Primary takeaways: Dems eye Wis. Sen. Johnson; Vt. looks to break ceiling; Omar survives Minn. squeaker

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The August primaries continued Tuesday as Democrats looked to maintain momentum in Wisconsin.

Since 2016, when Donald Trump pierced the state's "blue wall" by defeating Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, Democrats have bounced back, collecting a string of victories: Tony Evers was elected governor, Sen. Tammy Baldwin secured reelection and Joe Biden won in 2020.

Aiming to add to that tally, Democrats nominated Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in their attempt to unseat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in a race that could determine who controls the upper chamber next year.

A spokesperson for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., says he was unaware of an exchange between his staff and that of Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6, 2021.
A spokesperson for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., says he was unaware of an exchange between his staff and that of Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump's tug-of-war with other top Republicans continued in the gubernatorial primary, in which he supported Tim Michels, a wealthy pipeline construction executive, against former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence.

In Minnesota, one of the six left-wing representatives who declared themselves "the Squad" in Congress had a close contest in the Democratic primary that could rattle liberals who've leaned into efforts to defund police.

Vermont voters will replace longtime Sen. Patrick Leahy, who will retire after serving roughly 50 years. The Green Mountain State could send its first woman to Congress.

Here are the main takeaways from Tuesday's primaries:

Wisconsin Senate showdown

Barnes coasted to victory Tuesday after three of his chief opponents dropped out of the primary in the final weeks of the race.

Once those rivals endorsed Barnes, he launched attacks against Johnson, whom Democrats hope could be one of the few vulnerable GOP incumbents on the 2022 map.

Mandela Barnes cast his vote Aug. 9 at GreenTree Preparatory Academy in Milwaukee. Barnes is the Democratic candidate running for U.S. Senate.
Mandela Barnes cast his vote Aug. 9 at GreenTree Preparatory Academy in Milwaukee. Barnes is the Democratic candidate running for U.S. Senate.

The state’s first Black lieutenant governor, Barnes, 35, wants to be its first Black senator. He has run as a liberal focusing on jobs.

"The days of Ron Johnson and the GOP leaving people behind are over," Barnes tweeted Aug. 9. "Change is coming, and the future will work for working people. We will make sure of it."

Republicans are likely to focus on Barnes' comments in support of grassroots movements that called for defunding police and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Johnson described Barnes as the "most radical left candidate" in the primary.

"Regardless of how Mandela Barnes and his allies in the mainstream media attempt to paint his views, Wisconsinites should not believe a word they say," the senator said Tuesday.

Johnson's favorability rating dropped to 37% in June, according to the most recent Marquette Law School Poll.

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Once again, Trump vs. Pence

Trump and Pence have been at odds in Republican primaries this year, and their cold war played out again in Wisconsin’s primary.

The two former running mates locked horns over the GOP nominee for governor: Businessman Michels defeated Kleefisch.

Trump has a grudge against the Wisconsin Republican establishment over its lack of enthusiasm in helping him overturn the 2020 election.

The former president endorsed Michels, a construction executive who made his first bid for public office this year.

Donald Trump split from his vice president, Mike Pence, after their election loss.
Donald Trump split from his vice president, Mike Pence, after their election loss.

Kleefisch had the backing of Pence and other prominent Wisconsin GOP leaders, including former Gov. Scott Walker.

Michels will face Democratic incumbent Evers in the fall election.

Wisconsin speaker survives Trump

Trump didn't get everything he wanted out of Wisconsin.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos defeated challenger Adam Steen, who was endorsed by the former president, in the GOP primary.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos describes a Republican bill to end a $300 unemployment supplemental payment on May 18, 2021, in Madison, Wis.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos describes a Republican bill to end a $300 unemployment supplemental payment on May 18, 2021, in Madison, Wis.

Vos angered Trump after refusing his demands to have the state Legislature decertify the 2020 election results in Wisconsin, which Biden won by about 21,000 votes.

"As a conservative, I believe in upholding the constitution," Vos said in a statement before the primary. "That's why I won't take the impossible step to overturn the 2020 election. My opponent is singularly focused on winning this primary so he can overturn the 2020 election."

Leahy's successor

Rep. Peter Welch, the favorite to win the Democratic Senate primary, secured the nomination within an hour of polls closing in Vermont.

Welch, an eight-term congressman, is running to succeed Leahy.

Vermont on the cusp of history

Leahy's retirement could open the door to history. Since Welch is running for the Senate, the Green Mountain State's lone congressional seat has no incumbent for the first time since 2006.

Despite its liberal reputation, Vermont is the lone state that hasn't had a woman represent it in Congress. That will probably change this fall.

In the Democratic primary to fill the at-large House seat, state Sen. Becca Balint defeated Lt. Gov. Molly Gray.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is set to retire.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is set to retire.

The two had few differences on issues or policy, but the contest represented a joust between Vermont's two senators and their respective wings of the party.

Balint, the more liberal candidate, was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders while Gray was supported by Leahy.

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Omar barely beats pro-police rival

A member  of the crew of left-leaning House Democrats who call themselves "the Squad" had a much tighter race than she might have expected.

Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota has been one of the more outspoken lawmakers demanding police policy changes in the state where George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis law enforcement officers in 2020.

Omar drew a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis City Council member, who ran heavily on putting more money toward police to combat rising crime.

Samuels, who grabbed a late election endorsement from Mayor Jacob Frey, focused on his role in defeating a Minneapolis ballot initiative that tried to replace the police department with a public safety agency.

Democrat Ilhan Omar hopes to retain her seat as representative for Minnesota's 5th Congressional District.
Democrat Ilhan Omar hopes to retain her seat as representative for Minnesota's 5th Congressional District.

It was a nail-biter for most of Tuesday evening, but Omar won by roughly 2,500 votes. That was much closer than her 2020 reelection primary, which she won by a little more than 35,000.

Omar did not waver during the campaign from her support for cutting police budgets to fund anti-violence and social programs to lower crime.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Primary takeaways: Omar squeaks by in Minnesota; Trump wins proxy war