At halfway mark in primaries, Trump, Biden not on ballot but loom over races

Half of U.S. states have already held their 2022 primaries, with Arizona, Wyoming and the Alabama GOP Senate runoff still to come

Updated: June 21, 2022 - 6:09am

With half of U.S. states having already held their 2022 primaries, the country's major political parties are now getting a clearer picture of what voters are thinking – as many Republicans choose candidates in the mold of former President Trump, while Democrats decide whether to keep incumbents, especially those in Washington, who are accused of having steered the country into an economic ditch.

The tell-tale midterm races have so far been predictably in swing or battleground states, with the question of which party will next control the House and-or Senate being determined by just a handful of seats lost or gained in the general election.

The Ohio GOP Senate primary is likely the best example of the Trump factor, with the former president helping catapult writer-venture capitalist J.D. Vance into the lead, and eventual victory, in the closing weeks of the race.

Despite former state Treasurer Josh Mandel having pitched himself as a Trump guy, he lost to Vance by roughly 9 percentage points after having led in the polls for months.

Vance will now face Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan, a hometown high school football star whose politics often appear more attuned to the state’s working-class voters than to fellow Washington Democrats. 

Vance and Ryan are competing for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman. 

Republicans must gain just one Senate seat to win control of the evenly split 50-50 Senate. 

In the House, the GOP now has to gain just four seats, following Republican Mayra Flores' special election victory last week in the Texas 34th Congressional District, in which she won a long-held Democrat seat, according to Insider Elections' Nathan Gonzales

The victory by Flores, now the first Mexican-born congresswoman, is also being considered a sign the GOP will do better than in previous cycles with Hispanic voters, whom they say have become increasingly disaffected with the Democratic Party agenda. 

"A win by Republicans here – even if the seat flips back in a few months – would be a thunderclap across the United States," Jacob Rubashkin, a political analyst for Inside Elections, wrote ahead of the June 14 special election.

He also predicted a Flores win would be a "sure sign that the gains Republicans made among Hispanic voters in 2020 are more durable and less Trump-specific than Democrats had hoped."

With the district having been redrawn, Flores must run again in November to keep the seat past December.

RealClearPoltics.com’s latest "generic" House tracking polling, shows 44.5% of likely voters would pick a Republican candidate in the general election, compared to 42% going for a Democrat. 

While Republicans appear largely locked in a Pro-Trump vs. Never-Trump dynamic, Democrats seem in a similar situation – with President Biden's approval rating as of Sunday at 41%, according to Gallup News’ latest presidential tracking poll

Democrats running the House and Senate, with Biden at the helm, face voter concerns about record-high inflation, a plummeting stock market and a possible recession, as well as blame for continuing supply chain problems and a slow response to soaring petroleum prices.

"What voters are saying is that so far it isn’t good enough," Jeff Horwitt, a Democratic pollster with Hart Research who worked on an NBC poll about inflation and voters, recently said about Washington Democrats' efforts with Biden as their leader.

As of Monday, 25 states still must hold primaries, with possible runoffs for earlier races not included. 

Among the remaining races that will be closely watched will be Tuesday's runoff in the Alabama GOP Senate primary between Rep. Mo Brooks and Katie Britt.

Brooks' primary campaign took a dive in March after being unendorsed by Trump for having urged voters to move past the 2020 elections that Trump lost. However, he had a resurgence in the closing weeks, finishing second and forcing a runoff with Britt, whom Trump later endorsed. 

They are competing for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Richard Shelby. 

On Aug. 2, seven Arizona Republicans will compete in the state's GOP Senate primary for the opportunity to challenge Democrat incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly, among the most vulnerable incumbent senators this election cycle.

The top candidates include Trump-backed venture capitalist Blake Masters and state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who has gotten Trump's wrath for not pursuing charges related to the former president's claims of 2020 election fraud in that state.

One of the last state primaries is expected to be among the most dramatic – the Wyoming GOP congressional primary on Aug. 16.

Incumbent GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, is facing a challenge from    attorney Harriet Hagemen, whom Trump also has endorsed.

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