In pivotal primary races from Nevada to South Carolina on Tuesday, Republican voters chose candidates who fervently embraced Donald Trump’s lie about a stolen election, prompting warnings from Democrats that US democracy will be at stake in the November elections.
Victories of pro-Trump candidates in Nevada set the stage for match-ups between election-deniers and embattled Democrats in a state both parties see as critical in the midterms.
In South Carolina, a vote to impeach Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection proved one Republican’s undoing while another survived the former president’s wrath to win the nomination.
In south Texas, where Hispanic voters have shifted sharply toward the Republican party, a Republican flipped a House seat long held by a Democrat. The loss was a stark warning that Democrats’ standing with a crucial voting bloc is slipping.
Nevada, a swing state that has trended Democratic in past election cycles, will play host to a number of consequential races this fall, for House, Senate, governor and secretary of state, as Democrats seek to defend narrow majorities in Congress.
In the 50-50 Senate, every race will matter. But the party is saddled with a deeply unpopular president in a political system primed for revolt against the party in power. Inflation and the war in Ukraine have caused the cost of food and gas to shoot up while angst over gun violence and a shortage of baby formula deepens voter frustration.
Republicans view the Nevada Senate race as one of their best chances of flipping a Democratic seat. They also sense an opportunity to make inroads in a state dominated by Democrats who were guided to power by the late Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. The senator up for re-election, Catherine Cortez Masto, was his chosen successor.
Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general endorsed by Trump, easily won the Republican primary to take on Cortez Masto in one of the most fiercely contested races of the cycle.
Jim Marchant, a former lawmaker who has dabbled in the QAnon conspiracy theory and openly embraced the idea of overturning elections, will be the Republican nominee to become secretary of state, and therefore the top election official in a swing state that could be crucial to determining the presidential contest in 2024.
The elevation of election-denying Republicans across the US comes even as a bipartisan House panel investigating the Capitol attack unspools damning testimony from Trump’s inner circle, discrediting the former president’s claims.
In South Carolina, Republicans ousted the five-term incumbent, Tom Rice, who crossed Trump and loyalists by voting to impeach the former president.
Rice was defeated by Russell Fry, a Republican state lawmaker backed by Trump. The result was a welcome one for Trump after setbacks last month in races where Trump sought retribution against Republicans who rebuffed his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
But as in Georgia, there were limits to his influence. Another Republican House incumbent, Nancy Mace, fended off a Trump-backed challenger. Unlike in Rice’s staunchly conservative district, Mace – who did not vote to impeach but did criticise Trump – held on by attracting support from suburban voters who abandoned the party during the Trump years.
On social media, Trump spun the evening as a resounding success. Mace’s challenger, Katie Arrington, he said, was a “very long-shot” who “did FAR better than anticipated”.
“The ‘Impeacher’ was ousted without even a runoff. a GREAT night!,” Trump wrote on his social media site, Truth Social, about Rice.
In Maine, Jared Golden, one of the few Democrats to represent a House district Trump carried, will attempt to defy political gravity in a rematch against the seat’s former representative, Bruce Poliquin. Golden narrowly beat Poliquin in the anti-Trump wave of 2018. With political winds reversed, Poliquin hopes to regain the seat.
The state’s combative former governor, Paul LePage, is also attempting a comeback. Facing no opposition, he clinched the Republican nomination to run against the incumbent, Janet Mills.
Perhaps most worrying for Democrats was the loss in south Texas. A Republican state representative, Mayra Flores, cruised to victory, avoiding a runoff against her main Democratic opponent, Dan Sanchez, in a special election to fill a seat vacated by a Democratic congressman, Filemón Vela.
Flores will have to run again in November. Because of redistricting, she is set to square off against the Democratic congressman Vicente Gonzalez in a district considerably more left-leaning than the one she will temporarily represent.
Nevertheless, some prognosticators moved their ratings for the district in Republicans’ favor, citing gains among Hispanic voters in the Rio Grande Valley.
In a memo from the National Republican Congressional Committee obtained by CNN, the party touted Flores’ victory as the culmination of efforts to recruit and run more diverse candidates and said it offered a “blueprint for success in South Texas”.
It concluded: “This is the first of many Democrat-held seats that will flip Republican in 2022.”