Of the 20 separate dates on the 2022 midterm primary calendar, none is more important — and potentially dramatic — than this Tuesday.
Former President Donald Trump is staking his claim to the Republican base with late endorsements of streaking candidates for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat and governorship. The favorite in the state’s Democratic Senate primary, meanwhile, is spending Election Day in the hospital after suffering a stroke.
Some senior Republican leaders are desperately trying to unseat controversial freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), while seven-term Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader is facing a liberal primary challenger in Oregon.
Also on the ballot on Tuesday are at least a dozen more races that will illustrate the directions of both parties in the post-Trump era — or shape the general-election landscape with control of Congress and key state governments firmly up for grabs.
Polls close in Kentucky at 6 p.m./7 p.m. Eastern Time, North Carolina at 7:30 p.m., Pennsylvania at 8 p.m., Idaho at 10 p.m./11 p.m. and Oregon at 11 p.m. (Kentucky and Idaho are split across multiple time zones.)
Here are the seven things we’re watching:
The Pennsylvania drama
The final week before the Pennsylvania primary has featured numerous twists and turns — and increasing heartburn among GOP insiders, worried the party is poised to nominate less-electable candidates for two statewide, tossup races.
Trump’s endorsement of Mehmet Oz had the celebrity surgeon surging in the polls over the final weeks. But the eleventh-hour rise of former congressional candidate Kathy Barnette has scrambled the calculus in what’s now a three-way race with Oz and wealthy hedge fund CEO David McCormick, whose fortunes have lagged since Trump spurned him.
For a candidate in a primary, Oz is remarkably polarizing: Polls show roughly equal percentages of likely primary voters view him favorably and unfavorably. But he isn’t among the candidates most Republicans are worried will cost them in November.
That’s Barnette and gubernatorial hopeful Doug Mastriano, who have been running as a loosely joined ticket for months. While Barnette’s surge in the polls has been more recent, Mastriano has been the nominal frontrunner for months — a position that was only strengthened when Trump endorsed him just three days before the primary.
Both Barnette and Mastriano were in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, backing Trump’s efforts to block the acceptance of the election results. Mastriano was a key Trump ally following the Nov. 2020 election, maneuvering unsuccessfully to allow the state legislature to award the state’s 20 electoral votes to Trump despite the will of the voters.
Many Republicans in Washington see both — Mastriano especially — as borderline unelectable, even in a great environment for the GOP.
Trump’s endorsement tests
Trump’s backing of Oz and Mastriano aren’t the only tests of the former president’s sway with GOP primary voters on Tuesday.
The most political former president in U.S. history is also seeking to influence competitive primaries in Idaho and North Carolina, in addition to some of Pennsylvania’s congressional races.
Trump is facing another likely loss in a small-red-state governor’s race, after his candidate went down last week in Nebraska. In Idaho, Trump endorsed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin over incumbent Gov. Brad Little, who is favored to defeat the challenger.
Another risky Trump endorsement: 26-year-old North Carolina congressional candidate Bo Hines, who is running for a newly drawn swing seat south of Raleigh. Hines is in a crowded, eight-way race — the winner must receive greater than 30 percent of the vote, or the top two finishers advance to a late-July runoff.
Trump’s pick at the top of the ticket in North Carolina is looking much more secure. After lagging behind former Gov. Pat McCrory for months in the GOP Senate primary, Rep. Ted Budd has pulled well ahead in the polls and appears poised to clinch the nomination to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Richard Burr.
Setting aside Trump’s endorsements of secure incumbents who aren’t facing credible primary challengers — clearly designed to pad the former president’s win-loss record — one other notable contest is the GOP primary to face Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in Northeast Pennsylvania. Trump has endorsed Jim Bognet, a former official in his administration who lost to Cartwright in 2020. Bognet is facing Mike Marsicano, who finished fourth in the primary two years ago but has slightly outspent Bognet this time around.
Checking in on the Republican civil war
Trump is on the record in roughly two dozen races on Tuesday — but not in Cawthorn’s primary, despite expressing support for giving the embattled House freshman a “second chance” in a social media post on Monday.
The list of Cawthorn’s alleged offenses is lengthy, ranging from the sensational (accusing some of his colleagues of participating in drug use and group sex) to the mundane but politically damaging (an apparent ethics probe and rampant district shopping in an effort to get closer to the spotlight of the Charlotte media market).
But Cawthorn’s saving grace could be the large field of candidates — seven in total — challenging him, along with North Carolina’s relatively low 30-percent winning threshold compared to other southern states with runoff laws.
Cawthorn’s district is rated “Likely Republican,” so the eventual GOP nominee will be the favorite in the fall.
Cawthorn isn’t the only GOP incumbent fighting for renomination on Tuesday. In Idaho, 12-term Rep. Mike Simpson is facing a rematch against attorney Bryan Smith, who is challenging Simpson from the right again after a decisive loss in 2014.
Back then, the conservative Club for Growth endorsed Smith and spent more than $500,000 on his behalf. This time, neither Trump nor the former president’s frenemies at the Club are backing Smith.
No matter who wins, Idaho’s 2nd District is rated “Solid Republican.”
