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Trump-Backed Candidates Prevail While Kansas Votes to Preserve Abortion Rights

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Abortion-rights supporters react as early polls showed that voters rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have declared there is no right to abortion, at a Kansans for Constitutional Freedom election watch party in Topeka, Kansas on 2 August; Credit: Evert Nelson / USA Today Network via Reuters

(Reuters) – Candidates backed by Donald Trump prevailed in multiple Republican primaries on Tuesday 2 August 2022, while a statewide ballot initiative in Kansas that would have allowed new restrictions on abortion was soundly rejected.

The results showed that the former president, and his false claims that the 2020 election was tainted by fraud, still hold sway over Republican voters. They also suggested that anger over the Supreme Court’s June decision to end the nationwide constitutional right to abortion could fire up Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections.

In Michigan, Tudor Dixon, a conservative commentator who has echoed Donald Trump’s election claims, won the Republican nomination for governor and will face Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in one of the most high-profile races this November, which will also revolve around abortion rights.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, endorsed by Mr Trump, secured the Republican nomination for governor. He will face Democratic Governor Laura Kelly in November in what is expected to be a highly competitive race.

With 95% of the estimated vote counted, just under 60% of Kansas voters had cast ballots in support of the state constitution’s abortion protections, a resounding victory for abortion rights advocates in a strongly conservative state.

Unlike the Republican gubernatorial primaries, Kansas’ abortion initiative reflected the choices of voters of both major political parties, as well as independents.

Test of Trump influence

Tuesday’s elections, including key contests in Arizona and Washington state, represent the latest test of Donald Trump’s sway over the Republican electorate. Several Trump-backed candidates have embraced the former president’s falsehoods about voter fraud, raising concerns among some Republicans that they could be too extreme to defeat Democrats on 8 November 2022.

In Michigan, United States (US) Representative Peter Meijer, one of only ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump following the 6 January 2021 US Capitol attack by Trump supporters, lost to far-right challenger John Gibbs.

Mr Gibbs, backed by Donald Trump, was the beneficiary of Democratic advertising during the Republican primary, part of a risky strategy of trying to elevate more vulnerable Republican candidates in swing districts even as party leaders warn they pose a danger to democracy.

Another Republican who voted to impeach Donald Trump, Jamie Herrera Beutler of Washington, also faced a Trump-endorsed primary challenger on Tuesday night.

With an economy teetering on the brink of recession and inflation surging, just 38% of Americans approve of President Joe Biden’s job performance, according to a Reuters / Ipsos poll completed on Tuesday – still near Mr Biden’s record low of 36%, hit in May 2022. One in three voters said the biggest problem facing the US today is the economy.

President Biden’s unpopularity is weighing on Democrats heading into November general election, when Republicans are favoured to win control of the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate.

Control of either chamber would give Republicans the power to stymie Joe Biden’s legislative agenda while launching politically damaging hearings.

As he flirts publicly with the possibility of running for president again in 2024, Donald Trump has endorsed more than 200 candidates. Most are safe bets (incumbent Republicans in conservative districts) but even in competitive races most of his candidates have prevailed.

“Trump remains really popular with Republican primary voters. I don’t think you can underestimate how he has remade the party in his image”, said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist. “Republicans who run against Trump tend to get trampled”.

On Tuesday, Arizona voters were picking between Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Karrin Taylor Robson, who has the backing of Mr Trump’s former Vice President, Mike Pence.

Kari Lake, a former news anchor, echoes Donald Trump’s false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of fraud and has said she would not have certified Joe Biden’s statewide victory in 2020. At a recent campaign stop, Ms Lake claimed without evidence that fraud has already occurred during early voting, suggesting she may not accept a defeat on Tuesday.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who built a national profile by vociferously denying Donald Trump’s allegations, easily won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Edison Research projected.

The race to replace her as the state’s top election official also includes a Trump-endorsed candidate, state Representative Mark Finchem, who was present at Mr Trump’s 6 January 2021 speech in Washington that preceded the US Capitol attack. He wrote on Twitter on Thursday, “Trump won”, prompting a Democratic candidate, Adrian Fontes, to call him a “traitor”.

Arizona Republicans were also picking a challenger to take on Democratic US Senator Mark Kelly, seen as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

Blake Masters, a former tech executive who has backed Donald Trump’s false fraud claims, has Mr Trump’s endorsement and the backing of tech billionaire Peter Thiel. He is leading in polls against Jim Lamon, a former power company executive, and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whom Mr Trump blames for not reversing Joe Biden’s 2020 statewide victory.

In Missouri, Attorney General Eric Schmitt won the Republican nomination for US Senate, boosting his party’s chances of holding the seat after scandal-hit former Governor Eric Greitens finished well behind.