GOP averts disaster in Ohio shocker: 5 takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries

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A couple closer-than-expected races highlighted Tuesday’s elections in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and South Carolina, which put Donald Trump’s endorsement power to the test as he heads toward a rematch with President Biden.

But it was an under-the-radar special election in Ohio that turned out to be the biggest shocker of the night. Elsewhere, Trump-endorsed candidates pulled through against their primary challengers, though at least one of them did so with far less breathing room than he may have hoped. 

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s primary results: 

Republicans avoid a disaster in Ohio 

It should have been a drama-free race.

Instead, the special election for Ohio’s deep-red 6th Congressional District turned out to be something of a nail-biter, with the Democratic candidate far exceeding expectations.

The race was triggered following former Rep. Bill Johnson’s (R) decision to resign in January, with the winner serving the remainder of his term.

Johnson had represented the 6th district since 2011, winning reelection in 2022 by 35 points. Trump would have carried the district based on its current makeup by 29 points. 

But GOP state Sen. Michael Rulli only defeated the Democratic nominee, Michael Kripchak, by about 9 points, based on the latest vote count with more than 95 percent reporting. That’s a roughly 20 percent overperformance for the Democratic candidate from what was expected for this district. 

Dave Wasserman, the senior editor and elections analyst of the nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report, attributed the reason for the surprise result to “abysmal” turnout in the district and to Democrats having an advantage with highly engaged voters most likely to vote. 

Even though it didn’t result in a surprise upset, Democrats have reason to be heartened by the results. It’s the latest special election in which the party has performed well — the last example was Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-N.Y.) comfortable victory in the February special election to fill the remainder of ex-Rep. George Santos’s (R-N.Y.) term. 

Ohio is still likely a safe state for Trump in November, but the high turnout among Democrats is a positive sign as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) faces a competitive reelection bid.

McCarthy revenge tour stumbles out of the gate 

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had his first opportunity to get revenge against those Republicans who voted for his ouster with Rep. Nancy Mace’s (R-S.C.) competitive primary

The two-term congresswoman spurred controversy on a few occasions, including her vote alongside conservative House members to boot McCarthy as Speaker and a shift she took from being critical of Trump to supporting him for reelection. She also faced accusations of flip-flopping on major issues and negative headlines over the high turnover in her congressional office. 

All of this helped spur two primary challenges, one from former South Carolina state official Catherine Templeton and the other from nonprofit leader Bill Young. Templeton was seen as the main challenger and ran to Mace’s right, accusing the incumbent of being a “fraud” who is not actually loyal to Trump. 

An additional challenge for Mace in the primary in the three-way race was that she needed to not just place first but secure a majority to avoid a runoff election later this month. But Mace, who had endorsements from Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), comfortably secured a majority, nearly 30 points ahead of Templeton in second as of the latest vote count. 

Groups associated with McCarthy had sought to prop up Templeton to oust Mace as part of a broader effort to unseat the handful of Republicans responsible for him losing his job.

Her easy victory Tuesday is another black eye for the California Republican.

GOP divisions on full display 

Although Mace’s primary received more national attention in the lead-up to the election, her fellow South Carolina Rep. William Timmons (R) ultimately faced a much closer race, underscoring the divisions roiling the GOP. 

Timmons, who has represented the state’s 4th Congressional District since 2019, has had a solidly conservative record in the House and been supportive of Trump, but he faced a primary challenge to his right from state Rep. Adam Morgan (R), who founded and has chaired the far-right Freedom Caucus in the state House. 

Timmons had the support of Trump, Johnson and House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), as well as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R). But Morgan received endorsements from several of the most conservative members of the House, including U.S. House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.) and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.). 

Morgan attacked Timmons as a moderate who was not conservative enough in cutting government spending and opposing aid to Ukraine. He also cited Timmons’s support for McCarthy as inspiration for him to run. 

Timmons countered by emphasizing his conservative credentials and his ties to Trump. 

The incumbent held on to win the nomination and almost certainly another term in the red district, but only by a modest 5-point margin, as of the latest vote count. That’s much closer than in 2022, when he prevailed in a four-way primary, and also showed the limitations of Trump’s support.

A pivotal Senate race is set 

Another matchup that will help determine which party controls the Senate in the next session of Congress was set with Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-Nev.) and Republican Sam Brown officially becoming their parties’ nominees. 

Brown, a retired Army captain, was the choice of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm to oppose Rosen, who faced minimal opposition to be renominated for a second term. 

Trump had stayed out of a somewhat crowded field for the Republican nomination for most of the race, but issued a last-minute endorsement of Brown on Sunday. 

Brown defeated former U.S. Ambassador to Iceland Jeff Gunter and former state Assembly member Jim Marchant, both of whom tried to promote their ties to the presumptive GOP presidential nominee and accused Brown of not being a true Trump supporter. 

Gunter derided Brown as “Scam Brown” and alleged that Senate Republicans secured Trump’s endorsement for Brown over his own candidacy, but the Senate GOP campaign arm and Trump senior adviser Chris LaCivita both rejected that. 

Brown had already been seen as the front-runner even ahead of Trump’s endorsement and many early votes had already been cast before Trump backed him, but the former president will be able to count it as another endorsed candidate of his who won the primary. 

And importantly, Trump and Brown may need a relationship as the Republicans try to compete in Nevada, a key battleground state in November, simultaneously. 

Trump scores wins with his endorsements 

Trump weighed in on all the key races happening Tuesday ahead of the elections and continued his near-perfect record of congressional endorsements this year. 

Along with Brown, Mace and Timmons, every Trump-endorsed candidate in each of the key races won their primaries, and by larger margins than Timmons. 

In the Republican primary for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District to face Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, Trump-endorsed state Rep. Austin Theriault (R), a former NASCAR driver, easily defeated his fellow state Rep. Mike Soboleski (R). 

And in North Dakota, Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R) overwhelmingly topped Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller (R) in the primary race to succeed outgoing Gov. Doug Burgum (R). Armstrong was the favorite going in with support from Trump, North Dakota Sens. Kevin Cramer (R) and John Hoeven (R) and the state party, but the two-term incumbent Burgum had endorsed Miller. 

Trump’s choice to succeed Armstrong as the lone House member for the state, North Dakota Public Service Commission member Julie Fedorchak, also comfortably won in a crowded field. 

Both Armstrong and Fedorchak will be the favorites to win their respective elections in the ruby red state.

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