Tuesday is the busiest election day of the year so far, as five states — Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania — hold their 2022 primaries. And for the GOP, it will be another test of whether to move on from former President Donald Trump. Coming off Nebraska last week — his first loss of the year — Trump has endorsed candidates in seven major primaries on Tuesday, which should give us a clearer answer as to his power in the party. And even in races where Trump has no skin in the game, Republicans are considering nominating someone in his incendiary, illiberal mold — which could make it harder for the GOP to pick up seats in November.
All told, it’s the highest-stakes primary day yet. Here are the 16 (!) Republican primaries to keep an eye on:
Races to watch: U.S. Senate; 1st, 11th and 13th congressional districts
Polls close: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Trump’s first — and easiest — test will come in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race, which is open this year because Sen. Richard Burr is retiring. Former Gov. Pat McCrory started the race way ahead in the polls, probably due to name recognition, but last June, Trump threw his weight behind Rep. Ted Budd, who at the time was polling in the single digits. That gave Budd a boost, but even Budd’s own polling found he was still trailing McCrory by a few percentage points as recently as the beginning of March. Trump noticed and even reportedly tried to get a third candidate, Rep. Mark Walker, to drop out in order to consolidate the Trumpist vote. (Walker has stayed put.)
Starting in March, though, Budd turned on the jets, and the most recent poll (conducted May 7-9 by Emerson College) showed him at 43 percent, McCrory at 16 percent and Walker at 12 percent. But the Republican kingmaker most responsible for the surge probably wasn’t Trump, but rather the Club for Growth, an anti-government-spending outside group that has spent about $11 million on Budd’s behalf. Many of the group’s ads have also slammed McCrory for being too liberal (though his governorship was anything but) and accepting the results of the 2020 election, explaining why the onetime front-runner has cratered as much as Budd has risen.
Trump and the Club for Growth are also backing the same candidate in the GOP primary for North Carolina’s open 13th District: 26-year-old former college football player Bo Hines. However, Hines has faced criticism for his weak ties to the district and shopping around for a place to launch a long-awaited political career (“[T]he ultimate goal would be president,” Hines said all the way back in 2015). He filed to run in two different districts before choosing this one, about 100 miles east of where he lived at the time.
Together, the Club for Growth and a super PAC aligned with the ideologically similar House Freedom Caucus have spent more than $2 million to help elect Hines. However, through April 27, attorney Kelly Daughtry had spent more than $2.7 million of mostly her own money on the race. Former Rep. Renee Ellmers may also have lingering name recognition from representing part of the district from 2011 to 2017, and Army veteran Kent Keirsey, who has the endorsement of potential 2024 presidential candidate and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, can’t be counted out either. With eight total candidates in the running, this race may very well go to a runoff, which under North Carolina law will occur on July 26 if no candidate receives more than 30 percent of the vote.
Another race that could go to a runoff is the Republican primary in the 11th District, where seven Republicans are seeking to deny incumbent Rep. Madison Cawthorn a second term. The youngest person elected to Congress in more than 50 years, Cawthorn quickly became a darling of MAGA conservatives but also a source of controversy, both encouraging people trying to overturn the 2020 election results to “lightly threaten” members of Congress and calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug.” And in late March, he bizarrely claimed his fellow GOP lawmakers had invited him to an orgy and done cocaine in front of him — which he later admitted to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were exaggerations.
These incidents seem to have earned him the enmity of his fellow Republicans. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis has endorsed primary challenger state Sen. Chuck Edwards. It’s also marked the beginning of an epic parade of bad headlines that appear to have been the result of a coordinated opposition-research dump from his opponents, ranging from the embarrassing (images have emerged of him wearing lingerie, being touched on the crotch by a male staffer and simulating a sex act while naked beside a friend) to the illegal (he appears to have engaged in insider trading and violated House rules on the payment of staffers). This is on top of older scandals like accusations of sexually harassing women, driving with a revoked license and carrying a loaded gun into an airport.
The latest controversies have all happened so quickly that it’s hard to know whether they have put Cawthorn in danger of losing renomination (or getting forced into a runoff). We could find only one public poll of the race since the “orgy” comments, and it showed Cawthorn leading Edwards, 38 percent to 21 percent, with the six other candidates combining for 21 percent — hardly an impressive showing for Cawthorn, but good enough for a win. That said, the same pollster had shown Cawthorn leading Edwards, 49 percent to 14 percent, in mid-March, so the bad press appears to be having some effect — and even the most recent poll was conducted before the release of the sexually explicit videos, so it’s possible he has fallen further since then.
Then again, it’s also possible that the bad headlines crowd each other out or simply become noise: While outside groups have deployed more than $1 million against Cawthorn, the incumbent has spent more than $3.6 million. And although Trump has reportedly been “weirded out” by Cawthorn’s actions, Cawthorn still has the considerable asset that is the former president’s endorsement.
Cawthorn isn’t the only North Carolina Republican congressional candidate facing a barrage of scandals, though. The GOP primary for North Carolina’s open 1st District was fairly quiet until Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson’s campaign recently dropped a trove of opposition research against his best-funded opponent, 2020 nominee Sandy Smith. The documents allege that Smith abused her ex-husbands, ran financial scams, changed her identity and more.
Roberson has argued that the scandals make Smith unelectable in November, and he may have a point: With a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean1 of D+5, the district is winnable for Republicans, but a scandal-plagued or extreme Republican candidate could ensure it stays in Democratic hands. And Smith is both: In addition to the claims in the opposition research, she also attended Trump’s Jan. 6 rally and believes the 2020 election was stolen. Perhaps in reaction, the Congressional Leadership Fund — a super PAC close to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — is spending $584,000 on a TV ad attacking Smith. With no public polls of the primary, though, either candidate could still win.
Races to watch: U.S. Senate; 7th, 8th and 17th congressional districts; governor
Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern
Pennsylvania’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate started off with an embarrassment for Trump; will it end that way too? With the retirement of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who voted to convict Trump for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, the former president doubtlessly saw an opportunity to replace Toomey with a loyalist, and this past September, he endorsed Army veteran Sean Parnell, his close ally. However, in November, Parnell’s estranged wife testified that Parnell had choked her and hit their children, and he dropped out of the race shortly thereafter, leaving behind a fractured Republican field.
Celebrity physician Mehmet Oz emerged as the next front-runner, thanks in part to his big ad buys. Trump has also endorsed him, but interestingly, that hasn’t sewn up the race. Oz has had trouble persuading Pennsylvania Republicans that he is truly one of them. According to a May 3-7 poll from Fox News, 46 percent of the state’s Republican primary voters viewed him unfavorably, compared with just 45 percent who viewed him favorably.
That could be partially because Oz has previously spoken out against abortion restrictions, called for stricter gun control laws and encouraged masking to stop the spread of COVID-19 (though he now embraces more conservative positions). A longtime resident of New Jersey, he also moved to Pennsylvania only in late 2020. Oz, who would be the first Muslim U.S. senator, has also had his loyalty to the U.S. questioned because of his dual U.S.-Turkey citizenship (he says he would renounce his Turkish citizenship if he were to win).
Another reason Oz has struggled? Honor Pennsylvania — a super PAC set up to support his main opponent, former hedge fund manager David McCormick. Honor Pennsylvania has spent more than $15 million attacking Oz for, among other things, being a “Hollywood liberal.” Ironically, though, McCormick also has a weak claim on being a Pennsylvania Republican. Although he grew up in the commonwealth, he lived in Connecticut until last year. He also championed social-justice initiatives at his hedge fund, has supported Democrats in the past and called the Jan. 6 riot “a dark chapter in American history.” However, he has reinvented himself during the campaign as a faithful follower of Trump.
For months, the race seemed like it was between Oz and McCormick. Through April 27, their campaigns had each spent $14 million (most of it from each candidate’s personal wealth) — and that doesn’t even include outside spending like Honor Pennsylvania’s. But as they went nuclear on each other, a third candidate has caught fire in the race: author Kathy Barnette. Although she has raised just a fraction of their cash (less than $1.8 million), Barnette has turned heads with strong debate performances and an inspiring life story. In particular, Barnette’s statement that she is the “byproduct of a rape” has gained traction in conservative media as the Supreme Court has brought abortion to the forefront.
A May 6-8 poll from the Trafalgar Group essentially showed a three-way tie, with Oz at 25 percent, Barnette at 23 percent and McCormick at 22 percent. It’s possible, too, that Barnette, who would be the first Black Republican woman to serve in the Senate, could still be on the rise: She gained a powerful ally last week when the Club for Growth announced it would spend $2 million on TV ads for her — more than her campaign has spent all year. But her surge has alarmed other, more establishment-minded Republicans, who worry that nominating Barnette would make it more likely that Democrats flip the seat in November. Barnette has made hateful comments about Islam and homosexuality, and she fell deep down the election-fraud rabbit hole after the 2020 election.
Republicans face a similar danger in the governor’s race, where state Sen. Doug Mastriano is a slight front-runner over a weak nine-candidate field. (In the Trafalgar poll, Mastriano had 28 percent support, 10 points ahead of his closest rival.) Like Barnette (with whom he sometimes campaigns), Mastriano is on the far-right fringe of the GOP: He has embraced Christian nationalism — the belief that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation that is now under attack — and shared QAnon conspiracy theories on social media. He has also helped lead the charge to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania and was present on the Capitol lawn on Jan. 6.
If Mastriano wins the primary and then the general election, it could have a profound effect on U.S. democracy. In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state, who administers elections in the state, and signs off on the certification of the state’s electors. Given that Mastriano has previously supported the state legislature appointing electors in defiance of the state popular vote, a Gov. Mastriano could very well lead to the overturning of a free and fair election in 2024.
These extreme positions have GOP officials terrified that Mastriano would lose this November to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the presumptive Democratic nominee. (For his part, Shapiro has actually aired ads that could help Mastriano win the GOP nomination, probably for this very reason.)
Representatives from the other Republican campaigns have reportedly discussed a coordinated effort against Mastriano, but the problem is agreeing on who is the best candidate to stop him. Former Rep. Lou Barletta is second in many polls, but he shares some of Mastriano’s baggage (he was one of Pennsylvania’s “fake electors,” 20 people who signed fake documents saying Trump had won the state and sent them to the National Archives). Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain is the best-funded, but Trump has explicitly anti-endorsed him for not doing enough to overturn the election. And former Delaware County Councilman Dave White looks like a viable contender in some polls but not in others.
Two candidates, state Senate President Jake Corman and former Rep. Melissa Hart, did drop out and endorse Barletta, but they were each polling in the single digits, so their support is unlikely to make much of a dent in Mastriano’s lead. The only thing that probably could have meaningfully shifted the race would have been if Trump endorsed one of the Mastriano alternatives. But on Saturday, as he often does, he went his own way: He endorsed Mastriano, specifically citing how he “revealed the Deceit, Corruption, and outright Theft of the 2020 Presidential Election, and will do something about it.”
Pennsylvania Republicans will also choose their nominees for three congressional districts they hope to flip from blue to red this November. In the 7th District, former Lehigh County Commissioner Lisa Scheller came within 4 points of beating Democratic Rep. Susan Wild in 2020, and the seat got redder in redistricting (it now has a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of R+4). So Scheller is back this year with the support of House Republican leadership, but she’ll first have to get through business owner Kevin Dellicker in the primary. Scheller appears in good shape, though, having outraised Dellicker $2.0 million to $183,321.
In Northeastern Pennsylvania’s 8th District (an R+8 partisan lean), Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright’s 2020 opponent, former Trump administration official Jim Bognet (who also lost by about 4 points), is back for a rematch as well. But Bognet lost in 2020, despite that Trump carried the district, which is probably due mostly to Cartwright’s strength but also suggests the GOP could use a better candidate. Former Hazleton Mayor Mike Marsicano is also running in the primary, and Bognet has only outraised him $719,516 to $525,100. However, Bognet’s support for Trump’s lawsuits over the 2020 election could save his bacon; he recently secured Trump’s endorsement.
Finally, the 17th District has a partisan lean of D+1, but the retirement of Rep. Conor Lamb has given the GOP an opening in this suburban Pittsburgh seat. Former Ross Township Commissioner Jeremy Shaffer looks like the front-runner, having raised $729,063, and he is also likely the candidate with the most general-election appeal (he says he probably would have voted for President Biden’s infrastructure bill). National security consultant Jason Killmeyer has positioned himself as the more conservative option, but he has raised only $135,220. A third candidate, former Bellevue Councilwoman Kathleen Coder, has raised just $9,775.
Races to watch: 2nd Congressional District, governor, attorney general, secretary of state
Polls close: 10 p.m. Eastern in most of the state, 11 p.m. Eastern in the Panhandle
In Idaho, governors and lieutenant governors don’t run on the same ticket, which has led to the unusual situation of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin running for governor against her boss, incumbent Gov. Brad Little. Little has impeccable pro-Trump credentials (he supported Texas’s lawsuit to invalidate the 2020 election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), but the former president is nevertheless supporting McGeachin, who is even further to the right.
McGeachin supports a 50-state audit of the 2020 election and has delivered a recorded message to a conference hosted by white nationalists. She is probably most famous, though, for her vehement opposition to mask and vaccine mandates: Twice, while serving as acting governor when Little was traveling out of state, she has issued executive orders banning such mandates, only to see Little quickly rescind them, calling McGeachin’s behavior “an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.”
But if one of Trump’s other endorsees hasn’t already lost by this point in the evening, Idaho will probably snap his winning streak. According to a poll conducted last month by Zoldak Research for the Idaho Dispatch, Little led McGeachin by a whopping 60 percent to 29 percent.
A few other, more moderate Republican incumbents are also facing renomination threats from anti-democratic challengers. In Idaho’s 2nd District, Rep. Mike Simpson is facing a rematch from lawyer Bryan Smith, whom he beat in 2014, 62 percent to 38 percent. While Simpson voted to certify the 2020 election results, Smith believes it was fraudulent. Outside groups have spent more than $1.3 million on Simpson’s behalf, which should help shore up his position but also suggests they see Smith as a serious threat.
Lawrence Wasden, the longest-serving attorney general in Idaho history, is also in danger of losing his bid for a sixth term to former tea-party Republican Rep. Raúl Labrador. Labrador has outraised Wasden, $592,449 to $478,294,2 and has translated that financial advantage into a 9-point lead in the latest poll, conducted in early May by Remington Research Group. While Wasden was one of the few Republican attorneys general not to join the Texas lawsuit, Labrador said he would have if he’d held the office.
Finally, with the retirement of pro-democracy incumbent Lawerence Denney, there’s a very real possibility that an election denier will become Idaho’s next secretary of state. Two of the three candidates, state Rep. Dorothy Moon and state Sen. Mary Souza, have said that Biden did not fairly win the 2020 election. However, both have been outraised by Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, who runs elections in Idaho’s most populous county and has accepted Biden’s win, so it’s possible that a pro-democracy Republican still ends up holding this office.
Races to watch: 5th and 6th congressional districts, governor
Polls close: 10 p.m. Eastern in the Mountain time zone part of Malheur County, 11 p.m. Eastern in the rest of the state
Oregon is a fairly blue state, but two factors could conspire to give Republicans an opening there in November: the Republican-leaning national environment and outgoing Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s unpopularity. Perhaps sensing an opening, 19 candidates are running in the GOP primary for governor, but none has exactly taken the state by storm: According to Nelson Research, “undecided” leads with 27 percent, followed by former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan with 19 percent, former Oregon GOP Chair Bob Tiernan with 14 percent, 2016 GOP gubernatorial nominee Bud Pierce with 10 percent and Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam with 7 percent. Most of the major candidates are traditional conservatives, but Pulliam has tossed voters more pro-Trump red meat (“I’m the only conservative candidate, especially on this stage, that is willing to say the truth,” he said at an April debate: “The 2020 election was fraudulent, completely fraudulent”).
There are also contested Republican primaries for two congressional seats that the GOP is hoping to flip this year, but perhaps unsurprisingly given both districts’ slightly Democratic lean, these primaries aren’t really shaping up as referendums on Trump, either. For instance, none of the five candidates who responded to a questionnaire by The Oregonian/OregonLive said that the 2020 election was illegitimate. In the 5th District, which has a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of D+3, five Republicans are competing to be the nominee. Former Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer ($669,145, including almost $300,000 in self-funding) and energy investor Jimmy Crumpacker ($541,208) have raised the most money. If elected in November, Chavez-DeRemer would be the first Hispanic person Oregon sends to the U.S. Congress — she has already earned the support of New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who is on a mission to get more female Republicans elected.
With a partisan lean of D+7, the brand-new 6th District is tougher terrain for the GOP, but Republicans could probably flip it if they nominate the right candidate. Logistics executive Mike Erickson leads the seven-candidate Republican field in fundraising with $722,688, and his ability to self-fund could also come in handy in November. However, energy executive Nathan Sandvig (whose hero is former President Dwight Eisenhower) and state Rep. Ron Noble (whose state House district voted for Biden), both of whom are emphasizing how centrist they are, could also be formidable nominees.
And that’s just the half of it. We’ll be previewing the Democratic primaries in these states tomorrow morning, just in time for you to read up on everything before our live blog that night. We hope you’ll join us then!