The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Trailer: Inside the unusual primaries where Republicans who voted to impeach Trump might survive

In this edition: MAGA game theory in Washington, a big week for the “Dump Biden” movement, and a talk with the Vermont Republican who thinks this is the year Democrats run out of luck.

Because even now, there are Republicans campaigning in New Hampshire, This is The Trailer.

STEVENSON, Wash. — Sherry Busby made up her mind last January, after Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump. 

“That did it for me,” said the 73-year old former teacher. “My husband and I were both extremely angry.” Their anger found a purpose after the Busbys saw Joe Kent, one of the Republicans challenging Herrera Butler, talking to Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He’d condemned the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — an investigation Herrera Beutler, 43, had voted for.

“He spoke as if he was already our congressperson,” said Busby.

In the big picture, Kent, 42, seemingly had a fantastic chance of proving her right. Just ten House Republicans voted to impeach Trump last year. Since then, four of them had retired rather than face a challenger; a fifth, Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), lost his June primary to a Trump-backed opponent.

But in the state of Washington, where Herrera Beutler and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R) are both seeking reelection after voting for to impeach Trump, a top-two, all-party primary system has given the incumbents several potential paths back to Congress, even if most Republican voters are done with them. 

Both have been condemned by local Republican parties. Both have Trump-endorsed challengers — Kent in Herrera Beutler’s 3rd Congressional District, ex-police chief Loren Culp in Newhouse’s 4th Congressional District. Both have ignored the challengers, blowing off debates and limiting their public appearances. And both Herrera Beutler and Newhouse are trying to stay on the November ballot by building coalitions of moderate voters — Republican, Democrat, and otherwise — to overwhelm “America First” conservatives.

“Had Dan Newhouse not done that vote to impeach Trump, there would be nobody running against him. He would easily win again,” said Debra Manjarrez, 61, the chair of the Yakima County Republicans, which has not endorsed any candidate. “There are a lot of challengers who’ll split the vote. Dan does still have a base of supporters, but it’s smaller — around 20 percent.” 

In Washington, 20 percent or so may be enough to secure a spot in the November general election, thanks to a blueprint that’s only applicable in a few states. The one pro-impeachment Republican who’s survived a challenge this year, Rep. David G. Valadao (R-Calif.), did so in another state where the top two finishers in one primary advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Valadao won just 26 percent of the vote in a redrawn district; nearly 30 percent of the Republican vote went to MAGA candidates, who canceled each other out.

Trump didn’t carry Valadao’s new district, but he did win the 3rd Congressional District and 4th Congressional District — stretches of southwest and central Washington where rural conservatives outnumber the liberals in Vancouver, the Tri-Cities, and Yakima. Neither incumbent responded to questions last week about the race, or even where the incumbents were spending time during their last pre-primary recess.

“I’ve talked to her once,” said Kent in an interview after a town hall here, on the outskirts of a public park. “She zoomed in to the Lewis County Republicans meeting. I had the last question, and I asked: ‘Hey, will you come back to the district and debate me?’ She said she’d debate me when the ‘time is right’ to do it.”

That time never came, and the challengers, both Republican and Democrat, believe the incumbents are trying to buy their way onto the November election ballot with ads — ads that sometimes seemed aimed at soft Democratic voters, like a Herrera Beutler spot that focused on her fight for cheaper insulin and doesn’t mention her party. In a one-on-one race against a Democrat, the red tide would favor them; in a race with Culp or Kemp, Democratic voters would face a choice between a Trump-skeptical Republican and a MAGA candidate.

National Democrats aren’t investing in either race, and local Democrats say the new calculus helped convince them to run. In the 4th district, digital marketer Doug White said that he knew “Newhouse was damaged” as soon as he cast the impeachment vote, which sparked a mini-rebellion inside the county Republican parties.

“We didn't know how damaged he was,” said White, “but we knew that all of the other challengers that were stepping up were hard right-wing Republicans. Democrats traditionally get at least 37 percent of the vote here. That’s a very good position to start from.”

