Issue Briefs

Trump Rides High After Victories for His Candidates in US Primary Races

Trump Rides High After Victories for His Candidates in US Primary Races

Martin Sieff

September 6, 2018

A wave of primary voting contests in the four US states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont and Connecticut to choose candidates for the November 2018 midterm election has confirmed President Donald Trump’s growing clout in the Republican Party.

The voting continued the pattern of the previous round of primary contests on August 7 when GOP candidates supported by Trump also won their primary races against challengers within their own party, confirming the president’s enduring popularity and hold over Republican grassroots voters.

Incumbent lost

In Kansas, incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer finally conceded defeat after a week of counting votes to his fellow Republican Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration conservative who was strongly supported by Trump. The margin of victory was only 110 votes.

CBS News commented that “the result was the latest illustration of Trump’s power over the GOP (Republican Party): A sitting president helped oust an incumbent governor from his own party.”

In Minnesota, former two-term governor Tim Pawlenty was dealt a humiliating defeat when he sought his party’s nomination for a third term. Pawlenty had tried to backpedal on calling Trump “unhinged and unfit for the presidency” in 2016.

He was beaten for the nomination by Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson who in 2016 called Trump a “jackass” but now claims to be the president’s loyal supporter.

Ryan’s choices win

In Wisconsin, a state that is a major agricultural and industrial producer, Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan is leaving Congress. But his chosen candidates won the Republican nominations for both Senate and House seat races.

Wisconsin state senator Leah Vukmir won the Senate race nomination and Ryan’s former staffer Bryan Steil, a corporate lawyer and Washington insider, won the nomination for the congressional race.

Democratic voters chose working class ironworker Randy Bryce to challenge Steil, hoping that his charismatic working class style will attract independents alienated by Steil’s establishment record.

However, Bryce also has a record of nine arrests, including for drunken driving and not paying promised child support to his ex-wife.

Vukmir decisively beat former US Marine Kevin Nicholson. She will now face incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin in the November election. Baldwin is seen as potentially vulnerable.

Sanders win in Vermont

In the rural, northeastern state of Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders, 76 who ran a strong race for the Democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton in 2016, won the Democratic Party’s Senate nomination. However, he is expected to turn it down and run as usual in November as an Independent.

Vermont voters also selected the first openly transgender candidate to run for a state governor for either main US political party, Christine Hallquist, the former CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, the state utility.

However, Hallquist faces an uphill race against popular Republican incumbent governor Phil Scott in November.

Connecticut race

In traditionally Democratic Connecticut, two wealthy businessmen, Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowksi won their parties’ nominations for governor.

Connecticut is one of the most consistently Democratic states in the United States; but, outgoing Governor Dan Malloy, a Democrat, has been enormously unpopular. However, Lamont enjoys deep support among Democratic Party loyalists.

Minnesota race

In Minnesota, most attention is focused on US Congressman Keith Ellison, a powerful figure in the national Democratic Party who is seeking the nomination as state attorney general.

However, Ellison is facing domestic abuse allegations that erupted on Saturday when the son of his former girlfriend Katie Monhaan publicly accused him of abusing her.

Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar won the Democratic primary contest to succeed Ellison, which would make her the first Somali-American and one of the first Muslim women to be elected to the US Congress.

Good results for Trump

It was a decent night for politicians who got Trump’s stamp of approval. In Michigan, Trump-endorsed candidates Schuette and John James won their Republican primaries for governor and Senate, respectively. And Hawley, who Trump held a rally for in Missouri recently, easily won his primary in Missouri. Trump took credit for the result in the Ohio special election, tweeting, “When I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting 64 to 36. That was not good. After my speech on Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better.” In the too-close-to-call Kansas governor’s race, Trump sent out a late endorsement of Kobach. We’ll see if the president’s praise can get Kobach over the hump.

A bad night for Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders has tried to use the upcoming midterms to back a slate of candidates that are on the more progressive end of the Democratic Party. But Tuesday, the candidates he backed in the Michigan governor’s race and a House race in Missouri came up short. Abdul El-Sayed lost his primary to the more moderate Whitmer in Michigan, and Cori Bush didn’t come close to unseating incumbent Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay in Missouri

Democrat Rashida Tlaib may become the first Muslim woman in the US Congress and Josh Hawley has a chance to win a Senate seat as an African-American Republican after winning primary elections in the US states of Michigan and Missouri.

In Michigan, former state representative Rebecca Tlaib, the eldest daughter of Palestinian immigrants, looks almost certain to be the first Muslim woman ever to be elected to Congress.

Tlaib won a crowded primary race and is due to face no other challenger in the November midterm general election.

Challenges in Michigan and Missouri

Also in Michigan, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow easily won her party’s primary election, but is expected to face a tough challenge from African-American military veteran and business executive John James, who won the Republican nomination.

In Missouri, two-term Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill won her party’s nomination by a landslide victory with 500,162 votes.

However, state Attorney General Hawley won the Republican nomination by a similar landslide margin with 389,006 votes, 58 percent over a combined 119,528 votes, or only 18.1 percent for his two main challengers Tony Monetti and Austin Petersen. Hawley is expected to pose a major challenge to McCaskill in the general election.


Martin Sieff is a Global Policy Institute Fellow. He is author most recently of Gathering Storm: The Seventh Era of American History and the Coming Crises That Will Lead to It.

The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the author.