Four takeaways from the Wisconsin, Vermont and Minnesota primaries
By Eric Bradner, Dan Merica and Gregory Krieg, CNN
Donald Trump on Tuesday once again showcased his control over the GOP’s open primaries, as the former President’s chosen candidate won Wisconsin‘s Republican primary for governor over a rival backed by former Vice President Mike Pence and much of the party’s establishment in the battleground state.
In Minnesota, meanwhile, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a member of the progressive “squad,” survived a surprisingly close contest for her Minneapolis-based House seat.
In Vermont, state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint is on a path to become the first woman to represent the state in Congress.
And in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont and Sen. Richard Blumenthal got their GOP challengers in reelection races they’re expected to win in November.
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Here are four takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries:
Trump triumphs as Wisconsin’s GOP establishment falls
Former President Donald Trump again demonstrated his influence over the Republican Party on Tuesday, as the Trump-backed construction company owner Tim Michels defeated former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial primary.
Michels’ win is the end of an era in Wisconsin: Kleefisch was backed by former Gov. Scott Walker, who built the political machine that won three governor’s races, including a recall election.
She was also endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence, who has attempted in recent months to steer the GOP away from Trump’s election denialism.
The race was a replay of gubernatorial primaries with similar dynamics in recent weeks. In Arizona, a Trump-endorsed candidate who has parroted his lies about election fraud defeated a Pence-backed establishment favorite last week. And in Georgia, the Pence-backed Gov. Brian Kemp, who had rejected Trump’s lies about fraud in the 2020 election, fended off a Trump-aligned challenger.
Michels is now the latest Republican who has at least partially embraced Trump’s election denialism to win a primary for statewide office in one of the most competitive states on the map.
In a debate, Michels left the door open to an attempt to decertify President Joe Biden’s 2020 win in Wisconsin, saying that “everything is on the table.” Kleefisch had falsely called the 2020 election “rigged,” but also acknowledged that it is not possible to undo the state’s certification of its results.
Michels is now set to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in what’s expected to be one of the most competitive governor’s races of November’s midterm elections.
Vermont Dems choose Balint for House seat
State Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint’s win in the Democratic primary for Vermont’s lone House seat, according to a CNN projection, puts her on a path to become the first woman to represent the state in Congress.
Balint, who was backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, defeated Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, a more moderate candidate backed by retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy.
The House seat opened up as a result of Leahy’s retirement. Rep. Peter Welch, who has held the seat since 2007, won the Democratic Senate primary for Leahy’s seat, CNN projected.
Balint will enter the November general election as the overwhelming favorite to win the seat.
A former schoolteacher, Balint had the support of other leading progressive groups and politicians. Gray attracted support from more moderate state leaders, including Leahy, who stopped short of issuing a formal endorsement but said he voted for her. Former Vermont Govs. Howard Dean and Madeleine Kunin also backed Gray.
But in a contest that provided few notable policy distinctions between the leading candidates, Balint’s success in claiming the progressive mantle — she was also endorsed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of neighboring Massachusetts — likely helped her among primary voters, who tend to lean even further left than even the average Vermont Democrat.
Wisconsin Senate race is set
The general election for Wisconsin Senate has been subtly going on for weeks. But on Tuesday night, it began in earnest.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson easily won his primary for reelection, while Democratic Senate candidate and Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes won his bid to try and unseat the Republican.
The race began unofficially two weeks ago when the three top Democrats running against Barnes dropped out of the race and endorsed the lieutenant governor.
The Johnson vs. Barnes race will likely be one of the closest watched campaigns of the 2022 cycle. It pits a Republican who has drawn the ire of Democrats for his ties to former President Donald Trump and his adoption of a string of conspiracy theories against a Democrat who holds several progressive positions that Republicans believe make hm out of step with most Wisconsin voters.
Although Johnson and Barnes are political opposites, they have already begun using strikingly similar language to define the other, calling one another “out of touch,” extreme and someone out of line with the state’s voters.
Wisconsin is one of the two Senate seats up this cycle that is currently held by Republicans in a state President Joe Biden won in 2020. The state has been a political hotbed ever since the 2011 fights over union bargaining rights, leading the electorate in the state to be polarized long before the 2016 election of Trump.
Omar survives a surprising nail-biter
Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar survived a primary challenge Tuesday, CNN projected — but barely, and the narrow result could encourage critics of the progressive “squad” member to try again in two years.
Omar, who is running for a third term in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, held off a primary challenge from former Minneapolis City Councilman Don Samuels and three other Democratic primary candidates.
Samuels had run as a pro-police critic of Omar’s calls to “defund the police.” Samuels and his wife successfully sued the city of Minneapolis to force it to increase police staffing levels to the 741 officers required by the city’s charter.
Momentum behind what had been widely seen as a long-shot challenge built after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey endorsed Samuels last week. He was also backed by building trades unions, several suburban mayors and more moderate DFL leaders. His close call could inspire another effort to oust Omar in 2024.
Omar’s victory comes the week after after two other liberal members of the “squad,” Missouri Rep. Cori Bush and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, also beat back primary challenges.
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