President Donald Trump tweeted out his picks in two primary races Tuesday, hours before the first polls closed in the night’s five states holding elections.
Trump urged South Carolina voters to pick Republican candidate Katie Arrington over incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford, whom Trump attacked in a tweet by invoking the congressman’s 2009 extra-marital affair.
“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA,” Trump tweeted. “He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!”
The race between Sanford and Arrington provides the latest test of just how willing Republican voters are to stomach congressional criticism of Trump.
The race is perhaps the most closely watched matchup in Tuesday’s slate of primaries, which also include Virginia selecting a Republican to take on Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and choosing nominees in several competitive House races, Nevada and North Dakota choosing their Senate candidates and Maine for the first time trying — and voting on whether to keep — a new voting system in which voters rank their preferences, rather than only selecting one.
Trump also tweeted his endorsement of Adam Laxalt, Nevada’s attorney general, just after noon Pacific time. “I strongly endorse Adam Laxalt for Governor of Nevada,” he tweeted. “Adam is smart, works hard, and knows how to win. He will be a great Governor. Also, will fight hard to lower your taxes and is tough on crime!”
Tuesday’s House races
Sanford’s seat is likely to remain in Republican hands no matter the winner of Tuesday’s primary.
But in Virginia, Democrats are selecting House candidates to run in some of the nation’s most competitive races.
Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock in northern Virginia’s 10th District will face the winner of a six-way Democratic primary. State Sen. Jennifer Wexton is the establishment preference, but veteran Dan Helmer’s viral ads — one of which compares the threat Trump poses to Osama bin Laden — have gained some national attention.
Democrats will also be watching the outcomes of Virginia’s 2nd District (GOP Rep. Scott Taylor), 7th District (GOP Rep. Dave Brat) and 5th District (retiring GOP Rep. Tom Garrett), where they hope to be competitive in the fall.
Another House race worth watching is in South Carolina, where Archie Parnell is poised to win the Democratic primary in the 5th District despite admitting to domestic abuse in the 1970s. Local, state and national Democrats have called on him to drop out of the race in the deep-red district and say they won’t support him if he wins.
In Nevada, the parties will choose their nominees in two competitive open seats. In the 4th District, vacated by retiring Rep. Ruben Kihuen, two former congressmen — Democrat Steven Horsford and Republican Cresent Hardy — are the favorites.
And in the 3rd District, philanthropist Susie Lee is favored in the Democratic primary, while Republicans could choose Danny Tarkanian, the son of the legendary UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who dropped his Senate bid at the urging of Trump.
Three states pick Senate candidates
The Senate landscape will become more settled Tuesday night as well.
Republicans in Virginia are picking between Corey Stewart, who has built his public profile on defending Confederate monuments, state delegate Nick Freitas, the favorite of the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and a Rand Paul ally, and minister E.W. Jackson, who has taken a series of hardline conservative positions on social issues.
National and state Republicans are hopeful that Freitas will win, but don’t see any of the candidates as likely to pose a real threat to Kaine.
That’s in part due to Virginia’s changing demographics, particularly the northern part of the state becoming more dense, more diverse and more progressive. None of the three Senate candidates appears to match that region.
“They keep running Alabama candidates and Alabama campaigns, and they’ve just quit communicating with the northern Virginia suburbs,” former GOP Rep. Tom Davis told CNN when asked about Virginia Republicans’ struggles in recent elections.
In Nevada, Democrats are set to nominate Rep. Jacky Rosen to take on Republican Sen. Dean Heller. And in North Dakota, Republicans will pick Rep. Kevin Cramer to challenge Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. The primaries are sleepy, but the two states will be among the nation’s most competitive Senate battlegrounds in the fall.
Governor races take top local billing
In most states voting Tuesday night, the governor races will get the most local attention.
In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster — an early and vocal supporter of Trump who replaced former Gov. Nikki Haley — faces challenges from Haley administration veteran Catherine Templeton, businessman John Warren and others. If he fails to top 50%, it would catapult him into a one-on-one runoff.
Democrats, meanwhile, could nominate state Rep. Jason Smith, a Joe Biden ally, to take on the Republican winner there.
In Nevada, the race to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval features primaries in both parties.
Democrats will choose between two Clark County commissioners — Steve Sisolak, a moderate backed by former Sen. Harry Reid, and Chris Giunchigliani, who was endorsed by Hillary Clinton and is a woman, which has proven to be a decisive advantage in earlier Democratic contests this year.
Republicans, meanwhile, appear poised to nominate Adam Laxalt, the state’s attorney general and the son of former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici and Michelle Laxalt, the daughter of former Nevada governor and senator Paul Laxalt. He faces a field of candidates that also includes state treasurer Dan Schwartz.