In the 3rd District, auto repair shop owner Marie Gluesenkamp Perez jumped into the race with the same set of facts, and frustration that her party had stopped contesting the seat, which President Biden lost by single digits. 

“Nobody is happy with Jaime,” Gluesenkamp Perez said in an interview, after speaking at an LGBT pride event held next to a Vancouver farmer’s market. “She's been there for 12 years and she's passed, like, five bills. If we're counting on Jamie to bring home the bacon, we're living in a vegan world right now.” 

Both Democrats added that the strange calculus of the race created an opportunity for the far-right — another reason that the MAGA vote might not cohere behind one candidate. 

Kent, a Green Beret who campaigned for Trump and would have had a job in a second Trump term, is one of the 2022 Republicans backed by tech investor Peter Thiel. So is Culp, who ran for governor in 2020 and refused to concede after losing by nearly 14 points. 

Kent flew to D.C. to rally for people arrested in connection to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, calling them “political prisoners.” At his town hall events, he promises to “drop impeachment papers” on both the president and vice president “on day one,” and to hold up the first budget of 2023 until the White House reverses all of last year's executive orders on energy. Culp, who supports new efforts to audit the 2020 election, said in an interview that a new GOP majority should investigate it — and, if the results are what he says he fears, that the president should be removed. 

“If there's fraud found and proven, and if turns out that somebody cheated, then they can't stay in office,” Culp explained. “Absolutely not.” 

While Trump and his allies have repeatedly made false claims about a stolen election, Biden won the 2020 election and post-election audits have not found evidence of fraud that would have altered the outcome. 

But the Trump endorsements, which the ex-president gave to them after interviews with rival candidates, did not fully clear the field. Heidi St. John, a conservative speaker and activist who rallied against coronavirus vaccine mandates and sex education, walked back her pledge to defer to Trump after the ex-president endorsed Kent. As the incumbent stayed quiet, St. John criticized Kent, accusing his team of lying to Trump about her record and accusing Kent, who said he’d meddled in the 2020 Democratic primary by voting for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), of being a phony conservative.

“He’s a guy who talks more like a socialist than a conservative,” St. John said in an interview after a Saturday rally at the same park where Kent would hold his town hall on Sunday. Her refusal to get out of Kent’s way was substantive: Even though they agreed on Jan. 6, they had different views of how to wield power. She wanted smaller government; she worried that Kent, like other Thiel-backed “America First” candidates, wanted to use federal power to crush left-wing enemies. 

“When you're tweeting things like ‘it's time for the federal government to seize Bill Gates’s private property,' that’s a problem,” she said, referring to one of Kent’s posts. “We don't seize private property in this country. We have this thing called the rule of law.”

Culp, who ended his 2020 campaign with high name recognition, wasn’t worried about a vote split; since 2018, when he was a police chief refusing to enforce a new gun law, voters had gotten to know him. But Culp had to move to run in the district, and other Newhouse opponents didn’t follow Trump’s lead and quit after the endorsement. Former NASCAR driver Jerrod Sessler had raised twice as much money as Culp, and the only local GOP to take a stand in the primary had backed state Rep. Brad Klippert.

Kent and Culp said that they weren’t worried about a splintered vote. They credited Trump’s endorsement with providing early, vital clarity for MAGA voters, and they pointed to private polling — some of it released to the public — to suggest that the incumbents might crater, getting locked out of the general election.

Democratic voters could prevent that if they backed Herrera Beutler or Newhouse. In interviews, most said they weren’t there yet, and didn’t particularly want to have the choice. In Vancouver, after she shook hands with Gluesenkamp Perez, Jessica Thiessen said that she was horrified by Kent, and by the idea of casting a strategic vote for a different Republican when she saw her rights coming under attack. 

“That would be the saddest position, and we continue to fall into it time and time again,” said Thiessen, 38. “We're supposed to be building basic human rights for all and we just keep backsliding and being forced to choose whoever’s least evil.”

