Georgia, Texas and more: Which primary races to watch on Tuesday, and why you should care
DALTON, Ga. – Welcome to the stormy center of the American political universe.
Rain canceled a fly-around by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Monday, as well as plans by other candidates, ahead of state primaries Tuesday that bring together the tempests of modern politics, from Donald Trump's revenge tour to Stacey Abrams and her Democratic voter turnout project.
Alabama and Arkansas also have primary races on Tuesday, while Texas holds a series of runoffs. But the minds of most political professionals are on Georgia, now a national bellwether for everything from control of Congress to the future of Trump's influence on American politics.
Kemp is favored to win his Republican primary, despite a challenge from former U.S. senator and Trump-backed challenger David Perdue. Trump made Kemp one of his top campaign targets because the governor refused to help him reverse the 2020 election results; the Republican divisions produced by the primary threaten the party's chances in the fall governor's race.
"We're in a fight for the soul of our state," Kemp said during a video news conference after the cancellation of the plane trip across the state.
The Trump factor: Trumpism is here to stay in Georgia no matter what happens during Tuesday's primaries
The Abrams factor: How Stacey Abrams and Georgia have changed since her last run for governor
Among the things to look for Tuesday in Georgia and elsewhere:
Can Kemp avoid a runoff?
Polls give Kemp a huge lead in the GOP gubernatorial primary. The question is whether the incumbent governor will win the 50% or more needed to avoid a runoff that could revive Perdue's candidacy. The RealClearPolitics website average of recent polls puts Kemp at 56%.
While building that huge pre-primary lead, Kemp also been subject to vicious attacks from Trump that could undermine GOP unity moving forward.
“Brian Kemp is a turncoat, he's a coward, and he's a complete and total disaster,” Trump said during a March 26 rally for Perdue in Commerce, Ga.
Kemp has not taken Trump's bait, rarely mentioning Trump on the stump. Instead, the governor has sought to maximize the benefits of incumbency, including announcements of a gas tax holiday and new business projects in the state.
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Kemp's campaign has also brought in other Republicans who have clashed with Trump over the years. Surrogates have included ex-governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska.
Kemp's primary-eve rally Monday features a prominent Republican who is increasingly critical of Trump: former Vice President Mike Pence, who is contemplating a 2024 presidential run of his own.
Trump has had a mixed record in governor's races so far this year; his candidates lost primaries in Nebraska and Idaho.
Trump and the Georgia secretary of state
In addition to Kemp, Trump has targeted a down-ballot Georgia official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The incumbent Republican angered Trump when he, like Kemp, refused to find votes to overturn the former president’s 2020 election loss in the state.
In retaliation, Trump persuaded GOP Rep. Jody Hice to run for secretary of state – a position that will be of extreme importance nationally given Georgia’s battleground status for the 2024 presidential election.
Down-ballot races: A prolific Democratic fundraiser is targeting secretary of state races. Will it work?
Hice, like Trump, has promoted the false allegations of electoral fraud following the 2020 presidential election.
Raffensperger said Trump won't face up to the fact that he lost Georgia.
The simple truth is that "President Trump came up short," Raffensperger previously told USA TODAY.
Several experts believe the race between the two men will likely head into a runoff – denying Trump an outright victory in punishing lawmakers who refuse to capitulate to his demands.
Abrams fine-tunes her campaign
The Democratic turnout machine that Abrams built put senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in office and will now try to make her governor.
Four years ago, Abrams narrowly lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race to Kemp by 1.4 percentage points.
Following her defeat, Abrams worked to help flip the Peach State blue during the 2020 presidential election, the most direct attack on the GOP's "Solid South" in decades.
Organizations affiliated with the high-profile Democrat registered an estimated 800,000 new Georgia voters.
Abrams, who is running unopposed in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, is also a prolific national fundraiser – donors gave her campaign $11.7 million at the end of April, according to the Associated Press.
Looking ahead to the fall race, Kemp is currently leading Abrams by 5.2 percentage points, according to a RealClearPolitics composite of polls.
If Abrams wins, she'll be the first Black governor in Georgia's history.
Herschel Walker runs for the U.S. Senate
Kemp isn't the only Republican who is a big favorite in an important statewide primary.
Herschel Walker, the former football star for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, is heavily favored to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Warnock.
Who is Herschel Walker: The former football star is running for Senate in Georgia as a Republican.
This despite Republican qualms about domestic abuse allegations against Walker in past years, allegations that Warnock and Democrats are sure to exploit in the fall campaign.
State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, a GOP Senate primary candidate who is far behind Walker in the polls, has warned Republicans that the political newcomer could well lose the fall election. At one point, he said "I'm deeply concerned that we’re about to forfeit control of the United States Senate again, under our watch, when it could be easily avoided."
