Voters in the US states of Kansas, Arizona, Michigan, Missouri and Washington headed to the polls on Tuesday to vote in primaries ahead of the general elections in November that will determine who controls Congress for the rest of President Joe Biden’s term.
With both major parties choosing their nominees for major state and federal positions, the vote on Tuesday tested voters’ attitudes a year and a half into Biden’s White House tenure.
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A referendum on abortion in Kansas also put the issue to a direct vote for the first time since the US Supreme Court revoked the constitutional right to the procedure in June.
Here are four key takeaways from the primaries:
Kansas voters back abortion rights
Kansas voters delivered an enormous boost to the argument that Americans generally do not want their government regulating their reproductive healthcare, handily rejecting an amendment that would have repealed abortion protections from the state’s constitution.
With nearly 98 percent of the votes tallied, 58.8 percent had voted no, to a 41.2 percent yes vote.
The result in the mostly conservative Midwestern state that favoured Donald Trump by almost 15 percentage points in the 2020 presidential elections left women’s rights advocates ecstatic.
Since the overturning of Roe v Wade, it became apparent that Democrats would make abortion rights a central issue to their election strategy ahead of the midterms.
On Tuesday, many Democrats saw the result as evidence that they should centre individual rights in their political campaigns.
“Run on personal freedom. Run on keeping the government out of your private life. Run on getting your rights back. This is where the energy is. This is where the 2022 election will be won,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy wrote on Twitter.
Biden lauded the results in Kansas late on Tuesday. “This vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health care decisions,” he said in a statement.
Trump-endorsed Republicans score big victories
Former President Trump cemented his grip on the Republican party on Tuesday, with his favoured candidates scoring big victories across several states.
In Michigan, conservative commentator Tudor Dixon, who was supported by Trump, won the Republican nomination for governor.
Dixon, who describes herself as “pro-God, pro-life, pro-gun and pro-freedom” will take on incumbent Gretchen Whitmer in November. The current governor had publicly clashed with Trump in 2020 over his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She was also considered a possible choice to be Biden’s running mate that year.
Trump notched another major win in Michigan on Tuesday. Congressman Peter Meijer, one of 10 Republicans to vote for impeaching Trump after the Capitol riots last year, lost to a primary challenger backed by the former president.
But in Washington state, two House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump appear set to survive their primaries.
In Arizona, Trump-endorsed Kari Lake, who has promoted false claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential race, has a slim lead in the Republican primary for governor, with 80 percent of the votes counted.
Mark Finchem, another Trump-backed election denier, won the Republican nomination for secretary of state in Arizona, raising fears that he would oversee the 2024 presidential vote if he wins in the general elections in November.
AIPAC-backed candidate ousts Jewish progressive lawmaker
In a blow to the US left, Congresswoman Haley Stevens – backed by millions of dollars worth of ads from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – defeated Congressman Andy Levin, a Jewish progressive.
The two Democratic incumbents were pitted against each other in a newly drawn district in Michigan.
Levin had support from major progressive figures in the country, including senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but he faced an onslaught of millions of dollars worth of campaign spending by AIPAC. Stevens was also supported by EMILY’s List, an influential reproductive advocacy group that backs women who stand for abortion rights.
Levin had been outspoken in favour of Palestinian rights; Stevens backs unrestricted financial and political support for Israel.
AIPAC, which has been pushing to defeat progressives, described the congressman’s defeat on Tuesday as a “monumental victory”.
The race had garnered national attention, partly because Levin hails from a renowned Jewish-American political family in Michigan; his father was a US House member and his uncle was a senator.
In a statement after the results, Levin – who supports universal healthcare and curbing military spending – vowed to support Stevens in the general elections but hit out at the outside spending her campaign had received.
“Unfortunately, I was the target of a largely Republican-funded campaign set on defeating the movement I represent no matter where I ran … I will continue to speak out against the corrosive influence of dark money on our democracy,” Levin said.
In a neighbouring Detroit-based district, Shri Thanedar, a state legislator and businessman, appears set to deal a rare defeat to an AIPAC-backed candidate: he enjoys a nearly five-point lead, with 66 percent of the votes counted.
Thanedar had angered pro-Israel groups by co-sponsoring a symbolic resolution in the Michigan House of Representatives calling for halting US aid to Israel during the Gaza conflict last year.
He financed his own campaign with millions of dollars to counter AIPAC’s spending in support of his main rival, State Senator Adam Hollier.
‘Squad’ members fend off challengers
Progressive congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush – who are part of the band of left-wing legislators known as “the Squad” – comfortably fended off primary challengers on Tuesday.
Bush, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist, had defeated a veteran Democratic congressman in the 2020 primaries in Missouri. In her first term in Congress, she pushed for progressive policies and was one of the most vocal critics of Washington’s unconditional support of Israel.
On Tuesday, she defeated her main challenger, State Senator Steve Roberts, by more than 40 percentage points. Roberts had told Jewish Insider last month that anti-Semitism and Israel are among “the most important issues at stake in this race”.
In Michigan, Tlaib similarly defeated primary challenges with relative ease after facing an ad campaign by a pro-Israel group that was founded earlier this year with the main purpose of defeating her.
“These folks are tainting our democracy and trying to come from the outside … into our communities to tell them how to think, how to feel and how to vote,” Tlaib told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.
“Many of my residents understand that I put them first.”
Both Bush and Tlaib are expected to cruise to re-election in their safe Democratic districts in November.