Republicans weren’t particularly interested in safe votes or electoral game theory, either. After Kent’s event wrapped up in Stevenson, Busby scoffed at the ways that Herrera Beutler had tried to pitch her reelection to conservatives. One of them stuck out — the congresswoman’s September 2021 trip to the border. 

“We had the president who secured the border,” said Busby. “He worked so hard to do what we wanted him to there. And you impeached him. You vote to impeach him. Come on. Which side of your mouth are you talking out of today?”

Reading list

“Candidate challenges, primary scars have GOP worried about Senate chances,” by Michael Scherer, Colby Itkowitz, and Josh Dawsey

Are Democrats in bad enough shape to lose to Mehmet Oz? Neither party is sure.

“House GOP marches into deeper blue terrain as Dem prospects fade,” by Ally Mutnick and Sarah Ferris

How safe Biden seats turned into swing seats.

“The first Gen Z candidates are running for Congress — and running against compromise,” by Elena Moore

20-something Democrats and Republicans take aim at the gerontocracy. 

“Gretchen Whitmer’s abortion fight — from the porch with her daughters,” by Ruby Cramer

Did the Supreme Court transform Michigan's 2022 elections?

“Ballot drop boxes not allowed in Wisconsin, state Supreme Court rules,” by Patrick Marley

The latest victory for attorneys trying to roll back easier voting standards.

On the trail

It's been a breakthrough couple of days for the “Dump Biden” movement — a New York Times/Siena College poll revealing how few Democrats want him to run again, a series of buzzy columns urging him not to run again, and a pugnacious left-wing group launching a “Don't Run, Joe” campaign with a splash in Politico. 

“We're not fixated on age, and we're not especially focused on polling, although it gives us an indicator of what the hell is going on with his support from the base,” said Norman Solomon, the co-founder of RootsAction and its “Don't Run, Joe” campaign. “As the Times poll shows, the decline is really about policy.”

The poll, which you can read more about below, found the president losing control of his party as ex-president Donald Trump retained more control of his. Just 26 percent of Democratic voters said that they wanted Biden to lead the party in 2024; a different section of the poll found 49 percent of Republicans ready for Trump to run a third time. 

But that comparison understates just how weak Biden is with Democratic voters. There's been no serious primary challenge to an incumbent Democratic president since 1980, when Ted Kennedy made a doomed run against Jimmy Carter. Biden is the third post-Carter Democrat to slump ahead of his party's first midterms, but he's polling significantly worse now than he did eight years ago, when he nearly ran against Hillary Clinton for the 2016 nomination. 

The first poll of that race, in 2013, found 45 percent of Democrats favoring Biden as a second choice if Clinton didn't run. Eight years ago, when Democrats were as far from the 2016 election as they now are from 2024, Clinton commanded around two-thirds of the potential primary vote. By this point in the 2014 midterms, Democrats in red states were frequently calling in support from Clinton; last week, when Biden came to Ohio for a speech, the party's candidates for governor and U.S. Senate were elsewhere.

Opposition to Clinton soared after that, with the party's frustrated left wing  forming a temporary alliance with Democrats who simply didn't trust the former Secretary of State, and who worried that scandals made her unelectable. RootsAction, which supported Sanders in 2016 — Solomon held daily updates on delegate resistance to Clinton at the convention that year — is launching an anti-Biden campaign, not a draft for any other candidate.

“Biden is a logjam,” Solomon explained. “Unfortunately, we really don't foresee that a strong progressive candidate with a real chance to win is going to jump into the race unless and until the Biden logjam is broken.”

RootsAction, which claims that 1.2 million people belong to its mailing list, is a relatively small factor on the party's left. But something has happened to the party's public discourse this summer; liberals who supported Biden when he secured the nomination are urging the party to move on. Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, who fretted about Biden's age and verbal pratfalls in 2020, published a column on Tuesday that called the president “too old” to run again; his limited public appearances, she argued, compounded Democrats' inability to draw attention to their own policies or organize against Republican wins. 

