Republicans in Pennsylvania and North Carolina appeared poised Tuesday night to nominate candidates for key posts who have denied, disputed or questioned the 2020 presidential race, 18 months after Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory over Donald J. Trump in a Democratic election. .
Senate races in both states and the gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania were expected to test Republican voters’ appetite for the persistent effort to revive Mr Trump’s loss. An election denier was the frontrunner in the GOP race for governor of Pennsylvania, and a congressman who refused to certify the results was poised to win in a North Carolina Senate primary.
A third high-profile primary, for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania, was a three-way battle, with two of the candidates echoing Mr. Trump’s baseless claims about the 2020 election outcome, to varying degrees, and the third largely dodging the question.
The races lined up for the most important primary night of the year so far – with voters also choosing candidates in Kentucky, Idaho and Oregon. The lineup was certain to test the potency of Mr. Trump’s endorsements with his fiercely loyal base. On the Democratic side, voters in Pennsylvania were choosing between John Fetterman, the left-leaning lieutenant governor who markets his laid-back image, and Conor Lamb, a moderate congressman.
Mr Fetterman spent Election Day in hospital after suffering a stroke which forced him to cancel his final weekend of events. His campaign said on Tuesday that he underwent “a standard procedure to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator.”
Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general and presumptive gubernatorial candidate, also had to quit the campaign trail on the final day after testing positive for Covid, saying he had mild symptoms.
In their eagerness to win the support of Mr. Trump and his staunchest supporters, Republican candidates across the country continue to actively promote the myth of a stolen election, or at least try to avoid declaring that Mr. Biden won evenly. With the midterm primary season in full swing, there is no turning back in this tide. Ahead of the Ohio Senate primary two weeks ago, the five candidates were asked if Mr. Trump should back down from his baseless claims. Only one did; he finished third.
In Pennsylvania, state senator Doug Mastriano, the frontrunner to challenge Mr. Shapiro for the open governorship, was instrumental in the failed efforts to nullify the state’s 2020 election. On Jan. 6, 2021, he “walked through broken barricades” as rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the final certification of the vote, according to a Senate Judiciary Committee report. Mr. Mastriano was subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the attack.
Attempts by establishment Republicans to block Mr. Mastriano’s rise appeared to fail, and Mr. Trump handed him his endorsement over the weekend.
In the race for the state Senate, Dr. Mehmet Oz, who also won Mr. Trump’s support for the Senate, did not make the 2020 election the focus of his candidacy, but he argued during of a debate last month that “we can’t move on”. Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator making a late push in the race, has stoked baseless allegations of voter fraud since she badly lost a House race in 2020, something she never conceded. Ms. Barnette was among the protesters marching in Washington on January 6, 2021.
In North Carolina, Representative Ted Budd, who won Mr Trump’s support in the Senate race, voted in Congress against certification of electoral votes in Pennsylvania and Arizona.
After the 2020 election, Mr. Budd signed a letter urging the Justice Department to investigate voter fraud and irregularities. Text messages released by CNN showed Mr Budd pushing an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory at Mark Meadows, who was then the White House chief of staff, suggesting Dominion Voting Systems may have ties to liberal billionaire George Soros .
After the Jan. 6 riot, Mr. Budd condemned what he called the “mob violence” he had witnessed on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn, seeking re-election in her redesigned North Carolina district, spoke at the Jan. 6 rally behind the White House that preceded the assault on the Capitol.
Even candidates without a major history of questioning election results cannot afford to speak plainly about the election without risking alienating Trump voters. At a rally hosted by Dr Oz on Monday, a voter received applause for mentioning the movie ‘2000 Mules’, which conspiratorially claims that Democratic operatives stuffed ballot boxes with fake votes. “What are you going to do to solve this problem?” asked the voter.
Dr. Oz said he had not seen the film, but called for support for Republican gubernatorial candidates, who he said would give Harrisburg lawmakers the green light “to investigate what happened in 2020”.