7 takeaways from primaries in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Oregon
The primary campaigns culminating Tuesday night across five states have generated a soap opera’s worth of melodrama.
There was the bruising Senate GOP fight between a celebrity TV doctor and a mega-millionaire, with a last-minute scare from a near-unknown. The tattooed Democratic front-runner for the Senate who suffered a stroke just days before the vote. The far-right gubernatorial candidate who rose to prominence by vehemently seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
And that’s just in Pennsylvania.
With contests in North Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Idaho and Oregon, here are the results of Tuesday’s most consequential — or the craziest — races.
California’s 2022 primary election ballot includes races for governor, attorney general, the Legislature and Congress, as well as local contests.
A GOP rumble in Pennsylvania
The Republican primary to replace retiring GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey emerged as one of the fiercest fights of the midterms so far — and one of the priciest. Candidates and interest groups have spent more than $55 million on ads, according to AdImpact, a media tracking firm.
Originally, it was seen as a two-man brawl between Dr. Mehmet Oz, the television personality who won former President Trump’s endorsement, and David McCormick, a wealthy hedge funder with his own extensive ties to Trumpworld. Both unleashed a barrage of attack ads that drove up the others’ unfavorability ratings and left open an opportunity for little-known commentator Kathy Barnette to mount a last-minute surge.
Barnette ran a shoestring campaign, but she gained notice especially among abortion rights opponents for her personal story as the byproduct of rape when her mother was 11. But as she climbed in the polls, so did Republican concerns that Barnette’s offensive social media posts and unvetted past could hurt the party’s chances of winning the seat in November.
Befitting the theatrics of this campaign, it ended Tuesday night in a cliffhanger, with Oz and McCormick separated by less than one point, while Barnette remained solidly in third place. The results remained too close to call on Wednesday as the candidates awaited the counting of mostly mail-in ballots — a frequent bête noire for Trump. The former president has urged Oz to “declare victory” before the tabulations are over.
The final result may not be known for a while. Under Pennsylvania law, if the top two candidates are separated by less than 0.5% — as Oz and McCormick currently are — it triggers an automatic recount.
Surgery for Fetterman, then victory
The drama wasn’t solely among Republicans. Days before the vote, John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor and front-runner for the Democratic nomination, announced he had suffered a stroke. Though he said he’ll make a full recovery, he got a pacemaker with a defibrillator implanted Tuesday, and he remains in the hospital.
But there was not much added suspense Tuesday — Fetterman was called the winner within an hour of polls closing, beating moderate Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb and Malcolm Kenyatta, a progressive state legislator.
Fetterman is well over 6 feet tall, bald, goateed and often in basketball shorts — in all, an unorthodox look for a would-be senator. He attracted a following for his liberal positions, including raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana and eliminating the filibuster. But he has also made overtures to conservatives by campaigning in rural counties, which have become increasingly hostile territory for Democrats.
Lamb argued that Fetterman was too far left to win a general election, and the congressman sold his centrist politics as the way to prevail in the suburbs and Trump territory. Now, Fetterman is going to challenge the conventional wisdom of what an “electable” candidate looks like.
Election lies pay off — for now
Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano proved his loyalty to Trump by relentlessly trying to undermine the 2020 election. Trump returned the favor with an endorsement just before the state’s gubernatorial primary. On Tuesday, Mastriano easily outran his GOP opponents.
Trump may be cheering, but many Republicans in Pennsylvania aren’t. They fear that Mastriano is too far right to win a general election race in Pennsylvania, a swing state that backed Trump in 2016 and President Biden in 2020. Mastriano has run hard against the state’s political establishment, barred news media from his campaign rallies and allied himself with conspiracy theorists. He was outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 when a group of Trump supporters breached the building (there is no evidence he went inside) and has been subpoenaed by the congressional committee investigating the insurrection about his efforts to stymie the certification of Biden’s victory.
