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Illinois governor's race shapes up as test of post-Roe abortion politics

Tuesday's primaries and runoffs in eight states were the first elections of the post-Roe era and also a test of Democrats’ attempt to pick their opponents by meddling in GOP primaries.
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WASHINGTON — Republicans nominated a Donald Trump-backed state senator to take on Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, NBC News projects, setting up a November contest where abortion is expected to be a defining issue.

Tuesday’s primaries and runoffs in eight states were the first elections since the Supreme Court's monumental decision striking down Roe v. Wade and also served as a test of Democrats’ efforts to pick their opponents by meddling in GOP primaries.

The controversial tactic worked in Illinois, where Pritzker and allies sought to derail a more moderate Republican who they thought would be more formidable in November, but it failed in Colorado where Republicans did not nominate the Senate and gubernatorial candidates Democrats hoped they would.

Meanwhile, in New York, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul will face Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, a close Trump ally in Congress, NBC News projects.

And three members of Congress lost their seats — two in races against other lawmakers who were forced to compete against each other in districts created by redistricting and third who faced ethics issues.

In Illinois, Pritzker has made abortion rights front-and-center.

“We’re going to see potentially 10 to 20,000 more women crossing state exercise their reproductive rights,” Pritzker, a member of the wealthy family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain, said Tuesday on MSNBC. “We believe that people have a right that has been taken away, but we’re going to guarantee it in the state of Illinois.”

Pritzker and Democratic allies took the unusual step of spending real money to meddle in the GOP primary by attacking Richard Irvin, the first Black mayor of Chicago suburb Aurora, and boosting downstate conservative state Sen. Darren Bailey, who ended up winning.

According to AdImpact, the data analytics firm, the Pritzker campaign poured $32 million into TV ads in a primary in which he faced only token opposition, with the bulk of the spending targeting Irvin. The Democratic Governors Association spent $18.4 million more. Irvin spent over $50 million on his campaign, including more than $30 million TV ads.

All of that added up to make the Illinois governor’s race the most expensive in the country in TV ad spending with at least $100 million spent total, according to AdImpact. 

Democrats also injected themselves into Colorado's GOP primaries — but those efforts all came up short.

Republicans nominated businessman Joe O’Dea, NBC News projects, to take on Sen. Michael Bennet even after a mysterious super PAC called Democratic Colorado spent more than $4 million boosting his primary opponent and calling O’Dea a “phony” conservative.

And to challenge Gov. Jared Polis, Republicans nominated University of Colorado Board of Regents member Heidi Ganahl, NBC News projects, not the lesser-known GOP candidate Democrats spent $1.5 million trying to elevate.

In New York, many expected Hochul would have a tough time keeping the seat she took over last August from disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But Hochul spent the past year consolidating support and easily defeated moderate Rep. Thomas Suozzi and progressive New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Zeldin, meanwhile, beat Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and several other candidates after Trump stayed neutral citing the fact at he had several friends in the contest.

Hochul’s Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado also easily won his primary against two other candidates, NBC News Projects.

In Utah, NBC News projects Sen. Mike Lee, a Trump ally, defeated two primary challengers who didn’t vote for Trump in 2020 and accused Lee of forgetting about Utah as his national profile rose.

Vocal anti-Trump critic Evan McMullin is running as an independent against Lee in November. The Utah Democratic Party voted not to nominate its own candidate and to support McMullin instead in the deep red state.

In Mississippi, two Republican members of Congress faced the prospect of losing their seats Tuesday, but only one did.

Rep. Michael Guest, one of the Republicans who voted to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, won his runoff, NBC New projects.

NBC News projects Rep. Steven Palazzo, who has faced ethics issues and allegations of misusing campaign funds, lost to Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell, who ran on his record of "tackling corruption and government wrongdoing since you [Palazzo] were born."

Redistricting also pitted members of Congress against each other in several states.

In two such races in Illinois, Democrats opted for the more moderate candidate while Republicans went with their more conservative one.

NBC News projects Trump-backed Rep. Mary Miller defeated longtime Rep. Rodney Davis, who voted to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot. (Davis' vote was for a never-chartered independent commission, not the House select committee probing the Capitol attack, which held its sixth public hearing Tuesday.)

Miller, a first-term lawmaker who garnered national attention for saying shortly after being sworn into office that “Hitler was right about one thing” and then earned scorn again over the weekend at a rally with Trump when she called the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling a “victory for white life.” Her spokesperson later said she meant to say “right to life.”

On the Democratic side, NBC News projects Rep. Sean Casten, whose 17-year-old daughter died unexpectedly this month, defeated progressive Rep. Marie Newman, who is herself best known for ousting anti-abortion Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in a 2020 primary.

Nebraska, meanwhile, held a special election to replace former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned in March and was sentenced Tuesday to two years’ probation after he was convicted of lying to federal agents in a corruption probe. Republican State Sen. Mike Flood beat Democratic state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, NBC News projects.

And in Oklahoma, an open Senate seat created a Republican pileup to replace retiring Sen. Jim Inhofe. Rep. Markwayne Mullin and former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon will advance to an August runoff, NBC News projects.

Scott Pruitt, who was the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Trump administration, appears set for a fifth place finish, garnering just 5 percent of the vote.