Heart of the Primaries 2022, Republicans-Issue 8

February 3, 2022

In this issue: Three Texas State Senate candidates reject LIBRE endorsement and Wisconsin poised for expensive gubernatorial primary

Three Texas State Senate candidates turn down LIBRE endorsement 

On Jan. 24, three Republican state Senate candidates in Texas rejected a joint endorsement from LIBRE Action—the political action committee affiliated with the LIBRE Initiative—and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Action. Pete Flores (SD-24), Mayes Middleton (SD-11), and state Rep. Tan Parker (SD-12) cited disagreement with the LIBRE Initiative’s positions on immigration in their statements.

Flores said, “I do not want the endorsement [of the LIBRE Initiative]. … I have a long track record of fighting against any effort to grant amnesty to those who entered America illegally. I oppose any effort to establish programs that create shortcuts or allow certain people to jump to the head of the line.”

Middleton tweeted, “I didn’t seek their [the LIBRE Initiative’s] endorsement, and I do not accept it. While serving as Texas House Freedom Caucus Chairman, I fought to triple border security and believe we can do more, including finishing President Trump’s wall.”

Parker said, “I completely and unequivocally reject the LIBRE Initiative’s endorsement. The LIBRE Initiative has made clear where they stand on the issue of amnesty and illegal immigration, and we are not in agreement. I believe in the American Dream, and I fully support anyone who comes to this country legally, to achieve this dream. Any attempt to grant amnesty is in direct violation of my core conservative values.”

LIBRE Action and AFP Action said in a joint statement to The Texas Tribune on Jan. 24, “We are disappointed that some state senate candidates accepted a false premise and description of our immigration position and as a result declined our endorsement, which was grounded on their positions on healthcare, education, and the economy. … One thing is clear: The LIBRE Initiative Action is undoubtedly for the rule of law and legal immigration.”

The LIBRE Initiative’s website says, “In the areas Hispanics care about the most – quality education for our children, affordable health care for our families, a strong economy with good jobs, safer communities, and more – LIBRE seeks to fix the broken policies that hinder everyone’s ability to succeed.”

Flores, Middleton, and Parker are each running in contested Republican primaries in districts currently represented by Republicans who are not running for re-election. There are 64 contested GOP primaries and 33 contested Democratic primaries in Texas’ 2022 state legislative elections—26.8% of all primaries. In 2020, 21.4% of the state’s legislative primaries were contested, and in 2018, 28.5% were contested.

Texas’ primaries are scheduled for March 1.

Former Rep. Mark Walker staying in Senate race after Trump offers to endorse a Walker House campaign 

On Jan. 27, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker announced he is staying in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race instead of running for the U.S. House. The Associated Press wrote that “Walker’s campaign said he was offered Trump’s endorsement if he ran for a House seat in central North Carolina.” 

Walker said, “When we stepped away from Congress, it was in our heart to run across North Carolina to be able to take what we’ve been able to do in central North Carolina and take it across the state for the U.S. Senate.”

Former President Donald Trump endorsed another Senate candidate, Rep. Ted Budd, in June. The Associated Press said this “add[s] challenges for Walker, a former Baptist minister, to win over Christian conservatives who are also loyal to the former president.”

At least 12 others are running in the Republican Senate primary. Incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) is retiring. Budd leads the Republican field in fundraising with $3.1 million through December, followed by former Gov. Pat McCrory with $3.0 million and Walker with $1.6 million.

Burr was first elected in 2004 and most recently defeated Deborah Ross (D) 51% to 45% in 2016. In the state’s 2020 Senate election, Thom Tillis (R) defeated Cal Cunningham (D) 49% to 47%.

North Carolina’s primaries are scheduled for May 17.

Doughty, self-described moderate, challenges Trump-backed Diehl in Massachusetts

Chris Doughty, the president of a gear manufacturing company, announced he is running in the Republican gubernatorial primary and putting $500,000 of his own money into his campaign. 

Doughty said, “When I saw that Governor Baker wasn’t getting back in and I didn’t see any other moderate Republicans, my wife said, ‘Hey, quit complaining about it. Take a courage pill and step out on the stage.’” Doughty said he voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and for Donald Trump in 2020. 

Doughty discussed affordability and jobs in his campaign announcement video, saying, “The lynchpin in all of this is our education system. … We need to continue to invest from early childhood education all the way through college and trade schools.”

Candidate Geoff Diehl also discussed affordability and jobs in a recent video. Diehl said the state needs to re-evaluate “how we can deliver the best possible education product to the most students affordably” and that parents need to be involved in what children are taught in schools. 

