Seven key primary races to watch in May
The 2022 primary season begins in earnest next month as voters in a dozen states head to the polls to cast their ballots in some of the biggest nominating contests of the year.
Many of the primaries — in states like Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania — will be seen as early tests of former President Trump’s influence over the GOP electorate as he weighs a potential comeback bid for the White House in 2024.
Here are seven races to watch in May:
Ohio GOP Senate primary (May 3)
Trump’s endorsement of J.D. Vance earlier this month shook up the GOP primary to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), but it hasn’t cleared the field.
Vance is still facing a half-dozen challengers in the May 3 nominating contest, including former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, businessman Mike Gibbons and state Sen. Matt Dolan.
The primary contest has so far manifested as a fight over who is most loyal to Trump and his political movement. And while his endorsement of Vance should give the “Hillbilly Elegy” author a leg up in the race, public polling suggests he has some catching up to do.
A Fox News poll conducted in March found Vance trailing both Gibbons and Mandel by double-digit margins, while a survey from the Republican-leaning Trafalgar Group released earlier this month showed him running 5 points behind Mandel.
Both of those polls were fielded before Trump weighed in on the race, turning the primary into a test of his influence over GOP primary voters.
Meanwhile, the Democratic primary has been far calmer. Rep. Tim Ryan is seen as the favorite to clinch the party’s nomination, though he still faces a challenge from his left in attorney and community organizer Morgan Harper.
North Carolina GOP Senate primary (May 17)
Like in Ohio, the Republican primary for the North Carolina Senate nomination has emerged as a key test of Trump’s endorsing power.
He threw his support behind Rep. Ted Budd (N.C.) last summer. Despite that early endorsement, Budd has only just begun to take the lead in the polls and still faces a formidable challenge from former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on May 17.
At the same time, Trump’s efforts to clear the field in Budd’s favor have fallen flat.
The former president sought to lure former Rep. Mark Walker out of the Senate race earlier this year by promising to endorse him if he ran instead for his old House seat. Walker rejected that offer, irritating some Trump allies.
The leading Democrat in the race, former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, is expected to easily win her party’s nomination next month. Her top challenger, state Sen. Jeff Jackson, dropped his Senate bid in December and endorsed Beasley for the Democratic nod.
Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary (May 17)
Trump stunned many in his party earlier this month when he endorsed celebrity physician Mehmet Oz in the GOP Senate primary in Pennsylvania, with even some of his close allies expressing concern over his choice.
Nevertheless, Trump’s endorsement now makes Oz the candidate to beat — and his opponents aren’t backing down.
Former hedge fund executive David McCormick has sought to cast Oz as a political opportunist with limited conservative credentials, while others, like real estate developer Jeff Bartos, former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands and political commentator Kathy Barnette, have accused both McCormick and Oz of being carpetbaggers who only recently moved to Pennsylvania to run for the Senate held by the retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R).
The primary is also expected to test just how far Trump’s endorsement will go among Republican voters.
A poll from The Hill and Emerson College conducted in early April before the former president weighed in on the race found McCormick leading Oz by 6 points. A more recent survey from the Trafalgar Group, however, showed Oz pulling into the lead, albeit by a narrow 3-point margin.
Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary (May 17)
Republicans aren’t the only ones staring down a contentious Senate primary in Pennsylvania.
On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is seen as the front-runner for his party’s nomination, though he’s still facing a staunch challenge from Rep. Conor Lamb, who has argued that Fetterman is too progressive to win statewide in a year that’s already proving challenging for Democrats.
Fetterman has also found himself playing defense in recent days over a 2013 incident in which he confronted a man while carrying a shotgun and detained him after hearing what he believed was gunfire. Fetterman was serving as the mayor of Braddock, Pa., at the time.
Both Lamb and another candidate, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, have hammered Fetterman over the incident, including during a televised debate last week.
Fetterman has a sizable lead in the primary, according to polls. A survey from Franklin & Marshall College earlier this month showed the lieutenant governor leading Lamb 41 percent to 17 percent. Kenyatta notched only 4 percent support in that poll.
Georgia GOP gubernatorial primary (May 24)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) made an enemy of Trump in the wake of the 2020 presidential election after he rebuffed the former president’s efforts to reverse his loss in Georgia.
Now, Kemp is facing a Trump-backed primary challenge from former Sen. David Perdue, who’s leaning on his ties to the former president to win over the state’s most conservative voters.
Despite having the support of Trump, however, Perdue has yet to pull ahead in the primary. A new poll from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution released on Tuesday shows Kemp with a staggering 26-point lead over Perdue, scoring 53 percent support among likely primary voters.
If that support translates to votes in the May 24 primary election, it would mean that Kemp would clinch the nomination for a second term without having to face a runoff.
A primary loss for Perdue, who jumped into the race in December at Trump’s urging, would likely be seen as a major blow to Trump’s endorsing power.
Democrat Stacey Abrams, meanwhile, isn’t facing any primary opposition.
Alabama GOP Senate primary (May 24)
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) was seen as the early favorite to succeed the retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R) after scoring an early endorsement from Trump last year. But that endorsement never translated to real political support, prompting Trump to withdraw his support from Brooks last month.
The primary now appears to be a head-to-head match-up between former Army pilot Mike Durant and Katie Britt, a former aide to Shelby. Trump hasn’t endorsed a new candidate in the race, but recent polling shows Durant with an advantage.
A survey from The Hill and Nexstar conducted last month after Trump rescinded his endorsement of Brooks showed Durant leading the pack with 33 percent support, while Britt trailed in second place with 23 percent support. Brooks notched only 12 percent in that poll.
Still, that poll found that 52 percent of primary voters said Trump’s backing would make them more likely to support a candidate.
Given Alabama’s deep-red politics, the eventual winner of the primary will be seen as the heavy favorite to win Shelby’s seat in November.
Texas GOP attorney general runoff (May 24)
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and state Land Commissioner George P. Bush bested two other Republican candidates in the state’s March 1 primary. But neither managed to break the 50 percent threshold needed to win the GOP nomination outright, pitting them against one another once again in a May 24 runoff.
Paxton is seen as the favorite in the runoff, having won roughly 20 percent more of the vote than Bush did in the March 1 primary. He also has the endorsement of Trump.
Still, Paxton faces some challenges. Bush has attacked him relentlessly for months over a years-old securities fraud indictment, as well as a more recent FBI investigation into abuse-of-office allegations.
Bush faces an uphill battle for the nomination in the runoff. Nevertheless, he and other opponents of Paxton have warned that the incumbent attorney general’s legal issues could jeopardize the office for Republicans come November.