5 things to watch in Nevada, South Carolina primaries
Republican voters in South Carolina will decide on Tuesday whether to show the door to two GOP House members over their past criticism of former President Trump, while Nevada Republicans appear poised to hand a victory to his preferred Senate candidate.
The nominating contests in South Carolina and Nevada have drawn significant national attention, in no small part because of the former president’s deep involvement in several key races. Two other states, Maine and North Dakota, are also set to hold primaries on Tuesday.
Here are five things to watch for in this week’s primaries.
Does Trump suffer more high-profile defeats?
Trump is facing two tests of his influence in South Carolina, where a pair of Republican members of Congress who broke with him over the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol are facing primary challengers backed by the former president.
In the state’s 1st Congressional District, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) is going head-to-head against state Rep. Katie Arrington, who has placed Trump’s endorsement at the center of her campaign. Mace, a first-term representative, was among the handful of GOP members of Congress who criticized Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot.
Likewise, Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.), who was among the 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump for his role in the riot, is facing off against Trump-backed state Rep. Russell Fry in the primary to represent South Carolina’s 7th District.
For now, Mace appears on track to notch a comfortable win in the primary. A poll conducted by Basswood Research for the Republican group Winning for Women Action Fund last month showed Mace leading Arrington 44 percent to 24 percent, though another 28 percent were undecided.
Rice, meanwhile, is facing a larger field of primary challengers and is trailing Fry in the polls. Still, Fry’s lead doesn’t appear to be big enough to clinch the nomination outright. A candidate in South Carolina must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
How decisive is Laxalt’s victory in Nevada?
Former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt is the Republican to beat in Tuesday’s Senate primary in Nevada.
He not only has Trump’s endorsement, but he also has gotten a boost from a group aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Polling shows him with a double-digit lead over his nearest GOP rival, political newcomer Sam Brown.
But the question is whether Laxalt can win broader support than his Trump-endorsed counterparts in other hotly contested Senate races if he does indeed take on Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) in November.
While several of Trump’s preferred candidates have pulled off primary wins this year, they haven’t always done so decisively. In Ohio, for instance, author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance won less than one-third of the primary vote while still capturing the nomination.
In Pennsylvania, where Trump endorsed celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, the GOP Senate primary was so close that it required a recount before being decided.
Given that Nevada is home to one of the year’s most competitive Senate races, it’s worth watching to see just how unified Nevada Republican voters are in the lead up to the general election campaign.
Does Bernie Sanders score a surprise victory?
Just days before Nevada’s June 14 nominating contests, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) weighed in on the Democratic primary for the state’s ultra-competitive 1st Congressional District, backing a progressive challenge to five-term Rep. Dina Titus.
Titus was already facing a tough primary. But Sanders’s endorsement of progressive Amy Vilela adds another variable in the race and signals the latest attempt by the Democratic Party’s left flank to flex its muscles in nominating contests nationwide.
Sanders isn’t the only high-profile progressive to back Vilela in the race. She also has the endorsements of former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a member of the “squad,” the group of progressive House members.
If Titus pulls off a win on Tuesday, it will almost certainly be seen as a surprise victory for progressives. But it could also carry big implications for November.
While Nevada’s 1st District previously heavily favored Democrats, the redistricting process has left it significantly more competitive, giving Republicans another pickup opportunity in their push to reclaim the House majority later this year.
Does a blue-wave Democrat come back in South Carolina?
Former Rep. Joe Cunningham (D) successfully flipped South Carolina’s 1st District from Republican hands in 2018 only to lose it again two years later. Now, he’s hoping to come back, this time as the Democratic nominee for governor.
Five candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination to take on Gov. Henry McMaster (R) in November, but Cunningham’s main rival is state Sen. Mia McLeod, the first Black female candidate for South Carolina governor.
While Cunningham has frequently pointed to his successful effort to win a Republican-held House seat in 2018 to argue that he’s the candidate with the best shot of ousting McMaster this year, McLeod has cast her campaign as a new direction for the party, arguing that candidates like Cunningham have failed for years to make lasting gains in South Carolina.
Whoever emerges from the Democratic primary is still likely to face an uphill battle in November. South Carolina hasn’t elected a Democrat to the governor’s mansion since 1998, and McMaster remains popular within the state.
Democrats are also facing a tough election year nationally, making the task of flipping a solidly Republican state blue all the more difficult.
What do Nevada and South Carolina say about Black and Latino voters?
The primaries in South Carolina are set to test the motivation of one of the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting blocs: Black voters.
Black voters make up roughly 60 percent of the Democratic electorate in the state. And while South Carolina tilts strongly in favor of Republicans statewide, it’s worth watching whether Black voters come out in force in Tuesday’s primaries.
In Nevada, meanwhile, the focus will be on Latino voters, a bloc that was once seen as reliably Democratic but has shifted to the right in recent years. In 2020, for instance, Trump won 35 percent of the Latino electorate compared to 29 percent in 2016.
While primary turnout is often a poor indicator of general election turnout, the primaries in Nevada could offer some hints about where the electorate stands ahead of November, when the big question will be whether Republicans will continue to expand their support among Latino voters or if the GOP’s 2020 gains were a one-off.