HARRISBURG, Pa. — Donald Trump’s preferred nominee in the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary was essentially tied with a more traditional rival, while his pick for governor won a resounding victory on Tuesday as the former president worked to build his hold on the GOP to expand
Doug Mastriano was already in the running for governor when Trump issued confirmation in support of the far-right state senator over the weekend. But Mehmet Oz, the Trump-backed famed heart surgeon, was embroiled in a race with former hedge fund manager David McCormick that was too early to call Wednesday morning.
Pennsylvania law requires recounts when the gap between the top two candidates is 0.5 percentage points or less. With just a few hundred votes separating Oz and McCormick, the outcome may not be clear for several days.
Tuesday was the busiest night of the beginning season, with competitions also taking place in North Carolina, Kentucky, Oregon and Idaho. Both parties are picking candidates for the fall general election, when control of Congress, governor’s mansions and key electoral posts are at stake.
On the eternal battlefield of Pennsylvania, Mastriano’s win was notable for what it signaled about the GOP’s direction. With the future of abortion rights at the US Supreme Court in question, Mastriano has said he supports banning the procedure from conception, with no exceptions.
He has also promoted Trump’s lies about non-existent widespread voter fraud that cost him the 2020 election and was outside the US Capitol when a mob overran it during the deadly 2021 riot. He was also subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Capitol riot after he tried to nominate a number of alternate electoral college electors in Trump’s favor.
If Mastriano were to win in the fall, he would shape the conduct of elections in Pennsylvania — where the governor appoints the secretary of state who oversees the conduct of the election. He has pledged to take the extraordinary step of requiring voters to “re-register” to vote, a move that would almost certainly face legal hurdles.
Such positions could deter critical moderate voters in the general election. But speaking to his supporters on Tuesday, Mastriano denied being an extremist.
“They like to call people who are on the Constitution, far right and extreme. I refuse. That’s crap. That’s absolutely not true,” Mastriano said, adding that it was the Democrats who had “gone extreme.”
That rhetoric appealed to some Republican voters. In the city of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, Stacy Steinly, a 51-year-old school bus assistant, said she chose Mastriano because “he stood by President Trump and said everything was fraudulent.”
“Everything he talked about made sense,” said Steinly, who wore a black T-shirt that read, “Biden is not my president (or anyone else’s) based on legal votes.”
Mastriano, a retired Army colonel, will run against Democratic Republic of Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who was unopposed in his primary.
Trump scored an easier win early in the night as US Rep. Ted Budd secured the GOP Senate nomination in North Carolina. Trump’s surprise endorsement last year lifted Budd, a little-known congressman, above better-known rivals, including a former governor. He quickly turned to a general election message focused on breaking Democratic control of Washington.
Budd voted against confirming the results of the 2020 election. He meets Cheri Beasley, a former Democratic Supreme Court Justice who aspires to become North Carolina’s first black senator. She declared at a victory party that “this is our moment”.
“We have the power to give our values back to our administration in Washington,” she said. “Right now, we have the power to protect our rights.”
In another of the night’s closely watched races, progressive John Fetterman easily won the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary just days after a stroke sent him to the hospital.
Fetterman, 52, is known for his bulky 6ft 8 stature and tattoos, which helped him build a political figure as an outsider. This, coupled with his support for the most progressive causes such as universal, federally funded health care, was key in allowing his Democratic rival, US Rep. Conor Lamb, a moderate in the mold of President Joe Biden, to be easily elected.
“Fetterman’s victory shows voters are fed up and want fighters. This should be a wake-up call to the entire Democratic Party establishment to fight harder against fascists and those who obstruct a popular agenda,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in a statement.
Fetterman’s win was positive for Progressives after a string of losses at top races across the country. But Biden downplayed any coming infighting between his party’s left flank and the traditional establishment, tweeting that electing Fetterman to the Senate “would be a huge step forward for working people in Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Fetterman could enter the general election campaign with questions about his health. Giving an emergency voice-over at the hospital following his stroke, he tweeted on Tuesday that he had successfully undergone surgery to install a pacemaker. He said he is “on the road to a full recovery.”
And Fetterman is likely under scrutiny over a 2013 incident when he confronted a black man with a shotgun in hand, suspecting the man was involved in gunfire nearby. The man, Christopher Miyares, was unarmed and said in a TV interview he was jogging when Fetterman, who is white, pulled over with his pickup truck and pointed the shotgun at him. Fetterman claimed he was unaware of Miyares’ race at the time of the pursuit, denied pointing the shotgun at him and said it was unloaded.
Fetterman’s opponent in the fall was not yet clear. Oz, the famous surgeon, and McCormick, who stepped down as CEO of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, in January, had an exceptionally close race. Commentator Kathy Barnette, who seemed to have picked up speed late in the race, was behind.
“We’re not going to have a result tonight,” Oz said just before midnight, before vowing to Trump, “I’ll make you proud.”
McCormick struck a similar note, saying the mail-in ballots hadn’t been counted yet: “We won’t have a solution tonight.”
Barnette, on the other hand, may have blunted her rise to fame from Trump’s criticism. In a statement ahead of the election, he said, “Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the general election against the radical left Democrats.”
Elsewhere, there was a setback for Trump when incumbent Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, dogged by a series of high-profile errors, lost to Sen. Chuck Edwards. Trump posted this week that Cawthorn “made some stupid mistakes I don’t think he’ll make again,” adding, “Let’s give Madison a second chance!”
Janice McGeachin, Idaho’s lieutenant governor, whose attempt to unseat Governor Brad Little in that state’s Republican primary was backed by Trump, also faltered.
Trump-backed candidates have won the most Republican primaries in the US, but the former president’s record isn’t perfect. In addition to Tuesday’s losses, Trump’s pick for Nebraska governor Charles Herbster lost to the traditional GOP establishment pick Jim Pillen last week.
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam contributed from Hamburg, Pennsylvania.