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Far-right Republicans head to midterms after primary victories

Kentucky, North Carolina and Pennsylvania all offered a taste of what’s to come in November.

By Emily Tamkin

WASHINGTON DC – A handful of states went to the polls for primary elections on Tuesday (17 May). Several will have a particular impact on November’s midterm elections – and offer insights into the immediate future of both parties and, consequently, the country.

In Kentucky, the Democrat Charles Booker – who in 2020 lost a primary to Amy McGrath, who in turn lost to Mitch McConnell – will face the Republican and self-professed libertarian Rand Paul for a Senate seat.

In North Carolina, one of the most closely watched candidates was Madison Cawthorn, a far-right 26-year-old congressman who spoke out vehemently against certifying 2020’s presidential election results. Cawthorn, who was seeking re-election, made one incendiary comment after another, butting heads with more established Republican lawmakers. He also made allegations about Republican coke-fuelled orgies in Washington DC. He was then the subject of extensive opposition research – much of it reportedly leaked by his fellow Republicans – that implied Cawthorn, who has a history of making homophobic statements, was gay.

He lost his primary race to Chuck Edwards, a member of North Carolina’s state senate. But there are more where Cawthorn came from: Sandy Smith, another self-identified Make-America-Great-Again Republican running in a primary to contest a congressional seat in North Carolina, was endorsed by him. Two ex-husbands accused her of spousal abuse and she is alleged to have run financial scams. She won her primary, as did Bo Hines, another Cawthorn endorsee.

The Trump-endorsed Ted Budd will be the Republican Senate candidate in North Carolina; he will face off against the Democrat Cheri Beasley, the state’s former chief justice. She was able to capture support from rural areas and white suburban voters; Democrats hope this will hold in November.

[See also: The Democrats are in power, so why are they so powerless?]

In Pennsylvania, Democratic candidates to make it through – the state attorney general Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed for the gubernatorial nomination, and the lieutenant governor John Fetterman, who won a competitive race to be the Democratic candidate in the Senate race – both played prominent roles in making sure the state’s votes were counted and considered legitimate in the 2020 presidential election. Both will likely play up those roles in the general.

That’s because of who their opponents will be. The Republican Senate primary appears to be heading to a recount, with David McCormick, a finance executive, facing off once more against Mehmet “Dr” Oz, a daytime television star whom Trump endorsed. Trump called McCormick “the candidate of special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment” and accused him of “ripping off the United States with bad trade deals and open borders”. A recount will determine whether or not Pennsylvania Republicans agreed.

But Doug Mastriano will be the Republican gubernatorial candidate to face Shapiro. On election night in 2020, he spoke out against what he claimed was media bias against Christianity (roughly two thirds of the country identifies as Christian).

Mastriano worked to overturn the 2020 presidential election results – something he would have significantly more power to do as governor, as it will be his job to verify election results – and he was outside the Capitol building on 6 January 2021, when a mob stormed Congress to try to stop the certification of the election results. In Pennsylvania this fall, the future legitimacy of elections themselves will be on the ballot.

[See also: JD Vance’s win proves the Republicans are still Trump’s party]

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