Outsider candidate Doctor Mehmet Oz and establishment pick financier David McCormick are neck and neck in a contentious Pennsylvania Senate GOP primary. Third place will go to Kathy Barnette, who has no plans to endorse the eventual Republican nominee. The photo-finish race will likely land in recount territory, which could take days to sort out. Openly Socialist John Fetterman clinched the nomination for the Democrats last night and will take on the Republican victor this fall.
POLITICO: McCormick and Oz neck-and-neck in Pennsylvania as Fetterman gets Dem Senate nod
Natalie Allison, Zach Montellaro and Ally Mutnick; May, 17th 2022
Republicans Dave McCormick and Mehmet Oz remained locked in a battle for the GOP Senate nomination in Pennsylvania into the early hours of Wednesday morning, after Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman easily won his primary in one of the most important Senate races in the country.
Oz and McCormick were separated by a handful of votes out of nearly 1.3 million counted early Wednesday — well within the state’s automatic recount threshold of 0.5 percentage points. The dramatic finish to the hard-fought and expensive Republican primary came as voters in five states decided nominating contests at the center of the battle for control of Congress, while also shaping the rosters of people representing safe seats in the states and in Washington.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), the outspoken and scandal-plagued freshman, lost his bid for a second term to state Sen. Chuck Edwards in a Republican primary after repeated scandals. And Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), a longtime congressional Blue Dog, trailed early to a progressive challenger on the West Coast in another incumbent primary fight.
Donald Trump-endorsed Ted Budd will represent the GOP in North Carolina’s Senate race this fall, lining up against Democrat Cheri Beasley in another battleground race.
But the biggest elections of the evening are in Pennsylvania, where Republican voters chose state Sen. Doug Mastriano — one of the leading proponents of 2020 election conspiracy theories — as their candidate for governor. The Senate contest has become one of the highest-profile races of 2022, with former President Donald Trump weighing in for Oz.
Trump endorsed Mastriano to carry the party’s banner in the governor’s race — but the new nominee is facing a revolt among Republicans who think he’s going to lose the general election and potentially damage the party in other ways.
The primaries are illustrating just how deep Trump’s power over the Republican Party goes, as well as whether a decisive portion of the MAGA movement has moved past the former president, elevating candidates running in the mold of Trump even if they don’t have his blessing. Trump also endorsed against the incumbent governor in Idaho — where Gov. Brad Little thoroughly bested his lieutenant governor in their primary matchup.
And while Fetterman glided to the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania and Attorney General Josh Shapiro was unopposed for the Democratic gubernatorial nod, there are Democratic battles lined up across Tuesday’s primary map. A series of expensive proxy battles broke out over the last month between outside groups aligned with progressive Democrats and more moderate candidates in safely Democratic House seats. And in the most expensive House race of the year, the candidate backed by big money lost the Democratic nomination.
Pennsylvania primaries set up key races for November
Oz may have Trump’s blessing in the Senate race, but polling conducted in recent days has shown Oz and Barnette locked in a dead heat.
Trump’s gamble on endorsing Oz despite trailing McCormick in most polls at the time shows Trump’s belief in the power of the celebrity candidate — even one who is relatively polarizing, with nearly evenly split favorable and unfavorable ratings. The former president has repeatedly pointed to Oz’s 18-year stint on television, including during a robocall to Pennsylvania GOP voters on Monday, as a sign of Oz’s appeal.
While the race remained tight, Trump in recent days criticized both McCormick and Kathy Barnette — McCormick for being an “insider who absolutely sold us out to China,” he told listeners on the call Monday, and Barnette for supporting in 2020 the creation of a statue honoring the Obama family.
Fetterman, who occupies the progressive lane of the party, won the Democratic Senate nomination over Rep. Conor Lamb, who has a more centrist record. Fetterman on Tuesday cast an emergency absentee ballot from his hospital room, where he continues to receive treatment after suffering a stroke on Friday.
Pennsylvania will be one of the nation’s top battlegrounds this fall as Republicans seek to hold onto the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Toomey and tip the 50-50 Senate their way.
While Republicans were concerned about Barnette’s recent surge in the Senate race, before she settled into third place Tuesday night, GOP concerns about Mastriano in the governor’s race are even stronger. He led all of the recent polls in the splintered field that also includes former Rep. Lou Barletta, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain and businessman Dave White, among others.
Republicans, both in the state and nationally, believe that Mastriano could cost the party a shot at a competitive open seat. A last-ditch effort to try to consolidate opposition to him materialized last week, but it quickly fizzled after none of the leading candidates dropped out — and Trump endorsed Mastriano over the weekend.
The other big Senate primary: North Carolina
Budd captured the Senate nomination easily and quickly Tuesday night. But Trump’s endorsement of Budd last year in the North Carolina Republican Senate primary wasn’t as immediately powerful as his Oz announcement five weeks before the Pennsylvania primary — or an even shorter window for J.D. Vance, who won the GOP Senate nomination in Ohio May 3.
