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Voters in 14 states will head to the polls in May, starting Tuesday with Ohio and Indiana.
This month’s primaries and ballots feature prominent names in states that could decide Congressional control, and will serve as a test of the power of former President Trump’s endorsements in the ballot.
There are plenty of US House races and other downvoting contests to watch, but we’re highlighting some of the best statewide races in each state. (We’ll have more detailed previews closer to the individual primaries.)
Focus: Ohio Senate
Below, we spotlight the Republican Senate primary to replace incumbent GOP Senator Rob Portman, who has turned villainous and includes a heavy dose of Trump:
- The race is between Hillbilly Elegy author JD Vance, former state treasurer Josh Mandel, wealthy investment banker Mike Gibbons, state senator Matt Dolan and former GOP chairwoman Jane Timken. Trump rocked the primary with his surprise endorsement of Vance, who had at one point fiercely opposed him. Before that, the race had been dominated by Mandel and Gibbons, who spent millions of his own money on the race.
- This was highlighted by the close to the fists during a debate between Mandel and Gibbons. This week, however, a Fox News poll released on Tuesday showed Vance has earned a double-digit raise since Trump’s endorsement, and he’s now leading the pack.
- The endorsement led to a bitter split between Trump and the fiscally conservative group Club for Growth, which continued to run ads against Vance, highlighting his criticism of Trump. Club continue to support Mandel, who was the early favorite. This led Trump to send the leader of the group a very direct texttelling him the same thing the Ukrainians said to that Russian warship.
- Democrats feel if an extreme candidate is chosen in this race, or if Republicans are divided enough, they may have a chance of winning it, although that’s a long shot at this point. Democrats expect their nominee to be Congressman Tim Ryan, who has had a more centrist message and profile in Washington.
- Republicans believe the start of the primaries allows enough time to leave behind the messy fights within the party and that the favorable national landscape will finally lead them to a victory and to retain this seat.
Focus: Senate of North Carolina and Pennsylvania
North Carolina Senate
- This seat opened up because Senator Richard Burr is retiring. As in Ohio, this primary is the main event in that state, which Democrats hope will become competitive in the general election.
- It’s also another place where Trump’s approval will be tested. The main contenders are Trump-backed Representative Ted Budd and former Governor Pat McCrory. with former Rep. Mark Walker in third place. Budd received a definite boost when Trump endorsed him and took the lead. A candidate needs 30% to avoid a second round, which would delay the start of the legislative election campaign by two months. Budd hovered slightly north of that.
- The Democrats have banded together around former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, Cheri Beasley, as their nominee. She was the first black Supreme Court Chief Justice in North Carolina history.
- This is the top Democrat takeover target given the retirement of Republican Senator Pat Toomey. That led to splits in the Republican and Democratic primaries, but the Democratic primary paled in bitterness against the GOP side. And the money spent is staggering – over $60 million in the first three months of the year alone.
- Several Democrats clash, but Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has a big lead in the polls over Rep. Conor Lamb and others. Fetterman has a blue-collar look with a very progressive politics. Lamb sued Fetterman for skipping proceedings and referred to a 2013 incident in which Fetterman pursued, shotgun in hand, a running black man whom Fetterman suspected of being involved in nearby shootings. .
- The Republican primary saw big money splashed and bitter attacks between TV doctor Mehmet Oz and wealthy former hedge fund CEO David McCormick. Oz got Trump’s endorsement, much to the surprise of many in the MAGA base.
- Oz tried to use Trump’s name and endorsement several times in a recent debate, perhaps to excess, as it didn’t quite give him a huge boost in the polls. He is locked in a close race with McCormick, followed by conservative commentator Kathy Barnette. Oz is now trying to prove his conservative bona fides with an ad showing him, what else, shoot a gun.
Focus: Governor and Secretary of State of Georgia
Georgia is a hotbed of political activity, and these races have it all. The Senate race will be watched closely this fall as it is one of the top races in the nation, with Republicans hoping to flip the seat currently held by Sen. Raphael Warnock. The likely candidate is former NFL star Herschel Walker, who has Trump’s endorsement, and he will be tested as a candidate.
But the real primary battles are in two other statewide races – for governor and secretary of state. The races for secretary of state don’t usually get much national attention, but they do in the era of Trump and his voter fraud lies. And Georgia was ground zero for its baseless claims. Both primaries feature pitched battles between Trump-backed candidates and non-Trump-backed candidates.
Governor of Georgia
- Brian Kemp is the current Republican Governor, but after the 2020 presidential election, Trump has made it his mission to overthrow him. That’s because Trump, of course, lost Georgia in the presidential election, and Trump is angry that Kemp didn’t do more to overturn the results.
- Enter: Former Senator David Perdue. Perdue jumped on the Trump train and made voter fraud and victimization of Trump the basis of his campaign. That’s quite a change for Perdue, who was the CEO of Reebok and was considered the establishment Republican of the establishment. His claims are not true and he is down in the polls. A survey released this week showed Kemp topped 50%, which is critical because a candidate must clear 50% to avoid a runoff a month later.
- Kemp landed a strong retort from Perdue and Trump in a recent debate. Perdue accused Kemp of being a “weak leader” for not more aggressively prosecuting people for voter fraud. Kemp replied that it was the state attorney general’s job to prosecute people and then hit Perdue with this: “Hey, weak leaders blame everyone else for their own loss instead of themselves. ” This is the advantage of being above 50% in the polls…
- Another month of Republicans fighting would be music to Democrats’ ears. Stacey Abrams — the former State House speaker turned suffrage activist who narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018 — is the Democrats’ long-awaited nominee, and she could certainly use the time to rebuild her operation and support.
- Florida-Georgia Line: Neighboring Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is positioning himself for a potential run in 2024 if Trump doesn’t, went so far as to say that if Abrams wins, it will mean a “cold war” between the states.
Georgia Secretary of State
- Brad Raffensperger, who was the Elections Officer in Georgia when Trump lost the state, is running for re-election. Trump wants him out. Trump got into hot water when it was revealed in a recorded phone call that he had pressured Raffensperger to “find” enough votes for him to void the election. Trump called the election a “scam” and said, “A lot of Republicans are going to vote against it because they hate what you did to the president.”
- Now they will see if Trump’s pressure campaign to have Raffensperger quit will work. Trump gave his support to Representative Jody Hice. Testimony before the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising revealed this week that Hice played a bigger role in the attempt to overturn the election than previously known. A poll released this week shows them locked in a close race and likely heading for a run-off in late June.
- Including Hice, a NPR analysis earlier this year found at least 20 Holocaust deniers are running to control the post of top election official in states across the country.