“If Vice President Kamala Harris’s approval ratings remain underwater, Democrats have a number of charismatic governors and senators they can turn to,” Goldberg added. We wrote last week about the tongue-in-check campaign to draft Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker into the 2024 race, and as they debate whether to shuffle their early primary schedule — most likely trading Iowa's early caucus for an early primary in Michigan — Democrats are starting to think harder about an open, contested race.

Ad watch

American Focus PAC, “Phony.” When Kari Lake joined the parade of Republicans condemning “drag queen story hours,” she set a trap for herself: Before entering politics, she'd been photographed having fun with a drag queen. A drag actor stars in this anti-Lake PAC's spot, which portrays the controversy as the most pathetic in a series of Lake turnarounds, including her praise for a Barack Obama speech and her skepticism about the Clinton email investigation. “She's not just fake, she's a phony,” the drag queen says, sighing and removing a wig.

Fetterman for PA, “Dude.” Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman suffered a stroke before his May primary win, and didn't appear at a public campaign event again until July 11. The candidate, as The Washington Post reported this past weekend, is not yet speaking as fluidly as he did before the stroke. Fetterman narrates this ad across a series of short cuts, saying that he “only ran for office to make my city, then Pennsylvania, a better place,” while arguing that Oz only moved to the state to run for a Senate seat. This is one dimension of the Fetterman campaign's trolling operation: It paid for a plane to fly an Oz-mocking banner over the Jersey Shore, and it's gotten the candidate back on Twitter to call Oz a phony.

Kim Schrier for Congress, “Delivers. Democrats keep distancing themselves from the White House in their paid summer messaging, even when doing so doesn't make a ton of sense. Schrier, a Democrat who flipped a swing seat near Seattle in 2018 and held it in 2020, says here that she's “taking on the Biden administration to suspend the gas tax,” though the president favors a gas tax holiday; the impediments to a tax holiday are Democrats who think it's bad policy, and Republicans who agree that it's bad policy and don't want to help Biden. Schrier's on firmer ground saying she got “more funding for local police,” which is how Democrats have urged each other to talk about a domestic spending bill from last year.

Roberts for Congress, “Biden Democrat.” Three members of the House's left-wing “squad” are on the primary ballot next month. Steve Roberts, a St. Louis-area state senator, is trying to unseat Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), the freshman who slept on the Capitol steps last year to get the federal rent moratorium extended. Like the national Democrats who want Bush gone, Roberts focused on her other advocacy — her vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and her commitment to “defund the police” after other Democrats abandoned the slogan. “I won't vote against the president just because I didn't get everything I want,” says Roberts, adding that he wants to “reform the police, not defund them.” 

Taylor Burks for Congress, “Not Another.” Donald Trump won 66 percent of the vote in Missouri's 4th Congressional District, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) is leaving it to run for U.S. Senate, where she's run ads calling transgender women athletes “men pretending to be women.” Burks, a veteran running to replace Hartzler, takes the same approach here, looking into the camera and saying that the liberal media wants views like his to be censored. “If you think there's only two genders, they call you stupid,” he says. Brooks briefly served as clerk of liberal Boone County, but doesn't mention those credentials here.

Vicky Hartzler for Senate, “Eric and Eric.” The GOP race for the U.S. Senate in Missouri has evolved into a three-way scrap between Hartzler, Attorney Gen. Eric Schmitt, and ex-Gov. Eric Greitens. A new Republican PAC created to sink Greitens went on the air last month, and Hartzler's spot goes after both men, promising that she'll “fight China like President Trump did.” The two Erics can't; Schmitt “let China buy up Missouri farmland,” while Greitens took an economic trip to the country, which the ad gives an air of menace.

People for Rebecca, “Minivan.” For a year, ex-Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch led in polls and endorsements for this year's Republican gubernatorial nomination. Last month, Trump endorsed someone else — construction company owner Tim Michels, who lost a different race 18 years ago and charged into this one as the outsider. She's responded with this fifty-fifty ad, half of it decrying high gas prices as she fills her minivan, and half going after Michels, who “pushed for years to raise our gas tax.” Did he? Sort of: Transportation groups that Michels led or got involved with had advocated for a higher gas tax, to fund more infrastructure.

