Pennsylvania primaries test future direction of Republican Party

By Maeve Reston, CNN

Voters in five states voted in Tuesday’s primaries, but two GOP contests in Pennsylvania will offer the best glimpse into the future of the Republican Party with candidates who have denied the 2020 election results for Senate and governor. State.

And there is perhaps no primary state that has gone through a series of more unpredictable twists and turns in recent weeks – including a medical setback that kept Democratic front-runner in the Senate race, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, out. hospital since last week and a last-minute Covid-19 diagnosis that will keep state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is running unopposed for Democratic gubernatorial, off the track on election night.

The most watched race of the night is the Pennsylvania GOP Senate contest, which encapsulates the complex crosswinds facing the Republican Party as former President Donald Trump seeks a victory from his chosen nominee, famed physician Mehmet Oz, to cement his influence on the party in preparation for a possible White House bid in 2024.

Oz had been locked in a costly battle with former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick. But political commentator Kathy Barnette, who has drawn support from Trump supporters wary of Oz’s ideological shifts, has stunned the political world with a late push that has upended the race in recent weeks as she tries to become the first black Republican woman elected to the Senate. .

The contest to replace incumbent GOP Senator Pat Toomey, who may be Democrats’ best chance to flip a seat this fall, has drawn the most attention. This will not only test the potency of Trump’s endorsement by Oz, but also whether the MAGA movement he created begins to outrun him as candidates like Barnette claim that label even without the former president’s backing. In his latest effort to galvanize support for Oz, Trump has argued that Barnette is an unverified political unknown who could lead to a GOP loss in November.

“Winning that Senate seat is a must,” Trump said during a tele-rally for Oz on Monday night.

But Barnette, who argued in a debate that the MAGA label did not belong to Trump, did not hesitate to hit back. On Monday, she said she was able to “attract people that Donald Trump was unable to get” and claimed to be more eligible than him based on the results of her previous run for Congress, which she lost.

Barnette and State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who won a belated endorsement from Trump after he was already well positioned to win the gubernatorial nod, defended Trump’s lies that voter fraud was rampant during the 2020 presidential election.

Mastriano, who is seeking an office that would allow him to influence state voters in the 2024 presidential race, played a leading role in amplifying these false claims and spent more than $3,000 worth of his campaign account to charter buses to Washington before January. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the attack on the United States Capitol, according to state campaign finance records.

Immediately after the uprising, Mastriano condemned the violence in a video posted to Facebook, but video and images from the event show him near the Capitol, raising questions about his involvement.

Barnette attended the “Stop the Steal” rally before the Capitol riot, but a spokesperson said she did not enter the Capitol building. She did not participate in any destruction of property, her campaign told CNN.

Still, McCormick said Tuesday that Barnette had to answer questions about what she was doing on Jan. 6 after footage emerged on social media showing her walking to the Capitol that day: “The issues for our country and for the Republican Party to pick the right person, are really important,” he told reporters.

CNN’s KFile previously reported that Barnette had a history of bigoted statements against Muslims and the LGBTQ community and falsely propagated the conspiracy that former President Barack Obama was a Muslim.

Among Democrats vying for the Senate seat, Fetterman is widely seen as the frontrunner, even though U.S. Representative Conor Lamb, who is running with his more moderate credentials, presented himself as a more viable nominee in November. Fetterman’s campaign revealed on Sunday that he suffered a stroke last week, injecting a level of uncertainty into the race even as his campaign indicates he is heading for a full recovery.

North Carolina and Idaho

In addition to Pennsylvania, Trump has also endorsed key GOP contests in Idaho and North Carolina.

Rep. Ted Budd, whom Trump had endorsed, will win the GOP nomination to replace incumbent North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, CNN predicted on Tuesday.

Trump endorsed Budd nearly a year ago, but his candidacy took a long time to take off and he struggled to break away from former Gov. Pat McCrory and Rep. Mark Walker in the primary. The Club for Growth’s political action committee’s heavy spending ultimately spurred the conservative congressman, who backed the vote to reject election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania in January 2021.

Democrat Cheri Beasley, who was the first black woman to lead North Carolina’s Supreme Court as chief justice, will be the party’s Senate candidate in the state, CNN predicted on Tuesday. Her main rivals had dropped out of the primary before Tuesday.

Also in North Carolina, Trump has backed GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn through a series of recent scandals, even as GOP Senator Thom Tillis backed State Senator Chuck Edwards, one of Cawthorn’s top challengers. .

In Idaho, Trump backed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in his unusual bid to unseat Gov. Brad Little, but he did little to elevate his candidacy beyond his initial endorsement. McGeachin sought to raise his profile last year by issuing an executive order banning mask mandates when Little was out of state. Little then accused her of trying to deploy the state’s National Guard to the US-Mexico border while he was out of state visiting that area. Little repealed every change she sought while he was out of state, criticizing his maneuvers as political stunts.

A test for Biden too

Further west, Democrats are closely watching a House primary in Oregon’s newly drawn 5th congressional district, where Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader fends off a challenge to his left from Jamie McLeod- Skinner, which received a relatively modest boost from progressive outside groups, led by the Working Families Party.

Schrader, who was President Joe Biden’s first congressional endorsement in 2022, angered some of his fellow Democrats by voting against the US bailout, Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package and a measure from the President’s Build Back Better program to allow the government to negotiate the price of pharmaceutical drugs, which would significantly reduce prices.

Schrader pushed for an alternative provision and ultimately voted for the full bill, but not before joining a group of nine moderates in an effort to disassociate him from the bipartisan infrastructure bill – a tactical step that ultimately helped condemn Build Back Better, Biden’s potential signature legislation — in the Senate.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misinterpreted the potential historical significance of Barnette winning the Pennsylvania Senate seat. She would become the first black Republican woman elected to the Senate.

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Greg Krieg contributed to this story.