Wednesday, June 13News That Matters

Sanford in trouble with nearly half of vote counted

Rep. Mark Sanford, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, is trailing a pro-Trump primary challenger in his South Carolina district with just under half the vote counted.

State Rep. Katie Arrington has 52 percent of the GOP primary vote to 45 percent for Sanford with 43 percent of precincts reporting after a campaign focused on Sanford’s criticism of Trump’s fiscal policy and rhetoric. Arrington, who won an endorsement from Trump via Twitter late Tuesday, told POLITICO that Sanford “has ostracized [himself] to the point where there will never be a seat at the table for him.”

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Trump is playing a central role in primaries across five states, including the gubernatorial race in South Carolina. Gov. Henry McMaster, an early Trump backer, is running on the president’s endorsement as his top qualification as he seeks a full term against a crowded primary field.

In Nevada, Trump publicly prodded Danny Tarkanian to drop his Senate primary bid against GOP Sen. Dean Heller, and Tarkanian instead walked away with an endorsement tweet for another battleground House campaign, which looks set to help him through Tuesday’s nominating contest.

“The nod from Trump is enormously helpful in Republican primaries,” said Ryan Hamilton, a Republican consultant based in Nevada.

Trump looms over Democratic voters and candidates too, and primaries around the country are rife with rhetoric and ads about taking on the president. Democrats in Northern Virginia nominated state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, who’s promised to be a “check on the president,” in one of the most anti-Trump districts still held by a House Republican — Rep. Barbara Comstock won reelection in D.C. suburbs’ 10th District even as Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 10 points in 2016. Democrats nominated women in all four potential battleground districts in Virginia, continuing a trend of strong performance by female candidates in this year’s primaries.

But anti-Trump positioning extends into Democratic contests in Trump country, too. In northern Maine, Democratic state Rep. Jared Golden has pitched voters in his battleground House primaries that “Trump’s talk and special interests won’t stop me.”

Polls closed at 7 p.m. Eastern in South Carolina and Virginia; 8 p.m. in Maine; 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. in North Dakota (which is split between two time zones); and 10 p.m. in Nevada.

Here’s a state-by-state guide to what’s on the ballot Tuesday:

South Carolina

McMaster, then the lieutenant governor, was the highest-ranking elected official to endorse Trump when he jumped aboard the president’s campaign in January 2016. And after Trump’s appointment of Nikki Haley to the Cabinet made McMaster governor, Trump returned the favor with an endorsement of his own in October 2017, tweeting that McMaster was “with me from the beginning.”

McMaster touted the support in TV ads, hoping to avoid a runoff with former state Secretary of Labor Catherine Templeton, who has cast herself in the mold of Haley. But McMaster has had to fight off ties to corruption in state government, including the indictment of a longtime political consultant. If no candidate reaches the 50 percent threshold, then the race will head into a runoff on June 26. That’s where things stood with 15 percent of the vote in, with McMaster ahead of the pack but just off a majority pace at 45 percent.

State Rep. James Smith, backed by Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Jim Clyburn, also hopes to escape a runoff for the Democratic nomination for governor. He’s running against businessman Phil Noble and attorney Marguerite Willis.

In contrast to McMaster, Sanford’s vocal criticism of the president in Congress left a primary opening for state Rep. Katie Arrington, whose TV ads tagged the congressman as an opponent of the Trump agenda. The tight race forced Sanford, a notoriously frugal candidate, to dump last-minute cash into TV ads.

Numerous outside groups and over a dozen candidates are competing in a raucous Republican primary to replace Rep. Trey Gowdy, who is retiring in the 4th District. That race is almost certain to go to a runoff; the question is who makes it to the June 26 head-to-head contest.

In South Carolina’s 5th District, Democrat Archie Parnell is running again to take on GOP Rep. Ralph Norman in a rematch of their 2017 special election. But Parnell ignored calls from national and state Democrats to drop out after admitting that he physically abusing his ex-wife in the 1970s. His standing with primary voters is in doubt, though none of Parnell’s opponents is well-known.


Nevada Democrats — hoping to snap their 20-year losing streak for the governor’s mansion in 2018 — must first emerge from a nasty primary that pit two Clark County commissioners against each other.

Christina Giunchigliani, known as “Chris G,” attacked Steve Sisolak for his moderate record on education and gun control, after he received an “A minus” rating from the National Rifle Association. Sisolak called Giunchigliani “what’s wrong with politics,” in one TV ad, and accuses of her “not telling the truth” in another.

