Republican candidates who sought to overturn the 2020 election won statewide primaries in Pennsylvania and North Carolina on Tuesday, reflecting the lingering influence in the GOP of former president Donald Trump’s false claims that the vote was rigged against him.
Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), who was backed by Trump and among the 139 House members who supported at least one objection to certifying the election, will be the GOP Senate nominee in North Carolina. He will face former state Supreme Court chief justice Cheri Beasley, who made history as the first Black woman nominated for the Senate in the state.
Their primary victories, projected by the Associated Press, came on a day when the effect of Trump and his far-right movement on the midterm elections faced its biggest test to date. Incomplete results showed that Trump’s influence over the movement he started was uneven, winning some but not all the races where he backed a candidate.
Pennsylvania’s bitterly fought Republican Senate race remained unsettled, though the major candidates all question the 2020 results to varying degrees. Former hedge fund CEO and Army veteran David McCormick and Trump-backed TV personality and heart surgeon Mehmet Oz were neck and neck early Wednesday morning, with an estimated 98 percent of the vote tallied. Kathy Barnette, a conservative media personality who campaigned extensively with Mastriano, was well behind and out of the running.
The winner will face Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who claimed the Democratic nomination. Fetterman recently suffered a stroke and was unable to attend his primary night rally in person.
In North Carolina’s 11th District, scandal-plagued and Trump-backed Rep. Madison Cawthorn conceded to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, according to Cawthorn spokesman Luke Ball. Edwards was running on his conservative record and a pledge to avoid celebrity culture.
Beasley, who would be North Carolina’s first Black senator if she wins in November, entered primary day as the overwhelming favorite to win. In campaign ads and in her stump speech, she focused on her time as a public defender and her more than two decades as a judge in the state, including her tenure as the first Black woman to serve as chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
Beasley has also campaigned on the leaked Supreme Court draft decision that would overturn the ruling establishing abortion as a constitutional right, hoping to fire up voters concerned about the possibility.
“In this moment, we have the power to restore our values to Washington,” she told voters at her election-night celebration.
Budd, the Republican who will face her in November, used his victory speech to attack Beasley, calling her “the most radical, liberal candidate ever to run for U.S. Senate here in North Carolina.” Budd also immediately sought to tie Beasley to the White House. “She would enable every element of Joe Biden’s agenda,” he said.
Budd’s campaign focused on Trump’s support for him in a crowded field. Unlike in other races, Trump and the conservative Club for Growth remained aligned, potentially revealing the power of a united front in contested primaries.
The congressman bested former governor Pat McCrory, who refused to parrot Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
The Keystone State commanded much of the attention Tuesday. Sprawling candidate fields in the two statewide races prompted GOP brawls with unpredictable results.
There, Mastriano won Trump’s endorsement only Saturday after the former president sat out of the race for most of the primary. Mastriano copied Trump’s campaign style, talking about poll numbers and crowds during his rallies. He pushed hard in the state to overturn the 80,000-vote victory that Biden earned in November 2020.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Mastriano mocked Rachel Levine, the transgender former state health director who’d been given a job in the Biden administration, and attacked the media for calling him an “extreme” right-winger.
“They like to call people who stand on the Constitution far-right and extreme,” Mastriano said. “Forcing your kids to mask up, that’s extreme. Forcing health-care workers to lose their job for not getting a jab. It’s extreme when you shut down businesses in our state.”
While campaigning over the weekend, Mastriano made it clear that he’d noticed Trump’s late show of support. “We already had the victory, but it’s great to have that stamp of approval,” he said during a rally Saturday, referring to Trump’s backing.
Mastriano invokes religion frequently. “I’m amazed at what God is doing in our midst here,” he said Saturday. “We all have a call right now.” Like other candidates he invoked inflation, saying Democrats are purposely wrecking the economy. “They want us to live like serfs,” he said.
He denounced coronavirus restrictions, opposes critical race theory and compares himself to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who he said will look like an “amateur” should Mastriano win.
Establishment Republicans worry that he will have trouble beating Shapiro, who was unopposed for his party’s nod. Shapiro, sidelined by covid, postponed his planned victory event.
In the highly competitive Senate primary, Republican leaders, including within the Trump orbit, were split between different candidates, setting up a proxy battle of influence in a race where none of the leading contenders had a natural base of support in the state.
