Anti-Trump GOP voters mostly loyal in 2022, but not entirely
WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Lauren Boebert’s grip on Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District didn’t seem in doubt going into last year midway. But in the end, the congresswoman who gained a national reputation as a combative member of the “Make America Great Again” movement won re-election with only 564 votes.
“This should be a slam dunk for the Republican candidate the way the district is designed,” said Don Corama former state senator who unsuccessfully challenged Boebert in the GOP primary last June.
Boebert’s near miss was emblematic of difficulties The Republicans faced off in 2022 and may face off again in 2024. While former President Donald Trump is holding a tight grip on much of the GOP basethere is a notable minority of Republican voters who do not consider themselves MAGA members.
Most of them, as staunch Republicans, supported GOP candidates in 2022, AP VoteCast shows. Yet the comprehensive national survey finds that these Republicans made up a larger percentage of those who chose not to support a candidate in House races. Some of them showed their opposition to Trump for the second time and supported the Democrat Joe Biden for president in 2020 and candidates for the Democratic House in 2022.
In a political climate where competitive elections are nationalized and decided by narrow margins, neither party may take these voters for granted.
Democrat Adam Fresh said he knew there was a “pretty unique” opening for a more conservative Democrat to connect with Colorado voters who disliked Boebert’s aggressive political style.
“I spent most of my time trying to convince people that I was a safe enough choice, not just to leave the ballot blank … but actually vote for a non-Republican for the first time ever or for real long time,” said Frisch, who has already announced he’s running again in 2024.
The results suggest that Democrats may also need to be wary of the messages against “MAGA Republicans,” who Biden hammered repeatedly before the November election and is poised to do so again in a 2024 campaign. Most of those who do not identify with the movement do not seem to find it compelling. Voters who do may be eager to return to a Republican candidate who represents their traditional conservative values.
Republican strategist Alex Conant suggested GOP candidates can’t count on these voters as long as Trump is involved in politics. But 2024 could be different.
“There’s no reason why the Republican nominee in 2024 can’t put together a coalition that includes Trump’s base and moderate Republicans and independents,” he said.
Conant and others pointed to examples of Republican governors— Ron DeSantis in Florida, Mike DeWine in Ohio and Brian Kemp in Georgia – which was able to do so in 2022.
In Ohio and Georgia, for example, the two governors fared better than the Republican Senate candidates endorsed by Trump. DeWine earned nearly 390,000 more votes than JD Vancewho won an open seat and Kemp received 200,000 plus more votes in the general election than did Herschel Walkerwhich failed to oust a democratic incumbent in a later settlement.
According to VoteCast, 10% of Republican voters who do not identify as “MAGA Republicans” voted for Democratic House candidates statewide, compared to 2% of those who embrace that label.
Overall, 4% of Republicans supported Democratic candidates. That percentage grew in competitive races for Senate and governor where far-right candidates were on the ballot, including as many as 13% of Republicans in Arizona, 16% in Colorado, and 18% in Pennsylvania and 11% in Michigan.
The Lincoln Project, a conservative group strongly opposed to Trump, has targeted this voting block in elections. Co-founder Rick Wilson said it’s a “narrow path, but a meaningful path” to elect pro-democracy, anti-extremist candidates, one that he believes has expanded since 2020 because of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade .
Still, partisanship can be “sticky,” Wilson said, and traditional Republicans value checks and balances in Washington, driving disaffected conservative voters to support Republicans as a counter to Democrats.
VoteCast shows that most Republicans voted for Republicans, even if they did with precaution.
Republicans who do not identify with the MAGA movement and decided to support Republican candidates mostly say they did not consider Trump good or bad when they voted. Only about half are positive in assessments of Trump himself, but most are positive about the party and say the GOP tends to try to do the right thing. About two-thirds of them say they voted to show opposition to Biden.
“They are where I am…what choice do we have?” said GOP strategist Rick Tyler. “There are many in the Republican Party who would love not to vote Republican, but they can’t vote Democrat because they don’t believe in where the Democrats want to take the country.”
That may have helped some Republican candidates in Republican-leaning districts oust Democrats elected in the Trump era.
In November, then-state Sen. Jen Kiggans defeated Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, who lasted two terms, in a district centered on Virginia Beach, Virginia, just two years after a Democratic presidential candidate carried the city for the first time since 1964. Kiggans overcame the self-proclaimed “MAGA candidate” in the Republican primary, and campaign managers pointed to Kiggans as a “disciplined” candidate focused on kitchen-table issues.
Her message also linked Luria to Biden and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as Luria himself campaigned on her role in the House Committee examines January 6, 2021, uprising at the US Capitol and called Kiggans an election denier. Kiggans avoided explicitly repeating Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, but she refused to publicly deny them.
Non-MAGA Republicans are more likely than MAGA Republicans to say Biden was legitimately elected president. They are also more likely to say they decided during the campaign which candidate they would support, compared to knowing all along.
Back in Colorado, Karen Davis, 58, was a lifelong Republican until a few years ago, when she changed her voter registration because of the party’s “alarming” rhetoric, particularly the far right. Her vote for Biden in 2020 was more of a vote “against” Trump, she said.
And last year she backed Frisch over Boebert.
“What’s really sad is that you’re not excited about any of these candidates,” said Davis, who runs a flooring business in Grand Junction, Colo., with her husband. “If the Republicans could get a candidate I was excited about, I would absolutely vote for them.”
To her, it’s “someone who is fiscally conservative but moderate in every other way,” Davis said. “They can’t win me back with Donald Trump.”
Find AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. Learn more details about AP VoteCast’s methodology at https://www.ap.org/votecast.