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Election deniers in Colo. rejected in favor of more moderate Republicans

The Democratic and Republican nominating contests across the country on Tuesday also marked the first time Americans went to the polls since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade

Joe O'Dea, who was the projected winner of Colorado's Republican primary for U.S. Senate, talks during a campaign appearance in Littleton, Colo., on June 9. (David Zalubowski/AP)
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Republican primary voters in Colorado on Tuesday rejected three hard-line election deniers in statewide contests in favor of more moderate opponents — including a U.S. Senate contender who supports some abortion rights.

The rebuke of the far-right hopefuls came as House Republicans in more conservative areas across the country prevailed over primary challengers who criticized them for supporting a never-formed independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. And Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who had been poised to reject certification of the 2020 election results but switched his vote after the Jan. 6 attack, also advanced from his primary.

The results of these closely watched primaries, projected by the Associated Press, marked a collective blow to insurgent challengers pressing their case at a time when the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 is under a national spotlight. Tuesday’s primaries unfolded against the backdrop of an explosive congressional hearing about the insurrection and former president Donald Trump’s conduct that day. They also marked the first time Americans went to the polls since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — bringing into the forefront Republican divisions over abortion policy positions and rhetoric.

While many hard-right candidates fell short against more establishment-friendly opponents, in Illinois, a conservative insurgent backed by Trump won the Republican gubernatorial primary over an opponent who said he accepted President Biden’s win and supports abortions in some cases. Also in the state, a Trump-backed congresswoman prevailed over a congressman who she criticized for his vote in favor of the never-formed Jan. 6 commission.

As voters cast ballots in eight states, the House panel investigating the insurrection held a televised hearing in which Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified that Trump wanted armed supporters to march to the Capitol.

Primaries and runoffs in Colorado, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, and South Carolina marked an unofficial midpoint of a season of intraparty contests featuring disputes in both parties.

But the fractures over the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 attack and its aftermath stood out in Republican primaries for state and federal races all across the country.

In Colorado’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, businessman Joe O’Dea, who has affirmed the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 win, beat state Rep. Ron Hanks, who has said he attended Trump’s Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House and walked to the Capitol, but didn’t go inside. Hanks has also falsely described the Jan. 6 attack as a peaceful rally and baselessly claimed Trump was the victor in 2020.

O’Dea’s win sets the stage for a general election showdown against Democratic Sen. Michael F. Bennet. O’Dea is a rare Republican candidate who backs legal abortions in early pregnancies, but he says he opposes late-term abortions. Biden won Colorado in 2020 by nearly 14 percentage points, but some moderate Republicans have been competitive in the state in recent years.

At a church in Greeley, Colo., Sunny Reichel, 47, said she and her husband and son went back and forth about which man to vote for in the GOP primary, eventually settling on O’Dea. She struggled with the choice because “Hanks represents us better on conservative issues,” but O’Dea had a better chance of winning a general election.

“I figured people would vote against Hanks because he’s against abortion, and O’Dea is at least halfway there,” Reichel said.

Also in Colorado, Pam Anderson, a longtime local election official, beat Tina Peters, a Mesa County clerk, in the Republican primary for secretary of state, a position that yields a broad influence over the state’s elections. Peters is facing criminal charges over her actions she took after the 2020 election to try to prove it was stolen from Trump. A judge barred Peters from overseeing the elections in her home county.

Heidi Ganahl, who ran as a moderate Republican, beat conservative Greg Lopez to face Democratic Gov. Jared Polis in November. Ganahl ran as a candidate who could win swing voters in the state disillusioned by the Biden White House, but also by hard-line Republican rhetoric. Ganahl has said Biden “is president” and urged the party to move forward, while Lopez maintains the false claim that Trump was the rightful winner.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, a far-right member Congress, easily won her GOP primary in her western Colorado congressional district.

In Mississippi, Rep. Michael Guest fended off challenger Michael Cassidy, a former Navy pilot, who alleged Guest was not conservative enough for Mississippi, in part because he supported the nonpartisan Jan. 6 commission.

