I can’t frame the stakes of the Senate Republican primary in PA better than Kathy Barnette did:
Barnette and [Doug] Mastriano, who appeared together Saturday, come across as gleefully Trumpier than Trump. And unlike mainstream Republicans in Washington who often feel terrified of crossing the former president, these super-MAGA Republicans aren’t scared of the former president.
“MAGA does not belong to President Trump,” Barnette said during a recent debate. “Our values never, never shifted to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values.”
Who’s the true MAGA revolutionary in the race? Is it the “Girondin” Mehmet Oz, the supposedly electable celebrity endorsed by the “great MAGA king” and his courtiers, like Sean Hannity? Or is it the “Montagnard” Barnette, a populist so authentic that she may or may not have been inside the Capitol on January 6? If voters opt for Barnette over Trump’s objection, it’ll affirm the thesis of James Hohmann’s recent column: “Who is, and isn’t, MAGA is no longer Trump’s to decide.”
That’s what Trump’s worried about tonight, I suspect. It’s not just that having his candidate lose will give him a black eye in the media tomorrow. I think he’s nervous that if Pennsylvania Republicans decide that Kathy Barnette is more MAGA than Trump’s candidate, national Republicans might conceivably decide that Ron DeSantis is more MAGA than Trump. That’s unlikely, since Oz’s problems in PA have much more to do with his own record than with any misgivings voters might have about his patron. But it would demonstrate in a dramatic way that Republican voters are more discerning about their populism nowadays than simply looking for the MAGA seal of approval.
The final RCP average in the race has it Oz 26.8, Barnette 24.2, Dave McCormick 19.6. Oz hasn’t trailed in any poll since early April; Barnette has never led in any poll but has gained momentum over the past 10 days. Even so, don’t sleep on the possibility of an upset by McCormick, the hedge-fund gazillionaire turned opportunistic America First-er. If undecideds in Pennsylvania conclude that Oz is too squishy and Barnette too kooky to trust with their votes, McCormick could end up a surprise winner as the “electable” quasi-MAGA guy in the race.
That’s the first of three major primaries tonight, live results for which you’ll find embedded at the end of this post. The second is Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial primary — but the outcome there isn’t in doubt. Rigged-election crank Doug Mastriano is en route to a comfortable victory, having parlayed his double-digit polling lead into a Trump endorsement last weekend. Republican officials in PA are irate, believing that Mastriano is unfit for office and unelectable against a solid Democratic nominee in Josh Shapiro. Fingers are pointing on all sides ahead of the vote — at the state party chair, at Mastriano’s opponents, even at Trump.
If Mastriano captures the nomination, “the PA GOP should be held accountable for this cataclysmic disaster, to put it mildly,” concurred Val Biancaniello, a Pennsylvania-based Republican organizer and former Trump delegate who supports White…
Some prominent Pennsylvania Republican individuals and donors are even considering publicly supporting Josh Shapiro, the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee, if Mastriano wins the primary, several party sources told POLITICO…
While some lower-polling candidates agreed on the plan to consolidate the GOP field — state Senate President Jake Corman and former Rep. Melissa Hart both dropped out to endorse Barletta — none of the higher polling candidates trailing Mastriano budged, despite significant pressure to do so.
If Mastriano and Barnette win, the Pennsylvania GOP will be saddled with not one but two members of the Montagnard wing of MAGA in statewide races there this year instead of Lou Barletta or Oz. Could Mastriano and Barnette win their general elections? In a national environment as favorable to Republicans as this one is, sure. But they’ll start as underdogs and indisputably aren’t the strongest candidates available in either of their races.
The third notable primary takes us from Pennsylvania to North Carolina’s 11th District, where Madison Cawthorn is fighting for political survival. Formally he’s facing seven candidates in his primary, the most formidable of whom is state legislator Chuck Edwards. But really he’s facing an army of enemies inside and outside Washington who have spent the past month settling scores with him, dribbling out scandal-bait every few days or so in hopes of taking him down. Even Trump is reportedly “weirded out” by some of the material that’s been dropped on Cawthorn, despite the fact that he published a statement re-endorsing him a few days ago and asking voters in his district to give Cawthorn another chance.
Even if they comply, I doubt Cawthorn will enjoy the next two years in Congress.
In private discussions, GOP lawmakers are debating ways to keep Cawthorn on the sidelines should he prevail in his North Carolina reelection race, from relegating him to less favorable committees to warning the punishments could get even stiffer should his controversial antics continue, according to interviews with more than a dozen lawmakers from across the House Republican conference.
One GOP lawmaker affiliated with the Trump wing of the party told CNN they bluntly warned Cawthorn that they would publicly call for him to be removed from the House GOP conference if he breaks the law again, furious that Cawthorn was cited twice for bringing a gun to the airport and was caught driving with a revoked license for the second time in 5 years in North Carolina.
As for who’s been doing all the leaking, reporters are looking to his home state more so than to the House Republican caucus. “It’s definitely a hit job that I’m happy to be a party to,” said one North Carolina operative to the Daily Beast. The head of the Fire Madison PAC that keeps posting embarrassing photos and video of him agreed that “It’s not folks out of Washington that are sending this stuff. It’s folks who used to work with him, who were his supporters.” Cawthorn makes enemies easily since he has sharp elbows for such a young, unaccomplished legislator. He reportedly made a devout opponent out of his home-state senator, Thom Tillis, after he showed up at a local Republican Party meeting in Macon County last summer and called Tillis “a terrible campaigner” and “a complete RINO.”
Why did he think he could get away with that? One GOP operative put his finger on it: “He believes that there are new rules of politics in the Trump era and you don’t have to kiss anybody’s ring in the established party.” As a Trump crony, Cawthorn assumed he was a made man in the party, untouchable by more senior figures. Tonight we find out if he was right.
As obnoxious and unfit for office as he is, though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also flag this story for your attention. He’s a flawed human being, but a human being. One who’s been through a lot despite his age. He’s not completely unsympathetic.
Polls close at 7:30 ET in North Carolina and at 8 in Pennsylvania. Below you’ll find widgets for the two PA races plus a widget for all of NC’s House primaries. (Use the dropdown menu and select the 11th for Cawthorn’s race.) They’ll be updated moment by moment as the votes come in. And stay tuned for the candidates’ speeches later tonight, as Barnette may or may not accuse her opponents of having stolen a victory from her if she falls short. She won’t be totally wrong either.