First post-Roe primaries put abortion at center of key races

Election 2022 Colorado Primary
Election judge Adam Ballinger accepts a ballot from a motorist passing through a drive-up polling location outside the Denver Elections Division headquarters Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

By Nicholas Riccardi, Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — The midterm primary season entered a new, more volatile phase on Tuesday as voters participate in the first elections since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision revoking a woman's constitutional right to an abortion jolted the nation's politics.

In Colorado's Republican U.S. Senate primary, voters are choosing between businessman Joe O'Dea and state Rep. Ron Hanks. O'Dea backs a ban on late-term abortions but is otherwise the rare Republican who supports most abortion rights. Hanks backs a ban on the procedure in all cases.

Meanwhile, in the Republican race for governor in Illinois, Darren Bailey, a farmer and state senator endorsed by former President Donald Trump over the weekend, wants to end the state’s right to abortion except for instances in which the mother's life is in danger. He doesn't support exceptions for rape or incest. His opponent, Richard Irvin, the first Black mayor of Aurora, has said he would allow abortions in instances of rape, incest or when the mother's life is at risk.

Both races are unfolding in states where abortion remains legal. Democrats have sought to elevate both Hanks and Bailey, betting that they have a better chance of winning the fall campaign if they're competing against Republicans they could portray as extreme. In Colorado, Democrats have spent more than $2 million boosting Hanks' candidacy. In Illinois, the sums have been vastly higher, with Democrats spending at least $16 million against Irvin and to boost Bailey as the nominee against Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The strategy carries risks, especially if the magnitude of the GOP's expected gains this fall becomes so significant that Democrats lose in states like Illinois and Colorado, which have become strongholds for the party. But at a moment when Democrats are confronting voter frustration over inflation and rising gas prices, the focus on abortion may be their best hope.

Election 2022 Colorado Primary
Election judges look over ballots in the Denver Elections Division headquarters Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“It's a very inviting target, to go after a Republican candidate whose position is no exceptions,” said Dick Wadhams, a former chairman of the Colorado GOP who has worked for anti-abortion candidates in the past. “I do think the repeal of Roe v Wade may embolden more candidates to go in that direction.”

Beyond Colorado and Illinois, elections are being held in Oklahoma, Utah, New York, Nebraska, Mississippi and South Carolina. Tuesday marks the final round of multistate primary nights until August, when closely watched races for governor and U.S. Senate will unfold in Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, Missouri and other states

And while Tuesday's primaries are the first to happen in a post-Roe landscape, they will offer further insight into the resonance of Trump's election lies among GOP voters.

In Oklahoma, one of the nation's most conservative senators, James Lankford, won his primary challenge from evangelical pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, amid conservative anger that Lankford hasn't supported Trump's election claims.

In Utah, two Republican critics of Trump are targeting Sen. Mike Lee, accusing the two-term senator of being too preoccupied with winning the former president's favor and helping him try to overturn the 2020 presidential election. In Mississippi, Rep. Michael Guest, a Republican who bucked Trump to vote for an independent Jan. 6 commission, faces a challenge from Michael Cassidy, a former Navy pilot.

Also in Colorado, indicted county clerk Tina Peters, who has been barred by a judge from overseeing elections in her home county in the western part of the state, is running for the GOP nomination for the state's top elections post by contending she's being prosecuted for uncovering a grand conspiracy to steal the 2020 election from Trump. She faces Pam Anderson, a former county clerk and critic of Trump's election lies, for the nomination to challenge Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold in November.

Republicans worry that Peters, who is being prosecuted by a Republican district attorney for her role in a security breach in her county's election system, would drag down the entire ticket if she becomes the nominee. The GOP has lost almost every statewide race since 2014, but hopes public disenchantment with President Joe Biden gives them an opening.

“There’s a lot of peril on June 28 for Republicans,” Wadhams said. “A lot of opportunity, but a lot of peril as well.”

Other GOP opportunities in the state come in the newly created congressional swing seat north of Denver, where four Republican candidates are competing to face state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, the only Democrat running in the primary. Heidi Ganahl, the lone statewide elected Republican as a member of the University of Colorado’s board of regents, faces Greg Lopez, a former mayor in suburban Denver, in the contest for the GOP nomination to face Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.

Also in Colorado, firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert faces moderate state Sen. Don Coram in the Republican primary in the western part of the state. In Colorado Springs, Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who faces regular primary challenges, this time is fighting back state Rep. Dave Williams, who failed to get the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon,” code for an obscenity against President Joe Biden, added to his official name on the ballot.

Other than the governor's race primary, Illinois also features two, rare incumbent vs. incumbent congressional primaries as a result of House districts being redrawn during last year's redistricting. Democratic Reps. Sean Casten and Marie Newman will compete in a Chicago-area seat. And GOP Rep. Rodney Davis, one of the last moderates in the Republican caucus, faces Trump-backed Rep. Mary Miller, who at a rally with the former president this weekend described the Supreme Court decision as “a victory for white life.” A spokesman said she meant to say “right to life.”

In the smaller towns of Illinois, conservative voters were hankering for a change. Toni Block, 80, of McHenry, about 45 miles northwest of Chicago, voted for Bailey in the gubernatorial primary.

“He’s got all the good things that we need to get back to,” Block said. “Not only is he a Trump supporter, he has our values.”

In New York, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who became the state's chief executive last fall when Andrew Cuomo resigned during a sexual harassment scandal, is fighting off primary challenges from the left and center. New York City's elected public advocate, Jumaane Williams, contends Hochul hasn't been active enough on progressive issues while Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi blasts her for being too liberal on crime.

On the Republican side, Rep. Lee Zeldin is the frontrunner in a crowded gubernatorial primary field that includes Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York mayor and Trump confidant Rudolph Giuliani. Trump has not made an endorsement in the race.