What to watch in Kentucky, North Carolina and Pennsylvania primaries

Trump ties and progressive strength tested in nearly a dozen open seats

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Tuesday's primary, revealed Sunday he was hospitalized for a stroke. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Tuesday's primary, revealed Sunday he was hospitalized for a stroke. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted May 16, 2022 at 5:00am

The nomination battles for open Senate seats in Pennsylvania and North Carolina that will be settled Tuesday have already consumed $127 million, a figure that will likely be matched or even topped before November as both states become battlegrounds for control of the 50-50 chamber.

On top of that, a slew of retirements, new districts created through reapportionment and a couple of House members deciding to make Senate runs also means there are nine House districts without incumbents in states holding primaries on Tuesday.

Here’s a look at those races.

Senate races test Trump strength again

Pennsylvania and North Carolina will each hold a high-profile Senate race because Sens. Patrick J. Toomey and Richard M. Burr are retiring. Democrats see both vacancies as opportunities to grow their majority, while Republicans are defending them as they hope to take back control of the Senate.

In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman was the favorite over Rep. Conor Lamb and state Sen. Malcolm Kenyatta heading into the primary — a Franklin & Marshall College poll taken April 20 to May 1 had him up by 39 points. But Fetterman revealed Sunday that he was hospitalized in Lancaster on Friday and had a stroke caused by a blood clot that made his heart beat abnormally.

[These 3 House incumbents' reelection bids could end Tuesday]

In a statement, Fetterman said doctors were able to "completely remove the clot, reversing the stroke, [and] they got my heart under control as well." He said he was told he "didn't suffer any cognitive damage" and could return to the campaign trail, "but first I need to take a minute, get some rest, and recover."

"There's so much at stake in this race, and I'm going to be ready for the hard fight ahead," he said, adding his campaign was "not slowing down one bit, and we are still on track to win the primary."

The Republican primary is more uncertain, and another test of the power of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. He endorsed Mehmet Oz, the former daytime television host, over hedge fund manager David McCormick. Both candidates and super PACs supporting them have spent millions attacking each other in a television ad war over the past few months. Conservative commentator Kathy Barnette has surged, according to several recent polls, but Trump pushed back on her campaign, saying she would “never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats.”

Jeff Bartos, the 2018 Republican lieutenant governor nominee, and businesswoman Carla Sands are also in the mix in the GOP primary. 

North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd is running in a 14-candidate field for the Republican nomination for Senate, but he's got former President Donald Trump's endorsement.

In North Carolina, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has a clear path to the Democratic nomination, while polls indicate Rep. Ted Budd has pulled ahead of former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker in the Republican primary. Trump endorsed Budd more than 11 months ago, and the three-term House Freedom Caucus member also has support from the Club for Growth, which has spent almost $7 million supporting Budd and another $3.7 million attacking McCrory.  In North Carolina, candidates must earn at least 30 percent of votes to avoid a runoff. 

Beasley’s campaign released a poll last week showing that she was statistically tied with either Budd or McCrory. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Pennsylvania race as Tilt Republican and the North Carolina race as Lean Republican.

Comeback attempts and an American Idol in North Carolina 

1st District: Ten-term Rep. G. K. Butterfield’s retirement created an open race, and he endorsed state Sen. Don Davis, who is in a four-way primary for the Democratic nomination. Former state Sen. Erica Smith has earned endorsements from progressives, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and has criticized Davis for votes he’s taken on reproductive rights. A GQR poll from this week showed Davis with a double-digit lead over Smith.

On the Republican side, Sandy Smith is running as a pro-Trump candidate, while Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson’s campaign said his opponent was “uniquely qualified” to blow the party’s chance of flipping the seat in November. Roberson released a trove of documents the campaign said Democrats would use against Smith in November if she is the nominee. Roberson was named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “On the Radar” program for promising contenders last month. 

Inside Elections rates the November race Lean Democratic.

4th District: The Democratic primary to replace retiring 17-term Rep. David E. Price will be another test of progressives’ power. State Sen. Valerie Foushee is the front-runner, but Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam has earned support from several progressive groups and lawmakers. Former “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken is also a contender in his second bid for Congress. If none of the candidates earns 30 percent of the vote Tuesday, the race will proceed to a runoff.

13th District: The seat Budd gave up to run for Senate could be one of the most competitive races nationwide this fall after redistricting transformed it from a district that Trump won by 35 points to one President Joe Biden would have won by 2 points. It features a large Republican primary, including former Rep. Renee Ellmers attempting a comeback and candidates who have poured their own money into the race.

Bo Hines, a 26-year-old former college football player, earned Trump’s endorsement and loaned his campaign $775,000. Kelly Daughtry, a family law attorney, has loaned her campaign nearly $3 million as of April 27. Both were named to the NRCC’s “On the Radar” program. Kent Kiersey also loaned his campaign $450,000 and was endorsed by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. With eight candidates in the race, this is another that could go to a runoff if no one gets more than 30 percent of the vote.

