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7 Things to Watch for on Primary Night

Voters in Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and Arkansas step up.
May 24, 2022
7 Things to Watch for on Primary Night
Gov. Brian Kemp greets attendees at a campaign event on May 17, 2022 in Alpharetta, Georgia. Kemp touted a one-time tax refund included in the state budget he signed last week on a statewide bus tour to meet and talk with voters ahead of the May 24 primary. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

If you are one of the few, the proud, the Beltway Republican wishcasters who believe that the Grand Ol’ Party is ready to move on from Mr. Trump—well get ready, because today might just be the high-water mark of your year!

Republican voters in Georgia and Alabama seem poised to rebuke Trump’s chosen candidates and they might even back one of the most potent thorns in his side during his coup attempt.

So I wanted to give a clear-eyed look at these races—and others—with a thumbnail guide for what people should know ahead of tonight’s primaries.

Georgia

Governor

The granddaddy of them all is the governor’s race where Brian Kemp is expected to absolutely trounce David Perdue, the disgraced former senator and pillow manufacturing executive, who decided to end his campaign on the alt-right low road, accusing Stacey Abrams of “demeaning her own race” and saying she should “go back where she came from.”

This primary is Exhibit A for those who argue that Trump’s tiny-fingered grip on the party is loosening, since he endorsed Perdue and remains angry at Kemp over certifying the 2020 election. Amanda Carpenter covered this in depth yesterday if you want the full sermon.

For me the most interesting part of this primary is why Kemp has maintained loyalty among Georgia Republicans. This week I was the guest on Sarah Longwell’s Focus Group podcast and I got to listen to these voters in their own words. You can hear it here.

The TL;DR of what we learned is that voters view governors as having actual day jobs that impact people’s lives, unlike members of Congress. Georgia Republicans were happy with how Kemp opened up the state. They were happy with the “election integrity” law that triggered the libs. Erick Erickson wrote more on Kemp’s agenda “wins” with conservatives here.

Making clear the contrast between governor’s races and federal races was that the same focus group members pooh-poohed the cucked Republicans in Congress who “just vote.” They preferred the people like MTG, Matt Gaetz, and Ted Cruz who “fight.” As it turned out the Georgia gubernatorial primary ended up being more of a referendum on Kemp’s governorship than rejection of Trump and the Big Lie, in part due to Kemp’s perceived governing success and in part because Kemp managed to keep it that way by saying nary a bad word about The Former Guy.

Secretary of State

This is the most interesting race of the night. During and after the coup attempt, Brad Raffensperger was towards the top of Trump’s blood atonement kill list, because of his steadfastness in defending the Georgia election system. For his defense of our democracy, Raffensperger was rewarded with a primary from Jody Hice, a MAGA congressman. Hice is so committed to installing a Donald Trump autocracy against the will of the voters that he walked away from his congressional seat to run for the much less glamorous job of Georgia secretary of state.

Unlike governors, secretaries of state don’t do much that impacts people’s lives day to day. So this was more of a straight referendum on the Big Lie than anything else happening in Georgia. As such, many of us on the outside assumed Hice would win in a walk.

But Hice’s campaign has been embarrassing and Trump has stayed mostly away from Georgia because his ego can’t take the schlonging he’s expected to receive from Brian Kemp. The result is that voters don’t know who Jody Hice is. Many of the those Sarah talked to for The Focus Group were so oblivious to Hice’s candidacy that they actually misgendered him. (Or maybe they were just taking a brave stand for Free Speech?)

As a result, I’ve seen internal polls showing Raffensperger with a lead going into Election Day, with a big segment of the electorate still undecided.

We’ll see if it holds. Raffensperger would need to get 50 percent +1 to avoid a run-off (there are two additional minor candidates in the race besides Hice). If he does, it would be the first piece of unadulterated good news we’ve gotten in a Republican primary since Hector was a pup. If Raffensperger comes up short, the odds of his winning get much longer in a lower-turnout runoff during which Trump might campaign more actively against him.

House

The two races to watch are the primary against Marjorie Taylor Greene in GA-14 and an Atlanta area primary between two incumbent Democrats who were pitted against each other after redistricting.

