Heart of the Primaries 2022, Republicans-Issue 19 (April 21, 2022)

Welcome to The Heart of the Primaries, Republican Edition

April 21, 2022

In this issue: Trump endorses Vance for Senate in Ohio and the latest in WV-02’s incumbent-vs-incumbent primary

Trump endorses Vance in Ohio U.S. Senate primary

On April 15, former President Donald Trump (R) endorsed author J.D. Vance in the May 3 Senate Republican primary. Vance, one of seven GOP primary candidates, will appear at a rally with Trump on April 23.

Trump said, “Like some others, J.D. Vance may have said some not so great things about me in the past, but he gets it now, and I have seen that in spades. He is our best chance for victory in what could be a very tough race.” 

Vance was critical of Trump in 2016 and later supported him. Vance said the endorsement “sends a bit of a signal to all of the people who’ve heard millions of dollars in negative advertising that I’m somehow anti-Trump. … I think it sort of sticks a fork in that.”

Vance and candidates Josh Mandel, Jane Timken, and Mike Gibbons have emphasized connections to and support for Trump in their campaigns. Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt wrote in February that “[t]he Senate race in Ohio is a high-profile example of how Trump is dominating Republican down-ballot primaries, and how his support is seen as make-or-break for those seeking the party’s nomination.” 

As media outlets began reporting that Trump planned to endorse Vance, several dozen GOP county chairs and state committee members urged Trump not to do it, saying in a letter that Vance “referred to your supporters as ‘racists’ and proudly voted for Evan McMullin in 2016.” 

Timken said, “Ohio voters know that J.D. Vance was a ‘never Trumper’. And, more importantly, he said some pretty terrible things about the Trump voter, that they were racist or uneducated.” 

Timken and Mandel said they looked forward to Trump’s endorsement in the general election. 

Gibbons said, “While I would have loved the endorsement, I continue to be in a strong position in this race.” 

And Matt Dolan said Gibbons, Mandel, Timken, and Vance “embraced lies and undermined the Constitution to go all-in for one endorsement.”

RealClearPoliticsaverage of polls conducted from late February to mid-April showed Mandel at 21%, Gibbons at 19%, Vance at 14%, and Dolan and Timken each at 8%. A Trafalgar Group poll conducted April 13-14, just before Trump issued his endorsement, showed Mandel at 28%, Vance at 23%, and Gibbons at 14%. The Trafalgar poll’s margin of error was +/- 3 percentage points.

Incumbent Sen. Rob Portman’s (R) is retiring. Portman endorsed Timken.

April endorsements and spending in WV-02

In West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, Reps. David McKinley and Alexander Mooney are running in the May 10 Republican primary as a result of redistricting. Here’s a rundown of endorsements and satellite spending from this month:

  • On April 11, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce endorsed McKinley. On April 20, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) endorsed McKinley.
  • The American Conservative Union, which organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), endorsed Mooney on April 12 and Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) endorsed Mooney on April 13. 
  • On April 12, Club for Growth announced that Club for Growth Action and School Freedom Fund spent $1.1 million on three ads supporting Mooney. 
  • Two other satellite groups purchased ads in the district earlier this month. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce placed a $160,000 ad buy telling voters to call and thank McKinley for his plan to lower gas prices, while Defending Main Street bought $250,000 in ads opposing Mooney.

McKinley’s other endorsers include Gov. Jim Justice (R) and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang (who is now an independent). Trump endorsed Mooney in November.

Newly available finance reports from Jan. 1, 2021, through March 31, 2022, show that Mooney had spent $4.5 million and McKinley had spent $1.3 million. 

According to the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, the new 2nd District is a combination of parts of the old 1st and 2nd districts. The new district contains eight counties Mooney represents and 19 of 20 counties McKinley represents. The first map below shows the old 2nd District and the second map shows the new 2nd.

McKinley was elected in 2010, and Mooney was elected in 2014. Race forecasting outlets view West Virginia’s new 2nd District as Safe Republican. This is one of five districts with incumbents challenging one another in primaries this year.

Former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt files for Oklahoma special U.S. Senate election

Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt filed for the special Senate Republican primary. Incumbent Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) is resigning effective Jan. 3, 2023. 

More than a dozen Republicans are running, including state Sen. Nathan Dahm, Inhofe’s former chief of staff Luke Holland, U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, and former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon. 

Inhofe endorsed Holland in his retirement announcement.

Michael Crespin, director of the Carl Albert Congressional Research & Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma, said Pruitt has high name recognition in the state and, “I don’t know if all of his name recognition will be positive,” referring to investigations into Pruitt while he led the EPA. 

Pruitt served as head of the EPA from February 2017 to July 2018. The EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the Government Accountability Office conducted several investigations, with most of the inquiries focused on Pruitt’s travel and spending habits while in office. Pruitt resigned, saying that “the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.” 

In an Associated Press interview, Pruitt said the criticism of his tenure at the EPA came from him heading what he called the “Holy Grail of the American left.” Pruitt said, “I think Oklahomans know when the New York Times and CNN and MSNBC and those places are against you, Oklahomans are for you.”

