Heart of the Primaries 2022, Republicans-Issue 17 (April 7, 2022)

In this issue: 48 candidates running in Alaska’s special U.S. House election and a rundown of recent Senate forums in Pennsylvania

48 candidates file for special U.S. House election in Alaska

Forty-eight candidates filed for the special election for Alaska’s at-large congressional district. The primary includes 16 Republicans, six Democrats, two Libertarians, and 24 nonpartisan, undeclared, or otherwise affiliated candidates.

Among the candidates are former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R), who former President Donald Trump endorsed; Emil Notti (D), who ran against former incumbent Rep. Don Young (R) in the 1973 special election that Young won; Young’s former re-election campaign co-chair Tara Sweeney (R); state Sen. Josh Revak (R); state Rep. Adam Wool (D); and North Pole, Alaska, City Council member Santa Claus (formerly Thomas O’Connor), who is undeclared and describes himself as a Democratic socialist.

All will appear on the June 11 primary ballot, with the top four finishers advancing to the Aug. 16 general election. This will be the first congressional election using the state’s new voting system with top-four primaries and ranked-choice voting general elections.

Young died last month. The special election winner will serve the rest of Young’s term until Jan. 3, 2023. Candidates may file for both the special and regular elections. The filing deadline for the regular election is June 1. The regular top-four primary will be held Aug. 16, the same day as the ranked-choice voting special general election.

Upton retiring, leaving one incumbent in MI-04

Rep. Fred Upton (R) announced Tuesday he won’t seek re-election. This leaves Rep. Bill Huizenga as the only incumbent running in Michigan’s 4th Congressional District GOP primary. As we wrote recently, Trump endorsed Huizenga. Upton was one of 10 Republican U.S. House members who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol breach.

Trump to rally for Cawthorn, while Tillis and others endorse challenger

Former President Trump is scheduled to hold a rally in North Carolina on Saturday featuring 11th Congressional District incumbent Rep. Madison Cawthorn and other GOP candidates. Republicans Sen. Thom Tillis, state House Speaker Tim Moore, and state Senate leader Phil Berger recently backed state Sen. Chuck Edwards in the 11th District GOP primary. 

Trump endorsed Cawthorn in May 2021. Tillis said last Thursday, “Unfortunately, Madison Cawthorn has fallen well short of the most basic standards western North Carolina expects from their representatives, and voters now have several well-qualified candidates to choose from who would be a significant improvement. I believe Chuck Edwards is the best choice.”

Last Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) met with Cawthorn to discuss a recent podcast interview in which Cawthorn said he’d been invited to an orgy in Washington and observed people doing cocaine. McCarthy said he told Cawthorn that “he’s lost my trust, and he’s going to have to earn it back. … He’s got a lot of members upset. You can’t just make statements out there.” 

Cawthorn said in a statement last Friday,

Western North Carolina, you sent me to Washington to change the culture. If you want Washington to operate without accountability, send someone else. If you want someone who will throw the entire DC swamp into a meltdown because I call out corruption — send me back.

The left and the media want to use my words to divide the GOP. They are terrified of Republicans taking back the House and seeing Leader McCarthy become Speaker McCarthy. Their efforts to divide us will fail.

Cawthorn faces seven challengers in the May 17 primary. Cawthorn was first elected in 2020.

Competitiveness data: North Carolina’s primaries

North Carolina’s filing deadline for congressional and state elections was March 4. We’ve crunched some numbers to see how competitive the primaries will be compared to recent election cycles.

Notes on how these figures were calculated:

  • Candidates per district: divides the total number of candidates by the number of districts holding elections.
  • Open districts: divides the number of districts without an incumbent running by the number of districts holding elections.
  • Contested primaries: divides the number of major party primaries by the number of possible primaries.
  • Incumbents in contested primaries: divides the number of incumbents in primaries by the number seeking re-election in the given election cycle.

Tennessee bill that would prevent Trump-endorsed candidate from running faces court challenge

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill last week that would disqualify a Trump-endorsed U.S. House candidate from running in the Republican primary. The bill has been challenged in U.S. district court.

According to the Nashville Tennessean‘s Melissa Brown, SB2616 “implicitly targeted the candidacy of [former U.S. Department of State spokeswoman] Morgan Ortagus” for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District. Trump endorsed Ortagus in January.

The bill says primary candidates for Congress would have to meet residency requirements for state legislators contained in the state constitution. That means a candidate would need to have been a Tennessee resident for at least three years and a resident of the relevant district for at least one year before the election. Ortagus moved to Nashville from Washington, D.C., in 2021.

State Sen. Frank Niceley (R), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said that people who don’t meet the residency requirements could still run as independent or third party candidates.

Ortagus said, “No one questioned my residency when I served our country in the intelligence community, the Trump Administration, nor in the U.S. Navy Reserves, and President Trump certainly didn’t question my residency when he endorsed me for this seat.”

