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By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's primary features a viable challenge to an incumbent congresswoman and campaigns for two U.S. House seats where a Republican and a former GOP member are retiring.

The election, which is being marked by a surge of mail-in absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, also will shape races in November for a couple of potentially competitive congressional districts that Democrats flipped in the midterm.

The top races to watch Tuesday:

‘SQUAD’ MEMBER FACES TEST

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, part of a “squad” of first-term liberal women of color, narrowly topped a crowded 2018 primary field by fewer than 1,000 votes to ultimately win the 13th District, a Democratic-heavy seat that includes parts of Detroit. Now she faces a one-on-one rematch with her closest challenger then — City Council president Brenda Jones, who defeated Tlaib the same day two years ago to finish the term of John Conyers.

Tlaib has a huge financial advantage over Jones. But race and religion are also factors. More than half of the district's residents are Black, like Jones. Tlaib is one of the first two female Muslim members of Congress.

AMASH RETIREMENT

The decisions by Reps. Justin Amash and Paul Mitchell to not seek re-election have led eight Republicans to run in the 3rd and 10th districts.

Amash, who has criticized President Donald Trump and supported his impeachment, left the GOP last year. The Republican-leaning seat he has held since 2011 stretches from the Grand Rapids region to the Battle Creek area.

Top contenders include Iraq War veteran Peter Meijer, whose grandfather helped build the Meijer chain of stores, and state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, who formerly worked in corporate communications and journalism. They have loaned their campaigns hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Meijer, who works in urban redevelopment and did humanitarian aid-related work in Afghanistan, said he is frustrated with the “very failed” political system. “We need some generational change," he said, saying he wants to “bring long-term reform that'll put us on a better path for the next five, 15 and 50 years."

Afendoulis said the district deserves an “engaged” representative again, and that is not how Amash sees the role. She argued she has the greatest depth of experience and questioned Meijer's conservative bona fides, citing his work founding a pro-veteran political group that helped elect Democrats and not just Republicans.

Whoever emerges from the five-way primary will face Democrat Hillary Scholten, a lawyer. Democrats are targeting the district and 17-term Republican Rep. Fred Upton's 6th District in southwestern Michigan, where state Rep. Jon Hoadley is expected to win the Democratic primary.

MITCHELL'S DEPARTURE

In the 10th District, three GOP candidates are campaigning to succeed Mitchell, who is leaving after two terms from the safe Republican seat that covers the Thumb region and much of Macomb County.

Business executive Lisa McClain has spent more than $1.4 million of her own money — more than $900,000 above the amounts raised by state Rep. Shane Hernandez and retired Brig. Gen. Doug Slocum, who led the Selfridge Air National Guard Base. All support Trump.

McClain has run ads touting her business credentials and status as a political outsider. Hernandez , who chairs the House budget committee and is endorsed by Mitchell, cites his conservative voting record. Slocum emphasizes his military leadership.

8TH, 11TH DISTRICTS

In 2018, Democrats Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens flipped what were GOP-held seats and seem positioned to hold them amid Republicans' recruiting challenges and Trump's struggles in the suburbs around Detroit.

In Slotkin's 8th District, which stretches from Lansing to Oakland County, the GOP contenders include newcomer Paul Junge, who was an immigration official in the Trump administration and has given his campaign $528,000. That is four times what the other three first-time candidates have raised combined.

The 11th District in parts of Oakland and Wayne counties has a five-way GOP primary to see who goes against Stevens. The best-known candidate is former Rep. Kerry Bentivolio. He won the seat in 2012 when the incumbent submitted invalid nominating petitions, only to lose it two years later.

Eric Esshaki, a business attorney and former nurse, is among others running. None has held elective office.

LEGISLATURE

Before the battle for control of the state House intensifies this fall — the GOP has a 58-51 edge — Republicans and Democrats must settle primary fights. The parties' chances in swing districts can hinge on whether a quality candidate advances. Also, in many open seats, the next lawmaker will essentially be chosen Tuesday due to how districts are drawn.

ABSENTEE BALLOTS

Absentee voting is surging during the virus outbreak. A week before Election Day, about 600,000 more absentee ballots had been cast than at the same point in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says results may be delayed. Clerks' ability to handle the influx will be closely watched, particularly amid legislative debate over allowing them to start processing absentee ballots earlier in November.

___

Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Trump dodges question about whether he backs GOP candidates belief in QAnon

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE on Friday would not say whether he agreed with Georgia congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene's support of the QAnon conspiracy theory after hailing her as a "future Republican star."

Trump was asked during a briefing about his tweet congratulating Greene on her primary victory, and specifically whether he agreed with her views on QAnon, which posits that Trump will expose and arrest a "deep state" cabal of Democrats and elites who control the government and run sex trafficking rings.

"She did very well in the election. She won by a lot. She was very popular," Trump said. "She comes from a great state. And she had a tremendous victory, so absolutely I did congratulate her."

Trump ignored a follow-up question about QAnon specifically and moved on to another reporter.

The conspiracy theory has been blamed for violent incidents, and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have taken action in recent weeks to suspend groups and accounts associated with the theory.

The president on Wednesday offered his full-throated support for Greene, who has also made incendiary comments about Muslims and Black people.

"Congratulations to future Republican Star Marjorie Taylor Greene on a big congressional primary win in Georgia against a very tough and smart opponent," Trump tweeted. "Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up — a real WINNER!"

Greene won the GOP primary in Georgia’s 14th District to replace outgoing Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesQAnon-supporting congressional candidate embraced 9/11 conspiracy theory Win by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP Hillicon Valley: GOP lawmaker says 'no place in Congress' for QAnon after supporter's primary win | Uber CEO says app could temporarily shutdown in California if ruling upheld | Federal agency warns hackers targeting small business loan program MORE (R). She defeated neurosurgeon John Cowan in a runoff after neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in the June 9 primary. Greene won with 60 percent of the vote on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

She has garnered national attention after Politico unearthed past racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments she made, including comparing Democratic donor George Soros to a Nazi, saying the 2018 midterms were like an “Islamic invasion of our government” and asserting that African Americans "are held slaves to the Democratic Party."

Tags Marjorie Taylor Greene Donald Trump Tom Graves Georgia QAnon Conspiracy theory

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