Lastly, keep an eye on Bucks County, Pa., where moderate GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is seeking a fourth term. Fitzpatrick’s primary challenger, Alex Entin, has little funding. But the centrist incumbent received only 63 percent of the vote in the 2020 primary, and Tuesday’s race is yet another test of his appeal among the base.
Fitzpatrick’s 1st District is rated “Lean Republican,” though Democrats would have a better shot to flip it without the incumbent on the ballot.
Democrats’ battle for the soul
Democrats face their own self-revealing primaries on Tuesday. In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is likely to capture the nomination for Senate, despite leaving the trail in the final days as he recovers from a stroke. Fetterman is more liberal than his best-funded opponent, Rep. Conor Lamb, and Lamb never seriously threatened Fetterman’s early lead in the polls.
But when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) traveled to Pittsburgh this past weekend, it wasn’t to campaign for Fetterman or fellow progressive Senate candidate Malcolm Kenyatta. It was to stump for state Rep. Summer Lee, a candidate for the open, solidly blue 12th District congressional seat. Lee is facing a more moderate opponent, attorney Steve Irwin, who’s been backed by $2 million in spending by United Democracy Project, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s new political arm.
Two Democratic primaries for Congress in North Carolina pit the party’s liberal wing against its African American establishment in Raleigh. In the swing 1st District, retiring Rep. G.K. Butterfield’s handpicked replacement, state Sen. Don Davis, face progressive former state Sen. Erica Smith. And in the bluer 4th District, state Sen. Valerie Foushee is trying to fend off the Sanders-endorsed Nida Allam. United Democracy Project is backing both Davis and Foushee in these races, too.
The race for Oregon governor is Democrats’ most consequential statewide primary on Tuesday. State House Speaker Tina Kotek and state Treasurer Tobias Read are the top two candidates — after former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was booted from the ballot for not meeting residency requirements, and state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum declined to run.
Democrats are also picking nominees for three blue-leaning — though not safe — House seats. Schrader faces a stiff challenge from Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who has slammed Schrader’s centrist record and noted that, after redistricting, about half of the voters in the new seat haven’t had Schrader as their congressman. The incumbent has been bolstered by a number of key groups, including two funded by pharmaceutical interests.
Also watch two open seats in Oregon: one to replace retiring Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and the other a new seat thanks to Oregon’s population growth over the past decade.
Follow the crypto
One of those Oregon congressional races — the race for the newly drawn 6th District — has become the nation’s most expensive House primary so far this year. And most of the spending has come from a 30-year-old cryptocurrency tycoon living in the Bahamas.
Sam Bankman-Fried, the CEO of the crypto exchange FTX, has become a major force in Democratic politics through the sheer volume of his donations — and Protect Our Future, a group he has funded to support candidates “who take a long term view on policy planning especially as it relates to pandemic preparedness and prevention,” has spent a staggering $11.4 million to boost first-time candidate Carrick Flynn.
Despite all the pro-Flynn advertising — Democrats’ top House super PAC also made an ad buy for Flynn — he’s locked in a close race with state Rep. Andrea Salinas, who has the backing of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. A Salinas victory would show the limits of outside money, especially from a group like Protect Our Future. The super PAC is also involved in other Democratic primaries, including supporting Foushee and state Sen. Morgan McGarvey in the race to replacing retiring Rep. John Yarmuth in Louisville, Ky.
Does carpetbagging matter?
A week ago, GOP Rep. Alex Mooney survived a member-versus-member primary in West Virginia, despite a constant barrage of attacks about his extensive ties to Maryland.
But carpetbagging attacks are about to get another big test.
When Oz registered to vote in Pennsylvania a little over a year ago, he used an address owned by his in-laws. Less than a year earlier, he and his wife showed off his home in Cliffside Park, N.J., just across the Hudson River from Upper Manhattan, to People Magazine. (There are also the stories about Oz’s dual citizenship with Turkey, though that’s a slightly different political problem for the frontrunner.)
McCormick has deeper roots to Pennsylvania — unlike the Delaware-raised Oz, he was born there — but has lived in Connecticut while working on Wall Street.
In Oregon’s 6th District, Flynn was born there but has lived elsewhere for some time. According to the alt-weekly Willamette Week, Flynn didn’t vote in Oregon in the 2020 election.
Eyes on the general election
In addition to Republicans’ two statewide primaries in Pennsylvania, both parties face risks in nominating potential weaker candidates for competitive races. Some Republicans see Hines in North Carolina as a liability in a district now-President Joe Biden won by 2 percentage points in 2020.
In Oregon, Schrader actually lagged Biden’s vote share slightly in 2020, but a more liberal nominee could still be risky for a seat the president carried by 9 points. Similarly, in Pennsylvania, Republicans are picking candidates for three “Toss Up” seats: the 7th District to face Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, the 8th against Cartwright, and the open 17th District, where both parties have primaries to replace Lamb.
Both parties have competitive, open-seat House primaries in North Carolina — the “Lean Democratic” 1st District and the “Toss-Up” 13th — that could shape the general elections.
Some Democrats monitoring the 1st District see Smith, whom the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee opposed and Republicans tried to prop up against Cal Cunningham in the 2020 Senate race, as a flawed candidate. Meanwhile, top GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund waded into the Republican race in that district, attacking repeat candidate Sandy Smith (no relation) to prevent her from gaining traction.