Election Day Review: Petersen’s Downfall & More


Today we review the results of several state-level elections including the election results for several key figures.


Austin Petersen’s Senate primary happened in Missouri yesterday, and while few expected him to win, or even compete, the result was still surprisingly poor. There was limited polling in the race, and the state and national GOPs had already begun campaigning for Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley for November’s election, but Petersen’s enthusiasm and vocal online support gave optimists reason to hope for a primary upset. It did not happen. Petersen finished third in a crowded field that gave way to Hawley, who captured 58.6% to Tony Monetti’s 9.8% to Petersen’s 8.3%. Monetti captured his home county of Johnson 2,831 to Hawley’s 2,066, but the rest of the state went comfortably for Hawley. There exists one bright spot in the Show-Me state, which I’ll get into more detail on later.

Ohio’s Special Election:

To the rest of the nation, only one election “mattered” on Tuesday: Ohio’s 12th District special election. An R+8 district that went 14 points for Trump, this race just north of Columbus may serve as another metric on which to judge the “Blue Wave.” It followed the trend of special elections this year, with Trump’s margin taking a huge hit, and a close election ensuing. There are a few problems, though. The first is that the election is too close to call. Though the Republican, Troy Balderson, leads by 1% with all precincts reporting, there are still provisional ballots to be counted, and the election cannot be called until it is certain Balderson has it. That said, Balderson, his opponent O’Connor, and most local pundits are treating this as a Balderson victory. The second problem is that special elections are about turnout. Don’t get me wrong, all elections are about turnout, but with such low turnout, an angry base can do much more now than in November. Democrats may be winning the turnout game now, but can that hold into the generals? The final problem with this election as a whole is that it does not matter. These same candidates will be on the ballot in three short months in a general election rematch. Congress is in recess until the end of the month, and so Balderson (assuming he holds onto victory) will be sworn in at the beginning of September, and then take several weeks off with the rest of the House between then and November. Based on this election, I see no great Blue Wave. Largely, elections will be won on the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, and not on a national scale. Democrats may take back the House, but it won’t look anything like the Tea Party revolution of 2010.


Michigan was one of four states, along with Missouri, Kansas, and Washington, to have primaries Tuesday. In races of general interest were the primaries for governor and the Republican primary for Senate. On the Democratic side for governor, Gretchen Whitmer stopped Abdul El-Sayed’s quest to become the first Muslim governor in the US, capturing 52.1% of the over one million votes. Whitmer is more moderate than El-Sayed or third-place finisher Shri Thanedar, focusing on infrastructure and criminal justice more than the “progressive” policies of the more radical wing of the party. While she’s certainly still a Democrat, she’s far preferable to a Sanders and Cortez-endorsed El-Sayed. For Republicans, Attorney General Bill Schuette defeated Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley 51% to 25%. The state’s liberty torchbearer Justin Amash had said he voted for his former state legislative colleague, Brian Calley while admitting there was no liberty candidate in the race. For the Libertarians, former state chair Bill Gelineau defeated John Tatar in a primary with less than seven thousand votes cast. Given the nearly two million cast total, it’s fair to say Gelineau has an uphill climb. In the battle to face Senator Stabenow in an offensive target for the Republicans in November, black businessman and Army veteran John James defeated venture capitalist Sandy Pensler by 10 points. Normally I don’t mention race, but I wonder how it will play into the general election. James performed better in the lower half of the main peninsula, winning Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids. If he can replicate success in November, even without winning those areas, he’ll stand a great chance against Stabenow. Michigan’s 11th district also saw defeat for a liberty candidate, Kerry Bentivolio, who was elected to the U.S. House in 2012 before being ousted the following election in a primary challenge. He ran as a write-in for the 2014 general, and as an independent two years later. He finished fifth on Tuesday, gathering 11% of the vote, compared to social conservative Lena Epstein’s 30%. That race will include Libertarian candidate Leonard Schwartz in November. Young Americans for Liberty notched another victory in the Win at the Door campaign, as Steve Johnson cruised past his challenger in state house district 72.


