Two key Trump-backed candidates win US midterm election primaries

Former Republican president endorses more than 150 candidates as he tries to solidify his status as his party's kingmaker

By Reuters

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Doug Mastriano. (Reuters file)
Doug Mastriano. (Reuters file)

Published: Wed 18 May 2022, 7:35 AM

Republican candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump won their party's nod to run for the US Senate in North Carolina and for governor in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, key races that will help shape the November midterm elections.

Pennsylvania state Senator Doug Mastriano, who has amplified Trump's false claims of 2020 voter fraud, will face Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a high-profile governor's race.

In Pennsylvania's US Senate race, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman won the Democratic nomination despite having been hospitalised since Friday after suffering a stroke.

Fetterman, a progressive Democrat whose victory over centrist US congressman Conor Lamb came just hours after he had a pacemaker implanted to address the irregular heart rhythms that caused the stroke, has said doctors expect a full recovery.

His Republican opponent remains to be decided, with TV wellness celebrity Mehmet Oz - endorsed by Trump - essentially deadlocked with former hedge fund executive David McCormick with just under two-thirds of the vote counted, according to Edison Research. Conservative political commentator Kathy Barnette, who polls suggested made a late surge into contention, was in third place.

"If you'll allow me to be brutally honest for a second, 2022 is going to be hard year for Democrats," the tattooed, goateed Fetterman, who prefers shorts and hoodies to suits, said in an fundraising email to supporters. "A typical Democrat running a typical campaign isn't going to win."

In North Carolina, US congressman Madison Cawthorn, backed by Trump, conceded defeat to a rival Republican in a closely watched primary after a series of scandals, according to media reports. Another Trump-endorsed candidate, US Representative Ted Budd, won the state's Republican US Senate nomination.

The Pennsylvania and North Carolina Senate races are two of the most important contests in the November 8 elections, as President Joe Biden's fellow Democrats fight to retain their slim majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. Both seats are currently held by retiring Republican senators.

Budd, who beat former Governor Pat McCrory, will face Democratic former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who handily won her party's nomination in the race to succeed Senator Richard Burr.

Cawthorn, a staunch Trump ally who at age 26 is the youngest member of the House, acknowledged his loss to Senator Chuck Edwards late on Tuesday. Cawthorn drew criticism from fellow Republicans after a string of embarrassing episodes, including attempting twice to bring a gun onto a plane and having a video surface that showed him nude and gyrating against someone. 


Republicans are well positioned to regain control of the House, which could enable them to frustrate Biden's legislative agenda. Biden's public approval rating is at 42 per cent, with 50 per cent of Americans disapproving of his performance, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll completed on Tuesday.

Democrats have a better chance of keeping control of the Senate, currently split 50-50 between the parties with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote. 

In Pennsylvania, Trump endorsed Mastriano, whose rise worried some establishment Republicans that he could prove too extreme for voters in the general election.

Mastriano was present outside the US Capitol when Trump supporters attacked it on January 6, 2021. He also played a significant role in the Trump campaign's failed effort to overturn Pennsylvania's 2020 presidential results based on false claims of voter fraud.

Mastriano has said he would pursue a statewide abortion ban after a leaked draft opinion showed the Supreme Court is poised to overturn its landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

Shapiro, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination, has vowed to protect abortion rights. He said on Tuesday that he was isolating at home after testing positive for Covid-19.

Barnette, seeking to become Pennsylvania's first Black US senator, was photographed marching toward the Capitol on the day of the riot alongside members of the extremist Proud Boys group shortly before a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building in a failed bid to overturn his 2020 election loss.

The final outcome of the Pennsylvania Republican US Senate primary may not be known Tuesday night. Officials said voters requested 908,000 absentee or mail-in ballots. State law prevents these from being processed until Election Day.

Trump has endorsed more than 150 candidates as he tries to solidify his status as his party's kingmaker, though his picks have not always prevailed. His support helped author JD Vance win the Ohio Senate primary, but his favoured candidate lost in Nebraska's gubernatorial race last week. 

Primary elections were also taking place on Tuesday in Kentucky, Oregon and Idaho, where incumbent Republican Governor Brad Little faced Trump-backed primary challenger Janice McGeachin, the state's lieutenant governor.

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