Tuesday primaries in S.C., Nevada bring more tests for Trump
The former president’s last revenge mission in Georgia didn’t go his way, but he’s trying again in South Carolina, where he hopes to unseat Reps. Tom Rice and Nancy Mace.
Donald Trump waves to the crowd at the end of a rally on March 12, 2022 in Florence, S.C.Sean Rayford / Getty Images file
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June 14, 2022, 7:40 AM MST / Updated June 14, 2022, 5:31 PM MST
Most races in the state — including the two House incumbents Trump is aiming to unseat after they were critical of him in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot — are too early to call.
And as he weighs another White House bid in 2024, Trump’s influence is also on the line in Nevada. There, Trump and his allies spent the last week trying to buttress his endorsed Senate candidate, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, against late momentum from GOP primary rival Sam Brown.
Polls in Nevada close at 10 p.m. Eastern time.
In South Carolina, Trump has targeted Rep. Tom Rice in the 7th Congressional District and Rep. Nancy Mace in the 1st District. Rice was a surprise vote for Trump’s impeachment — one of 10 Republicans — after the deadly January 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Mace did not vote to impeach, but she did rebuke Trump for the frenzy he whipped his 2020 election-denying supporters into before they violently stormed the halls of Congress.
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The former president is backing state Rep. Russell Fry against Rice and former state Rep. Katie Arrington against Mace. The incumbents have outspent their Trump-endorsed challengers. Independent polling has been scarce, with surveys last month by the conservative Trafalgar Group showing Fry with a sizable lead over Rice and Mace with a smaller one over Arrington.
In the battle between Rice and Fry, a number of other MAGA-aligned candidates may take a significant chunk of the vote, preventing anyone from winning outright on Tuesday. An unscientific straw poll of conservative activists in Horry County suggested more support for Garrett Barton and Ken Richardson, two of the other challengers seeking to oust Rice.
While Trump’s influence has been a major story in each race, the campaign’s closing weeks have seen much attention paid to gas prices, with each candidate seeking to accuse their rival of being responsible for rising costs. Both Mace and Rice have pointed to Arrington and Fry having voted in 2017 to raise the state gas tax when they were members of the state Legislature. In his tele-town hall with South Carolina voters last week, Trump himself made mention of gas prices, suggesting it was Fry and Arrington who would be best positioned to address the issue.
“It’s nice to look at what other people do, but we’re very much our own state with our own mind,” Barbara Nielsen, a Beaufort County GOP activist who supports Arrington, told NBC News last week. “I know, all the news media has tried to, you know, they always look at where is Trump, who has he endorsed, and they try to make it into that. … I think that will probably factor in. But in the long run, it comes down to who the candidate is, and if they can close the deal.”
The races have had national involvement from big-name Republicans outside of Trump. Mace is backed by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served under Trump and is widely admired in the state, as well as former acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, made a campaign stop in support of Rice, who also won the backing of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Trump’s most explicit efforts to punish those who’ve crossed him have not paid off for him so far in 2022.
In Georgia last month, for example, Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr — all of whom refused to rig the state’s 2020 election results in Trump’s favor — won their GOP primaries against challengers the former president had endorsed. And in Alabama’s Senate primary last month, Rep. Mo Brooks advanced to a runoff election even after Trump rescinded his endorsement, citing Brooks’ desire to move on from the 2020 election. Over the weekend, Trump endorsed Brooks’ Republican rival in the runoff, Katie Britt.
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Trump has had better endorsement luck in wider open races that lack the revenge narrative, including the Ohio and Pennsylvania Senate primaries. He also has padded his endorsement record by backing many candidates who were well on their way to winning before he got involved.
In Nevada, Trump’s decision was more about loyalty. Laxalt, as a Trump campaign co-chair in 2020, was behind several unsuccessful legal challenges to the election results in a state Joe Biden narrowly won. Laxalt, like Trump, raised baseless doubts about election integrity, but official investigations found no widespread fraud.
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But Laxalt has faced a robust fight from Brown, a retired Army captain whose straw poll victories and knack for collecting small donations has indicated momentum with grassroots voters. Laxalt has led in polls and has much of the national GOP establishment behind him, but some surveys have showed the race tightening. Last week, Trump held a telephone rally for Laxalt and his son Donald Trump Jr. traveled to Nevada for an in-person campaign event.
The winner of the Senate primary will likely face Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto in what’s expected to be one of the most competitive races that could determine control of the chamber this fall.
Trump Jr. also campaigned last week for Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, his father’s preferred candidate in Nevada’s crowded GOP primary for governor. Polls have shown Lombardo as the front-runner in a field that includes former Sen. Dean Heller and retired professional boxer Joey Gilbert, who has the state party’s endorsement. The winner of that primary is expected to face Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in the general election.
Nevada’s GOP primary for secretary of state is also worth watching. Jim Marchant, a former state legislator who has promoted election conspiracy theories, is a leading candidate to become the state’s next chief elections officer. Marchant has said he would not have certified Biden’s win in the state if he were secretary of state in 2020. Trump has not endorsed in the race. A recent poll showed more than a third of likely primary voters undecided, with Marchant and businessman Jesse Haw the two leading candidates.
A few additional primaries on the ballot Tuesday included the South Carolina race for governor. GOP incumbent Henry McMaster was renominated after facing a challenge from political newcomer Harrison Musselwhite, a truck driver campaigning as “Trucker Bob,” NBC News projects. Democrats will choose a nominee from a five-candidate field led by former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham and state Sen. Mia McLeod. That race is too early to call.
Also in South Carolina, Spartanburg County Democratic Party chair Angela Geter, state Rep. Krystle Matthews and author Catherine Fleming Bruce are vying for the Democratic nomination to face U.S. Sen. Tim Scott this fall. Scott, who is unopposed in the Republican primary, is seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2024.
Voters in Maine will also cast primary ballots Tuesday.
In the state’s competitive 2nd Congressional District, which covers the mostly rural northern three-quarters of the state, moderate Democratic Rep. Jared Golden is seen as one of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents in the fall. Depending on how the GOP primary turns out, he’ll face either a rematch against former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whom he defeated in 2018, or political newcomer Liz Caruso, who has been boosted by some national conservatives like Fox News host Tucker Carlson and who has said she’d align herself with people like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., if elected to Congress.
Meanwhile, Maine’s marquee race this fall is already set. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and Republican Paul LePage — a former two-term governor who left office highly unpopular — are running unopposed for their parties’ nominations.
Henry J. Gomez is a national politics reporter for NBC News.
Allan Smith is a political reporter for NBC News.
Alex Seitz-Wald contributed.
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