The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

6 takeaways from elections in Illinois, Colorado, Oklahoma and other states

7 min

Tuesday brought a broad range of primaries and runoffs in seven states, including five U.S. Senate races, four governors’ races and dozens of House seats. Here are six takeaways.

1. Republicans continue to nominate far-right candidates for statewide office

Some believed that, with 2022 looking tough for Democrats, Republicans could take the governor’s mansion in deep blue Illinois.

That got a lot more difficult after Tuesday’s Republican primary. Voters nominated conservative firebrand state Sen. Darren Bailey over a more traditional Republican candidate to take on Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) in November. Democrats are thrilled about this. Bailey wants to ban abortion in the state (except in cases where the woman’s life is in danger) and has described Chicago as “a crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole.” He once tried to eject the city from the state, and he has former president Donald Trump’s endorsement.

Also, this is one instance where meddling by the other party appeared to pay off. The Democratic Governors Association and Pritzker poured money into the Republican primary to try to elevate Bailey and sink his rival, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin.

Last month in Pennsylvania, Republicans nominated election denier and Jan. 6 rally attendee Doug Mastriano as their candidate for governor, putting that seat very much in play for Democrats, too.

The exceptions to this trend Tuesday came in Colorado, where Republicans nominated a more moderate Republican, businessman Joe O’Dea, to challenge Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D) in November. (Democrats had spent millions trying to get a far-right state representative to win the nomination.) A similar trend played out in the state’s Republican governor primary, where Heidi Ganahl — as a University of Colorado regent, the state’s lone Republican elected statewide — defeated Greg Lopez.

2. Good results for Republicans who supported a Jan. 6 commission (mostly)

Before they settled on investigating the Jan. 6 attack through a congressional committee, Democrats first proposed a bipartisan commission. Thirty-five House Republicans voted for that idea, and five of them were on the ballot Tuesday. All had primary challengers, though not all of the opponents had serious funding.

In Mississippi, Rep. Michael Guest won his runoff after surprising much of the political world by being forced into it in the first place — and his vote for that commission was a major issue. (He, along with the other Republicans here, did not support the Democratic-led Jan. 6 committee.)

In Oklahoma, Rep. Stephanie I. Bice handily won her primary against a nominal challenger, as did Reps. Blake D. Moore and John Curtis in Utah.

In Illinois, though, Rep. Rodney Davis lost to Rep. Mary E. Miller. Miller and Davis were facing off in the same district because of redistricting. The two were very different candidates: Miller, known for saying controversial things, had Trump’s endorsement, while the more moderate Davis supported red-flag gun laws.

3. Incumbents with ethics problems go down

We knew at least a few members of Congress would lose their jobs on Tuesday, because redistricting by Democrats in Illinois forced two members of Congress to vie against each other to represent one Chicago-area district. The same was true with two Republican members of Congress on the other side of the city.

But another trend was evident Tuesday: Voters casting out lawmakers with ethics problems, even if that lawmaker’s political style arguably is a more natural fit for the district.

Two Democratic lawmakers were on the ballot competing to represent Illinois’s 6th Congressional District in the suburbs of Chicago. Rep. Marie Newman (D) is considered more progressive than Rep. Sean Casten (D), who is regarded as a centrist. The redrawn district contains more constituents of Newman’s than Casten’s, notes House handicapper David Wasserman at Cook Political Report. But Newman is facing a House ethics probe tied to her 2020 campaign, and lost Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in a deep red district in Mississippi, Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R) is a Trump-supporting, tea party conservative who lost his seat amid a House Ethics investigation into whether he used campaign funds for his personal business. He was forced into a runoff, and then on Tuesday lost to Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell, who is more moderate.

It’s all somewhat reminiscent of early loss this primary season by Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.). In Cawthorn’s case, he faced so many scandals that Republicans in Congress and in his own state actively tried to oust him.

4. An impressive Democratic performance in Nebraska

Also on Tuesday was a special election to fill a congressional seat in Nebraska, vacated by former Republican congressman Jeff Fortenberry, who was sentenced the same day for lying to federal agents about illegal campaign contributions.

A Republican won the seat, as expected: state Sen. Mike Flood. But the Democrat challenging him, state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks (D), did much better than expected.

This is just one race, and Republicans reorganized the district to make it slightly less red (which helped another Republican lawmaker in a neighboring district, turning it slightly more red). But Brooks’s performance also raises questions about whether Democratic voters even in conservative heartland Nebraska are more motivated to vote after Roe v. Wade was overturned. It’s a development worth watching, at least.

5. Lauren Boebert’s job is safe

There was a little bit of drama — but not much — Tuesday for Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), a fiery, rule-breaking member of Congress up for her first reelection. She had a primary challenger, state Sen. Don Coram (R), who tried to cast Boebert as too sensational to be effective in her job. “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk,” she said Sunday before the election, getting national headlines. But she easily beat Coram.

It was the same story last month for Boebert’s ally in Congress, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who easily defeated her own primary challenger.

So far, Cawthorn is really the only one of this group to go down — and as we mentioned above, he had his own unique problems.

6. Election deniers lose in Colorado and Oklahoma

In Nevada and Michigan, Republican voters recently nominated election deniers to run for the pivotal role of secretary of state, which empowers them to oversee elections.

That was a possibility in Colorado, where Tina Peters, a local county clerk who is facing criminal charges over allegedly helping breach voter machines to try to “prove” election fraud, was running for secretary of state. But she lost handily to another county clerk, Pam Anderson, who acknowledges that President Biden won. Anderson will try to unseat Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D).

And in Oklahoma, Sen. James Lankford (R) was one of a handful of Republican senators who changed their minds and decided not to continue to challenge the election results after the Jan. 6 attack. (He was speaking when the Senate had to be evacuated.) He got a primary challenger as a result, one boosted by a who’s who in false election fraud claims: MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, Rudy Giuliani, Roger Stone and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn all supported Jackson Lahmeyer, a pastor from Tulsa. But Lankford easily won his primary Tuesday.

Add these to the list of blows for high-profile election deniers. Last month, voters in Georgia did not go for Trump’s candidates for secretary of state or governor, either.


An earlier version of this story misidentified the Illinois Republican lawmaker helped by Democrats in a GOP primary. He is a state representative, not a senator.