Former President Donald Trump’s revenge tour lands in South Carolina on Tuesday.
It has been a bumpy ride so far.
Trump has vowed to defeat Republicans who he believed have crossed him. But high-profile setbacks like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s resounding primary win show it hasn’t always gone as planned for the former president.
In Tuesday’s slate of primaries, Trump is backing challengers to two sitting South Carolina House members: GOP Reps. Tom Rice and Nancy Mace. Rice was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the insurrection at the Capitol — but Mace has oscillated between Trump critic and fan, even filming praise of Trump outside of Trump Tower shortly after he endorsed her opponent.
South Carolina isn’t the only state to watch on Tuesday. A special election in South Texas to finish out the last few months of the current term has become a test for Republicans looking to build on recent gains with Latino voters. And the GOP will pick nominees for a slew of battleground races — from Senate and governor to swing House districts and secretary of state — in Nevada, where another two members of Congress are also facing primary challenges.
The Nevada primaries and another in Maine will also make the battle for the House clearer Tuesday as well. Here’s what we’ll be watching in primaries across four states:
Trump tries to take down two
Trump’s targeting of Rice and Mace is not a huge surprise: The former president has long trained his ire on Republicans who even mildly criticized him.
But Rice is the first Republican impeachment backer to face a Trump-backed primary challenger this year. Trump endorsed state Rep. Russell Fry, while Rice has continued to defend his vote and tout his decade-long conservative record in Congress. It is a crowded field, and candidates need to win a majority of the vote in South Carolina to win a primary, so this race could go to a runoff.
Mace, meanwhile, is facing a challenge from Trump-backed Katie Arrington, a former state lawmaker who narrowly lost an open election for the seat in the 2018 election after beating a different Republican incumbent in the primary that year. The primary between Mace and Arrington has turned into a proxy war between Trump and Nikki Haley, Trump’s one-time United Nations ambassador and the former governor of the state.
Haley has cut a commercial for Mace, hosted a fundraiser that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars and hit the trail for the congresswoman.
GOP looks to win over more Latino voters in South Texas
A special election in South Texas could be an early warning sign for Democrats about their lagging support among some Latino voters.
Any victory will be short-lived in the race to replace former Rep. Filemón Vela, who left office earlier this year to become a lobbyist. The district lines were transformed during the redistricting process to one that’s much more heavily blue, and Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is hopping over to the district to run for a full term in November.
But both parties believe that the race, which could head to a runoff if no candidate gets a majority of the vote, will test the strength of Republicans among Latino voters in the Rio Grande Valley. Republicans have lined up behind Mayra Flores — who will also be the nominee for the reconfigured district in November, while Democrats are behind Daniel Sanchez. National groups in both parties have poured money in, hoping to compete in the seat that Biden carried by about 4 points in 2020.
Setting the stage in one of the nation’s closest battlegrounds
Republicans will pick nominees in Nevada for statewide races that are expected to be among the most competitive November elections in the country. Both Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto are in “toss up” races in POLITICO’s Election Forecast.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is the GOP favorite for governor, having built a public polling lead even before Trump endorsed him. But the crowded Republican field also includes former Sen. Dean Heller, party-switching North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and former boxer Joey Gilbert, among many others. For Senate, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt — who’s backed by both Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — is trying to hold off a late GOP primary charge from Sam Brown, an Army veteran.
Laxalt has been a major backer of Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him, but he’s not alone on Nevada’s statewide ballot. In the state’s secretary of state contest, former state Assemblyman Jim Marchant is running as the ringleader of a group of Trump-supporting election deniers trying to win key election administration positions across the country.
Primary voters in another presidential battleground, Maine, will also solidify a general election battle between their past two governors on Tuesday. Incumbent Democrat Janet Mills and former GOP Gov. Paul LePage are slated to meet each other in a major race this fall.
More incumbents on the highwire
Apart from the Trump-induced primary drama to the east, a pair of Nevada incumbents are also facing primary challengers on Tuesday. GOP Rep. Mark Amodei is up against perennial Republican candidate Danny Tarkanian, marking his fourth run for Congress over the last decade. House Republicans’ main super PAC has spent on Amodei’s behalf to try to boost him in the waning days of the race.
There are also very crowded Republican fields in Nevada’s three Democratic-held districts. Biden carried each by single digits in 2020 — and in a political environment like this one, that puts all three districts on the battleground map.
But Democratic Rep. Dina Titus can’t just worry about her eventual Republican opponent in her Las Vegas area district. She’s also facing down an under-the-radar primary from Amy Vilela, who picked up a last-minute endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Vilela co-chaired Sanders’ campaign in the state in 2020.
Back in Maine, Democratic Rep. Jared Golden is likely headed to a rematch against former GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whom Golden defeated in the 2018 Democratic wave. The district will be one of the most competitive in the country come November.
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