After a crowded primary night, some of North Carolina and Pennsylvania’s races are still too close to call this morning. Former president Donald Trump saw many of his preferred candidates triumph in both states, but others flopped or are in races that are too tight to call; we can expect plenty of arguments about who triumphed and who truly lost. Meanwhile in some races, progressive and moderate Democrats duked it out while in others, the field was clear. Here are some of the top takeaways from the events of last night.
Firstly, it’s clear that while Trump’s endorsement helps, it isn’t a guarantee. As of Wednesday, it is still too early to determine whether Dr Mehmet Oz, the former television host that Trump endorsed, won or lost the Senate primary in Pennsylvania. But the fact that the ex-president’s backing failed to slingshot him far ahead of the pack shows that a Trump endorsement won’t override reservations conservatives have about a candidate – as many did with Dr Oz, worrying that his beliefs on abortion, guns and fracking put him beyond the pale.
Former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick, meanwhile, had fallen to third place in most polls after a late surge by right-wing candidate Kathy Barnette (a surge that has not ultimately been borne out in the result.) But it seems that in the end, he had a slight advantage because of mail-in ballots – and at the time of writing, he has closed the gap with Dr Oz to within the 0.5-point margin that triggers an automatic recount.
That being said, as my colleague Andrew Buncombe wrote, Trump still had a good night on other fronts. State Senator Doug Mastriano, who infamously attended the January 6 rally, won Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial primary; in North Carolina, Bo Hines, Mr Trump’s preferred candidate, topped the ranking in the state’s 13th congressional district, while Ted Budd easily won the state’s coveted Senate nomination over former governor Pat McCrory. That’s not a bad record.
But elsewhere in North Carolina, despite the fact that Trump endorsed him, beleaguered freshman Representative Madison Cawthorn lost to state Senator Chuck Edwards in the state’s 11th district. That’s largely down to the state’s junior US senator, Thom Tillis, who is as responsible as anyone for making the state Wolf Pack-red, and who was confident to the end that all the energy he had spent trying to vaporize Cawthorn would pay off.
Cawthorn angered many North Carolina Republicans for trying to switch districts in hopes of blocking the state’s House Speaker Tim Moore, only to try running back in his home district when the state supreme court threw out the state’s newly redrawn district map. Tillis’s super PAC not only endorsed Edwards, but also invested in a $300,000 ad buy calling out Cawthorn – and despite the fact Trump said the Congressman deserved “a second chance,” Tillis was less merciful.
“I believe everybody deserves a second chance,” he told reporters on Tuesday before the polls closed. “But at a certain point, this becomes a pattern of behavior.” By the end of the night, Tillis was the one smiling.
Progressives, meanwhile, ended up with a mixed bag. They got a welcome result in Pennsylvania when John Fetterman, the tattooed, Bernie Sanders-supporting lieutenant governor, overwhelmingly beat centrist Congressman Conor Lamb in the Senate primary. But then again, Fetterman spent much of his campaign running away from progressive terminology, instead calling himself a “populist” or “just a Democrat”.
In the same state, Summer Lee, a progressive who supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, faced a tougher race than expected in the 12th district against moderate Steve Irwin. The United Democracy Project, which is the political action committee for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, spent more than $2.3 million in the race after Lee tweeted criticism of the Israeli government in 2021. As of this morning, she holds a very slight lead of 446 votes, and the race remains too close to call.
Meanwhile, progressives in Oregon’s 5th district might have a reason to celebrate as their chosen challenger, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, holds a large lead against incumbent Congressman Kurt Schrader. Schrader was part of a group of moderate Democrats who wanted to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill before Build Back Better, rather than alongside it, and he also voted in committee against allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
If McLeod-Skinner’s lead holds up while the rest of the vote is counted, it progressives will have pulled off what the establishment feared: defenestrating a moderate despite Joe Biden’s endorsement.