement record doing and why does it matter?

Former president Donald Trump says he will “never, ever ride a bicycle,” which is a promise many will likely believe, and this is The Trailer. 

If it’s a Tuesday this summer, it’s probably primary day somewhere.  Here are three things to watch: 

#1: In Alabama, Trump belatedly aligns himself with the party establishment

This Senate primary has been one of the season’s oddest Republican contests. Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) is retiring, and he’s backed his former chief of staff, Katie Britt, to replace him. In other words, Britt is about as establishment as a Republican can get. But Trump supports her over a lawmaker who is about as MAGA as it gets. Here’s the backstory.

There are few Republican politicians who championed Trump’s false 2020 election fraud claims as much as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who spoke at the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally. But Trump abruptly rescinded his endorsement of Brooks this March, complaining that Brooks wanted to focus too much on future elections rather than look back on 2020.

Brooks did say it was time to move forward. But the real reason he lost Trump’s endorsement was obvious to everyone who was watching: Brooks was going to lose, and Trump didn’t want to be so closely linked to a losing candidate. Now Brooks has turned on the former president, a sight few in Republicans ever thought they’d see. Trump, Brooks recently said, “has no loyalty to anyone or anything but himself.”

Britt got the most votes in last month’s primary but didn’t clear 50 percent, so under Alabama election law, she and Brooks will go to a runoff today. She’s expected to easily win — and will likely become the next U.S. senator from Alabama. That will leave Brooks, a loyal Trump follower if there ever was one, in the lurch. 

#2: Georgia House runoffs: Trump endorsements could take a hit

Georgia also has runoffs Tuesday, and most of the excitement is on the Republican side. There are two congressional districts — one north of Atlanta, and another east of the city — that Republicans are hoping to either flip or hold onto in November. They should easily accomplish both, thanks in part to redistricting.

But in both races, Trump has endorsed people who are close to him personally or politically, rather than the more obvious favorites in these districts. And both candidates could lose.

In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District north of Atlanta, Trump has endorsed Jack Evans, a lawyer involved in his failed 2020 election challenges and whose father is a generous Trump donor. Evans made it to the runoff but will have trouble catching up to ER doctor Rich McCormick, who was a 2020 congressional candidate and has the backing of the conservative Club for Growth. (This is far from the first time Trump and Club for Growth have been on opposite sides of the campaign trail this primary season.) This seat is currently represented by Rep. Lucy McBath (D), who decided to run in a neighboring district after redistricting. So, looking ahead to November, it’s an open seat that should be a fairly easy Republican pick up. 

Rep. Jody Hice (R), who lost his race for secretary of state last month despite Trump’s endorsement, has left his deep-red congressional seat — Georgia’s 10th in Athens — open. Trump has endorsed a very unusual candidate: state Rep. Vernon Jones. Jones was a liberal Democrat who transformed into a fiery Trump supporter and announced he was joining the Republican Party while speaking at the Jan. 6 “stop the Steal” rally. But local businessman Mike Collins has much deeper roots in the district — and, crucially, no liberal background. He also has Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) endorsement. He and Jones will be in a runoff Tuesday.

#3: Virginia: Two House Democrats at risk in November

This fall, Republicans need to net a total of just five seats across the country to win back the majority in the House. Virginia presents them with an opportunity to pick off two seats currently held by Democrats.

In Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Elaine Luria (D) won the seat in 2018. She sits on the Jan. 6 congressional committee. But redistricting has made her district slightly less blue, and that could be enough for Republicans to seize it. First they have to decide which direction to go in: The establishment candidate is state Sen. Jen Kiggans. Among the other three candidates is far-right Jarome Bell, who was banned from Twitter for calling for people to be executed if convicted of voter fraud. Trump hasn’t gotten into this race (though his former national security adviser Michael Flynn did, backing Bell). But Democrats have actually started campaigning for Bell, hoping that a win for him would give Luria a fighting chance in November. It’s a not-uncommon tactic in politics — and comes with real risks. (Like accidentally elevating election deniers to Congress.)

Closer to D.C., there’s Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) flipped this district in 2018, kicking out a tea party Republican. In November, she could be in the fight of her political life amid a year that so heavily favors Republicans. (The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates this race as a toss up.) The Republican primary once again features very different candidates. The two headliners are state Sen. Bryce Reeves and a more MAGA candidate, Yesli Vega. Vega has endorsements from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. 

It’s possible that Republicans could nominate yet more election-deniers on Tuesday, and potentially give Democrats a chance to hang on by their fingernails in a tough political environment. 

Reading list

"Biden hopes to make decision on gas tax holiday this week," by Mariana Alfaro

What vulnerable Senate Democrats are reading.

“Inside Dems’ plan if Roe falls: A voter turnout blitz,” by Elena Schneider

Will abortion rights — or the lack thereof — finally become a politically-motivating issue on the left?

“Missouri effort to draft independent candidate for U.S. Senate focusing on former U.S. prosecutor,” by Kurt Erickson 

Some Republicans, basically: “Anyone but Eric Greitens.” 

“Al Gross withdraws from Alaska’s U.S. House campaign,” by the Anchorage Daily News

Just one less hurdle for Sarah Palin to make it to Congress.

“This Texas teen wanted an abortion. Now she has twins,” by Caroline Kitchener

Okay, this not directly campaign-related, but wow, this story pulls on the heart strings no matter which side of the issue you’re on.

What I’m watching

How are Trump’s endorsements doing, by the way?

As she catches us up on the Alabama Senate race, my colleague Hannah Knowles describes Trump’s endorsement record so far as “shaky.” And that’s spot on.

He’s been a rather erratic endorser, picking people who have demonstrated loyalty to him (like donors), and of course those willing to falsely say the 2020 election was stolen for him. They often aren’t the best candidates to win statewide, so many times Trump’s choices have put him at odds with states’ Republican leaders — and voters. Right off the bat this primary season, Trump’s pick for governor in Nebraska lost, as did his gubernatorial candidates in Georgia and Idaho. 

Strangely, Trump didn’t jump to endorse the far-right Republican who won the governor’s nomination in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, until the last minute. That’s another feature of Trump’s endorsements. At times, Trump can demonstrate what could be called timidity, publicly supporting candidates only after it’s clear they’ll win. (That helps pad his overall numbers; a Washington Post endorsement tracker has his win rate at 73 percent so far.)

And above all else, the former president tried to wield endorsements as forms of punishment, as in the contests of the six House Republicans who voted to impeach him after Jan. 6. 

Why does all this matter? Trump says it does. Far beyond any other recent former president, he has attempted to demonstrate his continuing influence over the party.

Countdown

… 7 days until primaries in Colorado, Illinois, New York and Oklahoma and Utah

2022 Election Calendar

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