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Will Trump's endorsements be a boost to candidates come fall?

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

Republicans endorsed by former President Donald Trump have won key primaries for governor and the U.S. Senate so far this year. But in some instances, those candidates may turn out to fare worse in the general elections in November and hamper GOP hopes for a big sweep in the midterms. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Let's start in Arizona, where Trump endorsed a slate of candidates for top statewide offices, all of whom falsely say the 2020 election was stolen. All four won in the primary. Here's gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake at a recent Trump rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARI LAKE: We will no longer accept corruptness. And I know for a fact we will no longer accept rigged elections. Who's with me on that?

(CHEERING)

GONYEA: A large majority of Republicans in Arizona say they believe fraud cost Donald Trump re-election, but it's a minority view across the whole electorate. In Michigan, Republican nominee for governor Tudor Dixon has also falsely claimed there was widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential result. That puts her out of step with Michigan voters overall, same with her position on abortion rights. Abortion is now a top issue thanks to a Supreme Court remade by President Trump and reinforced by this month's ballot vote in Kansas. In Michigan, a referendum appears headed to the November ballot that could create a constitutional right to an abortion in the state. John Sellek, a GOP consultant in Michigan, says interest in the referendum is through the roof.

JOHN SELLEK: And the Democrats are counting on this to motivate a lot of votes to come their way. So they plan to use the abortion issue front and center to draw independent and soft Republican, especially females, on to the Dems' side.

GONYEA: Sellek says the task for GOP candidates is to convince moderate and independent voters who support the referendum to still cast votes for Republicans based on things like inflation and disapproval of President Biden. Still, it's hard to predict abortion's impact come November. Political scientist David Cohen at the University of Akron says what is clear so far is that Trump remains a political force in primaries.

DAVID COHEN: There's a level of enthusiasm for him still within the party, even with being impeached twice, even with him losing the election.

GONYEA: But after the primaries comes the challenge of translating the boost from Trump into general election votes. We can already see some Republican Senate nominees struggling with that. Each is a political novice chosen by Trump for both their loyalty and their celebrity. In Pennsylvania, it's Mehmet Oz, famous as TV's Dr. Oz, who trails his Democratic opponent in polls and fundraising. In Ohio, "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance is in a tighter than expected race. And in Georgia, former football star Herschel Walker has struggled to show any command of the issues. Again, David Cohen.

COHEN: In the general election, you have to appeal to a much wider swath of people. Just because Trump is very influential in the primaries doesn't mean this influence is going to carry over into the November general election.

GONYEA: It is still predicted to be a difficult election year for Democrats, given historical trends of a rough midterm for the party of a first-term president. That said, candidates running in the Trump mold have nonetheless provided Democrats an opening in some key races.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.