Trump endorsed Diehl in October, before Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. Diehl has criticized Baker over state employee vaccine mandates, school mask mandates, and business closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We wrote about the conflict between Baker and state Republican Party chair Jim Lyons in our first issue of this cycle’s The Heart of the Primaries.

The primary is set for Sept. 20. To make the primary ballot, candidates need to receive at least 15% support from delegates at the state Republican Party convention in May. The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate the general election Lean Democratic.

Expensive primary expected after Kevin Nicholson announces Wisconsin gubernatorial campaign 

Former Marine and 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson announced on Jan. 27 that he is running in Wisconsin’s GOP gubernatorial primary. Nicholson said, “We can’t take Wisconsin to new heights if we elect a Governor from the same, tired political class that lacks the vision, ability, and will to fight for the future of our state.”

The Associated Press’ Scott Bauer wrote that Nicholson is “running as an anti-establishment outsider in a bid to capture conservatives who have not gotten behind [former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch]’s candidacy.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Molly Beck wrote that Nicholson “[announced] his campaign days after dressing down the chairman of the state Republican Party at a county party event and often [criticized] the ‘political class’ in the state.”

Before Nicholson’s announcement, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said, “I think if [Nicholson] runs, it hurts our chances to defeat Gov. Evers. … I certainly think that having a messy primary where people go after, in a negative way, each other — which is usually what happens in an expensive primary — that just doesn’t help us.” Vos said Kleefisch is “certainly, in [his] mind, the best candidate.” 

On Jan. 24, conservative donor Richard Uihlein promised that Nicholson would “have [his] full support and commitment to win the primary and general elections” if he ran. Uihlein gave $11 million to PACs supporting Nicholson’s 2018 Senate primary campaign, which Nicholson lost to former state Sen. Leah Vukmir 43% to 49%.  According to Bauer, Uihlein’s wife, Elizabeth, donated $20,000 to Kleefisch’s 2022 campaign and $200,000 to a super PAC supporting Kleefisch.  

Wisconsin Public Radio’s Shawn Johnson reported that the Uihleins were the fourth-largest donors in the country in the 2020 election cycle, having donated $68 million in support of federal candidates. 

Kleefisch’s campaign raised $3.3 million from September to December.

Incumbent Tony Evers (D), who is running for re-election, defeated former Gov. Scott Walker (R) 49.5% to 48.4% in 2018. The primary is scheduled for Aug. 9. At least five candidates are running.

Paxton launches anti-Gohmert ads

Incumbent Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently released several ads targeting primary challenger Louie Gohmert, who represents Texas’ 1st Congressional District. The Texas Tribune‘s Patrick Svitek wrote, “Paxton has criticized individual challengers before this election cycle, but the anti-Gohmert effort marks the first time he is spending real campaign money against one of them.” 

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman are also running in the GOP primary. 

Paxton has emphasized receiving former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. One of Paxton’s Facebook ads said, “Who is Trump’s pick for Texas Attorney General? Not Louie Gohmert.”

Gohmert said, “The fact that our compromised AG is only attacking me also tells you that he recognizes the real conservative in the race.” A Gohmert campaign ad says, “Ken Paxton is under indictment for securities fraud and facing a federal investigation for bribery and corruption, so Louie Gohmert is running to save Texas and restore honesty and integrity to the office of Attorney General.”

A grand jury indicted Paxton on securities fraud charges in 2015, and former aides have accused him of bribery and abuse of office. Paxton has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

Guzman filled out Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Click here to view her responses.

Cooper vetoes primary date change in North Carolina

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed a bill to postpone the state’s primaries from May 17 to June 7. We wrote about the bill the General Assembly passed two weeks ago

The state supreme court postponed the primaries from March 8 to May 17 due to lawsuits challenging the new congressional and state legislative maps. The court heard arguments on Feb. 2. 

Cooper said, “This bill is an additional attempt by Republican legislators to control the election timeline and undermine the voting process. … The constitutionality of congressional and legislative districts is now in the hands of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the Court should have the opportunity to decide how much time is needed to ensure that our elections are constitutional.”

WRAL’s Bryan Anderson wrote, “Cooper’s veto likely improves Democrats’ chances of seeing an independent expert appointed to handle a potential redraw process because Republicans may not be able to meet a narrow Feb. 18 deadline if the Supreme Court strikes down the new voting maps, takes a while to issue its ruling and doesn’t delay the primaries.”North Carolina is one of 13 states with a divided government. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, and the governor is a Democrat.