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Balance of Power: Messy GOP primaries could boost Democrats in swing state races

Republicans are looking to take advantage of a difficult Senate election map for Democrats in November, but crowded primary races in top swing states could hurt the party’s attempts to capture key Senate seats, according to some experts. 

“Campaign lore would suggest that any ‘divisive primary’ is going to advantage the other party at the polls in the general,” said Jacob Neiheisel, an associate professor of political science at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

In Nevada, which will have its Senate primaries June 11, and Michigan, which won’t see its primary elections until August, the Republican fields ended up being relatively large despite having clear frontrunners. 

The Senate seats are both occupied by Democrats, with Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., running for re-election. However, Michigan became more competitive by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., deciding to retire at the end of her term. 

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Nevada’s Senate race is one of the few contests considered a “toss-up,” according to non-partisan political handicapper the Cook Political Report. The Michigan election is labeled “Lean Democratic.” 

“Trump’s expected endorsement is causing the Senate GOP to hold its breath,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, former top spokesman to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and former chief of staff of the Senate Republican Conference, said of the primary in Nevada.   

“If he endorses [Jeff] Gunter over Brown and his popularity, it could very well give Sen. Rosen and Democrats the upper hand at winning here,” he explained, referencing the former Trump ambassador to Iceland who is financing his own run against frontrunner Ret. Army Capt. Sam Brown in the GOP primary. 

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Sam Brown

There are several contenders vying for the Republican Senate nomination in Nevada, the most prominent being Brown, Gunter and former Nevada State Rep. Jim Marchant. 

Rosen campaign spokesperson Johanna Warshaw told Fox News Digital in a statement, “While her extreme MAGA opponents like Sam Brown have been forced to spend the past year fighting to prove who is most loyal to Donald Trump and embracing a far-right agenda, Jacky Rosen is focused on winning the general election and sharing her record as one of the most bipartisan and effective senators who delivers for Nevadans.

“The messy MAGA Republican primary has been a stark contrast with Jacky’s record of working across party lines to lower costs for hardworking families and being an independent voice for Nevada.” 

Fox News Digital reached out to Brown’s campaign for comment. 

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While some suggested the drama of the primary season could bleed into the general election, others pushed back. According to Nevada Republican strategist Jeremy Hughes, “Crowded primaries are commonplace in today’s politics. In fact, Gov. Lombardo had a primary in 2022 and was ultimately successful in the general.

“Republican voters will be united come November. Joe Biden, Alvin Bragg and the Democrats are making sure of that.” 

“I think that whether or not the GOP primaries in these states redound to the benefit of the Democrats is going to depend on several factors, including whether the Republican Party’s internal battles give the Democrats fodder that they can use against the nominee in the general election,” Neiheisel claimed. 

Mike Rogers and Trump

As for Michigan, former President Trump has already weighed in, endorsing former Rep. Mike Rogers for the Republican nomination. However, this hasn’t stopped wealthy businessman Sandy Pensler, who is endorsed by former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, from continuing his bid. Former Rep. Justin Amash is also running for the nomination. Another former representative, Peter Meijer, recently suspended his primary campaign. 

“The Trump endorsement of Rogers emerging as a consensus candidate after a complicated path to becoming the frontrunner is getting mixed reviews from both hardliners and establishment Republicans in the state,” Bonjean said. 

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While Rogers is favored to remain the frontrunner and secure the nomination come August, Michigan Republican strategist Jason Cabel Roe pointed out that “it only gives him three months to ramp up the general election campaign.”

“And if he has to continue to wage an actual primary battle against Amash and Pensler, he’s probably going to finish the primary with no money in the bank and have to replenish it,” he added. 

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., is favored to take the Democratic nomination, while also facing a primary challenger in actor Hill Harper. But Slotkin has notably spent little time campaigning against him, mounting a general election-focused bid. 

Roe pointed to Slotkin’s fundraising prowess, predicting she will be “sitting on many millions of dollars” by the time the primary is over. 

U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin

“That becomes a much more expensive race for Rogers and for the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] and the Senate Leadership Fund,” he added. 

As it stands, the Republican strategist thinks Pensler and Amash “are sand in Rogers’ gears in trying to build a campaign that can compete with someone like Slotkin.”

In a statement to Fox News Digital, the NRSC expressed confidence in both Rogers and Brown in the November election.

“Mike Rogers and Sam Brown are both leading their primaries by large margins because their opponents are never Trumpers and former Democrats. We’re confident that they will win their respective primaries and make Michigan and Nevada extremely competitive in November,” said NRSC spokesperson Maggie Abboud.

In his own statement, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) spokesperson Tommy Garcia said, “Senate Republicans’ roster of recruits is reeling from a series of reports uncovering their lies about their biographies, vulnerabilities tied to their finances and a lifetime of toxic statements and policy positions.

“Meanwhile, their primaries in states like Nevada and Michigan are erupting in chaos. The NRSC’s big bet to back a bunch of unvetted carpetbaggers is looking worse by the day.” 

According to Neiheisel, the general election in both states is ultimately going to be determined by the candidates. 

“The particular candidates that emerge from these contests are likely going to stand out as the largest determinant of the eventual outcome,” he said. “Candidate quality still matters even in a polarized era of politics.”



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