According to University of Iowa College of Law professor Derek Muller, “[W]hile there’s a partisan valence to this specific situation, the position has attracted wide bipartisan support in Tennessee. There is nearly unanimous support to stop ‘carpetbaggers’ from getting elected to Congress.” 

The Senate passed the bill 31-1 on Feb. 28. Brown said of the voter against the bill, “[Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R)] didn’t object to the details of the bill but said he wouldn’t support the effort in the middle of an ongoing campaign season.” The House passed the bill 70-18 on March 28, with 12 Republicans and six Democrats voting against it. 

The bill was sent to Gov. Bill Lee (R) on April 1. As of the morning of April 7, he hadn’t taken action on it. The filing deadline for the primary is April 7. We’ll follow up in a future issue on the outcome.

On March 31, three 5th District residents who say they plan to vote in the Republican primary filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, asking the court to declare the bill unconstitutional and to ensure Ortagus remains on the ballot. 

The plaintiffs’ attorney said, “The legislature’s last minute attempt to restrict President Trump’s endorsed candidate from running for Congress clearly violates the US Constitution and Supreme Court precedent.”

Tennessee’s primaries are set for Aug. 4.

Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates participate in forums

Six Republican primary candidates for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat participated in a forum on April 2 at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. Kathy Barnette, Jeff Bartos, George Bochetto, Sean Gale, Mehmet Oz, and Carla Sands attended. The race’s seventh candidate—David McCormick—did not participate. A campaign representative said he was holding other events on that date.

PennLive.com‘s Charles Thompson wrote, “All the candidates said they would embrace a Trump endorsement; oppose [U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown] Jackson’s confirmation; would support either greater regulation or the break-up of Big Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter as a matter of protecting free speech; and support tougher policies against China, including a strong defense of Taiwan.”

An Emerson College poll of 372 likely Republican primary voters conducted from March 26 through 28 showed 50% were undecided. David McCormick and Mehmet Oz both had 14%. Barnette and Sands received 6% support each, and Bartos was fifth with 5%. The margin of error was +/- 5 percentage points.

Last week, McCormick and Oz participated in a forum together for the first time. The Associated Press‘ Marc Levy wrote, “Energy was a constant theme … since Pennsylvania is the nation’s No. 2 natural gas-producing state” and that Oz “absorbed the brunt of criticism from rivals.” McCormick said that Oz has argued for increased fracking regulations, which Oz said was untrue. 

Incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is not seeking re-election. In 2016, Toomey defeated Katie McGinty (D) 49% to 47% to win a second term. 

Pennsylvania is one of two states holding a Senate election in 2022 with a GOP incumbent that Joe Biden (D) won in the 2020 presidential election. And it’s one of three Senate election states with one Democratic and one Republican senator. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) holds Pennsylvania’s other Senate seat.

The primary is May 17.

Ted Cruz endorses Josh Mandel in Ohio Senate primary 

On April 4, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) endorsed Josh Mandel in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Ohio. 

Cruz said, “A United States Marine, Josh is a proven fighter for our American way of life, a champion for the unborn, and a stalwart advocate for our religious liberties.” U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and U.S. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) have also endorsed Mandel. 

A number of other Republican members of Congress have endorsed candidates. Retiring incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) endorsed Jane Timken, as did Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (W.V.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), and Deb Fischer (Neb.) and Reps. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Bob Gibbs (Ohio). Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) endorsed Mike Gibbons. Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (N.C.) endorsed J.D. Vance. 

An exchange between Gibbons and Mandel at a March 18 debate drew heightened attention to the primary. Gibbons said Mandel never worked in the private sector. Mandel rose from his seat to stand in front of Gibbons and said he had done “[t]wo tours in Iraq, don’t tell me I haven’t worked.” Gibbons said, “You don’t know squat,” and Mandel said, “Watch what happens.”

Gibbons’ campaign released a statement saying Mandel “doesn’t have the temperament, experience, or fortitude to be a U.S. Senator and Ohio voters got a first-hand look at just how unprepared Josh Mandel has become and that will be reflected on the ballot on May 3.” 

On March 26, Mandel released an ad in which a Gold Star mother says, “Mike Gibbons has the nerve to say military service doesn’t count as real work.”  

Vance said Gibbons and Mandel “completely made clowns of themselves.” 

Timken criticized the debate moment along with a comment Gibbons had made about her, saying she barely worked before serving as state GOP chair. Timken said, “Friday and Monday night’s antics, the only person who really won was Tim Ryan. … What happens if Mike Gibbons is the nominee? The Democrats will gladly pour 50 million dollars into the race to defeat him and he has given them much fodder.”

The primary is set for May 3. Along with Pennsylvania, Ohio is one of the three states with a Senate election this year that has one Republican and one Democratic senator—Sherrod Brown (D) holds the state’s other U.S. Senate seat.