Nevada Republicans choose election denier as nominee to run state elections

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, left, cheers alongside U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace
In South Carolina’s primary, former Gov. Nikki Haley, left, backed U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, who defeated a challenger endorsed by former President Trump.
(Meg Kinnard / Associated Press)

California may still be tabulating its votes from last week’s races, but the midterm primary calendar stops for no one, with contests in four states on the docket Tuesday.

Once again, the influence of former President Trump looms large, with several contests offering tests of the power of his endorsement and the durability of his lies about the 2020 election.

In South Carolina, a pair of House races handed Trump a split decision. His chosen candidate handily defeated one of the Republican members of Congress who voted for his impeachment, but Trump failed to oust a second member who fell out of his favor. And in Nevada, Republicans chose a candidate who has spread Trump’s 2020 falsehoods as their nominee to oversee the state’s elections.


Here are the top takeaways:

Impeachment revenge

Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina was particularly unexpected. He did not come from a moderate district, like California Rep. David Valadao, but from deep-red Myrtle Beach; he voted in line with Trump’s position more than 90% of the time.

“I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years. I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But, this utter failure is inexcusable,” Rice said in a statement explaining his impeachment vote.

The backlash was immediate. The South Carolina state GOP censured him, accusing Rice of playing “right into the Democrats’ game.” Rice said he received a barrage of virulent messages, including death threats. And he drew a number of challengers for his reelection bid, including Russell Fry, a state legislator whom Trump endorsed in February.

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In the days leading up to his primary, Rice forcefully defended his vote, calling Trump “the most spiteful and petty and vengeful” person and a “would-be tyrant.”

The message appeared to fall flat with GOP primary voters. Fry, Trump’s chosen candidate, won with just over 50% of the votes cast, avoiding a runoff against Rice, which had been expected. Rice was the first of the Republicans who voted to impeach to lose his primary.

Rep. Tom Rice talks with donors at a campaign fundraiser in Latta, S.C.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina on Tuesday became the first Republican who voted to impeach President Trump to be ousted in a primary.
(Meg Kinnard / Associated Press)

Fate of a once-rising star

Another South Carolinian catapulted to notoriety in January 2021 — GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, a first-term member who had just flipped her Charleston district from blue to red. She voted to certify Joe Biden’s win, said the storming of the Capitol “wiped out” Trump’s legacy, and denounced the influence of conspiracy theorists in her party.

The iconoclasm, plus her compelling backstory — she dropped out of high school after being raped as a teenager, then went on to be the first woman to graduate from the Citadel — earned her frequent television appearances and buzz about being a new face of the Republican Party.

But Mace’s stance on Trumpism has been muddled throughout her freshman year. She did not vote to impeach Trump, but did later vote to hold Stephen K. Bannon, a top advisor to the former president, in contempt for defying a congressional subpoena to testify before the committee investigating Jan. 6. She publicly sparred with her party’s most vehement pro-Trump voices — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado. But in February, she made a pilgrimage to Trump Tower in New York, recording a video touting her early support for Trump.

Mace posted the video on Twitter the day after Trump endorsed Katie Arrington, a former state legislator, to run against her. Trump made another statement this week to reassert his support: “Don’t forget that Katie Arrington, a wonderful person, is running against the terrible Nancy Mace, who really let us down.”

Mace, meanwhile, was backed by two ex-members of Trumpworld: former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Mick Mulvaney, who did a stint as White House chief of staff. While Rice had been more assertive about his break from Trump, Mace tried to draw attention elsewhere, to her voting record and Arrington’s past election flops. It worked — Mace won the contest outright, bypassing a runoff against Arrington.


Election denialism heads west

It’s fitting that one day after the latest Jan. 6 committee hearing came Nevada’s secretary of state primary. The former delved into the origins of Trump’s 2020 election lies; the latter is an example of how those falsehoods continue to reverberate today.

Jim Marchant, a former state legislator who clinched the Republican nomination, stood out among several GOP candidates in his zealous embrace of false election conspiracy theories. In 2020, he sued over his loss in a Nevada congressional race, alleging fraud; the suit was dismissed by a state judge. He has since allied with figures such as MyPillow Chief Executive Mike Lindell, who has traveled the country pushing outlandish and unproven election theories.

As scores of GOP candidates embrace groundless charges of fraud, the positions with oversight over voting has become a matter of national interest. Fierce Trump allies have won their primaries in key posts, such as Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who would appoint the state’s top elections official if he wins, and Kristina Karamo, who, in a campaign powered by unproven allegations of voter fraud, is on track to be Republicans’ secretary of state candidate in Michigan.

But embracing election lies is not a surefire bet in Republican primaries. In Georgia, both Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger clinched their party’s nomination despite being targeted by Trump for refusing to overturn the presidential election.

And the front-runner for the GOP nomination for Nevada governor, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, told the Nevada Independent he recognized Biden’s election as legitimate. Trump, citing Lombardo’s law enforcement experience, endorsed him anyway.

Democrats slog toward November

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus has openly bemoaned what redistricting has done to her political prospects. Her once-deep blue Nevada district has now become far more purple, making for a tough general election. But she had to get through the primary first; she easily warded off a challenge to her left by Amy Vilela, a progressive activist allied with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party.


For other Democratic incumbents, including Gov. Steve Sisolak and U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the suspense was more about who their opponent would be in the fall. Sisolak will face Lombardo. Cortez Masto will square off against Adam Laxalt, the state’s former attorney general who was endorsed by Trump.

Nevada’s status as a top swing state had dimmed a bit after a string of Democratic statewide victories here. But given the headwinds facing Democrats nationally, the Silver State is primed to be a top battleground yet again.

Big shift at the border

Texas’ Rio Grande Valley used to be a Democratic stronghold. On Tuesday, it was a cause of Democratic heartburn as results rolled in for the 34th Congressional district’s special election to replace Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela Jr., who resigned in March.

Not only did Republican Mayra Flores win the election, she cleared 50% by the barest of margins and denied Democrat Dan Sanchez a chance at a runoff. The outcome stands in stark contrast to Vela’s commanding wins in the district over the last 10 years and Democratic dominance more broadly that goes back decades.

There are some caveats: This the type of low-turnout election that has defied sweeping conclusions in the past. National Democrats did not make much of an effort for the seat, since the winner would only hold the seat until January. Flores had far more money than Sanchez, and, thanks to redistricting, she’ll be running in a far more Democratic-leaning district in November against Rep. Vicente Gonzalez.

Still, coupled with the notable shift of the region’s Latino voters into the Republican column in 2020, there is a clear sense that a political realignment could be in the works. That ramps up the pressure for Democrats in November to shore up their standing with working-class Latino voters.