Back to Missouri, there was one bright spot on the night, but liberty lost pretty overwhelmingly on Tuesday. YAL has also endorsed Dirk Deaton, who won his primary for one of Missouri’s 163 state house seats. They also endorsed Robert Stokes, who trails 51% to 49% with absentee ballots left to be counted. Missouri voters also had the opportunity to vote on a right-to-work ballot measure, which they rejected two-to-one in a primary which saw 60,000 more Republican votes than Democrats in the Senate primary. Finally, the Libertarian Party has a primary battle in the Fifth Congressional District, which includes Kansas City, where Alexander Howell beat former gubernatorial candidate Cisse Spragins 56% to 44%. He’ll face the incumbent Emanuel Cleaver II and his perennial Republican challenger Jacob Turk (in the seventh rematch between those two, with Cleaver winning every one), as well as Constitution Party candidate E.C. Fredland.


Kansas’s primary was largely focused around the governor’s race, where the acting governor (and former Governor Brownback’s Lieutenant Governor) Jeff Colyer saw a challenge from the Trump-endorsed Secretary of State Kris Kobach. With only absentee votes to count, Kobach leads by less than 200 votes. There was a liberty candidate in the race, Ethan Randleas, but he spent $30 campaigning and finished with less than half of a percent. Colyer is endorsed by the NRA and Kobach by Gun Owners of America, and that sums up the race pretty well: establishment moderate vs radical. If Kobach wins, he may have a tough election in the red state if there is a blue wave among independents. Fortunately for him, Democrats nominated State Senator Laura Kelly by 30 points over the field, whose defining issue is abortion. With both Kobach and Colyer endorsed by Kansans for Life, the general very well may focus around abortion, with the obvious advantage going to the Republicans. In the battle for the Second Congressional District’s open seat, Army veteran Steve Watkins defeated social conservative State Senator Caryn Tyson for the nomination, 26.2% to 23.2% (with the rest scattered among five other candidates). Watkins is likely the better of the two for liberty, but he seems hawkish on military spending. Both were NRCC Young Guns, along with fourth-place finisher Steve Fitzgerald. That general election will include Democrat Paul Davis and Libertarian Kelly Standley.


The state of Washington has a top-two general primary, like California, which saw former state Republican chair Susan Hutchison advance along with the incumbent Maria Cantwell in the race for Senate. The very crowded field did include Libertarian Mike Luke, who received less than a percent of the vote. Hutchison is a run-of-the-mill Republican, but it likely won’t matter, as the three-term incumbent received more than 55% of the vote. Republicans and Democrats advanced in every race except the Second Congressional District, where the Republican Uncle Mover leads by 56 votes over the liberal Independent Gary Franco with only 64% of precincts reporting. The incumbent Democrat Rick Larsen received 66.3% of the vote thus far.


So what do Tuesday’s results mean for liberty Republican candidates? Not much. While certainly not good, Tuesday’s results are no death toll for the Ron Paul faithful in the GOP. Austin Petersen, to put it frankly, is wildly underqualified for the Senate. He was vastly outspent. His opponent was a hand-picked establishment, golden boy. There was no winning. While the results are underwhelming, the realistic ceiling was only 30% or so. And that was the trend across the nation. Michigan’s Kerry Bentivolio has lost four elections now since 2014. Kansas’s Ethan Randleas only spent $30! If there’s a future for liberty, in the GOP or the Libertarian Party, it has to be ground-up. It has to come with a bench. Take it from Kentucky. When Rand Paul’s term is up in 2022 (he promised not to run for more than two terms), Thomas Massie will have spent 10 years in the House. In his place, Win at the Door assisted Savannah Maddox, who won her primary in a red district in June, will have four years in the state house. Electoral victories are a slow process. What happened in 2010 likely won’t happen again for a long time. The liberty movement needs qualified and respected candidates if they want to win federal office, just as anyone else does.

Read more from Ian Scar on Think Liberty Here.


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