What did the May primaries teach us about the future of the US Senate?

WASHINGTON – The May primaries offered glimpses of what the next Senate could look like – including a potentially "Trumpier" Republican class.

Many of the new crop of Republican candidates have strong ties to former President Donald Trump and his brand of politics, crediting him for their success.

Because the Senate is split 50-50 – Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote giving Democrats the majority – a gain or loss of even one seat could flip control of the chamber and decide the fate of the next two years of the Biden administration.

Experienced Republicans retiring

Two Senate primaries remain unfinished: In Pennsylvania, the race will go to a recount because the candidates are separated by less than 1,000 votes. In Alabama, the primary will go to a runoff in June after none of the candidates won more than 50% of the vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hopes to reclaim the helm as majority leader come November, but the new Republicans joining the conference could differ greatly from their predecessors.

"McConnell is losing allies, and it'll be a harder caucus to control," said Michele Swers, a professor of American government at Georgetown University.

Pa. GOP Senate primary: Why Oz and McCormick race may not be decided before June

Four May primaries were to replace retiring Republican members with extensive experience – some of whom serve as the top ranking Republicans on powerful Senate committees.

"The people that you're looking at that are retiring are people who are more oriented toward making deals, compromises. There's a lot to legislating beyond just voting," Swers said.

In Alabama, Sen. Richard Shelby will retire after 35 years in the chamber and his current stint as the ranking member on the Committee on Appropriations.

The dean of North Carolina's congressional delegation, Sen. Richard Burr, was elected to the Senate in 2004. Burr previously chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee and serves as the top member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

In Ohio, two-term Sen. Rob Portman will retire after a dozen years in the Senate and a lengthy career in the House and as the U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget.

In Pennsylvania, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee chair Pat Toomey will retire after two terms in the Senate and three terms in the House.

Burr and Toomey voted to convict Trump during his impeachment over the Capitol insurrection by his supporters Jan. 6. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is the only other Republican senator who voted to convict Trump in the second impeachment who is up for reelection this cycle.

A tamer Trump? McConnell confident GOP can retake Senate with 'restrained' former president

"I think one of the things that ties all these people together is they've all been stalwart in defending the institution of the Senate and the things that make the Senate, the Senate," GOP political strategist Scott Jennings told USA TODAY.

"What you hope is that those people who follow them ... take up that mantle," said Jennings, a former adviser to McConnell. "McConnell, I think, has really rallied the conference – as disparate as it is at times — around some of those core issues."


Republican Katie Britt campaigns in Cullman, Ala., on May 23 before the U.S. Senate primary. Britt seeks the GOP nomination for the seat that will be vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby.

Former Business Council of Alabama President Katie Britt and Rep. Mo Brooks emerged from the Republican primary May 24. Both failed to receive a majority of votes, setting the stage for a runoff election in June. Given the partisan lean of the Yellowhammer State, whoever wins the runoff is likely to easily win election in November and join the Senate Republican conference.

Britt would replace her former boss Shelby, who announced in February that he would retire at the end of his sixth term in the Senate. Britt was Shelby's chief of staff.

Shelby endorsed Britt in the race and backed her financially. Britt's other financial backers include potential Senate allies: Mike Crapo of Idaho, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Deb Fischer of Nebraska. Alabama's other senator, Republican Tommy Tuberville, attended a fundraiser for Britt, as did Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with McConnell, spent in the primary in support of Britt.

"She's very smart, worked for me for years, a solid person," Shelby told USA TODAY. "She'd fit right in, she'd be a strong Republican woman."

There are 24 women serving in the Senate, eight of them Republicans.

Britt was the more establishment candidate in the race, having strong business ties in Alabama. She could cut a path similar to her predecessor's in the Senate as a McConnell friend and ally. She has also tied herself to Trump, highlighting her work for Shelby in Congress on Trump policies such as funding a border wall and confirming Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., addresses a rally on Jan. 6, 2021, when supporters of President Donald Trump gathered to protest the results of the presidential election.

Trump initially endorsed Brooks, who spoke ahead of Trump at a rally Jan. 6 in Washington before Trump supporters angry over the election loss attacked the Capitol. Trump backtracked on his endorsement in March, citing Brooks encouraging a crowd to put the 2020 election behind them as one of the reasons he no longer supported the congressman.

Brooks billed himself as "MAGA Mo" and continued to run as the Trump candidate in the race, despite losing the endorsement.

Brooks made firing McConnell a central theme of his campaign and accused the GOP leader of manipulating Trump against him.

“It's likely Mitch McConnell is going to be the Republican leader and hopefully the majority leader, and so what Mo Brooks is essentially saying is, ‘I don't want Alabama to be anywhere near the center of power in Washington,’” Jennings said.

Though Brooks could have a hard time working with McConnell and GOP leaders, two endorsers could serve as Senate allies: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Brooks was also endorsed by fellow Reps. Barry Moore of Alabama and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, as well as Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.


Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, right, signs a soda bottle commemorating the 1980 football championship he won with the University of Georgia for Peter Bagarella, of Ellerslie, Ga., after a speech at Muscogee County GOP headquarters in Columbus, Ga.

