Former President Donald Trump faces the toughest test yet of his ability to shape a new generation of Republicans on Tuesday as voters in Pennsylvania and North Carolina decide to rally around his hand-picked choices. for critical U.S. Senate seats.
As this year’s midterm primary season enters its busiest time with races also taking place in Kentucky, Oregon and Idaho, Trump is poised for several easy wins. In North Carolina, U.S. Representative Ted Budd is expected to beat a group of GOP rivals, including a former governor. And in Pennsylvania’s GOP race for governor, far-right nominee Doug Mastriano was already in the lead before Trump backed him over the weekend.
But Trump’s preferred Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Mehmet Oz, has divided conservatives who are generally in tune with Trump. Some are wary of the ideological leanings of the famed heart surgeon who rose to prominence as a frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. Oz has spent much of the campaign in a tug of war with former hedge fund CEO David McCormick.
This allowed commentator Kathy Barnette to emerge in the final days of the primary as a conservative alternative to Oz and McCormick. If she wins the primary and general elections, Barnette would be the first black Republican woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Trump, who has held campaign-style rallies with Oz, insists he is the best candidate to keep the Senate seat in Republican hands come fall. Given his level of involvement in the race, a loss would be a notable setback for the former president, who is wielding endorsements as a way to prove his dominance over the GOP ahead of a possible presidential election in 2024.
“I think he’s tough. He is very intelligent. He will come in handy,” Trump told a Philadelphia radio station on Tuesday, referring to Oz. “I also think he’s the one who’s going to win the election. You know it’s not an easy election to win.”
The Democrats have their own high-profile primaries. In Pennsylvania, progressive Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman led the Senate race but was forced out of the campaign trail by a stroke. The 52-year-old tweeted a photo of himself voting by emergency mail from hospital and his campaign later released a statement saying he was undergoing surgery to insert a pacemaker with a defibrillator which should address the root cause of his health scare.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Attorney General John Shapiro, who was not opposed to his party’s gubernatorial nomination, tweeted that he was showing mild symptoms of COVID-19 that forced him off the campaign trail. .
In North Carolina, Cheri Beasley is the clear favorite in her primary of 11 candidates for the Democratic Senate nomination. If she wins in November, Beasley would be the state’s first black female senator — and if she, or Barnette, makes it to the Senate, either would only be the third African-American woman ever elected to the Senate. bedroom.
Tuesday’s contests could ultimately determine how competitive the general election will be this fall, when control of Congress, governor’s mansions and key electoral positions will be up for grabs. That’s especially true on the perennial political battleground of Pennsylvania, where some Republicans already fear Mastriano is too extreme to woo the moderates who are often decisive in general elections.
“There’s definitely some trepidation in the major factions of the party,” said Pennsylvania Republican strategist Vince Galko.
More fundamentally, Tuesday’s primaries could test voters’ commitment to democratic principles. Barnette runs even further to the right than Oz and participated in the January 2021 rally that turned into an insurrection at the US Capitol.
Then there’s Mastriano, who was also outside the Capitol during the mob attack and who would appoint Pennsylvania’s election chief if he becomes governor. He has pledged to take the extraordinary step of requiring voters to “re-register” to vote — even though doing so is prohibited by state voter registration law and likely violates important protections under federal law. , and perhaps state.
Mastriano has made Trump’s lies about the widespread voter fraud that cost him the presidency a centerpiece of his campaign – and was subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Capitol riot as a result of his efforts to nominate a slate of alternate Electoral College voters in favor of Trump.
Stacy Steinly, a 51-year-old school bus assistant, voted in the town of Hamburg, Pa., about 30 miles west of Allentown. She said she chose Mastriano because “he stood by President Trump and said everything was fraudulent.”
“Everything he was talking about made sense,” said Steinly, who wore a black t-shirt that read “Biden is not my (or anyone else’s) president based on legal votes.” .
Trump’s safest bet may be Budd, who overcame a slow start to emerge from 14 Republican primary candidates, including former Gov. Pat McCroy, as the frontrunner in North Carolina’s Republican Senate primary.
While much of the attention during the opening phase of the primary season has focused on Trump’s grip on the GOP, the contests also serve as a referendum on Biden’s leadership of the Democratic Party. In the president’s home state of Pennsylvania, U.S. Representative Conor Lamb, a moderate in Biden’s mold, is at risk of being beaten by Fetterman.
Lamb said Tuesday he detected “frustration” among Democratic primary voters, a sentiment he said he shared as the party struggled to accomplish much of its policy agenda. But he argued that moderates helped Democrats regain control of the House in 2018 and that the party should “double down” on that approach this year.
“What I’ve tried to do throughout this campaign is to talk about the fact that no matter how difficult it is, we actually know as a party what it takes to be successful” , Lamb told a Pittsburgh radio station.
Still, known for his towering 6-foot-8 stature and tattoos, and for championing causes like universal health care, Fetterman has appealed to many Democrats with an outsider image.
Robert Sweeney, 59, also from Hamburg, said he voted for Fetterman because “he looks like a good guy and knows what he’s doing”.
Another race testing Biden’s national appeal with Democratic primary voters crosses the country in Oregon. It was there that the president used his first endorsement of the midterm season to back incumbent Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader against progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner.
But Trump’s influence over the GOP primaries extends much further.
In Idaho, Trump-backed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is trying to unseat Republican Gov. Brad Little. McGeachin issued executive orders banning mask mandates during the height of the pandemic when Little was out of state.
The former president’s backing could also swing U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s race to retain her North Carolina seat despite recent blunders, and political novice Bo Hines’ efforts to win the House nomination for a seat. representing a district covering parts of Raleigh and points. south.
Tuesday even features a Kentucky lawmaker seeking re-election who benefited from a Trump reversal. The former president is now praising Republican U.S. Representative Thomas Massie as a ‘top-notch defender of the Constitution’ – just two years after he suggested the Republican should be removed from the GOP for opposing 2 trillion dollars in COVID-19 relief funding.
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam contributed from Hamburg, Pennsylvania.