Catholic Vote, “Catholics to Axne: Do Your Job.” Republicans and conservative activists often get more out of left-wing protests than the protesters do — fresh material to portray Democrats as dangerous. This is part of a $3 million buy against vulnerable Catholic Democrats who continue to vote for legal abortion, using images from 2020 riots, and fresh photos of vandalism by some radical pro-abortion rights activists, to ask why Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) hasn't condemned it. “An assassination attempt on a Supreme Court justice,” says a disgusted-sounding narrator. “Domestic terrorists declaring it open season.” Spots like this are why elected Democrats and election-focused abortion rights groups have begun condemning fringe groups that want a more militant response to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision.

Poll watch

“Do you think the Democratic Party should renominate Joe Biden as the party's candidate for President in 2024, or do you think the party should nominate a different candidate for President in 2024?” (New York Times/Siena College, July 5-7, 849 registered voters.)

Nominate Joe Biden: 26%
Nominate a different person: 64%

Behold, the poll that ruined the White House's week. The number that grabbed the first headline was 33 percent, the lowest approval rating of Biden's presidency. Seven out of 10 Democrats disagreed — a new low for Biden, but enough to hold a political base. The pollsters rained on that by asking if people who intended to vote in the next Democratic primary would stick with Biden. His 2020 coalition splintered, with every single demographic opposing another Biden nomination. Black Democrats were the most supportive, 40 percent of them ready to ride with Biden. White Democrats were the least supportive, a full 70 percent favoring someone new. Just 5 percent of Democrats under 30, who rejected Biden in the primary but turned out in the general election, wanted him to run again.

Why are they done with Biden? It depends. Roughly the same number of Democrats say that Biden is too old to run again (33 percent) or that he's done too poorly to deserve another term (32 percent). A plurality of White and Black voters say that Biden's age is the problem, and that follows from the arguments Democrats had in 2020; some voters believed that Biden would seek one term, and Biden didn't always kill the speculation, calling himself a “bridge” to a “new generation” of leaders. But a majority of Latino voters say that Biden's job performance (54 percent) is a bigger factor than his age (22 percent). Voters under 30 break down the same way. Young voters and Latinos, overlapping groups that tend to lag others in primary turnout, have walked the furthest away from Biden.

“If the 2022 general election for Governor were held today, would you vote for the Republican Greg Abbott, the Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the Libertarian Mark Tippets, the Green Party candidate Delilah Barrios, or someone else?” (University of Texas/Texas Politics Project, June 16-24, 1200 registered voters)

Greg Abbott (R): 45% (-3 since April)
Beto O'Rourke (D): 39% (+2)
Mark Tippets (L): 2% (+2)
Delilah Barrios (G): 1% (+1)

Democrats who warn that the end of Roe v. Wade will reshape the electorate don't have much evidence so far. But we're continuing to see some separation between state Democratic candidates and the president's sunken approval ratings. Fifty-five percent of Texans disapprove of Biden, but Abbott doesn't get all of them, and his raw advantage over O'Rourke has shrunk from double digits to 6 points, just outside the margin of error. O'Rourke's embrace of gun control and gun buybacks hurt his image in Texas, and was a major part of Abbott's campaign against him; the mass shooting in Uvalde complicated that, politically. 

“If the Republican governor's primary were held today, which candidate would you be most likely to vote for?” (OH Predictive Insights, June 30 July 2, 515 likely voters)

Kari Lake: 40% (+11)
Karrin Taylor Robson: 35% (+13)
Others: 2% (-)
Unsure: 21% (-)

Lake, a former news anchor, has defined the GOP race for governor of Arizona — baselessly challenging the results of the 2020 election, pledging to defy the Biden administration, and rallying with Trump, who'll be back in the state this weekend. But when ex-Rep. Matt Salmon quit the race and endorsed Robson, battle lines formed, with Gov. Doug Ducey backing the university regent (who he appointed) over Lake. Asked if they're aware of Lake's two-step on drag queens, and how she took pictures with drag performers years before condemning events like “drag queen story hour,” half of GOP voters have heard about it, and more see it as a negative than a positive. Lake's opponents, to beat her, are focusing less on her far-out positions than on whether she's a phony.

