A string of Southern primaries will see the GOP battle itself

(NEW YORK) — National attention turns next to the South as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Texas voters head to the polls on Tuesday, rounding out a consequential string of May contests.

Months-long, sometimes contentious battles to be governor, attorney general, secretary of state and for U.S. Senate and House seats will come to a head. The results should give more insight into the strength of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement with the Republican base as well as conservative voters’ appetite for election lies.

The most-watched races will be in Georgia, an emerging battleground state, with primaries for governor and the Senate that will preview closely fought races come November’s midterms.

At the top of the ticket — where he hopes to stay — sits incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, an establishment Republican who shot to national prominence after the 2020 election when he refused to promulgate Trump’s debunked theory of a stolen election. Happy to take up that drumbeat, though, is Kemp’s challenger David Perdue, a former senator who lost to Jon Ossoff but who has embraced a MAGA-edge in his campaigning to return to office.

Perdue has spent most of his time on the trail pushing for sweeping electoral change, parroting Trump’s debunked talking points about voter fraud and a somehow-stole election. Despite Trump’s endorsement, though, Perdue’s message hasn’t seemed to stick with primary voters, at least not according to recent polling that shows Kemp with a major lead.

Trump-backed “big lie” believers continue down-ballot with Republican secretary of state candidate Rep. Jody Hice, who has said he would look to decertify the last presidential election — an extraordinarily undemocratic move that further highlights the possible ramifications of such candidates taking control of election administration.

Polling puts Hice in a neck-and-neck battle with incumbent Ben Raffensperger, who like Kemp was a popular establishment Republican-turned-enemy of the former president for refusing to act on the 2020 election conspiracy.

Not only are these races a test of Trump’s endorsement, they will also indicate how enthusiastically Georgia GOP voters will embrace the election mistrust that has become central to Trump’s pitch.

Another high-profile race is the GOP Senate primary, with the Trump-approved Herschel Walker leading the pack. Walker — a businessman and college football legend in Georgia — has been press shy, in part perhaps due to his headline-making past, including allegations of violent behavior and his diagnosis with dissociative identity disorder, or D.I.D., a complex mental health condition characterized by some severe and potentially debilitating symptoms.

Walker has denied some of the past allegations of domestic violence, physical threats and stalking; others he claimed not to remember. His campaign referred ABC News to his 2008 memoir, which detailed his D.I.D. diagnosis, and a 2008 interview he did with ABC News in which he discussed its effects on his marriage.

Democrats have two candidates who are likely to sail to victory Tuesday, with Stacey Abrams again up for governor — eyeing a possible rematch with Kemp in November — and Sen. Raphael Warnock up for re-election.

Across state lines in Alabama will see similar primary matchups for governor and an open Senate seat.

The three-way contest for the Senate slot evolved significantly over the campaign cycle: Rep. Mo Brooks earned Trump’s endorsement early in the race, only to have Trump withdraw it two months ago following disagreements over 2020 election claims.

Trump’s rescinded backing could prove consequential as Brooks now trails in the polls behind Katie Britt — a former chief of staff for retiring GOP Sen. Richard Shelby. Businessman Mike Durant was polling ahead of both candidates at certain points during the race but is now behind Britt and Brooks after Brooks saw a final-hour surge in recent voter surveys.

Brooks may still be campaigning off of Trump’s name, however. Campaign mailers obtained by the Alabama Political Reporter feature quotes from Trump during the time he supported Brooks.

Earlier this month, Brooks said he wouldn’t cooperate with the House’s Jan. 6 committee and was subpoenaed shortly thereafter. (He had spoken at the rally earlier on Jan. 6, 2021, before deadly rioting broke out at the U.S. Capitol; he has continued to try to delegitimize the 2020 election results.)

“I wouldn’t help Nancy Pelosi and Liz Cheney cross the street — I’m definitely not going to help them and their partisan Witch Hunt Committee,” Brooks previously told ABC News. “At this moment in time, right before an Alabama U.S. Senate election, if they want to talk, they’re gonna have to send me a subpoena, which I will fight.”

Brooks’ soon-to-be vacant House seat is a contest between former Trump Assistant Army Secretary Casey Wardynski, endorsed by the House Freedom Caucus, and Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong. Strong has been outraising Wardynski.

Another matchup in Alabama will be between incumbent Republican Gov. Kay Ivey and several primary challengers. That race — previously expected to be won handily by Ivey — has grown more combative after a term where Ivey bent away from some GOP messaging surrounding COVID-19 and gas taxes.

Lindy Blanchard, a former Trump-appointed ambassador running in the primary, called Ivey a “tax-hiking Fauci-loving” liberal in a recent ad. Ivey is also being challenged by the son of former Gov. Fob James — businessman Tim James — as well as former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy Lee George, pastor Dean Odle and others.

In Arkansas, races are shaping up to be somewhat less competitive. Former Trump White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the clear front-runner in a race where she’s eclipsing her competitors in fundraising and also received Trump’s endorsement. She’s up against Doc Washburn, the former host of a radio show in Little Rock.

Trump-backed Sen. John Boozman is on track to be reelected against several primary challenges, including from Army veteran and former NFL player Jake Bequette.

And in Texas, voters will decide more of the their 2022 nominees on Tuesday, determining the results of the runoff elections from the March 1 primaries.

The GOP race for attorney general is between incumbent Ken Paxton and Land Commissioner George W. Bush, a member of the state’s most prominent political family.

Paxton’s vulnerability from scandals — including indictment for securities fraud, FBI investigations into malfeasance and marital infidelity, among others, even as he has denied all allegations — will be tested against the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush in a party that is more and more anathema to the Bushes’ brand of conservatism.

Tuesday’s sole competitive Democratic race will be in Texas. Progressive Jessica Cisneros, endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will face nine-term Congressman Henry Cuellar in the run-off election in the 28th district.

Sanders traveled to Texas to stump for Cisneros on Friday in a last-ditch effort to defeat Cuellar, the sole pro-life Democrat in Congress.

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