HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Donald Trump’s favorite candidate for the Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania was essentially tied with a more traditional rival, as his gubernatorial pick picked up a decisive victory on Tuesday as the former president was working to extend his grip on the GOP.
Doug Mastriano was already surging in the gubernatorial race when Trump issued an endorsement over the weekend to back the far-right senator. But Mehmet Oz, the famed Trump-approved heart surgeon, was locked in with former hedge fund manager David McCormick in a race too early to call Wednesday morning.
Pennsylvania law requires recounts when the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5 percentage points or less. With only a few hundred votes separating Oz and McCormick, the outcome may not be clear for several days.
Tuesday marked the busiest night of the nascent primary season, with contests also held in North Carolina, Kentucky, Oregon and Idaho. Both parties choose candidates to contest the fall general election, when control of Congress, governor’s mansions and key electoral positions are up for grabs.
In the eternal battleground of Pennsylvania, Mastriano’s victory was notable for what it signaled about the direction of the GOP. With the future of abortion rights in question in the U.S. Supreme Court, Mastriano said he supports banning the procedure from conception, no exceptions.
He also promoted Trump’s lies about non-existent and widespread voter fraud that cost him the 2020 election and was outside the US Capitol when a mob swarmed it during the deadly 2021 uprising. He was also subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Capitol riot following his efforts to name an Electoral College alternate voter list in favor of Trump.
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 elections. He pledged to take the extraordinary step of forcing voters to “re-register” to vote, a move that would almost certainly face legal hurdles.
Such positions could repel 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 defend the far-right, far-right Constitution. I deny that. It’s shit. That’s absolutely not true,” Mastriano said, adding that it’s the Democrats who have “gone extreme.”
Such rhetoric was appealing 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 “sticks to President Trump and says everything is fraudulent.”
“Everything he was talking about made sense,” said Steinly, who wore a black t-shirt that read “Biden is not my (or anyone else’s) president based on legal votes.” .
Mastriano, a retired Army colonel, will face Democratic state attorney general Josh Shapiro, who faced no opposition in his primary.
Trump scored an easier victory earlier in the night when U.S. Representative Ted Budd snagged the GOP nomination for the North Carolina Senate. Trump’s surprise endorsement last year elevated Budd, a little-known congressman, above better-known rivals, including a former governor. He quickly shifted to a general election message focused on breaking Democratic control of Washington.
“Under Joe Biden, America is woke and broke,” he said at a victory rally. “We need to put a stop to this program for the good of the hard working people of North Carolina.”
Budd voted against certification of the 2020 election results. He will face former Democratic state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, who is aiming to become North Carolina’s first black senator. She said at a victory party that “this is our time”.
“We have the power to bring our values back to our government 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 Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary, just days after a stroke sent him to the hospital.
Fetterman, 52, is known for his towering 6ft 8in stature and his tattoos which helped him carve out a political persona as an outsider. That, combined with his support for major progressive causes such as government-funded universal health care, has been key to his Democratic rival, U.S. Representative Conor Lamb, a moderate in the mold of President Joe Biden.
“Fetterman’s victory shows voters are fed up and want fighters. This should be a wake-up call for the entire Democratic Party establishment to fight harder against fascists and those who obstruct a popular agenda,” Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. .
Fetterman’s victory was positive for progressives after a string of losses in top races across the country. But Biden played down any coming feud between his party’s left flank and the mainstream establishment, tweeting that electing Fetterman to the Senate “would be a big step forward for working people in Pennsylvania.”
Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, Fetterman could participate in the general election campaign in the face of questions about his health. After his stroke, he voted urgently from hospital and tweeted on Tuesday that he had successfully undergone surgery to install a pacemaker. He said he was “on track for a full recovery”.
And Fetterman will likely face scrutiny over a 2013 incident when, shotgun in hand, he confronted a black man because he suspected the man was involved in nearby shootings. . The man, Christopher Miyares, was unarmed and said in a television interview that he was jogging when Fetterman, who is white, pulled up in his van and pointed the shotgun at him. Fetterman maintained that he did not know Miyares’ course at the time of the chase, denied pointing the shotgun at him, and said it was not loaded.
Fetterman’s opponent in the fall was still unclear. Oz, the famed surgeon, and McCormick, who in January resigned as CEO of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, were in an exceptionally tight race. Commentator Kathy Barnette, who had appeared to gain momentum late in the race, trailed.
“We won’t have a result tonight,” Oz said shortly before midnight, before promising Trump, “I’m going to make you proud.”
McCormick struck a similar tone, saying the mail-in ballots haven’t been counted yet: “We’re not going to have a resolution tonight.”
Barnette, meanwhile, may have had her rise blunted by criticism from Trump. In a statement ahead of the election, he said: “Kathy Barnette can never win the general election against radical left Democrats.”
Elsewhere, a setback for Trump came when Republican incumbent North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who was dogged by a series of high-profile gaffes, lost to State Senator Chuck Edwards. Trump posted this week that Cawthorn “made some stupid mistakes, which I don’t believe he will make again” and added, “let’s give Madison a second chance!”
Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, whose bid to unseat Gov. Brad Little in that state’s Republican primary was backed by Trump, also failed.
Candidates endorsed by Trump have won most Republican primaries in the United States, but the former president’s record is not perfect. In addition to Tuesday’s losses, last week Trump’s pick for Nebraska Governor Charles Herbster lost to traditional GOP establishment pick Jim Pillen.
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam contributed from Hamburg, Pennsylvania.