WASHINGTON (AP) — Two of Congress’ staunchest conservatives repelled more centrist challengers to lock up Republican nominations on Tuesday — even as the party’s voters chose to turn out a six-term incumbent in Mississippi.
Illinois Republican Rep. Mary Miller called the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion nationwide a “historic victory for white life” during a weekend rally with former President Donald Trump. Her spokesperson said she misspoke. She defeated fellow GOP incumbent Rodney Davis.
Another Trump ally, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, one of Congress’ most polarizing members, easily beat back a challenge from a more mainstream Republican.
Mississippi Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo, a six-term incumbent, lost in a rare runoff to Sheriff Mike Ezell. But his Republican House colleague, Michael Guest, won a runoff race in the state, despite defying Trump and voting to create an independent commission to investigate last year’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
In Illinois, Democratic Rep. Sean Casten beat progressive Rep. Marie Newman for a seat in suburban Chicago after a declining population cost the state a House seat.
Six states are holding congressional primary elections, primary runoffs or special elections. In addition to testing Trump's national influence, they are providing hints of how voters are reacting to the high court's decision on abortion.
Some of the top elections:
BOEBERT’S STAYING POWER
Boebert, a first-term firebrand, saw her GOP-leaning 3rd Congressional District in western Colorado become even more Republican after redistricting. She had little trouble with moderate state Rep. Don Coram, a rancher and hemp farmer, who slams what he calls Boebert’s extremism.
Boebert has railed against the “Biden regime” and “socialist” Democrats. She trumpeted her gun-toting Second Amendment credentials and opposition to COVID-19 restrictions that briefly shuttered her “Shooters” restaurant.
Known for controversial statements, Boebert said Sunday, “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution.”
The phrase doesn’t expressly appear in the Constitution, though the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Thomas Jefferson was president when he wrote in an 1802 letter that such phrasing should amount to a “wall of separation” between church and state.
Boebert’s comments came during a speech at the Cornerstone Christian Center in Basalt, Colorado, when she also referred to Jefferson’s writing as a “stinking letter.”
In Colorado’s deeply conservative El Paso County, meanwhile, eight-term Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn staved off a challenge from the right from state Rep. Dave Williams for his 5th Congressional District seat. Williams failed to get the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon,” code for an obscenity against Biden, added to his name on the ballot.
Lamborn faces an ongoing House ethics investigation over whether he misused official resources for personal purposes, has survived primary challenges in the past as an ardent opponent of abortion and backer of the significant U.S. military presence in Colorado Springs. Earlier this year, Williams led a 24-hour filibuster in the statehouse over a bill allowing unrestricted access to abortion. The bill eventually became law.
MILLER TOPS FELLOW INCUMBENT
Miller, first elected in 2020, is no stranger to controversy. She quoted Adolf Hitler shortly after winning her seat, saying during a rally that “Hitler was right on one thing. He said, ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.’” She later apologized after Democrats in Illinois called for her resignation. She also voted against certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election and is a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus.
On Saturday night, she made the “white life” comment as Trump stood behind her at a rally in Mendon, drawing cheers from the crowd. Miller has since said she's not racist, and her spokesperson said she had intended to say the ruling was a victory for the “right to life.”
Miller bested five-term Republican Rep. Rodney Davis for the GOP nomination in a sprawling, heavily red district in central Illinois that was redrawn after the state's shrinking population cost it a congressional seat.
Davis was a co-chair of Trump’s 2020 Illinois campaign but voted to certify the 2020 presidential election results. He had the backing of almost all of the district’s 35 county party chairs and vowed to “reimplement” Trump policies, including walling off the U.S.-Mexico border.
Casten, who flipped a suburban seat in 2018 that Republicans held for decades, topped Newman, who was first elected to the House in 2020, in a suburban Chicago district. Newman faces an ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation over whether she promised federal employment to a political opponent.
FLOOD OF CANDIDATES FOR OPEN ILLINOIS SEATS
More than 20 candidates are vying for the chance to replace 15-term Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush, the only lawmaker who has ever beaten Barack Obama in a race. Obama challenged Rush in a 2000 U.S. House primary and lost.
The heavily Democratic 1st Congressional District was redrawn after the 2020 census and now stretches from Chicago's South Side to Kankakee.
Among the field running to replace Rush is Jonathan Jackson, the son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Karin Norington-Reaves, a federal workforce trainer endorsed by Rush; Pat Dowell, a member of the Chicago City Council whose ward is in the district; and businessman Jonathan Swain.
Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos also is not seeking reelection in the 17th Congressional District in northwestern Illinois, a largely rural swath that Republicans are hoping to flip in November. Republican Esther Joy King, who came close to defeating Bustos in 2020, won the GOP nomination Tuesday. She'll face Democrat Eric Sorensen, a former meteorologist.
Guest won a third term after voting to create an independent commission investigating the Capitol, beating former Navy fighter pilot Michael Cassidy. Palazzo couldn't overcome accusations in a congressional ethics report last year of abusing his office by misspending campaign funds. He lost to Ezell, the sheriff of a coastal county.
Ezell said he won because of connections he forged during more than 40 years in law enforcement. “When people call and need something, I’ve been accessible to them."
Palazzo said he has been transparent about campaign spending and the “malicious allegations” that led to the ethics investigation. He said Mississippi voters “hired me to fight the woke, liberal agenda and to push back against government overreach, and I’ve done that for 12 years.”
But Palazzo also added: “With COVID and because of what the Biden administration is doing to this country, they took their anger out on me.”
NEBRASKA SPECIAL ELECTION OVERLAPS WITH SENTENCING
Former Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska was sentenced to probation on Tuesday for lying to federal agents just as voters picked a replacement for the rest of his term.
Fortenberry resigned in March after being convicted of intentionally misleading FBI agents about his knowledge of an illegal, $30,000 campaign contribution from a Nigerian billionaire at a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles.
A judge sentenced him to two years of probation, a $25,000 fine and community service.
State Republican Rep. Mike Flood defeated Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks, in a special election to succeed Fortenberry, who served nine terms in the Republican-heavy district that includes Lincoln and dozens of smaller, rural communities. They'll compete again in November to determine who serves a new term, beginning in January.
Will Weissert, The Associated Press