California may still tabulating its votes from last week’s races, but the midterm primary calendar stops for no one, with contests in four states on the docket Tuesday.
Once again, the influence of former President Trump looms large, with several contests offering tests of the power of his endorsement and the durability of his lies about the 2020 election.
Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina was particularly unexpected. He did not come from a moderate district, like California Rep. David Valadao, but from deep-red Myrtle Beach; he voted in line with Trump’s position more than 90% of the time.
“I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years. I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But, this utter failure is inexcusable,” Rice said in a statement explaining his impeachment vote.
The backlash was immediate. The South Carolina state GOP censured him, accusing Rice of playing “right into the Democrats’ game.” Rice said he received a barrage of virulent messages, including death threats. And he drew a number of challengers for his reelection bid, including Russell Fry, a state legislator whom Trump endorsed in February.
In the days leading up to his primary, Rice has forcefully defended his vote, calling Trump “the most spiteful and and petty and vengeful” person and a “would-be tyrant.”
Fate of a once-rising star
Another South Carolinian catapulted to notoriety in January 2021 — GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, a first-term member who had just flipped her Charleston district from blue to red. She defied Trump by voting to certify Biden’s win, said the storming of the Capitol “wiped out” Trump’s legacy and denounced the influence of conspiracy theorists in her party.
The iconoclasm, plus her compelling backstory — she dropped out of high school after being raped as a teenager, then went on to be the first woman to graduate from the Citadel — earned her frequent television appearances and buzz about being a new face of the Republican Party.
But Mace’s stance on Trumpism has been muddled throughout her freshman year. She did not vote to impeach Trump, but did later vote to hold Stephen K. Bannon, a top advisor to the former president, in contempt for defying a congressional subpoena to testify before the committee investigating Jan. 6. She has publicly sparred with her party’s most vehement pro-Trump voices — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado. But in February, she made a pilgrimage to Trump Tower in New York, taping a video touting her early support for Trump.
Mace posted the video on Twitter the day after Trump endorsed Katie Arrington, a former state legislator, to run against her. Trump made another statement this week to reassert his support: “Don’t forget that Katie Arrington, a wonderful person, is running against the terrible Nancy Mace, who really let us down.”
Mace, meanwhile, is backed by two ex-members of Trumpworld: former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Mick Mulvaney, who did a stint as White House chief of staff.
While Rice has been more assertive about his break from Trump, Mace tried draw attention elsewhere, to her voting record and Arrington’s past election flops.
Election denialism heads west
It’s fitting that one day after the latest Jan. 6 committee hearing came Nevada’s Secretary of State primary. The former delved into the origins of Trump’s 2020 election lies; the latter is an example of how those falsehoods continue to reverberate today.
Jim Marchant, a former state legislator, stands out among several GOP candidates in his zealous embrace of false election conspiracy theories. In 2020, he sued over his loss in a Nevada congressional race, alleging fraud; the suit was dismissed by a state judge. He has since allied with figures such as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has traveled the country pushing outlandish and unproven election theories.
To a lesser extent than Marchant, several Republican contenders, including businessman Jesse Haw, have made comments doubting the legitimacy of the 2020 election and backing tighter voting restrictions. Only one GOP candidate, Sparks City Councilman Kris Dahir, has flatly rejected allegations of fraud.
Election administration is not typically a scintillating topic, but as scores of GOP candidates embrace groundless charges of fraud, the positions with oversight over voting has become a matter of national interest. Fierce Trump allies have won their primaries in key posts, such as Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who would appoint the state’s top elections official if he wins, and Kristina Karamo, who, in a campaign powered by unproven allegations of voter fraud, is on track to be Republicans’ secretary of state candidate in Michigan.
But embracing election lies is not a surefire bet in Republican primaries. In Georgia, both Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger clinched their party’s nomination despite being targeted by Trump for refusing to overturn the presidential election.
And the frontrunner for the GOP nomination for Nevada governor, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, told the Nevada Independent he recognizes Joe Biden’s election as legitimate. Trump, citing Lombardo’s law enforcement experience, endorsed him anyway.
Democrats slog toward November
Democratic Rep. Dina Titus has openly bemoaned what redistricting has done to her political prospects. Her once-deep blue Nevada district has now become far more purple, making for a tough general election. But she has to get through the primary first and ward off a challenge to her left by Amy Vilela, a progressive activist allied with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party.
Other Democratic incumbents, including Gov. Steve Sisolak and U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, in Nevada are largely waiting to find out who their opponents will be in November.
Nevada’s status as a top swing state dimmed a bit after string of Democratic statewide victories here. But given the headwinds facing Democrats nationally, the Silver State is primed to be a top battleground yet again.