Budd struggled for months to surpass former Gov. Pat McCrory’s lead. Trump and David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, even tried to broker a deal with former Rep. Mark Walker — another Republican in the race — to withdraw and run for House instead, believing Walker was taking support from Budd.
Walker remained in the running until the end, but Budd finally took the GOP lead in late March, buoyed by the Club for Growth’s record spending. His rise in the polls coincided with Trump’s rally in the state in early April, and has continued to grow since.
Budd will face Democrat Cheri Beasley, a former chief state Supreme Court justice who has coasted in recent months after her two main primary rivals dropped out of the race.
While North Carolina has trended red in recent years and is not one of Democrats’ top priorities in the fight for Senate control, the state remains competitive. Top Republican outside spending groups have already reserved millions of dollars in ad time for the race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Richard Burr.
Other statewide contests to watch: Idaho and Oregon
Tuesday’s primary elections in Idaho are the most important elections of the year in the state, where the eventual Republican nominees will become the de facto general election winners in the ruby red state.
There, it is a clash between the two wings of the Republican Party, the conservative but generally business-aligned wing, and a far-right insurgent branch of the GOP.
The contests in the state were headlined by Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s primary challenge against Little. McGeachin, who has ties to the far right and spoke at a conference hosted by a white nationalist, lost badly despite having Trump’s backing.
Other contests down the ballot in the state have a stark divide: The state’s longtime attorney general, Lawrence Wasden, is facing a primary from former congressional rabblerouser Raúl Labrador. And the state’s secretary of state contest has candidates who have said they don’t believe President Joe Biden was legitimately elected president.
In Oregon, former state House Speaker Tina Kotek grabbed the Democratic nomination to succeed Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who is term-limited. The Republican field is a crowded contest with no clear frontrunner. While not among the top tier of gubernatorial contests this year, it could become competitive if the political environment remains horrible for Democrats and Republicans nominate a candidate that can appeal to some voters in the blue-leaning state. A wild card in the race is Betsy Johnson, a former conservative Democratic state senator who is running as an independent candidate in the fall.
House incumbents in trouble
Schrader is facing a progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner in a district that is partly new thanks to redistricting. And he placed a target on his back because the left believes he and several other moderate House Democrats united to tank Biden’s massive social spending plan.
Schrader allies have warned the party could struggle to keep the district in the fall if a McLeod-Skinner prevails. Biden carried it by 9 points in 2020.
Cawthorn, though, has grabbed the most headlines. Besieged by a flood of scandals, Cawthorn has become estranged from former allies in his western North Carolina district and in the Capitol. His notoriety drew a large group of challengers into his primary, but the most formidable is Edwards. Even Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) has lined up against the incumbent.
Another North Carolina battle to watch: whether Bo Hines, a one-time Cawthorn acolyte who has since distanced himself, prevails in an open district. Democrats appear on track to nominate state Sen. Wiley Nickel. Biden carried the district narrowly.
In Idaho, GOP Rep. Mike Simpson saw off challenger Bryan Smith in a 2014 rematch. Simpson framed the race as a test for the GOP’s governing coalition and warned that his opponent will be loath to compromise and obstruct the party’s attempt to legislate.
In addition to incumbents facing primary challenges, Republicans are nominating candidates to take on Democratic representatives in key target districts. Lisa Scheller, a top GOP recruit for the seat held by Democratic Rep. Susan Wild in northwest Pennsylvania, had a surprisingly narrow lead in her primary. In a nearby district, Republican Jim Bognet will take on Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in his swing seat.
Across the state, entrepreneur Jeremy Shaffer is in lead in the GOP primary for Rep. Conor Lamb’s (D-Pa.) open Pittsburgh swing seat. Veteran Chris Deluzio took the Democratic nomination.
Progressives and moderates in safe blue seats
Progressive candidates are vying for open safe blue seats in southwest Pennsylvania and north-central North Carolina — but outside groups aligned with cryptocurrency financiers and pro-Israel groups have united to block them.
In retiring Rep. Mike Doyle’s Pittsburgh district, AIPAC’s super PAC has spent nearly $2 million in TV ads to block state Rep. Summer Lee. Their preferred candidate is lawyer Steve Irwin, touting him as someone “who will work with fellow Democrats.”
In North Carolina, those forces united to push state Sen. Val Foushee to victory in her open-seat primary against Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman elected to public office in the state
In another open-seat race, state Sen. Don Davis, the Democratic winner, has been the beneficiary of spending from the AIPAC super PAC and another aligned group. Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, advertised against repeat candidate Sandy Smith in the hope of preventing her from getting the nomination. But Smith, who has faced allegations of domestic violence, won the GOP primary.
Democrats also picked a candidate in a deep-blue corner of Kentucky to replace the retiring Rep. John Yarmuth. State Sen. Morgan McGarvey easily won with the support of both Yarmuth and Protect Our Future.