In the states

California. San Francisco Mayor London Breed condemned a city supervisor's proposal to hold elections in higher-turnout presidential years, calling it a ploy by “democratic socialists” who “want to have more control and power.” 

She wasn't wrong. Supervisor Dean Preston, who opposed this year's successful efforts to recall three left-wing school board members and ex-District Attorney Chesa Boudin, told KCBS radio that he introduced the measure to help more “lower-income voters and communities of color” determine who runs the city.

Another motivation is the way Breed has approached the voter-created vacancies. In February, after the school board recall, Breed appointed critics of the ousted board members, including one who'd campaigned to remove them. That angered the city's defeated left, but not as much as her choice of Brooke Jenkins, a star of multiple anti-Boudin TV ads, to take his job. 

“By no means did I ever blame all crime on Chesa Boudin,” Jenkins told the New York Times after her appointment. “No district attorney can snap their fingers and do away with all crime.” That wasn't really the tone of the recall campaign, which portrayed Boudin as a wrecker ruining life in the city.

Michigan. Abortion rights activists submitted 750,000 signatures to place a constitutional change on the November ballot, nearly twice as many as required to force a vote. Reproductive Freedom for All also reviewed its petitions before submitting to strike more than 150,000, as a way to stave off challenges, just a few weeks after botched petitions transformed the GOP primary for governor by ending half of the potential candidates' campaigns. (Several are trying to stay in the race as write-in candidates.)


As their midterm prospects got worse, some Democratic organizations formed a strange, one-sided alliance with right-wing Republicans. In Illinois, in Maryland, in Nevada, in Colorado, their ads playfully urged Republican voters to pick more radical candidates, over the ones Democrats considered more electable.

But in Colorado, Republican voters picked construction company CEO Joe O’Dea, who supports some abortion rights, over a stop-the-steal state legislator. In states where they’ve been losing for years, Republican voters are being courted by candidates who don’t pass every party litmus test, as they court frustrated independent and Democratic voters. 

In Washington, veterans advocate Tiffany Smiley has prioritized inflation and crime fears in her campaign against Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.); she’s talked less about social issues, and told The Trailer in an interview this week that she would not support a federal ban on abortion. And in Vermont, ex-U.S. attorney Christina Nolan is running for an open Senate seat while ditching some of the national GOP platform.

Some, but not all. Nolan doesn’t support a national abortion ban — but she opposes a ballot measure this year that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. She’s criticized both parties, but raised funds with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). She’s said that Biden did win the 2020 presidential election — but not who she voted for that year. Nolan talked with The Trailer on Monday, and this is an edited transcript of the conversation.

The Trailer: Where do you place yourself in the Republican Party?

Christina Nolan: I’ve always said that I'm a Christian Nolan Republican — an independent-minded Republican. I’ve taken some views that differ from some Republicans. I would have voted to confirm Justice Jackson to the Supreme Court, because it's the president's prerogative, assigned by the Constitution, to pick judges. I think that we need to stop politicizing the Supreme Court and start confirming qualified people, even if they might not have been our choice as senator. Susan Collins is probably a fair comparison.

TT: Last month, when you debated the other Republicans running for this seat, you said that Biden won the presidency and you condemned the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Are you swimming upstream on that? How common is that view in the Vermont GOP electorate?

CN: I actually spoke out about this, not just as a political candidate, but as U.S. attorney. I made a statement about how horrific the attack on the Capitol was, how it was an indelible wound to the national psyche, how awful it was to watch police officers being attacked — police officers who work to keep us safe. 

TT: You were also debating a candidate who not only disagrees, but wishes he was there. Do most Vermont Republicans agree with you or him?

CN: Gov. [Phil] Scott has endorsed me, of course, and he’ll be on the ballot with me this November. That’s a great sign of how much support there is for the kind of Republican I am. There is a diversity of viewpoint in the Republican Party. Republicans everywhere I go are telling me they're so excited about this candidacy, because they know I can win. 

