Activist state

Primaries lead to big losses for incumbent GOP lawmakers

By TODD RICHMOND and DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — As Wisconsin’s longest-serving Assembly Speaker, Republican Robin Vos has presided over efforts to restrict abortions, weaken unions, expand gun rights and push back mandates of COVID-19. Despite this, he faces a primary challenger who claims he’s not conservative enough.

The challenger’s argument: Vos should do more to address former President Donald Trump’s unfounded fraud allegations in the 2020 election.

Major challengers like the one who faces Vos next Tuesday have successfully targeted sitting state lawmakers across the country, and Republicans are bearing the brunt of it.

With more than half of the state legislative primaries over, Republican incumbents this year have lost nearly double the average rate for the past decade, according to data compiled for The Associated Press by election monitoring organization Ballotpedia. The primary loss rate for Democratic state lawmakers is similar to previous elections.

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Republican losses continued to mount on Tuesday as Trump-endorsed candidates ousted incumbent state senators from Arizona and Michigan and a conservative challenger beat Missouri’s deputy Senate majority leader . Although not technically an incumbent, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers also lost a bid for the state Senate after coming under fire for refusing to help Trump’s efforts to cancel the 2020 elections.

In many cases, Republican lawmakers are being defeated by challengers who pose as more conservative on election integrity, transgender policies, school literacy and other burning issues.

“We have a far-right faction that is very unhappy with what is happening on the left. So if you’re not a rabid fanatic just tapping every button, then you’re going to have a problem,” said Arkansas State Rep. Craig Christiansen, who lost in a Republican primary earlier this year.

Although Christiansen considers himself “very conservative”, he attracted several challengers and failed to advance to a second round. It came after he voted against Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of legislation making Arkansas the first state to ban gender-confirmation treatments for under-18s. Christiansen said he considered the legislation unconstitutional because it lacked an exception for young people already undergoing such treatment.

Vos, who has served as Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly since 2013, has come under heavy criticism for failing to pursue a resolution reversing Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Trump endorsed his Republican challenger, Adam Steen, saying “Vos refused to do anything to right the wrongs that were done” in the 2020 election.

Under pressure from Trump, Vos last year hired former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to investigate the election. Gableman said decertifying the election was “a practical impossibility.”

Steen said he decided to challenge Vos because he failed to pass legislation banning mail-in ballot boxes before the 2020 election and pushed for tougher consequences for fraud. election, among others.

“Conservatism as a whole has been lethargic,” Steen said. “We lack vision, and I think that vision is coming back.”

Vos says that Steen uses hyperbole. He said Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, is the real obstacle for conservatives. Evers, for example, vetoed Republican bills that would have made mail-in voting more difficult.

“If we don’t get a Republican governor, (Steen) would be less successful than me,” Vos said.

Vos is one of nine Wisconsin GOP lawmakers facing primaries. Although the challengers face a tough fight, they could push the already conservative legislature even further if they pick up a few victories. It would mark a significant change in a state that plays a crucial role in national elections.

Twenty-seven states had held legislative primaries or conventions by Tuesday. In those, at least 110 Republican incumbents and 33 Democrats had been defeated. The Republican loss rate of 7.1% far exceeds the Democratic rate of 2.8%. It also significantly exceeds the average Republican casualty rate of 3.6% in place over the previous decade in those states, as well as the Republican casualty rate of 4.4% in those states in the last election cycle of redistricting in 2012.

Voters in Idaho led the way by ousting Republican incumbents, defeating 18 GOP lawmakers — or 30% of those seeking re-election — even choosing GOP Gov. Brad Little over a challenger backed by Trump who claimed he was not conservative enough. The losers included three lawmakers representing Kootenai County in northern Idaho, where a local Republican committee recommended conservative challengers against some incumbents after a lengthy vetting process.

“People kind of got it, and they’re ready to stand up and vote,” said Kootenai County Republican Central Committee Chairman Brent Regan.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds backed key opponents of four GOP State House members who had not backed his plan to offer taxpayer-funded scholarships for students to attend private schools. All four incumbents lost, including House Education Committee Chairman Dustin Hite.

Even in some Democratic-dominated states, Republican primary voters have ousted incumbents deemed not conservative enough.

Illinois State Rep. David Welter, one of nine Republican lawmakers expelled from the chamber in February for ignoring COVID-19 protocols to wear masks, lost his primary in June to a challenger who claimed Welter wasn’t Republican enough. Challenger Jed Davis criticized Welter’s votes for the Equal Rights Amendment and a building bill containing a gas tax hike, among other things.

Davis also derided Welter’s ties to U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who became a GOP pariah after voting to impeach Trump and participating in the Democratic-led House panel investigating the attack. of January 6, 2021 against the US Capitol. Welter previously worked for Kinzinger’s campaign and has received $32,500 in contributions since 2021 from committees associated with Kinzinger.

“People thought of me as pretty moderate,” Welter said. “I will now be replaced by someone who is really, really far from the far right.”

Welter believes the redistricting after the 2020 census also played a role in his defeat by displacing the voters he represented.

In states where partisan officials controlled redistricting, such as Illinois, the maps adopted for the 2022 election often contained “increasingly extreme partisan gerrymanders,” according to a recent analysis by political scientists and data experts.

When legislative districts lean more to the right or left, incumbents are more likely to face challengers, and candidates who take more extreme positions are more likely to win, according to analysis in a forthcoming book by political scientist Steven Rogers of Saint Louis University.

Wisconsin’s state legislative precincts have seen some of the largest pro-Republican tilts of any state over the past decade and have undergone only minor changes ahead of this year’s election.

Most challengers there are likely to lose, said University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Anthony Chergosky. But they could still leave their mark by forcing more incumbents to the right to please the GOP base that votes in the primaries.

“We are currently experiencing a real power rush within the Republican Party,” he said. “President Trump is really flexing his muscles directing party activists against people like Robin Vos. Anyone in a position of authority within the Republican Party is a target.

Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri.

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