Pennsylvania’s Senate GOP primary race Tuesday features a tight three-way battle between two wealthy candidates who fiercely batttled for Trump’s endorsement and a further right candidate who has been described as “ultra-MAGA.” It’s one of several closely watched races Tuesday, which will finalize general election matchups in two major battleground Senate races: North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Idaho, Kentucky and Oregon are also holding primaries that are the next tests of former President Trump’s influence over Republican primary voters. Tuesday’s voting is also expected to provide insights into the direction Democratic candidates will be taking in the general election campaign before November.
Here are the key races to watch:
Republican Senate primary
Pennsylvania has one of the hottest Senate races this fall. Republican Senator Pat Toomey is retiring and Democrats are hoping they can flip the seat.
The Republican primary has been incredibly expensive, with two headlining candidates worth tens of millions of dollars, and a more extreme candidate who has less money but has been surging in the final stretch of the race.
Television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick have spent millions attacking each other on television. Oz has hit McCormick over his business dealings in China. McCormick has alleged that Oz isn’t a true conservative, based on his past statements about issues like abortion. Both men have been criticized by their opponents for only recently returning to Pennsylvania.
They entered the race after Sean Parnell, the candidate who first won Trump’s endorsement for the Senate seat,.
Trump endorsed Oz in April and came to Pennsylvania for a rally on March 6, where Trump called McCormick a “liberal Wall Street Republican.”
“He may be a nice guy, but he’s not MAGA,” Trump said at the rally. “He is absolutely the candidate of special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment.”
Oz has used that rally in some of his advertising to remind voters that he’s Trump’s chosen candidate. In his final debate remarks, Oz said Trump picked him because “he felt I was the most capable of doing what we have to do as a party: carry populations that have forgotten about us.”
After losing Pennsylvania’s Trump endorsement sweepstakes, McCormick released an ad featuring Fox News host Laura Ingraham saying “it was a mistake (for Trump) to endorse Oz.” But in a sign that McCormick understands Trump’s influence, another ad featured a clip of Trump complimenting McCormick, followed by photos of the two men together. In his pitch to voters at the last debate, McCormick highlighted his childhood roots in Pennsylvania and said he’s been “‘America first’ my entire life.”
McCormick and other opponents have slammed Oz over past comments he made about abortion, including a 2019 interview with The Breakfast Club, when he said he was “really worried about” an Alabama law that amounted to a near-total abortion ban.
In that interview, Oz said a fetus has “electrical changes at six weeks, but the heart’s not beating.” He also said that he wouldn’t “want anyone in my family to have an abortion,” but added, “I don’t want to interfere with everyone else’s stuff.”
When pressed about his past statements on abortion at a recent debate, Oz said he’s proud to have an endorsement from his mother-in-law, who is an ordained minister. He added that she “certainly understands that I’m pro-life.” He recounted operating on newborns and said, “I would never think of harming that child or nine months earlier because life starts at conception.”
Oz’s Turkish citizenship was also a flashpoint at multiple points during the campaign, but he said in March that he would.
While the bitter battle between Oz and McCormick raged, Kathy Barnette, a conservative who former top Trump aide Steve Bannon characterized as “ultra-MAGA,” and who has spent months criss-crossing the state, has been ascending in the polls, and she nowfindes herself in the top tier of the race.
A Fox News poll released last week showed Oz, McCormick and Barnette in a statistical three-way tie. Oz led the field with 22%, followed by McCormick at 20% and Barnette at 19% and 18% undecided. Real estate developer Jeff Bartos and former Trump Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands are also in the race. An Emerson poll released on Sunday showed Oz leading with 28% followed by Barnette at 24% and McCormick at 21%.
Barnette has raised $1.8 million during the primary campaign, a fraction of the $11 million that McCormick and $12 million that Oz have poured into their campaigns. But she also received a boost last week from the Club for Growth, which placed at least $2 million in advertisements backing her, according to AdImpact.
Trump on Thursday issued a statement urging Pennsylvanians not to vote for Barnette, an indication that candidates are taking her rise seriously.
“Dr. Oz is the only one who will be able to easily defeat the Crazed, Lunatic Democrat in Pennsylvania,” Trump said. “A vote for anyone else in the Primary is a vote against Victory in the Fall!”
