Voters in four states — South Carolina, Nevada, North Dakota and Maine — on Tuesday picked their candidates for the November election, while voters in Texas’s 34th Congressional District were filling a seat in a competitive special election. Below, some takeaways from those races.
Reps. Tom Rice and Nancy Mace, both Republicans, each made big breaks with President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Rice was perhaps the most surprising among the 10 GOP votes for impeachment. Mace did not vote to impeach but denounced Trump as strongly as just about anyone in her party.
Then they diverged. Mace pulled a 180, even cutting a campaign video in front of Trump Tower, aligning with Trump when the former president endorsed her primary opponent. Rice, on the other hand, completely owned his impeachment vote and tried to explain it to his conservative district as a vote of conscience.
It worked for Mace. It didn’t for Rice.
Rice lost to a Trump-backed challenger, state Rep. Russell Fry, by more than 2 to 1, with Fry taking the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Rice was below 25 percent.
Mace, though, won — leading Trump-backed former state representative Katie Arrington 53 percent to 45 percent with about 98 percent of the vote in.
Clearly, Trump can mobilize his base against an incumbent, but Arrington is the second House candidate he endorsed who lost in a primary, after Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.). Trump’s endorsement record in competitive races remains decidedly split.
On the plus side for Trump, Rice is the first Republican impeachment supporter seeking reelection to go down. And after Rep. David G. Valadao (R-Calif.) got a real scare last week — despite Trump not backing his GOP opponent — it doesn’t look good for their ilk.
2. The GOP’s first pickup — potentially of many
Republicans are in line for major gains in the November midterms, and on Tuesday night, they notched a statement win — symbolically, at least.
Republican Mayra Flores defeated Democrat Dan Sanchez in the special election in Texas’s 34th Congressional District, where the Democratic incumbent, Filemon Vela, resigned. It’s the third seat to flip in a mid-cycle special election since 2012.
Practically speaking, it probably doesn’t mean much. The district will look very different and much friendlier for Democrats come November, when Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.) — who wasn’t running Tuesday — will be a heavy favorite.
But symbolically and as a potential precursor, it could be a big one. That’s because Republicans made big inroads with Hispanic voters in South Texas in the 2020 election, and they’ve been keen to build on that. In 2020, Joe Biden won this district by four percentage points. (This is actually the second-most heavily Hispanic district in the country, and it will now be held by the GOP.)
Picking off a Democratic-leaning seat like this — no matter how temporarily — is a shot in the arm for a GOP primed to make big gains in November.
It bears emphasizing that national Democrats didn’t try very hard here. But losing this seat is a bad narrative for them at the very least. They had better hope it’s not also a bad omen.
3. Nevada’s unsurprising — yet striking — results
The results in Nevada’s GOP primaries went about as expected. But some of them were still pretty remarkable.
In the Senate race, former state attorney general Adam Laxalt (R), who had Trump’s endorsement, defeated Sam Brown rather easily in a hard-fought race. In perhaps the GOP’s best chance for a Senate pickup — Laxalt will face Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) in November — Republicans have chosen the guy who led the efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.
An election denier also won the secretary of state primary. Jim Marchant was actually one of the so-called fake electors who declared they were duly elected despite Biden winning the state. He is also the organizer of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, which aims to elevate election deniers like himself into key roles with oversight of elections. A pair of fellow members have also won the party’s support in key states: Michigan secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo and Pennsylvania governor candidate Doug Mastriano (Pennsylvania governors appoint secretaries of state).
And in the governor’s race, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, backed by Trump, won in a crowded field and currently has 38 percent of the vote. The more interesting result, though, might be what happened with the other candidates in that race. Former Republican senator Dean Heller finished a distant third, currently at just 15 percent.
The second-place finisher between them? Joey Gilbert, who was present not just at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6 in Washington but also near the Capitol when it was stormed. Several people present that day have won or been competitive in primaries. But most say they didn’t get as close to the Capitol. Here, one who did finished with lots more votes than a former U.S. senator.
4. More surprising GOP incumbent struggles
While the Mace and Rice results made sense, given all we know, they weren’t the only ones flirting with trouble in Tuesday’s primaries. So, too — more surprisingly — was Rep. William Timmons (R-S.C.).
Timmons was taking less than 53 percent of the vote, with 99 percent of the vote in — startlingly close to runoff territory. He led his race by nearly 30 points, but he wasn’t expected to be in any real danger given his lack of a comparable move to alienate the conservative base.
Timmons did face a prominent Trump ally in Mark Burns, a pastor, but Trump endorsed Timmons. Timmons was also ceding substantial votes to a relative unknown in Michael LaPierre.
In some ways, the results in South Carolina echo what happened in Mississippi last week, when multiple incumbents found themselves in trouble, including one rather unexpectedly. But at least in that case, we could trace it to Republican Rep. Michael Guest’s vote for an independent, 9/11-style Jan. 6 commission.