Pruitt served as Oklahoma’s attorney general from 2011 to 2017 and as a member of the state Senate from 1999 to 2007.

Pruitt is one of several former Trump administration officials running for Congress in 2022. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is running in Montana’s 1st Congressional District. Former Trump advisor Max Miller is running in Ohio’s 7th. And former White House Assistant Press Secretary Karoline Leavitt is running in New Hampshire’s 1st. 

The special primary is set for June 28. If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the top two finishers head to a runoff on Aug. 23.

Update: Tennessee GOP removes three candidates from TN-05 ballot

The Tennessee Republican Party voted to remove Baxter Lee, Morgan Ortagus, and Robby Starbuck from the ballot in Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District. The party disqualified the candidates for not meeting requirements in its bylaws, which include having voted in three of the last four statewide GOP primaries and participating in state or local Republican parties. As we wrote last week, the state executive committee voted April 9 to remove the candidates, and candidates were able to challenge the vote.

Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster is accused of sexual assault and denies allegations

On April 14, the Nebraska Examiner‘s Aaron Sanderford reported that eight women, including state Sen. Julie Slama (R), say gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster sexually assaulted them between 2017 and 2022.

According to Sanderford, “Slama confirmed that as she walked by Herbster, he reached up her skirt, without her consent, and touched her inappropriately. … [Six women] said Herbster groped them on their buttocks, outside of their clothes, during political events or beauty pageants. … A seventh woman said Herbster once cornered her privately and kissed her forcibly.” 

Sanderford said the Examiner corroborated each account with either at least one witness or at least one individual who was told about the alleged incident on the same day it was said to have occurred. As of April 19, three people in addition to Slama had spoken on the record

Herbster responded, “These libelous accusations are 100% false. For over thirty years, I’ve employed hundreds of people. I’ve respected and empowered women to run my company, my farm and now my campaign. Not once has my integrity EVER been challenged in this manner. It’s only after I’ve threatened the stranglehold the establishment has on this state do they stoop to lies this large. This story is a ridiculous, unfounded dirty political trick being carried out by Pete Ricketts and Jim Pillen.”  

In an April 15 Facebook post, Herbster wrote, “I will not back down. I am a fighter just like Justice Kavanaugh and President Donald J. Trump. I will fight for my character and reputation.” 

Trump endorsed Herbster, who served as the chairman of Trump’s Agriculture and Rural Advisory Committee, in October. On April 19, Trump announced he would hold a rally for Herbster in Greenwood, Nebraska, on April 29.   

Other gubernatorial primary candidates responded to the allegations. 

University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen said, “Sexually assaulting women should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to serve as a leader.” 

State Sen. Brett Lindstrom said, “I was disgusted reading the stories of my colleague, Senator Slama, and the other brave women who came forward today. … We need to listen to and stand with the victims.” 

Former state Sen. Theresa Thibodeau said, “The allegations outlined against Charles Herbster are morally repugnant and in stark contrast to the principles of basic human decency. … I unequivocally support Senator Julie Slama and the seven brave young women who shared their stories.”

On April 15, Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Dan Welch said, “Without casting judgement in this matter, the NEGOP condemns all forms of sexual assault and believes any allegation must be investigated appropriately. … Per the NEGOP Constitution, the party remains neutral in the Governor’s primary. … The NEGOP will support our nominees for the general election.” 

The primary is scheduled for May 10.

Recent polling and PAC spending in Georgia

Former President Donald Trump’s leadership PAC donated to a super PAC opposing incumbent Brian Kemp in Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary. Recent polling shows Kemp leading the race. 

Save America PAC, which Trump formed shortly after the 2020 general elections, gave $500,000 to the super PAC Get Georgia Right. The latter group ran a TV ad saying Kemp “dismissed concerns about voter fraud in the 2020 election.”

Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt said this was Save America PAC’s first major midterm spending: “While Trump has cut small checks to favored candidates and spent money to stage rallies, he had yet to direct a sizable sum toward bolstering a particular contender.” 

A recent Landmark Communications poll showed Kemp leading David Perdue 52% to 28%, with 10% undecided. The poll was conducted April 14 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points.

Trump has been critical of both Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) for certifying the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. Trump endorsed Perdue in the gubernatorial race and Jody Hice in the secretary of state race. 

In the secretary of state GOP primary, the Landmark poll showed Jody Hice leading Raffensperger 35% to 18%, with 33% of respondents undecided. 

An Emerson College poll from early April showed Kemp leading Perdue 43% to 32% and Raffensperger leading Hice 29% to 26%. The poll had a credibility interval (similar to a margin of error) of +/- 4.3 percentage points.

In Georgia, if no candidate wins a majority of the vote in an election, a runoff is held between the top two vote-getters. The primaries are set for May 24.

Competitiveness data: Arkansas and California  

Akransas’ filing deadline for congressional and state candidates was March 1, and California’s was March 14. 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.