Democrat incumbents go toe-to-toe in Georgia
In a high-profile Democratic primary, incumbent U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux are battling it out over the 7th congressional district after Republican-led redistricting changed McBath's 6th congressional district to make it less Democratic.
McBath has the support of Everytown for Gun Safety and the Asian American Advocacy Fund.
"Congresswoman Lucy McBath has just such a strong record," Vyanti Joseph, political director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, said. "We're looking at her history in the civil rights movement, her lived experience as a breast cancer survivor and living through the horrifying impacts of gun violence."
Bourdeaux, meanwhile, has the support of former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young and former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn.
Redistricting woes: Georgia redistricting forces voters into tough choice between two Democratic incumbents
Bourdeaux's campaign has repeatedly dinged McBath for skipping candidate forums and debates during the final months of the primary season.
“It is extremely disappointing that she couldn’t be bothered to show up to any of the in-district candidates' forums, two of which were held virtually,” said spokesperson Titilayo Okuwa in a statement.
Marjorie Taylor-Greene seeks re-election
The first-term House Republican firebrand whose threats and conspiracy theories got her kicked off congressional committees is favored to win her Republican primary in a conservative district of northwest Georgia.
As with Kemp, the only question is whether Greene can get more than 50% and avoid a runoff.
Greene faces five opponents, with businesswoman Jennifer Strahan considered the most likely to put up a fight.
The primary comes a week after more traditional Republicans in North Carolina banded together to defeat U.S. Rep. Madison Cawhorn in a primary.
The Republican opposition to Greene, however, is less organized and does not have as much money as the one that challenged Cawthorn.
Sarah Sanders: Another Huckabee in Arkansas
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, once Trump's press secretary, is looking to follow in father Mike Huckabee's footsteps as governor of Arkansas.
Sanders is widely expected to win the GOP primary to replace Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Sanders announced her bid for the governorship at the beginning of last year, weeks after the deadly U.S. Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021.
She is running against Francis "Doc" Washburn in the contest. State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge previously dropped out of the GOP primary as did Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin.
Sanders was the first official endorsement Trump made after he left office.
In his announcement Trump described her as a “warrior who will always fight for the people of Arkansas and do what is right, not what is politically correct.”
Texas runoffs: Democrats battle over abortion
In South Texas, embattled Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar is facing a challenge from progressive Jessica Cisneros in a primary runoff.
Cuellar is the lone House Democrat who opposes abortion rights, a fact that Cisneros has slammed him for in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicating the court will overturn its Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Democrat establishment leaders, including House Majority Whip James Clyburn and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are backing Cuellar to the ire of abortion supporters in the party.
Meanwhile, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal endorsed Cisneros Thursday, highlighting her support for abortion rights in a statement.
“At a time when our reproductive freedoms are under attack by an extremist Supreme Court, we must elect pro-choice candidates that will fight to make sure abortion remains the law of the land,” Jayapal said in a statement to Politico.
Texas Republicans: the last stand of George P. Bush?
Bush, a Texas Land Commissioner who is the nephew and grand-nephew of former presidents Bush, is an underdog in his race against Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Paxton is facing charges of securities fraud and a separate FBI investigation. The Lone Star State is also investigating the embattled attorney general over his failed attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Despite these controversies, Paxton is still doing well according to polls.
April data from the Texas Politics Project showed 63% of Republicans had a favorable view of Paxton while only 40% had a favorable view of Bush.
Bush has tried to distance himself from the Bush dynasty name, given his family's critiques of Trump.
Ahead of Texas GOP runoff: AG candidate George P. Bush out-fundraises incumbent Ken Paxton
The ex-president, however, decided to endorse Paxton.
A Bush loss will reflect the diminished legacy of a family that has influenced the GOP for decades.
Alabama: Mo Brooks tries to get past Trump
The Alabama primary will test the power of another new Republican phenomenon: the Trump un-endorsement.
Trump once backed Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., one of the speakers at the Jan. 6, 2021 "Stop The Steal" rally, for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Richard Shelby.
But Trump withdrew his endorsement in March after Brooks told supporters it was time to move the past the events of 2020.
Brooks also trailed badly in the polls at the time Trump turned on him.
Since then, however, he has surged back into contention against opponents Katie Britt, the former leader of the Business Council of Alabama and Shelby’s former chief of staff; and Mike Durant, an aerospace company owner and former Army pilot who was involved in the 1993 "Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia.
Abortion: The Roe v. Wade decision could upend the midterms. Here's where it might matter most
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Georgia, Alabama, Texas primaries on Tuesday: Watch these races