What to watch for in today’s Virginia primary election as voters head to polls

Two congressional Republicans look to fend off primary challengers Tuesday in races that feature former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, millions of dollars in ads and, in one case, a former House speaker seeking revenge.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good must overcome both Trump’s and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s efforts to take him down in Virginia’s deep-red 5th District. 

Trump endorsed state Sen. John McGuire in the race after Good angered Trump and his allies by supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the presidential primaries. Good has since backed Trump, but it was not enough to stop him from jumping into the race. Trump held a tele-rally for McGuire on Monday evening and appeared in a 15-second TV ad on his behalf.

Good also drew the ire of McCarthy, R-Calif., as one of eight Republicans who voted to oust him as speaker last year, and the race might be McCarthy’s best shot to defeat one of his detractors. GOP Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina defeated a McCarthy-backed primary challenger last week. And just two other detractors — Reps. Eli Crane of Arizona and Matt Gaetz of Florida — face challengers in their coming primaries. 

Outside groups tied to McCarthy’s allies have spent millions of dollars on ads against Good, who has also had support on the airwaves from groups tied to the conservative Club for Growth Action, the House Freedom Caucus and GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. 

Good and his supporters have framed the race as a fight between the “D.C. establishment swamp” and the hard-right Freedom Caucus. McGuire, meanwhile, has tied himself to Trump after he attended the “Stop the Steal” rally and walked to the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021.

In Oklahoma, GOP Rep. Tom Cole faces a primary challenger in the ruby-red 4th District from businessman Paul Bondar, who has spent millions of dollars of his own money on the race. Cole, who leads the powerful Appropriations Committee, has faced criticism from his right flank for his role in government spending. 

Cole and his allies have targeted Bondar’s loose ties to the state, accusing him of actually being a Texan, a problematic charge given the bitter rivalry between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners. Bondar, who recently voted in Texas’ March primaries, does own property in Oklahoma, but it is outside the 4th District. 

Cole has Trump’s endorsement, which he recently told NBC News has been “enormously helpful.” Cole’s challenge is not just fending off Bondar but also winning more than 50% of the primary vote to avoid a Aug. 27 runoff. 

Setting up key general election races

Virginia is also home to a handful of primaries that will set the stage for key elections this fall that could help determine which party controls the House.

The 7th District, which Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger is vacating ahead of her bid for governor next year, is hosting expensive primaries on both sides of the aisle. Democrats most likely still have the edge in the district going into November, but Republicans have a new opportunity now that Spanberger is leaving the seat open. 

On the Democratic side, retired Army Col. Yevgeny “Eugene” Vindman’s role in Trump’s first impeachment has helped provide a financial windfall for his campaign.

Vindman, who was fired from his job in the Trump White House after he raised concerns about Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has raised more than $5 million for his bid and spent $2.2 million on ads, more than any other candidate or outside group in the race. Two outside groups have also spent more than $1 million to boost him.

But while Vindman has the cash advantage, he is running as a first-time candidate in a crowded field that includes experienced politicians — including Prince William County Supervisors Andrea Bailey and Margaret Franklin, state Del. Briana Sewell and former state Del. Elizabeth Guzman. There are no runoffs in Virginia, so the winning candidate could end up well below a majority of the vote. 

On the GOP side, Derrick Anderson, a former Green Beret, and Cameron Hamilton, a former Navy SEAL, have been the top fundraisers ahead of the primary in another clash between the establishment and insurgent wings of the GOP.

On Monday, Anderson posted a video of House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., supporting him, while Hamilton posted a video framing his candidacy as a blow to the Washington establishment. American Patriots PAC, a super PAC tied to McCarthy and Republican megadonors, is spending to boost Anderson, while Protect Freedom PAC, a group affiliated with Paul, the senator from Kentucky, is aiding Hamilton. 

Republicans also have a competitive primary for the Senate ahead of a tough fight against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Trump is backing Hung Cao, a military veteran who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2022 and is the top GOP fundraiser in the race. 

Cao is running against Scott Parkinson — a longtime Republican operative who worked for DeSantis, the Republican Study Committee and the Club for Growth and has been endorsed by a handful of GOP senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas. Attorney Jonathan Emord, who has lent his campaign more than $400,000 and is endorsed by former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, is also running.

Two other Democratic House primaries will tee up potential competitive general elections against Republican Rep. Jen Kiggans and in the suburban Washington district being vacated by Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton. 

In the race to face off against Kiggans, military veteran Missy Cotter Smasal is the front-runner on the Democratic side, sporting the endorsement of Gov. Ralph Northam, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and every Democratic member of the U.S. House from the state. Her opponent, attorney and former journalist Jake Denton, is backed by former Rep. Glenn Nye. 

President Joe Biden won Virginia’s 2nd District by a slim margin in 2020, and Democrats are already spending big to attack Kiggans. But Kiggans toppled a Democratic incumbent in 2022 and has a significant fundraising lead over her would-be opponents. 

In the 10th District, Wexton, who has been diagnosed with a rare and serious condition called progressive supranuclear palsy, is not running for re-election. Democrats are favored in the fall after Biden won the district by 18 points in 2020. 

The open seat has led to a crowded field of Democrats, four of whom have raised about $1 million or more: state Del. Dan Helmer, state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam, former Defense Department official Krystle Kaul and former state Assembly Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. 

Wexton has endorsed Subramanyam, and Helmer has been both the top fundraiser and the beneficiary of about $5.5 million in TV spending from Protect Progress, a group tied to the cryptocurrency industry, and VoteVets. 

Georgia: The sequel

There are also two GOP primary runoffs for House seats in Georgia, where candidates fell short of winning majorities of the votes in the May primaries. 

In the 2nd District, former banker Wayne Johnson and activist Chuck Hand, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense in connection with the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, are competing head to head.

The Republican nominee will face an uphill climb against Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop in the fall.

In the conservative 3rd District, Trump’s endorsement will be put to the test as his former White House political director, Brian Jack, faces state Sen. Mike Dugan in a primary runoff. The winner will be favored to win in November to replace retiring Rep. Drew Ferguson. 

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