Conspiracy theorists won a major victory on Tuesday as a Republican supporter of the convoluted pro-Trump movement QAnon triumphed in her House primary runoff election in Georgia, all but ensuring that she will represent a deep-red district in Congress.
The ascension of Marjorie Taylor Greene, who embraces a conspiracy theory that the F.B.I. has labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat, came as six states held primary and runoff elections on Tuesday.
Those races included a well-funded Democratic primary challenge to Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who was hoping to make a clean sweep of re-election fights for the group of first-term Democratic congresswomen of color known as the Squad. Late Tuesday, Ms. Omar’s race remained too close to call, according to The Associated Press.
The voting unfolded as elections officials across the country continue to grapple with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, using primaries as lower-turnout dry runs for the November general election. The electoral contests on Tuesday in Wisconsin and Georgia bore particular scrutiny after voting meltdowns in each state earlier this year. The balloting in both places appeared to be unfolding more smoothly this time, though there were worries about the number of absentee ballots still in the mail in Wisconsin.
In Georgia, Ms. Greene defeated John Cowan, a neurosurgeon who is no less conservative or pro-Trump, according to The Associated Press, holding a lead of more than 15 percentage points around 10 p.m. Eastern. The result is likely to unsettle mainstream Republicans, who have sought to publicly distance themselves from QAnon supporters running for congressional office this cycle even as they quietly support some of them.
Now, with Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, one of the most Republican in the country, likely to vote red in November, Ms. Greene is all but assured of getting the chance to put into action her talk of rooting out an imagined deep-state cabal of pedophile Satanists who are trying to take down President Trump.
QAnon, a conspiracy theory that has attracted a fervent following since it emerged from the troll-infested fringes of the internet nearly three years ago, has already inspired real-world violence, including the killing of a mob boss. Its supporters are slowly becoming a political force that some Republicans feel they cannot afford to alienate, even as the party struggles to distance itself from racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
More than a dozen candidates who have expressed some degree of support for QAnon are running for Congress as Republicans, their path cleared by Mr. Trump’s own espousal of conspiracy theories.
Most are going to lose. But a few, Ms. Greene foremost among them, have managed to win. Declaring victory on Tuesday night, she said she was “just as fed up with what I’ve seen from spineless Republicans” as she was with Democrats.
“The Republican establishment was against me,” Ms. Greene said. “The D.C. swamp is against me. And the lying fake news media hates my guts. It’s a badge of honor. It’s not about me winning. This is a referendum on every single one of us, on our beliefs.”
During his campaign, Mr. Cowan had adopted a slogan that summed up the predicament that Ms. Greene posed for Republicans: “All of the conservative, none of the embarrassment.”
“She is not conservative — she’s crazy,” Mr. Cowan told Politico before the runoff. “She deserves a YouTube channel, not a seat in Congress. She’s a circus act.”
Mr. Cowan was not alone in his assessment of Ms. Greene, who runs a construction company with her husband. She earned a rebuke from Republican congressional leaders this year after Facebook videos showed her making offensive remarks about Black people, Jews and Muslims. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House minority whip, publicly campaigned for Mr. Cowan and helped him raise money.
The Republican Party, though, was hardly uniform in its opposition to Ms. Greene’s candidacy. The leadership officially remained neutral, and Mr. Trump’s only comment on the race came in the form of a congratulatory tweet after her strong showing in the first-round primary in June, when she nearly doubled Mr. Cowan’s vote total.
Ms. Greene raised thousands of dollars from Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a high-profile Republican lawmaker and a favorite of the president, and a political action committee with which he is associated, the House Freedom Fund. She also secured modest four-figure donations from political action committees associated with Mark Meadows, a former North Carolina representative who is now Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, and Koch Industries, a financial mainstay of the Republican Party.
In Minnesota, Democrats had rallied to Ms. Omar’s aid in recent weeks, making bedfellows of progressives such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and establishment leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Ms. Omar’s unabashed embrace of left-wing politics has won her loyal followers in Minnesota and across the country. She has, however, also become a lightning rod for conservatives and has faced criticism from some Democrats, particularly after several episodes in 2019 in which she was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Omar courted voters at a market in Minneapolis, ordering Mexican food and eating with staff members with no sign of concern.
“Everything in this primary has felt troubling, from the money coming to the overt xenophobic messaging,” she said. “But this is the Fifth. This is Minneapolis. This is the place not only to make an overt statement about how excited they are to have immigrants in their neighborhood, but they voted one into Congress.”
Later, at an evening campaign event in Dinkytown, a Minneapolis neighborhood where Ms. Omar likes to spend election nights talking to voters, young supporters gathered as people in cars drove past yelling “Ilhan!” and “We love you!”
Britt D’Arezzo, 22, said national perceptions of Ms. Omar didn’t account for her retail politics and her visibility at home.
“They don’t know her local activism,” Ms. D’Arezzo said. “They don’t see her walking around and just hanging out on corners. They don’t see the way she connects with us.”
In Wisconsin, where worries have persisted over the ability to hold successful virus-era elections since a voting fiasco in April, there were no hourslong, mask-dotted lines wrapping around Milwaukee city blocks.
The city opened more than 150 polling locations, compared with just six in April, and other municipalities were able to open nearly all of their normal poll sites. National Guard troops dressed in plainclothes filled in for poll workers who didn’t show up to work.
But one looming concern was the large number of absentee ballots in the mail. While the April primary eventually settled on a “postmarked by” deadline for absentee ballots, meaning any ballot put in the mail by Election Day would count, no such relief was provided for Tuesday’s election; ballots had to be in clerk’s offices by the time polls closed.
In Georgia, the scale of the elections was much smaller than during the chaotic June primary, with roughly 90 of the state’s 159 counties holding elections on Tuesday.
There were no grueling lines as in June, but election security activists worried that the low turnout had masked some glitches, largely with the state’s electronic poll books and check-in system.
“The severity of those problems that we saw, while they were not huge in quantity because of the low level of people voting,” said Marilyn Marks, the executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, an elections watchdog group in Georgia, “they clearly are going to create serious problems in November.”