Pennsylvania and North Carolina primaries test Trump's hold on Republican party

  • In Politics
  • 2022-05-18 04:31:55Z
  • By The Guardian
Photograph: Hannah Beier/Reuters
Photograph: Hannah Beier/Reuters  

Pennsylvania Republicans on Tuesday nominated Donald Trump's choice for governor, an election denier who was outside the Capitol on 6 January, but were divided over his candidate for Senate in a consequential round of primary contests that also saw the ousting of Madison Cawthorn, the scandal-plagued first-term congressman, in North Carolina.

Voters in five states went to the polls on Tuesday to pick the candidates at the center of some of this year's most contentious battles for control of Congress, statehouses and governor's offices. From Oregon to North Carolina, Idaho to Kentucky and Pennsylvania, the array of nominating contests tested both Trump's grip on the Republican party and Joe Biden's leadership of the Democratic party.

In Pennsylvania - a perennial swing state and one of the fiercest electoral battlegrounds - Doug Mastriano, a far-right state senator who was a key figure in the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the state, will face Democrat Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania attorney general, in a highly anticipated contest for governor.

The Associated Press declared Mastriano, a retired Army colonel, the winner in a crowded field of Republican candidates. Shapiro ran unopposed. Despite his Maga bona fides, Trump only endorsed Mastriano in the final days of the campaign after he had consistently led in the polls. But his candidacy has worried party leaders concerned that he is too extreme to appeal to swing voters in the state.

Doug Mastriano pumps his fist as he speaks into a microphone.
Doug Mastriano pumps his fist as he speaks into a microphone.  

In North Carolina, Cawthorn failed to win re-election amid multiple scandals, losing his seat to Chuck Edwards, a three-term state senator and business owner. It was a stunning fall for the 26-year-old congressman, once seen as a rising star in the Republican party.

But his rabble-rousing antics angered many of his colleagues, some of whom turned sharply against him in the race after he claimed without evidence that Washington figures he "looked up to" had invited him to orgies and used cocaine. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy rebuked Cawthorn publicly over the remark.

John Fetterman, Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, handily won the state's Democratic primary for Senate that was complicated when a stroke took Fetterman off the campaign trail in the final weekend before the election. His victory sets the stage for one of the fiercest Senate races of the cycle - and one of the best opportunities for Democrats to pick up a seat in a year when the political headwinds are blowing against them.

Fetterman, a plain-spoken Harvard graduate known for wearing gym shorts and championing marijuana legalization, beat congressman Conor Lamb, a moderate who aligned himself closely with Biden and state representative Malcolm Kenyatta, a leftwing state legislator. Fetterman is expected to make a full recovery from his stroke, but was not able to attend his election night party because he was still in the hospital.

In a statement, Joe Biden said electing Fetterman, a liberal Democrat, would be a "big step forward for Pennsylvania's working people". Calling him a "strong nominee" who could unite Democrats and win a general election, the president lashed out at his prospective Republican opponent, warning that whoever emerged as the nominee was guaranteed to be "too dangerous, too craven, and too extreme" for the US Senate.

Mehmet Oz stands at a lectern speaking to a crowd of supporters. The sign behind him reads ‘A dose of reality’.
Mehmet Oz stands at a lectern speaking to a crowd of supporters. The sign behind him reads ‘A dose of reality’.  

As of late Tuesday, Fetterman's opponent was not yet known. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity physician known as Dr Oz, was trailing Dave McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO, but the race remained too close to call. Conservative commentator Kathy Barnette, who enjoyed an 11th hour surge as Oz and McCormick lobbed brutal attacks on one another, finished in a distant third.

"Unfortunately we're not going to have a resolution tonight," McCormick said during a speech at his election night party on Tuesday, citing "tens of thousands" of outstanding ballots left to count.

On the Republican side, Oz struggled to unite the conservative base behind him. Hounded as a "Hollywood liberal," Oz embraced Trump's false claim of voter fraud and was rewarded with the former president's seal of approval. But when they appeared together a rally, boos could be heard whenever Trump mentioned Oz.

Conservatives in the state also appeared tepid about McCormick, the husband of former Trump administration official Dina Powell. During the campaign, he and Oz unloaded their personal war chests, leveling such a ferocious campaign against one another that exasperated voters said they began looking at Barnette.

Several states over, in North Carolina, the Trump-backed congressman Ted Budd bested ex-governor Pat McCrory and a dozen other candidates to clinch the Republican nomination for Senate. Budd had struggled to gain traction early in the race until a surprise endorsement from the former president elevated his candidacy. He also received a major boost from the Club for Growth, an influential anti-tax group that poured money into the race on his behalf.

Budd will face Democrat Cheri Beasley, a former chief justice for the North Carolina state supreme court, who easily won her party's 10-way primary to replace retiring Republican senator Richard Burr. Beasley faces an uphill climb in the state, where Republicans have dominated the Senate race. If victorious, the trailblazing former public defender would make history as the southern state's first Black senator.

In a setback for progressives, state senator Valerie Foushee defeated Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman ever elected to public office in North Carolina, in the hotly contested primary to replace retiring the congressman David Price in North Carolina's 4th congressional District, a safe Democratic seat.

Foushee was one of the many candidates who benefited from the support of a Super Pac affiliated with American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby group,which poured money into primary races with the goal of countering the rise of progressive Democrats sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Madison Cawthorn sits in his wheelchair surrounded by supporters.
Madison Cawthorn sits in his wheelchair surrounded by supporters.  

The group also targeted Summer Lee in the final weeks of her bid to capture the party's nomination in the solidly Democratic Pennsylvania district.

But as of late Tuesday evening, Lee, a progressive representative, appears to have overcome the flood of money spent against her to defeat Steve Irwin in the race to replace congressman Mike Doyle, who is retiring at the end of next year. Lee's victory would be a major win for the progressive movement in the safely Democratic seat. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress.

In deeply conservative Idaho, the sitting governor, Brad Little, defeated his far-right lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, a Trump-endorsed candidate who twice attempted a power grab to ban coronavirus mask and vaccine mandates when Little was out of state on business. Little overturned the orders when he returned.

And in Oregon, congressman Kurt Schrader, a moderate Democrat known for breaking with his party, was hoping to fend off a strong progressive challenge in a race seen as a test of the president's appeal among the party's base.

And in an expensive fight for Oregon's newly created sixth congressional district, Democratic state representative Andrea Salinas was leading a sprawling primary that included a political novice backed by a cryptocurrency billionaire. If elected, Salinas will be the state's first Latina in Congress.

The seven-term incumbent was a top target for progressives after joining Republicans in opposition to Biden's $1.9tn pandemic relief package, among other policy positions. Nevertheless, Schrader was the first candidate Biden endorsed this cycle.

In Kentucky, the state's highest ranking Democrat, Morgan McGarvey, won the party primary for an open congressional seat to replace the retiring congressman John Yarmuth, who endorsed him. He beat state representative Attica Scott, who drew national attention when she sued Louisville police officers after being arrested during the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020, a disappointment for movement activists hoping to translate the grassroots energy into political gains.

Charles Booker, a Black former state lawmaker who emerged as a powerful voice against racial justice in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor in 2020, won the Democratic Senate primary in the state. The progressive faces long odds in his bid to unseat Republican senator Rand Paul in November.


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