For Greene, it seems unlikely she will suffer the same fate as Madison Cawthorn, having learned MAGA’s First Commandment: always be owning (the libs), never be getting owned (by the libs). Her less bombastic MAGA challengers don’t offer much optimism when it comes to their loyalty to the Trumpy elements of the party, but it would be nice to see MTG out on her ass for karma’s sake.

In GA-7 Lucy McBath is seen as a potential Democratic star of sorts. Her political origin story followed the murder of her son, after which she became a vocal advocate for gun-safety legislation. She is seen as the favorite in the race, but has ruffled some Democratic feathers by choosing to run for a seat already held by normie Democratic congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux, rather than a swingier neighboring seat.

Alabama

Senate

The other race we covered in The Focus Group was the Alabama Senate. Incumbent congressman Mo Brooks, who was one of the planners of the January 6th rally that preceded the insurrection, was the initial frontrunner, benefiting from a Trump endorsement. Brooks was later unendorsed due to some indecipherable Mar-a-lagogy that probably boils down to the fact that Trump thought Brooks was going to lose.

Brooks’s two competitors are Army veteran Mike Durant and former Richard Shelby chief of staff Katie Britt. Neither Durant nor Britt fits the mold of a MAGA candidate perfectly. Durant has taken on water over the fact that the super PAC supporting him is funded by enemies of the people (translation: Democrats and Never Trumpers). Meanwhile Britt, due to a combination of sexism and her past work for establishment RINOs, doesn’t quite pass the Deplorable Vibe Check.

Both Durant and Britt have been trying to overcome their deficiencies in the eyes of GOP primary voters with increasingly absurd rhetoric about election fraud and sucking up to Trump himself. Meanwhile they’ve brutally attacked each other for their failure to live up to the actions of a True MAGA Scotsman.

As a result, Brooks has gotten a bit of a second wind with polls showing him gaining on the leader, Britt. If one of them is able to earn a majority of the vote tomorrow they will be on a glide path to the Senate. The more likely outcome is that nobody reaches 50 percent and the race heads to a June 21 runoff where a Trump endorsement (or dis-unendorsement in the case of Brooks) could prove critical.

Texas

Attorney General

The Texas elections today feature only those races that went to runoffs following the March 1 primaries.

In the AG race, Republicans in Texas wisely gave America’s craziest attorney general, Ken Paxton, only 42 percent of the vote. Bush scion George P. came in second with 22 percent of the vote. The writing has been on the wall in this race for a while, as “P’s” attempts to suck up to Trump were not at all convincing to the Dark MAGAs voting in the GOP primary. Barring a shocking comeback, P will be the Bush who got it wrong when the votes are counted.

House

The congressional runoff that I’ll have my eye on is in TX-28, which stretches from the outskirts of San Antonio to the Mexico border. The seat is held by Henry Cuellar, who might be considered the last “pro-life” Democrat in Congress (depending on how you define the term). His opponent, Jessica Cisneros, has been a darling of the progressive left, and in a bygone era would have been a prime Netroots-style challenger to a lethargic Democratic incumbent.

Cuellar netted 49 percent to Cisneros’s 47 percent in the first round, meaning we should be in for another close race.

Given Democrats’ astounding collapse with Hispanic voters in South Texas, the Cuellar/Cisneros primary offers an interesting look at the two different models the party might present to win back those voters. Plus it will be noteworthy to see whether a candidate even in the ballpark of being anti-abortion can survive a Democratic primary given the expected overturning of Roe.

One note of caution: While it is tempting to see this as a pure ideological battle for the soul of the Democratic party, there are other issues at play. The FBI recently raided Cuellar’s home and campaign office and while he is not the “target” of the investigation, he has been enveloped in the cloud of scandal.

Arkansas

Governor

Err…Nevermind.

As it turns out there is nothing to monitor in this race because former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Trump Sanders’s mere presence in the race for governor scared off the incumbent lieutenant governor and attorney general who both decided that they didn’t have the big MAGA energy necessary to challenge a former comms staffer who has never held elected office of any sort.

I guess this is a sign that when it comes to the question of Trump’s grip on the GOP, the actual candidates who run for office seem to have a different view of reality than the anti-anti-Trumpers on Twitter who are excited about the prospect of not having to make icky choices again.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump, communications director for Jeb Bush 2016, and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.