Dec 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

GOP primary fights are already getting nasty

Illustration of several versions of the elephant from the Republican Party logo stampeding and kicking up dust.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Republicans are facing crowded and increasingly nasty gubernatorial primaries in at least six states so far — with candidates sizing each other up over Donald Trump, election conspiracies and COVID-19 mandates.

Why it matters: These races are a snapshot of how the GOP is changing in real time ahead of the 2022 midterms. The party infighting threatens its ability to win elections, since the primary battles risk weakening their eventual nominees for the general election.

  • Republicans in Arizona are already worried, CNN reported.
  • It's still early in the 2022 midterm cycle, though, and some Republican officials overseeing governors' races maintain they'll have strong nominees regardless of how the primaries unfold.

The Democrats' own disarray has been front and center as they've negotiated over massive infrastructure and social spending bills in Washington.

  • And incumbent Democrats are taking the left's threat of primary challenges more seriously than ever — they started raising money in July to ward off any potential challengers in 2022.

The backdrop: Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Idaho have drawn anywhere from two to 12 Republican candidates vying for the governor's mansion.

  • A common theme is at least one Republican who's campaigning heavily on — and, at times, questioning others about — some of former President Trump's greatest concerns: the 2020 election results and the coronavirus pandemic.

The big picture: Georgia is the epicenter of the battle over 2020's legitimacy and voting rights.

  • Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who Trump believes didn't do enough to overturn his loss in Georgia, is now facing a Trump-backed challenger in former Sen. David Perdue.
  • Perdue told Axios' Emma Hurt if he had been governor during the presidential election, he wouldn't have certified the state's results in favor of Joe Biden.

In Arizona, the six-person GOP primary is made up of a Trump-backed election conspiracy theorist and former TV anchor, Kari Lake, as well as a former member of Congress and local business and political leaders.

  • At least 12 Republicans are running for governor of Michigan against Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer next year — and roughly half of them don't believe Biden legitimately won last year's election.

Five GOP candidates have stepped up in Nevada, so far, and several of their campaigns have embraced Trump and rejected "weak" Republicans, as one — city councilwoman Michele Fiore — said in her campaign launch ad.

  • Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo attacked one of his GOP opponents, former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, for appearing weak on voter fraud.
  • And in Idaho, Trump has boosted Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin — a challenger to Republican Gov. Brad Little, who otherwise hasn't drawn the former president's ire.
  • McGeachin "has been a true supporter of MAGA since the very beginning," Trump said in his endorsement statement.

What to watch: In Wisconsin, there's really only one serious GOP contender for governor, so far.

  • The wild card is that Trump has been trying to recruit a challenger in former Rep. Sean Duffy.
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