Republicans collide in key primaries as Trump’s pull tested in S.C. and Nevada
Competing wings of the Republican Party collided across the country Tuesday, with a pair of congressional Republicans in South Carolina offering lessons in survival and defeat in GOP politics after a spat with former president Donald Trump.
Rep. Tom Rice, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year lost, while Rep. Nancy Mace, who drew Trump’s ire after voting to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, won her primary against a Trump-backed challenger.
Trump-endorsed candidate Russell Fry defeated Rice, according the Associated Press. Rice doubled down on his impeachment vote and sparred with Trump, calling him “a would-be tyrant” in a recent interview with The Post. Mace, who survived her challenge, attempted to heal the rift with Trump.
In a Texas special election, the Associated Press projected late Tuesday that Republican Mayra Flores would defeat Democrat Dan Sanchez outright, avoiding a runoff. The result would flip a House seat to red from blue, narrowing the already tiny margin Democrats hold in that chamber.
In Nevada, Trump got his favored candidate in Adam Laxalt, the co-chair of his campaign in the state and a grandson of a former senator and governor, in the Senate race to challenge Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), a top Republican target in the fall. Laxalt beat Sam Brown, an Afghanistan veteran endorsed by the Nevada GOP.
In the state’s secretary of state contest, Jim Marchant, who has made false claims the 2020 election was stolen and alleged without evidence Trump won Nevada, was projected to triumph in the GOP primary. Marchant, a former state assemblyman, was part of the alternate slate of electors the Nevada GOP offered in a bid to overturn the 2020 election. He’ll face Democrat Cisco Aguilar, an attorney and founder of a sports technology company, in November. Whoever wins the job will supervise election procedures in Nevada.
Meanwhile, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) survived a primary challenge from the left in her 1st House district.
Tuesday’s vote across four states — Nevada, North Dakota, Maine and South Carolina — served as the latest checkpoint of the attitudes in the Republican Party and the ability of the former president to steer its direction. Democrats were also settling intraparty contests of their own. Meanwhile, voters from both parties in South Texas were casting ballots in a special election that served in part as a measure of Republicans’ ability to make further inroads with Latino voters on traditionally Democratic turf.
Trump’s endorsements in the 2022 Republican primaries
Trump-backed candidates have posted a spotty record in primaries this year, including decisive statewide defeats in Georgia last month and gubernatorial losses in Nebraska and Idaho. Trump has found more success in Senate races, including in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where his endorsed candidates have prevailed.
Tuesday’s races unfolded against the backdrop of a congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack’s first public hearings last Thursday and this past Monday. Some of the GOP candidates on the ballot have sought to baselessly discredit the election or played a more direct role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
The former president’s influence faced a test in a closely watched gubernatorial primary in Nevada, which pitted Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who has Trump’s support, against Joey Gilbert, a lawyer and former boxer backed by the state Republican Party who has touted his presence in Washington during the attack on the Capitol.
Gilbert was also recorded on video just outside the Capitol building and has without merit questioned whether Biden won his state.
Of the 10 GOP House members who voted to impeach Trump over incitement of insurrection after the attack on the Capitol, only six have opted to seek reelection. Trump has been working to unseat them all.
Rice is the second to face voters in the primaries so far this year, and he has defended his vote. The other is Rep. David G. Valadao (R-Calif.), who is hoping to advance to November’s election from the June 7 all-party primary in his state. Votes are still being tallied there.
Mace voted against both of Trump’s impeachments but drew the former president’s anger by supporting Vice President Mike Pence’s position that he lacked constitutional authority to overturn the 2020 election.
Against Rice, Trump earlier this year endorsed Fry, a state representative. Opposing Mace, he opted to back Arrington, a former state representative who won the GOP nomination for the seat in 2018 by defeating incumbent Republican Mark Sanford. In the general election, she lost to Democrat Joe Cunningham, who flipped the seat from red to blue for the first time in decades.