The Georgia Senate election – ranked a "toss-up" by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report – is poised to be one of the most competitive races in the country.

Former NFL running back Herschel Walker easily won the GOP nomination for the seat May 24 and will face Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in November.

Warnock was elected in 2020 to serve out the rest of former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson's term, meaning he must run for a full term this cycle.

Warnock made history as Georgia's first Black senator when he was elected to the post, and Walker's primary win ensures that there will continue to be at least three Black senators, regardless of which candidate wins the race.

Who is Herschel Walker? The former football star runs for Senate in Georgia as a Republican.

Walker was an early backer of Trump's presidential campaign and remains an ally of the former president. He is one of the rare Republicans running this cycle with early support from both Trump and McConnell. That unity is key if Republicans hope to win the seat after losing both Senate runoffs in the state two years ago.

Walker has been endorsed by 14 sitting Republican senators who would serve as colleagues on the Hill, including leaders such as Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso of Wyoming.

"If McConnell is backing him and is providing him with advice and things like this, it will depend on if Herschel Walker feels he owes more to him or he owes more to Donald Trump, what he wants to do and where he wants to be at the conference," Swers said, drawing a possible comparison between Walker and Tuberville, the former Auburn University football coach.

Despite Walker's wide support within the GOP caucus, his campaign has been marred by controversy. Walker's ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, told CNN that he held a razor to her throat and held a gun to her head, and two other women said Walker threatened them.

More: As Herschel Walker considers US Senate run in Georgia, a turbulent past emerges

North Carolina

Rep. Ted Budd captured the GOP nomination in the race to replace retiring Burr, with the support of Trump.

Budd was the first nonincumbent endorsed by Trump before the midterms, an endorsement that The Washington Post reported was urged by the Club for Growth – which has since split from Trump in Senate endorsements.

Budd is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and objected to certifying the 2020 election results – unlike Burr, who voted to certify. Budd would probably be a Trump ally in the Senate and credited the former president's support in a statement celebrating his primary victory.

"I never wavered from his America First Agenda because I know it’s the best thing for the working families of North Carolina," Budd said of Trump.

North Carolina: Budd takes Republican Senate nomination, while Democrat Beasley wins easily

"I do think he can fit in a world with Mitch McConnell's leadership team and that that regime I see him in particular is somebody who really, who really can be a unifier in the conference," Jennings said of Budd.

Budd will face former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley in the election in November. If elected, Beasley would be the first Black senator to represent North Carolina and could be the only Black woman to serve in the chamber.


J.D. Vance, venture capitalist and author of "Hillbilly Elegy," addresses a rally July 1, 2021, in Middletown, Ohio.

J.D. Vance won the Republican nomination for Senate in the Buckeye State, fueled by a Trump endorsement.

Ohio: Donald Trump won Ohio for J.D. Vance. Can he score victories in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia?

"I think he'll be a great addition to the conference," Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told USA TODAY. Hawley endorsed Vance in the primary.

"He's going to be an important voice on foreign policy. I think he's going to be a unique voice in the Senate," Hawley said.

Vance opposed Congress' large aid package to Ukraine, a stark break from many in the Republican caucus and his could-be predecessor, Portman, who is co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus and has been at the forefront of the push to help Ukraine since Russia invaded.

Vance said he does not care what happens in Ukraine.

Vance won the endorsement of firebrand House Republicans Matt Gaetz of Florida and Greene of Georgia.

The "Hillbilly Elegy" author was a Trump critic but has since strongly embraced the former president and larger Trump agenda. Vance joined Senate Republicans for their conference lunch last week and did not respond to reporter questions about whether he would support McConnell as leader.

Ohio leans Republican. In November, Vance will face Rep. Tim Ryan, a moderate Democrat who ran for president in 2020.


The race between Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidates David McCormick, left, and Mehmet Oz resulted in a recount.

Trump-backed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick are locked in a recount because the results were so close.

Both men are newcomers to the state and to politics, and they have massive amounts of money to self-fund their campaigns.

Celebrities? Outsiders? Oz, Fetterman (and Trump) put fame to the test in Pennsylvania primary

Oz leads the count. He was endorsed by Vance in Ohio and GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. If Oz prevails and wins in November, he would be the first Muslim senator.

Some Republicans argue Oz is not socially conservative enough. McCormick portrayed himself as the Trump candidate in the race despite not receiving an endorsement – his wife worked in the Trump administration, and he garnered the support of several Trump allies.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman won a resounding victory in every county, cinching the nomination.

Who is John Fetterman? The Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania Senate

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., endorsed Fetterman's lieutenant governor bid, and Fetterman endorsed Sanders' far-left presidential campaign in 2016. But Fetterman has shied away from comparisons or identifying as a progressive, despite backing policies such as raising the federal minimum wage and legalizing marijuana. Fetterman supports abolishing the legislative filibuster and vowed to "NOT be a Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema-type senator."

Manchin of West Virginia and Sinema of Arizona broke from the Democratic Party's support ofn President Joe Biden's social spending agenda, saying the legislation would be too expensive.

Contributing: Ledyard King

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: May primaries show shape of next Senate class