A Busy Primary Day

Five states held primaries for the upcoming midterm elections, with significant implications for both parties and the balance of power.

Jonathan Good
Leans Left
Stephen Webber
Leans Right

This Tuesday saw the busiest day for primaries yet in this midterm cycle. The highly anticipated elections saw an incumbent lose his seat, Senate primary contests, a test of Trump’s influence, and some notable progressive victories.

Cawthorn is Out


Riddled with Controversy. While several Tuesday races caught pundits’ eyes, perhaps none was as surprising as the North Carolina 11th Congressional District Republican Primary. Incumbent Congressman Madison Cawthron (R) faced numerous scandals during his reelection bid. The plethora of controversies surrounding Congress’ youngest member solicited a crowded field of primary challengers. Of his opponents, NC State Senator Chuck Edwards emerged as the frontrunner to beat the GOP’s former rising star.

Republicans Turn Against Him. Given the controversy around him, many high-profile Republicans — particularly in the NC establishment — began actively working to unseat Cawthorn. Perhaps most notably, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) backed Edwards, and a Tillis-aligned super PAC dropped over $300,000 into the race. Despite his incumbency status (which political analysts consistently view as one of the greatest advantages in a primary), Cawthorn conceded after narrowly losing to Edwards on Tuesday night. The district is deeply red, making Edwards the clear favorite to become the NC-11’s next representative.

Key Senate Competitions

CBS Philly

Starkly Different PA Primaries. While Cawthorn’s loss was the biggest shock of the night, most analysts considered the Pennsylvania Senate primaries the most important. In what is shaping up to be a tough election cycle for Democrats, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) is retiring, presenting one of the few chances they have to flip a seat. Progressive Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman easily won the Democratic nomination, besting Congressman Connor Lamb and State Senator Malcolm Kenyatta. Fetterman accepted the nomination from the hospital, where he has been since suffering a stroke last Friday. The Democratic establishment largely favored Lamb, the more centrist candidate, to take on Republicans this fall, worrying the unconventional Fetterman could be too far-left for the swing state. Fetterman has shrugged off those concerns, arguing he is the best candidate for Pennsylvania voters.

The Republican primary, however, has proven to be the complete opposite. Trump-endorsed media personality Dr. Mehmet Oz and businessman Dave McCormick are neck-and-neck for the chance to take on Fetterman. Oz and McCormick have spent most of the race attacking each other, with outside groups pouring obscene amounts of money into the race. McCormick has slammed Oz for “flip-flopping” on abortion and gun control and has attacked Oz’s dual Turkish citizenship, suggesting it presents a security threat. Oz has shrugged off those attacks, touting Trump’s endorsement as proof that he is the only “America First” candidate in the race. He has also repeatedly accused McCormick of “selling out Pennsylvania to China.” A razor-thin margin of around 1,000 votes separates the two, and they could face a mandatory recount if it holds. Given that possibility, we may not know the winner of this contentious primary for weeks. Trump urged Oz to declare victory anyway, saying it “makes it harder for them to cheat,” although he provided no evidence of any potential wrongdoing.

Surprisingly Uncontentious NC Races. In North Carolina, Republicans and Democrats competed for the chance to replace retiring Senator Richard Burr (R). What analysts initially expected to be tight competition proved to be relatively uncompetitive. While State Senators Erica Smith and Jeff Jackson initially launched spirited challenges in the Democratic primaries, both dropped out in favor of congressional bids and endorsed former state Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who trounced her remaining competitors on Tuesday. On the Republican side, Trump notched a big win as his preferred candidate — Congressman Ted Budd — emerged from relative obscurity to cruise to victory over former Governor Pat McCrory and former Congressman Mark Walker. While Beasley has won statewide in the past, she is the underdog against Budd in this election. 

Dueling Governor’s Races

Idaho’s Political Civil War. Elsewhere, Trump’s endorsement brought conflicting results. In Idaho, Trump-endorsed Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin failed in her quest to topple current Governor Brad Little. The two frequently sparred during their time in office, as McGeachin sought to ban mask mandates, prohibit Covid-19 testing and vaccine requirements, and deploy the National Guard to the Southern Border as Acting Governor when Little was out-of-state. Little reversed those orders when he returned, sparking bad blood between the two Republicans. McGeachin’s bid ultimately fizzled out in a dud as Little fended off the challenge from his previous second-in-command.

Butler Eagle

Mastriano Turns Heads. However, Trump’s last-minute endorsement of State Senator Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania appears to have secured his bid for the GOP’s nomination for governor. Despite an eleventh-hour effort from the Republican establishment to consolidate support around another candidate, Mastriano emerged victorious on Tuesday. Many Republicans express concern that he is too far-right for the state, especially regarding his belief that Democrats stole the 2020 election. Many wonder how Mastriano may act during the next presidential election if he becomes Pennsylvania’s next governor — a role that holds significant election oversight power. Current PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination, even boosted him in the campaign’s final stretch, believing he would be the easiest Republican candidate to beat. Still, political analysts expect the race to be competitive.

Progressives Can Celebrate

Booker’s Second Chance. Fetterman’s win in Pennsylvania is not the only cause progressives have to celebrate. In Kentucky, former State Representative Charles Booker breezed to a primary victory to face incumbent Senator Rand Paul (R) this November. An avid progressive, Booker unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to challenge Senator Mitch McConnell last cycle. 

Some Setbacks, but Potential Wins. Also, despite suffering some setbacks in North Carolina (progressives Erica Smith and Nida Allam lost their primary bids to more centrist candidates), progressives are poised to notch some impressive wins. In Oregon’s Fifth Congressional District, longtime Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader is losing to progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Schrader carries President Biden’s endorsement, but progressives blame him for blocking several of their key policies and say he is partially responsible for tanking the President’s “Build Back Better” agenda. In Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, Summer Lee — a potential member of the “Squad” — is beating more centrist attorney Steve Irwin. While Lee has declared victory in the race, most media outlets say it remains too close to call. Even if the two progressives lose, the Democratic Party’s left wing could still claim some notable victories.

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