The political sway of former U.S. President Donald Trump over Republican Party politics 16 months after he left office was tested again Tuesday as his preferred candidates face off with Republican opponents in party primaries in key states.
Five states held Republican and Democratic primaries, but political analysts paid particularly close attention to Trump’s fortunes in two states — Pennsylvania in the eastern U.S., which Trump lost in his reelection bid in 2020 after winning there in 2016, and the mid-Atlantic state of North Carolina, which Trump won in 2016 and two years ago.
In one key race in Pennsylvania, which was too close to call early Wednesday, Trump endorsed celebrity television doctor Mehmet Oz to be the party’s Senate candidate in the November election for a seat left open by the impending retirement of Republican Senator Pat Toomey.
Oz, who holds dual Turkish and American citizenship, would be the first Muslim U.S. senator. But he is facing stiff competition from David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive and undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs during former President George W. Bush’s administration, as well as from Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator and author who has surged in polling in the contest.
The Club for Growth, a national anti-tax group that has often aligned itself with Trump’s picks, pumped $2 million into a television ad campaign for Barnette, giving her a quick boost among Republican voters.
But Trump took notice, saying over the weekend that she “will never be able to win” the general election matchup against the Democratic nominee, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who calls himself “just a dude” as he campaigns in his favorite clothes — shorts and a hoodie.
At 6 feet, 8 inches tall, he stands out in any crowd. Fetterman halted his campaign several days ago when he suffered a stroke but says he suffered no cognitive impairment and is recovering. Fetterman won his Tuesday primary by a wide margin.
Trump, while attacking Barnette, contended that Oz “is the only one” who can defeat Fetterman.
In the race for Pennsylvania governor, Trump endorsed Republican state Senator Doug Mastriano, who easily defeated a crowded field of Republican candidates in Tuesday’s primary.
Mastriano, who has staunchly endorsed Trump’s false claims that vote fraud cost him another four-year term in the White House, was already leading in polling for the gubernatorial contest when Trump endorsed him.
But some Republican analysts have voiced fears that Mastriano’s views on the 2020 Trump defeat might prove to be too extreme in the November campaign against the Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Trump also endorsed a conservative firebrand supporter of his, Congressman Madison Cawthorn, whose reelection bid ended Tuesday with a loss to state Sen. Chuck Edwards in the Republican primary. Edwards will face Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara in November.
Cawthorn drew the ire of top Republican congressional officials and has been mired in a string of accusations, such as carrying a loaded gun into an airport check-in line, driving without a valid driver’s license and alleging without evidence that he had been invited to drug-infused sex orgies in Washington.
In still another state, sparsely populated Idaho in the western part of the country, Trump-endorsed Republican Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin lost a gubernatorial primary to incumbent Republican Governor Brad Little. Little will face Democrat Stephen Heidt in the general election.
McGeachin is perhaps best known for seizing on Little’s absences from the state to enact her own policy agenda — such as banning mask mandates in schools and public buildings during the height of the coronavirus pandemic — only to have her orders reversed by Little upon his return. She also supports Trump’s claim of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
In North Carolina, Trump nearly a year ago endorsed Congressman Ted Budd as the Republican Senate candidate to fill the seat being vacated by Republican Senator Richard Burr. Budd won Tuesday with about 59% of the vote, more than double his closest challenger. He will face Democrat Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court in November.