Barnette has not shied away from attacking Oz and McCormick when the candidates have shared a stage. When Oz asked at a forum “why is everyone attacking me?” Barnette exclaimed “because you’re a liberal.” At a debate in May she called both men “globalists.”
And although Trump endorsed Oz, Barnette said at an April debate that Trump doesn’t have a monopoly on the MAGA movement. Thirty-seven percent of respondents in that Fox News poll said Trump’s endorsement made them more supportive of Oz, while the same percentage said it had no effect on them.
“MAGA does not belong to President Trump,” Barnette said. “MAGA belongs to the people. Our values never shifted to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values.”
Barnette’s social media posts indicate she has held extremist views — she has attacked Islam and said that the religion “should be banned” in the U.S., and she has also falsely claimed in a number of tweets that former President Obama is Muslim. Barnette has also expressed antipathy toward LGBTQ people, saying in 2015, “Two men sleeping together, two men holding hands, two men caressing, that is not normal,” according to reporting by CNN’s KFile.
She held a rally Saturday with leading GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. Reporters, including CBS News’ Robert Costa, were banned from attending by guards, with no explanation from either campaign.
Both McCormick and Oz have warned that Barnette could be a risky bet for the party in November.
“She was tested in the last 24 months in a congressional seat, but she lost by 20 points,” McCormick told CBS News after an event in Lititz, Pennsylvania, on Friday. “And everywhere I go, the voters are zeroed in on key questions. Who shares my conservative values? Who can win this general election?”
“Every time she answers a question, she raises a bunch more questions,” Oz told CBS News. “She’s not transparent about so many aspects of her basic biography.”
Democratic Senate primary
Pennsylvania is one of the only battleground Senate races that has a competitive primary on the Democratic side. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has been the frontrunner for much of the race against Representative Conor Lamb and state Representative Malcolm Kenyatta.
Fetterman said Sunday that he is recovering after suffering a stroke on Friday. Fetterman tweeted a statement saying doctors were able to remove the clot, reversing the stroke and “got my heart under control.” He said doctors told him he didn’t suffer any cognitive damage.
Fetterman, who supported Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid in 2016, refutes critics who say he’s too progressive to win the general election in November. He supports a $15-per-hour minimum wage, bashes the filibuster and wants to lower the Medicare eligibility age and add vision, dental and hearing coverage.
Fetterman says he considers healthcare to be a human right. At a recent debate, Lamb asked Fetterman whether he supports “Medicare for All.”
“I support healthcare as a basic fundamental human right,” Fetterman responded. “I support whatever means gets us there, whether that’s the Affordable Care Act, whether that’s the public option, whether that’s Medicare for All.”
Lamb has argued that Fetterman has taken positions that are out of line with key swing voters in Pennsylvania. He says his experience winning three difficult House races proves he’s the most electable candidate.
“I’m the only one standing in front of you tonight who has ever beaten a Republican in a head-to-head situation like this,” Lamb said at an April debate.
Fetterman has brushed aside some of those concerns — at the same debate, he countered, “I’m the only candidate on this stage or on the Republican side who has won a statewide election.”
The race has also revived a The jogger said Fetterman pointed the gun at him, but Fetterman denies it.when Fetterman, as mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, grabbed a shotgun and chased down a man after what he thought was a shooting. The person turned out to be an innocent Black jogger.
Kenyatta has asked Fetterman to apologize for his role in that incident. On the debate stage, Fetterman said that the people of Braddock knew his character and chose to reelect him after that happened. It was not exactly a high-turnout race —he received 186 votes in the primary election.
Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf is term-limited, creating an open seat that Republicans are hoping to flip to help them tighten their grip on power in Harrisburg.
The Republican field is crowded. A Fox News poll released last week found state Senator Doug Mastriano, who has resonated with base Republican voters and was endorsed by Trump, leading the field with 29%. He was followed by former Representative Lou Barletta (17%), former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain (13%) and businessman Dave White (11%).
That poll, along with a public poll from the Trafalgar Group and other private polling, raised concerns among some establishment Republicans that Mastriano could be a headache for Republicans in November if he’s the nominee.
Mastriano was a loyal supporter of Trump’s 2020 campaign and a vocal opponent of COVID restrictions and mandates, giving him credibility with base Republicans.
After the election, Mastriano organized a hearing in Gettysburg that featured unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud. He was subpoenaed in February by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol. The committee said it wanted information from Mastriano about a plan to “arrange for an alternate slate of electors” and his public statements that suggested he was “present during the attack on the U.S. Capitol.”