Should Mastriano win in November, that could have major implications for the 2024 presidential race. As governor, Mastriano could exert significant influence over how elections are run in a battleground state. The outcome could also have outsize impact on abortion access in Pennsylvania, should the Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade as a leaked draft opinion indicated.
Mastriano will face Democrat Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, who has successfully won statewide before. Shapiro ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Former President Trump uses primary endorsements to seek revenge, push election fraud lies and shape the Republican Party. How are his candidates faring?
Cawthorn’s fall from grace
“Cry more lib” was Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s tweet upon his election to Congress in 2020 — a pithy glimpse into the unapologetically online approach the onetime GOP rising star would take to his new job.
That tweet was resurfaced by many liberals on Tuesday, indulging in schadenfreude after Cawthorn conceded to state Sen. Chuck Edwards in a western North Carolina district.
Cawthorn, 26, lost the support of most Republican leaders after a series of antics that proved it is possible to go too far, even in today’s Republican Party. He called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug” and claimed that members of Congress had invited him to orgies and used cocaine in front of him. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said Cawthorn admitted he exaggerated the lurid allegations when the two spoke privately.
North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis has been one of the leading Republicans in the effort to unseat Cawthorn. He endorsed Edwards, the main GOP opponent, and called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate reports that Cawthorn had engaged in insider trading. A super PAC with ties to Tillis spent $300,000 on an ad attacking Cawthorn as a liar.
Despite his controversies, Cawthorn still has one powerful ally. Trump recently took to Truth Social, his Twitter alternative, to ask voters to give Cawthorn a “second chance” despite some “foolish mistakes.”
The Trump effect in the Tar Heel State
Rep. Ted Budd handily won the North Carolina GOP Senate primary, beating out more than a dozen candidates, including former Rep. Mark Walker and former Gov. Pat McCrory.
His win is another sign of the influence Trump has over Republican primary voters. Budd, a three-term congressman who voted to overturn some of the results of the 2020 election, got an early nod from Trump in June.
Budd was the first of 23 Trump endorsees to win on Tuesday night, with many in that group being members of Congress with non-competitive primaries. Among the highest-profile races, Mastriano was the well-established frontrunner in his gubernatorial primary before Trump’s last-minute endorsement. Cawthorn and Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who was running for governor, came up short.
He will face Democrat Cheri Beasley, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, for the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr. Beasley made history as the first Black justice on North Carolina’s top court; now she’s vying to be the state’s first Black senator.
A Trump endorsement in Idaho fizzles
After a series of power struggles, Idaho Gov. Brad Little notched a big victory over Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.
Despite both being Republicans, the two clashed over Little’s COVID-19 pandemic response. McGeachin used her authority as acting governor when Little was out of state to ban mask mandates and vaccine requirements. Little promptly undid her efforts when he returned.
Rep. Kurt Schrader faces a strong primary challenge after repeatedly breaking with fellow Democrats.
McGeachin also earned national notoriety for courting Idaho’s far right wing, including white nationalists and other extremists. She also aligned herself with Trump, who endorsed her as a “true supporter of MAGA since the very beginning.”
That made Little one of only two sitting GOP governors whose challenger got Trump’s backing. But he has not faced the kind of ire that Trump has directed at the other: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Waiting on Clackamas County in Oregon
The House may lose its best-known Blue Dog, with Rep. Kurt Schrader, a seven-term centrist Democrat trailing Jamie McLeod-Skinner, an attorney backed by progressives.
The primary contest has been closely watched by liberals and centrists alike as a test of the direction of their party. Schrader had infuriated the left wing by blocking a bill to lower prescription drug prices and other Democratic priorities
Redistricting in Oregon this year gave liberals their best chance yet to unseat Schrader. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and liberal groups such as the Working Families Party supported McLeod-Skinner.
Schrader, meanwhile, got support from another key figure in the party: President Biden. “We don’t always agree, but when it has mattered most, Kurt has been there for me,” the president said in his announcement.
Counting continued late into Tuesday night. The tallying was delayed in part because a printing error made the bar codes unreadable
on some ballots in Clackamas County, home to a substantial number of Democrats in the district.
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