Mace won the support of at least one important Trump associate in the state, Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador under Trump who campaigned for Mace — a move that angered the former president. Haley, who served as South Carolina governor before entering the Trump administration, is seen as a potential 2024 presidential candidate.
Mace has also sought to stress her support for Trump, once posting video that brought her ridicule in which she stood outside Trump Tower and identified herself as “one of his earliest supporters.”
“I promised that I would not toe the party line, especially when Republicans spent too much and taxed too much,” said Mace at her election night party in Mount Pleasant, S.C., calling for a return of “strong fiscal conservatives.” She thanked Arrington for “stepping into the arena.”
In Rice’s district, some voters said the impeachment vote was over the line.
“Tom Rice just went too far,” said Roland Kennedy, who cast his ballot in Florence County. “His answer to why he voted to impeach just kind of made me sick to my stomach.” On a debate stage in May, Rice provided a graphic retelling of his experience on Jan. 6. “I saw the bomb squads defusing bombs,” Rice said on the debate stage. “I smelled the tear gas.”
But the former president wasn’t on the minds of all GOP voters. Luder and Dale Messervy, of Charleston, said they cast ballots for Trump in 2016 and 2020. The pair, who are retired, supported Mace.
“We were huge Trump fans, but the shine is gone,” says the 76-year-old Luder. “We loved all of his policies, pretty much, but his ego and personality just is off-putting, so we’ve moved on.”
The couple braved a heat index exceeding 110 degrees to vote for the incumbent Mace at James Island Charter High School.
“She had the gumption to do what she did about the Jan. 6 situation, which I thought was bold and brave,” says Luder of Mace, who condemned Trump’s role in the event at the Capitol.
Other primaries were also on the minds of strategists in both parties.
Texas’s 34th Congressional District was a special election to fill the seat vacated by Democrat Filemon Vela, who left Congress to work for a lobbying firm. It grabbed the attention of Republican officials, who were hoping for a pick up…
The projected winner, Flores, who was born in Mexico, was seen heading into Tuesday as the leading GOP contender, and will likely become a big draw in the GOP for her focus on border security.
Because of redistricting, elections will be held under different lines in November, making the Republican gains potentially short-lived.
In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Nevada, Trump-backed Adam Laxalt, a former attorney general in the state, faced off with Afghanistan veteran Sam Brown, among other candidates. Trump recently held a tele-town hall for Laxalt and noted that June 14 — the state’s primary day — is his birthday. “Give me Adam as a birthday present,” Trump urged voters, according to the Nevada Independent.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), seen as potentially vulnerable in November, was hoping to advance from her own primary.
Democratic voters in Nevada also offered views about the direction of their party in a U.S. House race in which Rep. Dina Titus was fighting off a liberal challenger, Amy Vilela. Vilela was a 2020 state co-chair for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign and earned his endorsement in the primary.
In the Republican primary for Nevada secretary of state, Jim Marchant, who lost a congressional race in 2020, has been leading a national effort among far-right candidates for secretary of state. He launched a group called America First SOS Coalition that backs candidates for “aggressive voter roll cleanup,” among other changes.
Another top candidate for secretary of state is wealthy businessman Jesse Haw, who is self-funding and pledges on his website to “make the necessary changes to create a safe and secure environment for elections in Nevada.” Cisco Aguilar, an attorney and founder of a sports-technology company called Blueprint Sports, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
In Maine, former governor Paul LePage has been mounting a comeback and was unopposed in his bid to be the GOP nominee for his old job. Democrat Janet Mills was unopposed on the other side. The AP projected both would advance to the November election.
In Maine’s U.S. House races, former congressman Bruce Poliquin defeated Liz Caruso, a local elected official in the town of Caratunk, in the 2nd Congressional District’s GOP primary. Rep. Jared Golden (D), who is among the most vulnerable Democrats, was unopposed in his primary.
Sam Spence in Mullins, S.C., and Stratton Lawrence in Mount Pleasant, S.C. contributed to this report. Scott Clement contributed to this report.