TT: If you meet a Democrat who’s willing to ditch the party and vote for you, what’s the usual reason? What sort of issues do skeptics bring up?

Christina Nolan: Public safety. There was a very extreme movement called defund the police that actually happened here in Vermont, and crime has risen, in a very frightening way, as a result. Democratic voters do not want to abolish the police; my opponent in November has voted three times to eliminate the police or defund the police. [The city of Burlington did vote to reduce police funding; Peter Welch has not voted to defund police departments, but has voted for bills to change policing and against Republican efforts to condemn the “defund” campaign.] So they're very interested in a candidate who understands that we need police in this country. They talk about the border, because fentanyl is pouring over the border and killing 215 Vermonters a year. 

TT: What actions has the Biden administration taken that made the fentanyl problem worse? What would you reverse?

CN: Certainly, when the police are defunded, there are less police to do drug trafficking investigations. Police just don't feel supported here. Their morale is so low. We are not having academy graduations keep up with retirements. [Biden has said he opposes “defund the police” calls.]

TT: What actions would you take in the Senate to drive prices down?

CN: One thing that both parties have done, on both sides, is spend too much money. My opponent, in November, voted for a $3.5 trillion spending bill [Build Back Better] that moderates in his own party were opposed to — in a time of record inflation. So in the Senate, I will spend to the point of helping, but not to the point of hurting.

TT: Since the Dobbs decision came down, Welch and other Vermont Democrats have committed to passing the Women’s Health Protection Act. Would you support that? If you get to the Senate, what are your priorities on abortion?

CN: I want to work with both parties to pass legislation that gave the right to abortion that had been established in Roe v. Wade. I want to make that available nationwide in every state. If a national abortion ban got brought up, I would vote no on that.

TT: What did you think of Justice Clarence Thomas’s reasoning in his concurrence, and the idea that the court should revisit other right-to-privacy decisions that have expanded gay rights, like Lawrence v. Texas?

CN: It’s worth noting that I'm very openly gay and I have a partner of 16 years, which is the most important thing in my life. So Vermonters can count on me to support gay rights. 

TT: Leaving the court aside, we’ve seen Republicans in other states pass or push legislation that would create some age limits for teaching children about sex and gender, and gender fluidity. Should there be restrictions on what schools can tell about that? 

CN: I’d have to take a look at the legislation. I do think children should have childhoods, and that there are ages at which kids are simply too young to hear some topics raised in school. That doesn't mean I want anyone feeling ashamed about how they identify, no matter what their age. When I was a kid, I was the only person that knew I was gay. That was a hard way to grow up. So, yes, I want children to feel like they can talk to the adults in their lives, regardless of their gender identity or their sexual orientation. But we need to let children be children.

TT: You won’t say if you voted for Trump in 2016 or 2020. Would you vote for him in 2024?

CN: I have no idea who I’ll vote for in 2024. I've got to wait and see what's going on in the world and who the candidates are. And I also want the Biden administration to know that I'll be a bridge builder. I'm not going to get into what my personal politics were when I was U.S. attorney, because we had cases that were very high profile, some of them touched on politics, and no one ever knew what my politics were. I don’t want the work of our office questioned in any way.

TT: Would you accept a Trump endorsement?

CN: I want the endorsement of the voters of Vermont: Independents, Democrats, Republicans. And I'm going to bring out people who who've never voted before. I've had people donate to the campaign before. People are telling me they're registering to vote because of my candidacy for the first time. 

I'm not saying anything about 2024. There's so much that can happen in the world, and we just got to see who the candidates are. But I will vote for the person who I think is the best person for the job, not necessarily based on political party.


… seven days until primaries in Maryland
… 21 days until primaries in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington
… 28 days until primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin, and the special House election in Minnesota's 1st Congressional District
… 37 days until primaries in Alaska and Wyoming
… 119 days until the midterm elections

2022 Election Calendar

 This story has been corrected. A Democratic voter quoted on her choice is Jessica Thiessen, not Emily Thiessen.