The eventual Democratic nominee is expected to face Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the Republican frontrunner and grandson of Paul Laxalt, a former senator and governor from Nevada.

Voters will also select nominees in a pair of open, Democratic-held battleground House districts. Democrats expect philanthropist Susie Lee, who’s led her opponents in fundraising, to head into November. On the Republican side, Tarkanian leads the nine-candidate pack for the seat he lost in 2016, against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who’s now running for the Senate.

“He’s won this race before,” Hamilton said, noting that state Sen. Scott Hammond has “given [Tarkanian] a run for his money, but it’s hard to overcome the name ID and the record he has there.”

A rematch is expected in Nevada’s 4th District, left open after Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) announced he wouldn’t seek reelection after he came under fire for sexual harassment allegations. Former Rep. Steven Horsford lost the seat to former Rep. Cresent Hardy in 2014, a historically low participation year for Democrats.

But the powerful Culinary Union has vowed not to let that happen again, deploying hundreds of union members to “knock on doors and drive people to the polls,” said Bethany Khan, a spokeswoman for the labor group.

“We call it affectionately, ‘Culinary District 4,’ and when we focus our resources on it, we win,” Khan said.


Democratic women in Virginia dominated their primaries.

In Virginia’s 10th District, the top three finishers in the Democratic primary are women. Wexton won the race, followed by former Obama administration officials, Alison Friedman and Lindsey Davis Stover. Dan Helmer, a veteran who tried to go viral in his ads by spoofing a scene out of “Top Gun” and comparing Trump to Osama bin Laden in ads – came in fourth place. Democrats are looking forward to putting the crowded – and expensive – primary behind them. Hillary Clinton won the district by double-digits in 2016, and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam carried it by a 20-point margin in 2017.

Farther south, Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer, will face GOP Rep. Dave Brat in a district Trump won outside Richmond. Elaine Luira, a retired Navy commander who picked up early establishment support, picked up the Democratic nomination to face GOP Rep. Scott Taylor in Virginia’s southeast.

In the Senate race, Corey Stewart narrowly won the nomination to face incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine a year after falling short in the gubernatorial primary. Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, led state Del. Nick Freitas by 1.4 percentage points.

Stewart is a controversial candidate — Freitas attacked him aggressively in the final days of the campaign, arguing his controversial past allowed Democrats to caricature the party as racist. Some Republicans worry his place atop the ticket could hurt other Republicans on the ticket.

“The establishment wing of the party does not want Stewart,” former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis told POLITICO before the primary. “They think he’s going to be an embarrassment in the general.”

Stewart rejects that notion. An ardent supporter of the president, he argues Virginia Republicans have lost by not being tough enough.

“These establishment Republicans keep trying to hang on to a party and a type of politics that is going away and that doesn’t work anymore,” Stewart said in an interview before the primary. “You can’t just put an R after your name and be the gentleman Republican and expect to win elections anymore in Virginia. You have to be aggressive.”

Kaine remains the heavy favorite. He and Hillary Clinton carried the state by 5 percentage pionts in 2016 and he starts the race wtih a $10.6 million war chest.


Voters in Maine will cast ranked-choice primary ballots on Tuesday, a first for a statewide contest in the United States. Voters will participate in an “instant runoff” vote, ranking Democratic candidates for governor 1-through-8 or Republicans 1-through-4. If no one gets 50 percent of the first-choice votes, the tally will take additional choices into account. GOP Gov. Paul LePage is term limited.

But it may also be the last time voters will use the system. A 2018 ballot measure will decide the fate of ranked-choice voting, which critics call confusing and supporters say is a “simple, fair and common sense form of voting,” according to Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who filmed a pro-Question 1 ad.

Democrats will also nominate a candidate to go up against GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a perennial battleground district, choosing among four options on the ballot. State Rep. Jared Golden, a combat veteran, and conservationist Lucas St. Clair are battling for the top slot.

North Dakota

It’s a sleepy primary affair in North Dakota. GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer faced only token opposition and will square off against Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a general election that will be among the most closely watched in the country.

State Sen. Kelly Armstrong is the favorite in the three-way Republican race to replace Cramer. Tiffany Abentroth, a defense contractor and veteran, and Paul Schaffner, an oil field consultant, are also running. Mac Schneider, the former state Senate minority leader, is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

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