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The Guardian - US

Election denier triumphs as primaries test Trump’s grip on Republican party

Doug Mastriano, who won the battle to run for governor in Pennsylvania.
Doug Mastriano, who won the battle to run for governor in Pennsylvania. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Pennsylvania Republicans on Tuesday nominated Donald Trump’s choice for governor, an election denier who was outside the Capitol on 6 January, but were divided over his candidate for Senate in a consequential round of primary contests that also saw the ousting of Madison Cawthorn, the scandal-plagued first-term congressman, in North Carolina.

Voters in five states went to the polls on Tuesday to pick the candidates at the center of some of this year’s most contentious battles for control of Congress, statehouses and governor’s offices. From Oregon to North Carolina, Idaho to Kentucky and the perennial swing state of Pennsylvania, the array of nominating contests tested both Trump’s grip on the Republican party and Joe Biden’s leadership of the Democratic party.

In Pennsylvania, the Associated Press declared Mastriano, a retired army colonel, the winner in a crowded field of Republican candidates. Shapiro ran unopposed. Despite his Maga bona fides, Trump only endorsed Mastriano in the final days of the campaign after he had consistently led in the polls. But his candidacy has worried Republican party leaders concerned that he is too extreme to win statewide.

For the same reason, Democrats embraced – even encouraged – Mastriano’s campaign, a risky strategy for a party warning about the persistent threats to democracy posed by election deniers. If Mastriano prevails in November, he would have enormous power over the administration of the next presidential election in one of the fiercest electoral battlegrounds.

In North Carolina, Cawthorn failed to win re-election amid multiple scandals, losing his seat to Chuck Edwards, a three-term state senator and business owner. It was a stunning fall for the 26-year-old congressman, once seen as a rising star in the Republican party.

But his rabble-rousing antics angered many of his colleagues, some of whom turned sharply against him in the race after he claimed without evidence that Washington figures he “looked up to” had invited him to orgies and used cocaine. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy rebuked Cawthorn publicly over the remark.

John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, easily won the state’s Democratic primary for Senate that was complicated when a stroke took Fetterman off the campaign trail in the final weekend before the election. His victory sets the stage for one of the fiercest Senate races of the cycle – and one of the best opportunities for Democrats to pick up a seat in a year when the political headwinds are blowing against them.

Fetterman, a plain-spoken Harvard graduate known for wearing gym shorts and championing marijuana legalization, beat congressman Conor Lamb, a moderate who aligned himself closely with Biden and state representative Malcolm Kenyatta, a leftwing state legislator. Fetterman is expected to make a full recovery from his stroke, but was not able to attend his election night party because he was still in the hospital.

In a statement, Joe Biden said electing Fetterman, a liberal Democrat, would be a “big step forward for Pennsylvania’s working people”. Calling him a “strong nominee” who could unite Democrats and win a general election, the president lashed out at his prospective Republican opponent, warning that whoever emerged as the nominee was guaranteed to be “too dangerous, too craven, and too extreme” for the US Senate.

Mehmet Oz stands at a lectern speaking to a crowd of supporters. The sign behind him reads ‘A dose of reality’.
Celebrity physician Mehmet Oz was trailing Dave McCormick Tuesday night in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate race. Photograph: Hannah Beier/Reuters

As of late Tuesday, Fetterman’s opponent was not yet known. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity physician known as Dr Oz, was trailing Dave McCormick, a former hedge fund boss, but the race remained too close to call. Conservative commentator Kathy Barnette, who enjoyed an 11th hour surge as Oz and McCormick lobbed brutal attacks on one another, finished in a distant third.

“Unfortunately we’re not going to have a resolution tonight,” McCormick said during a speech at his election night party on Tuesday, citing “tens of thousands” of outstanding ballots left to count.

On the Republican side, Oz struggled to unite the conservative base behind him. Hounded as a “Hollywood liberal”, Oz embraced Trump’s false claim of voter fraud and was rewarded with the former president’s seal of approval. But when they appeared together at a rally, boos could be heard whenever Trump mentioned Oz.

Conservatives in the state also appeared tepid about McCormick, the husband of former Trump administration official Dina Powell. During the campaign, he and Oz unloaded their personal war chests, leveling such a ferocious campaign against one another that exasperated voters said they began looking at Barnette.

In Pennsylvania and Oregon, progressives appeared on the verge of key victories. Summer Lee was narrowly leading the field in her bid to capture the party’s nomination in the solidly Democratic Pennsylvania district represented by retiring congressman Mike Doyle.

Lee had been heavily targeted by a group affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby group,which poured money into primary races with the goal of countering the rise of progressive Democrats sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

If elected, she would be the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress.

And in Oregon, congressman Kurt Schrader, a Blue Dog Democrat known for breaking with his party, badly trailed his progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner, in a race seen as a test of the president’s appeal among the party’s base.

McLeod-Skinner assailed the seven-term incumbent for his votes against key pieces of the Democrats’ policy agenda, including Biden’s $1.9tn pandemic relief package. Nevertheless, Schrader was the first candidate Biden endorsed this cycle.

On the opposite coast, in North Carolina, the Trump-backed congressman Ted Budd bested ex-governor Pat McCrory and a dozen other candidates to clinch the Republican nomination for Senate.

Budd, who was one of the 139 House Republicans who objected to certifying the election, will face Democrat Cheri Beasley, a former chief justice for the North Carolina state supreme court, who easily won her party’s 10-way primary to replace retiring Republican senator Richard Burr.If victorious, the trailblazing former public defender would make history as the southern state’s first Black senator.

State senator Valerie Foushee defeated Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman ever elected to public office in North Carolina, in the hotly contested primary to replace retiring congressman David Price in North Carolina’s 4th congressional District, a safe Democratic seat.

Her victory was a disappointment for progressives, as was one of the more moderate Democratic candidates who benefited from the support of a Super Pac affiliated with AIPAC.

Madison Cawthorn sits in his wheelchair surrounded by supporters.
Madison Cawthorn lost his North Carolina primary on Tuesday. Photograph: Nell Redmond/AP

In deeply conservative Idaho, the sitting governor, Brad Little, defeated his far-right lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, a Trump-endorsed candidate who twice attempted a power grab to ban coronavirus mask and vaccine mandates when Little was out of state on business. Little overturned the orders when he returned.

And in an expensive fight for Oregon’s newly created sixth congressional district, Democratic state representative Andrea Salinas was leading a sprawling primary that included a political novice backed by a cryptocurrency billionaire. If elected, Salinas will be the state’s first Latina in Congress.

In Kentucky, the state’s highest ranking Democrat, Morgan McGarvey, won the party primary for an open congressional seat to replace the retiring congressman John Yarmuth, who endorsed him. He beat state representative Attica Scott, who drew national attention when she sued Louisville police officers after being arrested during the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020, a disappointment for movement activists hoping to translate the grassroots energy into political gains.

Charles Booker, a Black former state lawmaker who emerged as a powerful voice against racial injustice in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor in 2020, won the Democratic Senate primary in the state. The progressive faces long odds in his bid to unseat Republican senator Rand Paul in November.