MADISON, Wisconsin (TBEN) — As Wisconsin’s longest-serving speaker, Republican Robin Vos has led efforts to limit abortions, weaken unions, expand gun rights and push back against COVID-19 mandates. Despite this, he faces a primary challenger who claims he is not conservative enough.
Challenger’s argument: TBEN should do more to respond to former President Donald Trump’s baseless fraud allegations in the 2020 election.
Primary challengers like the one Vos faces next Tuesday have successfully targeted incumbent state legislators across the country, and Republicans are taking the brunt.
With more than half of the state’s primaries concluded, incumbent Republicans have lost nearly twice as much this year as the average for the past decade, according to data collected for The The Bharat Express News by election-tracking organization Ballotpedia. The primary loss rate for Democratic state legislators is comparable to previous elections.
Republicans’ losses continued to mount on Tuesday, as Trump-backed candidates ousted incumbent senators in Arizona and Michigan and a conservative challenger defeated the Missouri Senate’s assistant majority leader. While not technically an incumbent, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers also lost a bid for the state Senate after being criticized for refusing to help Trump undo the 2020 election.
In many cases, Republican lawmakers are beaten by challengers who portray themselves as more conservative on electoral integrity, transgender policy, school education, and other hot-button issues.
“We have a far-right faction that is very dissatisfied with what is happening on the left. So if you’re not a fanatic who pushes every button, you’ve got a problem,” said Arkansas Representative Craig Christiansen, who lost in a Republican primary earlier this year.
Although Christiansen considers himself “very conservative,” he drew multiple challengers and failed to advance to a second round. That came after he voted against Republican government Asa Hutchinson’s overriding veto on legislation that would make Arkansas the first state to ban gender-affirming treatment for those under 18. Christiansen said he considered the legislation unconstitutional, as there was no exception for young people already undergoing such treatment.
Vos, who has been a speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly since 2013, has been sharply criticized for not pursuing a resolution decertifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Trump backed his Republican challenger, Adam Steen, saying that “Vos refused to do anything to right the wrongs done” in the 2020 election.
Under pressure from Trump, Vos hired former state judge Michael Gableman to investigate the election last year. Gableman said decertifying the election was “a practical impossibility.”
Steen said he decided to challenge Vos because he had failed to pass legislation before the 2020 election that would ban absentee ballots and failed to push for tougher consequences for voter fraud, among other things.
“Conservatism as a whole has been lethargic,” Steen said. “We lack vision and I think that vision is coming back.”
Vos said Stone is running on hyperbole. He said Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, is the real obstacle for conservatives. For example, Evers vetoed Republican bills that would have made it more difficult to vote out of office.
“If we don’t get a Republican governor, (Steen) would be less successful than me,” Vos said.
Vos is one of nine GOP Wisconsin legislators facing primaries. While the challengers face an uphill battle, they could push the already conservative legislature even further to the right if they score a few wins. That would be a major shift in a state that plays a vital role in national elections.
Twenty-seven states had held legislative primaries or conventions before Tuesday. In it, at least 110 Republican incumbent leaders and 33 Democrats were defeated. The Republicans’ loss rate of 7.1% is way above the Democratic rate of 2.8%. It is also significantly higher than the 3.6% average loss rate of incumbent Republicans over the past decade in those states, as well as the Republican loss rate of 4.4% in those states during the last reclassification election cycle in 2012.
Idaho voters have led the way in ousting Republican incumbents, beating 18 GOP lawmakers — or 30% of those seeking reelection — even as they elected GOP government Brad Little over a Trump-backed challenger who claimed he was not. was conservative enough. The losers included three lawmakers representing Kootenai County in northern Idaho, where a local Republican committee recommended conservative challengers against some incumbents after a lengthy vetting process.
“People have kind of had it, and they’re willing to stand up and vote,” said Brent Regan, chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.
In Iowa, Republican government Kim Reynolds endorsed the main opponents of four GOP members of the state house who had failed to support her plan to provide taxpayer-funded scholarships to students to attend private schools. All four incumbents lost, including House Education Committee chairman Dustin Hite.
Even in some Democrat-dominated states, Republican voters have ousted incumbents who weren’t deemed conservative enough.
Illinois state president David Welter, one of nine Republican lawmakers who left the room in February for ignoring COVID-19 protocols to wear masks, lost his primary in June to a challenger who claimed Welter was not Republican enough. Challenger Jed Davis criticized Welter’s votes for the Equal Rights Amendment and a construction law that included an increase in gas taxes.
Davis also mocked Welter’s connections to U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who became a GOP outcast after voting to impeach Trump and join the Democrat-led House panel that launched the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States. US Capitol under investigation. Welter once worked for Kinzinger’s campaign and has received $32,500 in contributions from Kinzinger-affiliated committees since 2021.
“People called me more of a moderate,” Welter said. “I am now being replaced by someone who is very, very far right.”
Welter believes reclassification after the 2020 census also played a part in his defeat by shifting the voters he represented.
In states where partisan officials controlled redistricting, such as Illinois, the maps issued for the 2022 election often featured “more and more extreme partisan gerrymanders,” according to a recent analysis by political scientists and data experts.
When legislative districts tilt further to the right or left, incumbent officials are more likely to meet challengers, and candidates who occupy more extreme positions are more likely to win, according to an analysis in a forthcoming book by political scientist Steven Rogers of the Saint Louis University.
Wisconsin’s legislative districts had some of the greatest pro-Republican leanings of any state for the past decade, undergoing only minor changes before this year’s election.
Most challengers are likely to lose, said University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Anthony Chergosky. But they could still make their mark by forcing incumbents further to the right to appease the GOP grassroots voting in primaries.
“We are currently experiencing a real power struggle within the Republican Party,” he said. “President Trump is really flexing his muscles to steer activists in the party against people like Robin Vos. Anyone in positions of authority in the Republican Party is a target.”
Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Mo.
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