In a debate last month, Mastriano defended.
“I was there to hear my president speak and then I was invited to speak at two locations, exercising my constitutional rights and shame on the media and the Democrats for painting anyone down there as a villain,” Mastriano said. “Condemning all of those people that did nothing wrong, that’s an injustice to our freedom.”
Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman dropped out of the race on Thursday and threw his support behind Barletta, saying in a statement, “the time has come for me to show leadership and support someone who can win in November.”
Another top Republican in the state Senate, floor leader Kim Ward, backed White last Monday.
“Senator Mastriano has appeal to base Republicans but I fear the Democrats will destroy him with swing voters,” she said in a statement on Facebook. “The goal isn’t to win the primary. Winning the primary and losing the general because the candidate is unable to get the voters in the middle, isn’t a win.”
Mastriano brushes off these concerns, telling WHTM last week that “it helps” his campaign.
“In the end, it confirms so many people’s suspicions that there is a political establishment that tries to pick winners and losers,” Mastriano said. “Sadly, in the Republican establishment, they tend to pick losers.”
Trump endorsed Mastriano days before the primary, citing his support for Trump’s baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“He has revealed the Deceit, Corruption, and outright Theft of the 2020 Presidential Election, and will do something about it,” Trump wrote in his statement. “He is a fighter like few others, and has been with me right from the beginning, and now I have an obligation to be with him.”
Former Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino, who was an early supporter of Trump in 2016 and has backed Barletta in the primary, criticized Trump’s endorsement of Mastriano.
“Where in the hell is the loyalty?” he said according to a video obtained by The New York Times. “I am very disappointed in the former president, because apparently the loyalty doesn’t go as far as he says his loyalty does.”
On the issues, the candidates share similar views, including expanding Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry, eliminating the state’s no-excuse mail-in voting law and adding new restrictions on abortion. Barletta and McSwain said at a recent debate that they would allow exceptions for abortion in the case of rape, incest or the mother’s health. Mastriano and White said they would not.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is running unopposed for his party’s nomination. He has campaigned on keeping the veto pen in Democratic hands to block attempts to restrict abortion or roll back voting access.
Representative Ted Budd was the first non-incumbent Senate Republican who Trump endorsed. The former president made the surprise announcement inin June 2021. During that event, Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump said that she wouldn’t run for the state’s Senate seat.
Budd is running against former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and former Representative Mark Walker. The race had appeared to be relatively close between Budd and McCrory, but recent polling from Emerson and Trafalgar showed Budd up by more than 20 points over the former governor.
Trump went to North Carolina to rally for Budd in April, calling him “an unrelenting champion for your North Carolina values and for America First.” In early March, when polling was closer,at a Republican National Committee retreat that he wanted to get Walker “out of that race.”
Democrats are expected to nominate former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. Her most credible opponents dropped out of the race as the campaign progressed.
Beasley lost her bid to stay on the state Supreme Court in November 2020 by 401 votes. Democrats hope she has a shot at picking up the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Senator Richard Burr.
Trump won North Carolina in 2020 by 1.3 points. Cook Political Report rates it lean Republican.
Idaho’s Republican gubernatorial primary features an intriguing matchup between the state’s incumbent Governor Brad Little and Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, who has Trump’s endorsement and is running to the right of Little. Several other candidates are also in the race.
The two have been at odds over the past year. On two separate occasions, while Little was out of the state, McGeachin issued COVID-related executive orders. In Idaho, when the governor leaves the state, the lieutenant governor serves as acting governor and can issue executive orders.
Last May, McGeachin issued an executive order banning mask mandates in schools and public buildings. Little repealed the order about 24 hours later, calling it an “irresponsible, self-serving political stunt,” according to the Associated Press.
When Little traveled to Texas in October, McGeachin signed an executive order related to preventing businesses from requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. When he returned, Little rescinded that order, too, saying McGeachin had acted “without legal authority.”
McGeachin has falsely claimed that the 2020 election was stolen. She has also said that she wants to ban vaccine and mask mandates and expand Second Amendment protections.
Little never issued a statewide mask or vaccine requirement but did have a temporary stay-at-home order in the early days of the pandemic. He has pushed back against some of the Biden administration’s COVID-related policies and touted cutting taxes and regulations.