Five takeaways from the Pennsylvania, North Carolina primaries

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Key nominating contests in Pennsylvania and Oregon headed into Wednesday morning without any clear resolution.

But the May 17 primaries in five states offered some valuable clues about where both parties and their voters stand less than six months out from the 2022 midterm elections that will decide control of both chambers of Congress.

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s races.

Trump’s endorsement power remains in question

Tuesday’s primaries were a mixed bag for Trump.

His preferred candidate in North Carolina’s GOP Senate primary, Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), easily defeated former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) to clinch the party’s nomination. And in the state’s 13th congressional district, Trump’s endorsement helped propel former college football player Bo Hines to victory, despite the candidate’s questionable ties to the district.

But that’s about where the good news stopped for Trump.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), a staunch ally of the former president who received his endorsement last year, was denied a second term in Congress after losing to state Sen. Chuck Edwards in the GOP primary for North Carolina’s 11th District. Cawthorn faced numerous controversies that made him a pariah even among some in his own party.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, Trump’s endorsed candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nod, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, was soundly defeated by incumbent Gov. Brad Little.

And while the former president had hoped that his support would push celebrity physician Mehmet Oz across the finish line in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary, the race appears increasingly likely to head to a recount, with former hedge fund manager David McCormick holding his own.

Of course, there were other factors at work. In the North Carolina GOP Senate primary, for instance, Budd benefited heavily from the support of the conservative Club for Growth, which spent more than $11 million to boost him ahead of the primary.

And Cawthorn faced a series of damaging revelations and missteps ahead of his primary that may have simply been too much for Trump’s endorsement to overcome.

All that’s to say that Trump’s endorsement may not always be the ticket to victory that he wants it to be.

The GOP establishment bounces back 

In the midst of the fierce civil war between the GOP’s traditional and hardline flanks, Tuesday marked a key victory for the establishment.

In Pennsylvania, Oz maintained the narrowest of leads in the GOP Senate primary, with McCormick right on his tail, outpacing many late polls. Meanwhile, trailing about 6 points behind, is Barnette, a conservative commentator and firebrand who likely would have caused headaches for leadership if she made it to the upper chamber.

And in North Carolina, Cawthorn’s loss showed that there are limits to what voters will tolerate.

Cawthorn faced a wave of rebukes in recent months over comments he made suggesting fellow Republican lawmakers invited him to cocaine-fueled orgies; insider trading allegations; driving with an expired license; trying twice to bring a loaded gun through airport security; and more.

GOP leaders mobilized against Cawthorn, with Sen. Thom Tillis (R) making a stunning endorsement of Edwards.

And in Idaho, Little, a staunch conservative with a record of cutting taxes and restricting abortion access, fended off a challenge from his deputy, McGeachin. The latter had launched her primary challenge to Little after she said he should have banned mask and vaccine mandates. Little never imposed any mandates but allowed localities to make their own decisions.

The night wasn’t without any successes for GOP firebrands, however.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano did win the GOP nod in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race. But even that nomination came after Republican officials sought to head off his nomination over concerns his intense focus on unsubstantiated voter fraud claims from 2020 would hinder his electability.

Fetterman triumphs

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman had a victorious night on Tuesday, clinching the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania’s Senate race and capping off a campaign that saw him leading the primary field for nearly the entire race.

Fetterman fended off bids from Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, an unsurprising result given the lieutenant governor’s consistent, double-digit polling lead in the primary’s closing weeks.

Still, the nomination comes after months of speculation over Fetterman’s electability in a general election.

Fetterman has been pegged as a progressive, in part due to his support for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential bids and policies like a $15 minimum wage and marijuana legalization.

Some Democrats have voiced concern that that reputation could turn off swing voters in November. However, others suggest that his hulking six-foot-nine-inch frame, goatee and forearm tattoos could draw support from the kinds of blue-collar voters who have deserted Democrats in droves.

Just days before Election Day, Fetterman also suffered a stroke, throwing an 11th-hour curveball into the primary. However, Fetterman’s campaign quickly informed voters that he was anticipated to make a full recovery, and his win in every single Pennsylvania county hands him the chance to run for retiring Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R) seat.

Trumpism remains potent force 

Regardless of Trump’s record Tuesday evening, his broader impact on the party was still on display.

His influence was clearly seen in his endorsed candidates, particularly Mastriano, who has ardently taken up the former president’s rallying cry that the 2020 race was “stolen” from him.

But even candidates who missed out on Trump’s imprimatur ran on his agenda.

McCormick, who had vied for Trump’s support before Oz won the endorsement, still ran ads in the primary’s final stretch touting himself as an “America First” conservative and tying himself to Trump.

And in Idaho, Little still voiced support for Trump’s policies and emphasized during his campaign the positive working relationship the two had during the previous administration.

In the end, Tuesday’s primaries showed that even when Trump’s chosen candidate falls short, the victor is still taking pages out of the MAGA playbook.

Progressives have reason to be happy

Fetterman’s victory in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary may have been the highest-profile win for the party’s left flank on Tuesday. But progressives also saw a number of bright spots in down-ballot races, giving them reason for optimism after a series of disappointing defeats.

In the Democratic primary to represent Pennsylvania’s new 12th District, state Rep. Summer Lee is leading attorney Steve Irwin and appears on track to notch a win.

Lee has the backing of top progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and has been billed as a potential future member of the “Squad,” the group of left-wing lawmakers that includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.).

Similarly, in Oregon’s 5th District, moderate Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) appears to be in real trouble in his bid against progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who has also racked up endorsements from top progressive groups and labor unions.

To be sure, progressives suffered some disappointments, as well. Nida Allam, who carried the endorsements of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, lost a Democratic House primary in North Carolina’s 4th District, while former state Sen. Erica Smith lost a primary for another North Carolina House seat to state Sen. Don Davis, handing progressives a defeat.

Still, the Democratic Party’s left flank has some wins to celebrate, especially after a long streak of lackluster performances.

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