‘Be Careful What You Wish For’: Takeaways from Tuesday’s Dramatic Primary Elections

Tuesday’s primary elections in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Idaho and Oregon produced mixed results without a clear narrative.


Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary is headed for a recount. Fewer than 2,000 votes separate as-seen-on-TV Doctor Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick and no winner has been declared.

  • Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) easily won his party’s nomination for Senate from a hospital bed after suffering a stroke. In North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd (R) and former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley (D) easily won their respective Senate primaries.
  • A last-minute Trump endorsement was not enough to save Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), who lost renomination to establishment-backed state Sen. Chuck Edwards.
  • State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who tried to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 Pennsylvania defeat and was present on the Capitol grounds during the January 6 Capitol riot won the GOP nomination for Governor of Pennsylvania. Mastriano’s campaign was bolstered by last-minute backing from Trump and nearly $1 million in spending from his Democratic opponent, attorney general Josh Shapiro.
  • Shapiro successfully manipulated GOP voters into backing Mastriano with ads calling him “one of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters” and “attacking” him for holding political positions popular with the GOP base like ending vote-by-mail and limiting abortion access.
  • Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) easily turned back a Trump-backed challenge from Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, while longtime Idaho AG Larry Wasden (R) trails ex-Rep. Raul Labrador.
  • Oregon’s statehouse battles are headed statewide, as progressive Speaker Tina Kotek (D) and minority leader Christine Drazan (R) captured their party’s nominations for governor. Both candidates will face well-funded independent Betsy Johnson in a competitve general election.
  • Moderate Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) is trailing badly against progressive challenger Jamie McLeod Skinner. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) handily defeated primary challenges from Trumpier-than-thou candidates who lacked Trump’s backing.
  • Establishment Democrats defeated progressives to win six open-seat primaries for House seats in Louisville, KY, Eugene, OR, the Pittsburgh suburbs, and three North Carolina seats. The primary for Pennsylvania’s 12th District in Pittsburgh between establishment attorney Steve Irwin (D) and democratic socialist state Rep. Summer Lee remains too close to call.

reporting from the left side of the aisle

  • The New York Times noted that nearly all Trump-endorsed candidates in competitive GOP primaries have finished with around one-third of the vote: J.D. Vance – 32 percent; Charles Herbster – 30 percent; Mehmet Oz – 31 percent; and Bo Hines – 32 percent. “Trump’s endorsement is still worth a lot. But Republican voters often have minds of their own.”
  • The Washington Post said Tuesday’s results “brought more reason to doubt Trump’s status as a GOP kingmaker” with the high-profile defeats of Rep. Madison Cawthorn and his challenger to Idaho Gov. Brad Little, with the jury still out on Dr. Oz.
  • Politico made the case that Tuesday was a good night for progressives, citing Fetterman’s PA Senate victory and Andrea Salinas’ win in Oregon’s new 6th district along with Summer Lee and Jamie McLeod-Skinner’s leads in the uncalled PA-12 and OR-05 Democratic primaries.

  • National Review’s Charlie Cook wrote, “I do not want to hear a single thing from the Democratic Party about the “threat” that Doug Mastriano presents to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or to the republic in general… because the Democratic Party clearly doesn’t believe a word of it. When one truly believes that a given candidate is a threat, one doesn’t ‘send out mailers boosting him,’ or spend $840,000 on television advertisements designed to improve his standing.”
  • Fox News reported it may take days to determine a winner in Pennsylvania’s photo-finish Senate primary between Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick. Dark horse candidate Kathy Barnette badly trailed the two frontrunners, yet she refused to concede to the “globalists.”
  • The New York Post covered Madison Cawthorn’s defeat in North Carolina’s 11th District. He lost by a “razor-thin margin” to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, who was supported by most of North Carolina’s GOP establishment and benefitted from heavy spending by Sen. Thom Tillis.

Author’s Take

Republicans chose weak nominees in three key races. Doug Mastriano is probably Pennsylvania Republicans’ weakest candidate for governor, which is why his Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro spent so heavily on his behalf. Sandy Smith won the GOP primary in North Carolina’s competitive 1st District with a small plurality after facing a torrent of negative headlines including allegations of abuse from two ex-husbands. Bo Hines, Trump’s pick in NC-13 and a 26-year-old recent law school graduate, shopped for a district for a year before finally carpetbagging into the 13th. In a neutral political year, all three would likely lose handily.

But 2022 is not shaping up to be a neutral year. Democrats leaked to Punchbowl News internal polling showing them losing in competitive districts by 47-39 percent, which would translate into a landslide GOP victory. Josh Shapiro helped ensure his opponent was as weak, extreme and unelectable as possible. Likewise, North Carolina Democrats were probably cheering Smith and Hines’ nominations. But wave years can produce surprises and sweep in candidates normally thought unelectable – like a Democratic Congresswoman in Oklahoma City or Republican Senators from Massachusetts and Illinois. Shapiro and Democrats should have learned lessons from Hillary Clinton in 2016: be careful what you wish for.

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© Dominic Moore, 2022