Five candidates are running in the Democratic primary. State Sen. Wiley Nickel and former state Sen. Sam Searcy are the leading candidates.

14th District: Biden would have beaten Trump by 16 points in this new seat North Carolina gained after the census. State Sen. Jeff Jackson, who initially had run for Senate, is favored to win the Democratic nomination, and Inside Elections rates the fall race as Likely Democratic. 

Sanders wades into Pennsylvania battle

12th District: Longtime Rep. Mike Doyle’s decision to retire has led to a competitive Democratic primary between Summer Lee, a progressive member of the state House, and attorney Steve Irwin, as well as three other candidates. Doyle backed Irwin, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stumped for Lee last week.

Outside groups have spent heavily in the race, with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s super PAC targeting Lee and favoring Irwin. The J Street Action Fund shot back with support for Lee. The November race is rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections.

17th District: Lamb’s run for Senate left an opening that spawned primary fights in both parties. On the Democratic side, former Navy officer and lawyer Chris DeLuzio faces Democratic organizer Sean Meloy. DeLuzio had outraised Meloy but had less cash on hand as of April 27.

A three-way primary between Kathy Coder, Jason Killmeyer and Jeremy Shaffer will determine the Republican nominee in this seat. Shaffer, who is in the NRCC’s “On the Radar” program, has raised more than any other candidate in the race, according to federal filings ending April 27. 

Inside Elections rates the race as Tilt Democratic in November. 

Big money floods new Oregon district 

6th District: The biggest headline, so far, in the crowded Democratic primary contest for the seat Oregon got through reapportionment is the money. Outside groups have poured in nearly $13.8 million as of Friday, almost entirely to boost newcomer Carrick Flynn and Andrea Salinas, a state lawmaker who has endorsements from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC, Planned Parenthood and elected leaders in the state.

Flynn’s backers include House Majority PAC, a super PAC allied with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team that rarely intervenes in primaries, especially those that don’t involve an incumbent. Protect Our Future PAC, a different outside group funded in part by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, has spent the most for Flynn, a co-founder of the Center for the Governance of Artificial Intelligence at Oxford University.

Democrat Cody Reynolds, who has mostly self-funded his campaign, had spent nearly $2.6 million as of April 27, FEC records show. Another Democrat in the race, Matt West, had spent almost $1 million from his campaign, which included $600,000 in candidate loans. 

Republicans also will pick their candidate Tuesday in the district, which Inside Elections rates as Likely Democratic. 

4th District: Voters will also select nominees for the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio. Val Hoyle, Oregon’s labor commissioner, got DeFazio’s endorsement and was the top fundraiser in the eight-candidate Democratic field. Republicans have coalesced around Alek Skarlatos, who lost to DeFazio in 2020. Skarlatos, who served in the Oregon National Guard, is best known for helping stop an attacker on a train headed for Paris in 2015. Skarlatos raised $590,000 in the first quarter, while Hoyle raised $410,000 in the period, according to FEC filings. Inside Elections rates the district as Likely Democratic.

Competing progressive visions in Kentucky

3rd District:  The Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. John Yarmuth in the Louisville-area district has seen state lawmakers Morgan McGarvey and Attica Scott offer competing versions of what it means to be a progressive. 

Scott, 50, a state representative, launched her campaign as a primary challenge to Yarmuth in July, mentioning her arrest at a Black Lives Matter protest. As a Black woman, she has called for more inclusive representation in Congress and made her personal story of growing up in a housing project with a mother who struggled with addiction and a father who was frequently incarcerated a cornerstone of her campaign. 

McGarvey, 42, the state Senate’s top Democrat, has had more institutional support, including an endorsement from Yarmuth — who gave him advance notice of his retirement in October. He has touted his ability to work with the Republicans in control of the state’s legislature and said his personal experience as the father of premature twins drove him to fight for expanded health insurance coverage for Kentuckians. 

Both broadly support policy issues popular on the left, including Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and universal prekindergarten. But McGarvey offers more nuanced positions on hot-button topics like police reform and forgiving student loan debt, and he flatly opposes calls to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, in contrast to Scott. 

McGarvey has the clear financial advantage, pulling in $1.5 million to Scott’s $200,000, potentially giving him an edge in Louisville’s expensive media market. He also has attracted more than $1 million in outside support. The bulk of that came from Protect our Future, a super PAC backed by cryptocurrency traders that has been spending heavily in House races since it was formed in January. Scott got $1,200 in support from New Power PAC, which was founded by Kentucky activists in 2010. Five Republicans are vying for the GOP nomination. But the district would have voted for Biden by 22 points in 2020 under the new congressional lines, and the race in November is rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections.