Last night’s primaries across several key states offered the latest measure of former President Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican party and gave a hint of what’s likely to be at stake in November’s midterm elections.
After scoring his first success last week with JD Vance’s win in Ohio, this proved something of a mixed bag for Trump; with one big prize still up for grabs.
In the cradle of democracy, what will be a clear test for institutional normality will happen in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial contest between Doug Mastriano – a far-right advocate of the “big lie” who was present at the Capitol protest on Jan 6th – and the state’s current Attorney-General, Democrat Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed.
In Pennsylvania, the Governor appoints the Secretary of State, who oversees elections in the state, and Mastriano, who picked up Trump’s late endorsement at the weekend, is just one of a number of potential Governors who have cast doubt on how they might certify a presidential election should their preferred candidate not win.
Andrew Seidman writes at the Philadelphia Inquirer on the Pennsylvania GOP’s schizophrenic approach to Mastriano’s candidacy, while in broader terms much will hang on how the party’s national leadership sees the implications of heading into the midterms with candidates who may be hugely popular at grassroots level, but definitely shift the party in a more extreme direction.
In PA’s GOP Senate primary, it’s still too close to call between two first-time political candidates; TV doctor Mehmet Oz – Trump’s choice – and hedge fund CEO David McCormick; with a strong showing by “ultra-Maga” candidate Kathy Barnette shaking up the race.
Ironically, much is hanging on the numbers of in-person vs mail-in votes ahead of a likely recount, with Trump already dusting off his 2020 post-election playbook, urging Oz to simply declare victory.
Whoever wins will go up against current Democratic Lt Gov John Fetterman, who easily defeated Conor Lamb and voted from hospital after suffering a stroke last week. He is expected to make a full recovery.
In other contests, perhaps the biggest headline was the defeat of North Carolina Rep Madison Cawthorn, who fell foul of GOP congressional leadership after some probably ill-advised comments on extra-curricular activities in DC.
Cawthorn, who still picked up about 30% of the GOP vote in a losing cause, had been endorsed by Trump, making perhaps the most surprising thing about his unconventional career the fact that he actually conceded.
But another Trump choice in NC, Ted Budd, won his GOP senate primary to contest the seat of the retiring Richard Burr.
In Idaho, Lt Gov Janice McGeachin, perhaps the furthest to the right of all Trump’s endorsements last night, lost her gubernatorial primary.
What does it all mean?
The jury is still out for now on the extent of Trump’s dominance of the Republican party, while Democrats are already talking about whether they need to be more “visceral” – but they know they can’t all be Fetterman. Josh Shapiro meanwhile, has already started portraying Mastriano as “dangerous and divisive”.
But the immediate challenge is the next rounds of primaries, with key primary contests in Georgia coming up on May 24. Trump has given his blessing to multiple candidates, but has washed his hands of the under-performing gubernatorial campaign of former Sen David Perdue, with incumbent Brian Kemp consistently polling well ahead.
Trump could be headed for a win in the GA Senate primary, though, having embraced the candidacy of former football star Herschel Walker, despite GOP concerns.
Early voting numbers in the state are already on course to set a new record.
Read previous primary-related post: God, Guns and Trump