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GOP Advances Senate Candidates in W.Va., Md. Who Could Flip Dem Seats

GOP Advances Senate Candidates in W.Va., Md. Who Could Flip Dem Seats
(Getty Images)

Tuesday, 14 May 2024 10:45 PM EDT

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan won Republican Senate nominations on Tuesday as voters across neighboring states with antithetical politics decided contests with big implications for the Senate majority fight this fall.

At the same time, Democrat President Joe Biden and Republican rival Donald Trump tried to project strength in low-stakes presidential primaries. Further down the ballot, two congressional candidates on opposite sides of the 2021 Capitol attack serve as a stark reminder that the nation remains deeply divided over the deadly insurrection.

In all, three states hosted statewide primary elections on Tuesday — Maryland, Nebraska, and West Virginia — as Republicans and Democrats pick their nominees for a slate of fall elections. None were more consequential than Senate primaries in deep-blue Maryland and deep-red West Virginia, where Republicans are eying pickup opportunities that could flip control of Congress' upper chamber for at least two years.

In Maryland, Hogan claimed the GOP Senate nomination, according to DecisionDesk HQ, giving Republicans a legitimate chance at picking up a Senate seat in the deep-blue state for the first time in more than four decades.

Hogan overcame his years-long criticism of Trump, a position that put him at odds with many Republican primary voters but will undoubtedly help him in the general election this fall. Maryland voters gave Biden a 33-point victory over Trump four years ago.

On the Democrat side, Rep. David Trone was locked in a contentious — and expensive — fight with Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who was declared the winner by DecisionDesk HQ.

Trone, the co-founder of the Total Wine & More national liquor store chain, put more than $61 million of his own money into a losing effort in the race. That's just short of the national record for self-funding a Senate campaign, with much of it going to a months-long TV ad blitz. The three-term congressman said he was better positioned to defeat Hogan in November as a progressive Democrat not beholden to special interests.

Alsobrooks was endorsed by many of the state's top officials, including Gov. Wes Moore, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Steny Hoyer, and a long list of state lawmakers. She has campaigned on growing economic opportunity, investing in education and protecting abortion rights.

Justice's won his primary against U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney in the race to replace Sen. Joe Manchin, according to DecisionDesk HQ. With Manchin gone, the seat is almost guaranteed to turn red in November.

Justice, a former billionaire with a folksy personality endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is wildly popular in the state. A former Democrat, Justice switched to the Republican Party in 2017, announcing the change at a Trump rally.

Mooney had tried to win over conservatives by labeling Justice a "RINO" — which stands for "Republican in name only" — who would support Democrat policies. Justice did support Biden's bipartisan infrastructure law, saying West Virginia couldn't afford to turn away the money offered in the bill.

At a polling place in Charleston, West Virginia's capital, voter Steve Ervin said his votes Tuesday were directly related to Trump.

"I really did an exhaustive study of the sample ballot of who I believe supported Trump and Trump supported them," said Ervin, who works in the state's unemployment office. "That's what I made my whole decision on."

West Virginia is also deciding its candidates for governor. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the Republican nominee in the 2018 Senate race against Manchin, was declared the winner by DecisionDesk HQ in the GOP primary, beating out former state Rep. Moore Capito, whose mother is U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito.

Biden and Trump have amassed enough delegates to claim the presidential nominations at their national conventions this summer. Yet, voters on both sides hoped to register a significant protest vote Tuesday that would demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Biden-Trump rematch.

Although DecisionDesk HQ awarded Biden and Trump their primaries in West Virginia, Maryland and Nebraska, Maryland progressives especially unhappy with the Biden administration's support for Israel in its war against Hamas had encouraged voters to select "uncommitted to any presidential candidate" instead of Biden.

According to DecisionDesk HQ, 9.7% of Democrat primary voters in Maryland chose "uncommitted," echoing similar protests in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. There was no "uncommitted" option in West Virginia or Nebraska.

Everett Bellamy, a Democrat who voted early in Annapolis, said he voted "uncommitted" instead of Biden as a protest against the killing of women and children and noncombatants in Gaza.

"I wanted to send a message," Bellamy, 74, said after leaving an early voting center.

Although Trump's Republican critics cannot choose "uncommitted," they can choose his former GOP rival Nikki Haley, who appeared on the ballot in Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia despite formally suspending her campaign more than two months ago.

Haley was doing well in Nebraska, with 21.7% of the vote with 54% of precincts reporting, according to DecisionDesk HQ. She got 19.9% in Maryland with 68% of precincts reporting and just 9.4% in West Virginia. 

Derek Faux, an independent voter from Charleston, said he supported Haley, and in other Republican races, he said he voted for the candidates he believed were least like Trump.

"I would rather see moderate, reasonable Republicans than some of the other folks," said Faux, a librarian.

Tuesday's elections also included two candidates who were intimately involved in the events of Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.

In West Virginia, Derrick Evans, a former member of the House of Delegates, lost his bid for the Republican nomination in the 1st congressional district to incumbent Rep. Carol Miller. Evans, 39, served a three-month jail sentence after livestreaming himself participating in the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

In Maryland, former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who was among those working at the Capitol to repel protesters trying to enter, losing the Democrat primary to state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, 35, the youngest woman elected to Maryland's Senate. Elfreth is seeking to replace Democrat Rep. John Sarbanes, who is not seeking re-election.

In Nebraska, Republican Sens. Deb Fischer and Pete Ricketts easily one their primaries, according to DecisionDesk HQ, one of the rare occasions when both senators in a state are on the ballot at the same time. In Nebraska's 2nd congressional district, Republican Rep. Don Bacon easily fended off a challenge from his right flank.

In North Carolina, voters finalized their pick of the Trump-endorsed Brad Knott in what had become a one-person Republican primary in the state's 13th congressional district. Knott's opponent, Kelly Daughtry, dropped out of the race after Trump's endorsement.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan won Republican Senate nominations on Tuesday as voters across neighboring states with antithetical politics decided contests with big implications for the Senate majority fight this fall.
maryland, west virginia, senate, primary, republicans, democrats
Tuesday, 14 May 2024 10:45 PM
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