By Jarrett Renshaw and Joseph Ax PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) -Voters in Pennsylvania and North Carolina were picking nominees in critical U.S. Senate and gubernatorial contests on Tuesday, providing another test of former President Donald Trump’s sway with Republican voters ahead of this year’s midterm elections. President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats are fighting to retain their slim […]
Voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina test Trump’s influence in midterm primaries
By Jarrett Renshaw and Joseph Ax
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) -Voters in Pennsylvania and North Carolina were picking nominees in critical U.S. Senate and gubernatorial contests on Tuesday, providing another test of former President Donald Trump’s sway with Republican voters ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats are fighting to retain their slim majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in the Nov. 8 elections. Democrats in Pennsylvania and North Carolina are trying to win Senate seats currently held by Republicans.
The Pennsylvania Republican senatorial primary has turned into an unpredictable three-way battle in its final days after conservative political commentator Kathy Barnette surged into contention against two better-funded rivals: Trump-endorsed TV wellness celebrity Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund chief executive David McCormick.
Barnette’s rise has worried some establishment Republicans concerned that the right-wing activist could prove too conservative for general election voters choosing a successor to retiring Senator Pat Toomey.
A weekend opinion poll by the Trafalgar Group, a Republican firm, showed Oz leading Barnette 28.5% to 26.8%, within the margin of error, with McCormick trailing at 21.6%.
In the Democratic Senate primary, progressive Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has been well ahead of centrist U.S. Representative Conor Lamb in polls.
Fetterman has been confined to a hospital since suffering a stroke last week and said he has not sustained cognitive damage.
His campaign on Tuesday released a photo of him voting from his hospital bed and said he would have a pacemaker installed to address the irregular heart rhythms that caused the stroke.
Final results may not be known tonight. Pennsylvania officials said voters had requested 908,000 absentee or mail ballots, and state law prevents them from being processed until election day.
LARGE NUMBERS OF MAIL BALLOTS
In North Carolina, Trump-endorsed congressman Ted Budd leads former Governor Pat McCrory as they vie to succeed retiring Senator Richard Burr. Cheri Beasley, the first Black woman to serve as chief justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court, is expected to win the Democratic nomination.
Trump ally Madison Cawthorn, a first-term Republican congressman who has generated numerous controversies, hopes to fend off a challenge in the House primary.
Cawthorn, at 26 the House’s youngest member, is facing Republican state Senator Chuck Edwards. Cawthorn has turned some in his own party against him with a string of embarrassing episodes, including a claim that legislative leaders invited him to a cocaine-fueled orgy, two attempts to bring a gun onto a plane, and a old video that appeared to show a naked Cawthorn gyrating against someone.
More than 580,000 North Carolina voters had already cast their ballots in person or by mail, nearly twice as many as four years ago, according to figures provided by the state Board of Elections. Those voters returned slightly more Democratic than Republican ballots.
In Idaho, meanwhile, incumbent Republican Governor Brad Little faces Trump-backed primary challenger Janice McGeachin, the state’s lieutenant governor.
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 J.D. Vance win the Ohio Senate primary, but his favored candidate lost in Nebraska’s gubernatorial race last week.
STRUGGLE FOR SENATE
Republicans are well positioned to regain control of the House, which could enable them to frustrate Biden’s legislative agenda. 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.
Barnette, seeking to become Pennsylvania’s first Black U.S. senator, has called her rivals insufficiently conservative. She was photographed, according to news reports, marching toward the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, alongside members of the far-right Proud Boys group shortly before a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building in a failed bid to overturn his 2020 election loss.
Barnette’s campaign in a statement to NBC said she did not take part in or condone the destruction of property and has no connection to the Proud Boys.
Trump last week endorsed state Senator Doug Mastriano, who is leading the polls in Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial primary and was present outside the Capitol on the day of the riot.
Mastriano has also said he would pursue a statewide abortion ban. Abortion has become a flashpoint issue in the race since a leaked draft opinion showed the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
Some Pennsylvania Republicans view Mastriano, like Barnette, as too extreme to win a general election.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the front-runner in the Democratic primary, has vowed to protect abortion rights. Shapiro said on Tuesday that he was isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19.
Primary elections are also taking place in Kentucky and Oregon.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, Joseph Ax in New York and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Rosalba O’Brien)