Trump has said his endorsement of Oz is rooted in a belief that he would be the strongest general election candidate. Oz, who has dual U.S. and Turkish citizenship, rose to fame as one of the world’s leading heart surgeons. He then segued into a successful TV and book-writing career, becoming a household name because of the show “Dr. Oz,” which at times promoted questionable medical remedies.
McCormick took a hard line against China in his campaign, though his firm has done business in the communist state. McCormick’s connections to Trump start with his wife, Dina Powell, who was Trump’s deputy national security adviser. He also won the backing of Trump’s former CIA director and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.
“We have tens of thousands of mail-in ballots that have not been counted,” McCormick told supporters late Tuesday night. “Unfortunately, we’re not going to have a resolution tonight.”
In the final days of the campaign, Barnette enjoyed a boost of energy. The Club for Growth poured millions of dollars into the state in a last-minute bid to boost her.
Trump repeatedly urged voters not to support her, a message echoed by allies such as Sean Hannity of Fox News Channel. But she was backed by Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. To clap back at doubts about her support, Barnette has simply said: “MAGA does not belong to President Trump.”
“I love what she stands for. She is the most honest person in the race,” said Maureen Kurp, a 64-year-old retiree who met Barnette.
Kurp voted for Barnette and Mastriano. The pair campaigned frequently campaigned together in their respective Senate and gubernatorial campaigns. “I feel they reflected my values. I believe they are the constitutional conservatives. They are the most pro-life.”
On the Democratic side of the Senate contest, Fetterman won in a crowded field that included Rep. Conor Lamb, a Biden acolyte and onetime rising Democratic star. Fetterman supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his 2016 presidential bid.
Fetterman’s health emerged as a last-minute issue: Hours before polls closed Tuesday, Fetterman’s doctors implanted a defibrillator and pacemaker into his chest to regulate his heart rate and rhythm, according to his campaign. He cast his vote via an emergency absentee ballot from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital, according to his campaign.
Fetterman had a stroke Friday, his campaign announced Sunday. “The good news is I’m feeling much better, and the doctors tell me I didn’t suffer any cognitive damage,” he said in a statement that day. He said later he would not attend his campaign’s primary night rally.
Democrats also faced pivotal tests across the country, with establishment candidates challenged in several races by more liberal hopefuls.
In Oregon’s 5th District, Biden-endorsed Rep. Kurt Schrader was losing by 18 percentage points to Jamie McLeod-Skinner with an estimated 43 percent of the vote counted at midnight, with the challenger fueled by voters around Bend and Portland. Many votes had yet to be counted in Clackamas County, where early tallies favored the incumbent.
McLeod-Skinner has disparagingly labeled Schrader “the Joe Manchin of Oregon,” claiming that Schrader worked against Biden’s climate agenda and efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs at the behest of corporate donors.
Summer Lee, running for a House seat in Pennsylvania left open by Rep. Mike Doyle’s retirement, fought against wave of money from centrist Democratic groups who painted her as a risky choice. She was endorsed by Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and backs the Medicare-for-all and a Green New Deal.
Lee was in a close contest with Steve Irwin, who was backed by a centrist super PAC.
Trump’s influence was also tested in Western states.
In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little (R) defeated a Trump-backed challenger, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who campaigned on challenging the 2020 election.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R), a longtime House member who was among the handful of Republicans to cross the aisle and support Biden’s infrastructure bill, was trying to fend off a challenger running to his right.
In Oregon, term limits are forcing Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, to leave office. Republicans hope to seize the seat for the first time in 35 years because of Brown’s deep unpopularity and the emergence of a Democratic candidate running as an unaffiliated candidate.
Nearly two dozen Republican candidates were vying for the party’s nomination, including former Oregon House Republican leader Christine Drazan, who was leading in the polls. She’s running on public safety and lower taxes and has the backing of roughly three-fourths of Oregon’s Republican state representatives.
On the Democratic side, former Oregon House speaker Tina Kotek was the winner, the AP projected.
In Kentucky, where polls closed early Tuesday evening, Democrats nominated state Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey to replace retiring Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) in the 3rd District. The eight-term congressman endorsed McGarvey, who soundly defeated Rep. Attica Scott, who’d been active in the city’s racial justice movement.
Cory Vaillancourt in Hendersonville, N.C., Nick Keppler in North Huntingdon, Pa., and Scott Clement in Washington contributed to this report.