Guest, like other Republicans who fought back against similar attacks, rebutted those accusations by noting the difference between voting to create that commission, which passed the House but failed in the Senate, and the current House select committee investigating Jan. 6, which he opposed. Guest also objected to counting Biden’s electoral votes.

“My opponent has done a good job of convincing people that I voted for the current committee, which I did not,” he said earlier Tuesday. “I don’t support the current committee. I think any committee that is led by politicians that are holding prime-time hearings are doing so with a political agenda and not necessarily an agenda to get to the truth.”

Pat Martin, 72, a Trump supporter, has known Guest since he was 10 years old. She didn’t agree with his vote for the commission, but said she believes in him.

“I might not would have voted the same way he did, but after talking with him I understand,” she said. “He was a district attorney, and his thoughts were, ‘If you’re not guilty, let’s get it out there.’ I know that he prayed about it before voting that way, and I respect his vote.”

Other Republicans who supported the commission have similarly defended their vote by saying it would have been fairer to Trump to form an independent commission rather than the House select committee created instead. Rep. Blake D. Moore (R), who overcame a challenge from the right in Utah, has sought to distinguish the two panels, saying he did not vote for the “partisan committee that is further politicizing January 6 during an election year.”

In Oklahoma, Rep. Stephanie I. Bice beat back a primary challenge from Subrina Banks, who also highlighted Bice’s support for the Jan. 6 commission that never formed and said Bice “is not a conservative.” Bice also made clear that she did not support the select committee, calling it “nothing but political theater for House Democrats.”

But in the Illinois GOP gubernatorial primary, voters chose state Sen. Darren Bailey, who won Trump’s endorsement, over the more moderate Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who mainstream Republicans felt would have a better chance in the general election. Bailey has raised questions about the validity of the 2020 election while Irvin has said Biden won the election.

On abortion, Irvin said he opposes the procedure with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother — a position that is at odds with many elected Republicans. Bailey has said he only supports exceptions for life of the mother.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who remains popular despite the difficult political climate for his party, won renomination in Illinois. In the Republican primaries for governor of Illinois, governor of Colorado and U.S. Senate in Colorado, Democratic groups invested money to lift the farther right candidate, hoping that they’d be easier to beat in November.

And down the ballot in Illinois, Rep. Mary E. Miller, who Trump endorsed, defeated Rep. Rodney Davis in a member-versus-member fight triggered by redistricting. Miller has attacked Davis for voting for the Jan. 6 commission, saying Davis “stabbed President Trump in the back.”

Illinois Democratic primary voters also navigated a high-profile race in which Rep. Sean Casten defeated Rep. Marie Newman in another member-on-member race.

Both candidates had issued a series of social media posts condemning the Supreme Court decision to erode abortion rights. Newman shared in early May that when she was 19, she had an abortion. When the Roe decision came, she said she wouldn’t be in Congress today if she hadn’t had access to “safe, legal abortion.” In 2020, Newman ousted one of the last antiabortion House Democrats in a primary. She argued that her party hasn’t been forceful enough in fighting back.

Jonathan Jackson (D), son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, was projected to win the Democratic nomination in the state’s 1st Congressional District. He is now favored to become the new congressman from the heavily Democratic seat, which Rep. Bobby L. Rush has represented for nearly three decades.

In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul won her primary and will face a general election challenge from Rep. Lee Zeldin, who prevailed in the Republican primary.

Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-Miss.) who was accused by the Office of Congressional Ethics of misspending campaign and congressional funds, lost a runoff against sheriff Mike Ezell. Ezell will now face Democrat Johnny DuPree and Libertarian Alden Johnson in the general election for Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District.

Voters in Nebraska selected a new member of Congress in a special election for U.S. House, picking Republican state Sen. Mike Flood to fill the remaining six months of former GOP congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s term. As voters were picking his replacement, Fortenberry was sentenced Tuesday to two years’ probation, community service and a $25,000 fine after being found guilty of lying to the FBI regarding foreign campaign contributions.

Hannah Allam in Oklahoma, Sarah Fowler in Mississippi, Jennifer Oldham in Colorado and Mariana Alfaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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