MAGA Republicans Dominate Key North Carolina, Pennsylvania Primaries : The NPR Politics Podcast In North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd — boosted by Donald Trump's endorsement — secured a decisive win over the state's former two-term governor.

And in Pennsylvania, Trump's pick for governor won the primary contest despite spreading false claims about the presidential election results. The state's GOP Senate primary remains too close to call.

As expected, North Carolina's Cheri Beasley and Pennsylvania's John Fetterman comfortably won their states' Democratic primaries.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, and national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

Support the show and unlock sponsor-free listening with a subscription to The NPR Politics Podcast Plus. Learn more at plus.npr.org/politics

Connect:
Email the show at nprpolitics@npr.org
Join the NPR Politics Podcast Facebook Group.
Subscribe to the NPR Politics Newsletter.
Find and support your local public radio station.

MAGA Republicans Dominate Key North Carolina, Pennsylvania Primaries

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1099824380/1099844402" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GAWAIN: Hi. This is Gawain (ph) in Hobart, Tasmania, the smallest state of Australia, where I have just voted in Australia's federal election. Here's hoping for a good result. This podcast was recorded at...

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

12:24 p.m. Eastern time on the 18 of May - Wednesday.

GAWAIN: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. OK. Here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Man, I cannot even wrap my head around the idea of trying to keep track of Australia's elections, let alone ours. The only thing I know about Australian elections is that you have to vote; it's compulsory to vote or you get fined.

KEITH: But you also can get a sausage, right? Like, there's a sausage involved in this.

MONTANARO: Right. Oh, I remember the sausage.

KEITH: And we've gotten it wrong before.

MONTANARO: People will have to Google it.

KEITH: Yeah. Google Australian election sausage - really (laughter). Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

MONTANARO: I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: And I'm Don Gonyea, national political correspondent.

KEITH: And as we said at the beginning, it is Wednesday in an election year. And that means we have some fascinating primary results to break down. And they tell us a lot about the direction of both political parties. Let's start with the Senate races in Pennsylvania. On the Democratic side, John Fetterman won decisively. He is a progressive. He wears shorts and hoodies. And he is approaching this as someone who could potentially win over would-be Republican, working-class, white voters.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And how does he do that - right? - because he doesn't - he may be a progressive, but he doesn't look the part (laughter). You know, he's 6'9". He looks more like, you know, a WWE wrestler - and sounds like one too - rather than a Harvard-educated, you know, faculty lounge guy, even though he has a Harvard degree.

GONYEA: And he always looks like he just came from that pickup basketball game at the Y.

MONTANARO: I would pick him for my team.

GONYEA: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: Six foot, nine inches is nothing to sneeze at.

GONYEA: I would absolutely pick him for my team. You know, and he shows up at, you know, at coffeehouses, at union halls, whatever, in this uber-casual garb. And again, he is a progressive. He is a guy who supported Bernie Sanders in 2020, so he appeals to that whole crowd with a whole range of issues, including legalization of marijuana. But here's the thing. When I followed him around for a couple of days over the course of this primary campaign, we found ourselves more often than not in rural central Pennsylvania - county after county that was Trump country. And, OK, it was mostly Democrats who were thankful that somebody - a Democrat - had actually come to campaign in their part of the world. But he was also reaching out to those Trump voters, saying, I get it; I'm authentic, and I will represent you as well. And that'll be tested, obviously, in the general election. But he just ran away with it in the primary.

MONTANARO: What's crazy is he won, you know, just days after having a stroke and having a pacemaker installed on Election Day. So this is going to be a wild general election.

KEITH: Yeah. In fact, his wife told CNN in an interview this morning that President Biden called to congratulate him last night, but he was sleeping after his pacemaker surgery, so he didn't get to talk to the president of the United States. I think that Fetterman is interesting because he is, in a way, redefining what is considered by Democrats to be electable. In theory, a primary is supposed to put forward the most electable candidate. In the past, someone like him probably wouldn't have won the primary, but this time he did.

GONYEA: And we all have in our head how a Democrat wins in Pennsylvania, right? It's what Joe Biden did in 2020. You rack up big margins and tons of votes in those suburban, collar counties around Philadelphia, and then that offsets whatever a Donald Trump or whatever Republican does in the central part of the state, which is very rural, very Republican, very conservative. So maybe Fetterman does better than the average Democrat in those rural parts of the state, but nobody's thinking he's going to carry them. But the question is, can this guy with the basketball shorts and the shaved head and the chin beard and tattoos really be the candidate that fires up those suburbs in ways that Democrats really, really, really need in Pennsylvania?

MONTANARO: You know, and Democrats don't have a lot of pickup opportunities for the Senate across the country, but this is their top pickup opportunity. There's going to be millions of dollars spent. There's already been millions of dollars spent. And Republicans got the worst news possible last night because they look like they're headed for an automatic recount in their Republican primary, which is going to mean days, if not weeks, before we have a winner there. And Trump endorsed Mehmet Oz, who, you know, TV's celebrity doctor, Dr. Oz. And he's just slightly, slightly ahead, as of this taping right now, over David McCormick, who ran a hedge fund. And, you know, he was really hurt - Oz - most likely by the kind of rise of this conservative commentator, Kathy Barnette, who wound up winning about a quarter of the vote and likely - probably - did take some votes away from Oz.

GONYEA: It was interesting watching Barnette, too, because she came out of nowhere in the last couple of weeks, and the polls leading up to election day had them separated by just a point or two - three candidates within a couple of points of one another. And there was a question whether Barnette, who had no money to spend (laughter) and had absolutely no campaign organization - I mean, it was mostly just volunteers - if she could use the enthusiasm and the buzz that she was getting to drive enough turnout. Turned out, she got a quarter of the vote, which is actually quite impressive, but not nearly enough to have her in the final mix.

MONTANARO: What's interesting about Barnette is that she's an election denier. She said that she was kind of more MAGA than Trump himself. So, you know, this really is indicative of the kind of rise of this kind of very hard-right wing in Republican primaries. And we saw that in the governor's race there in Pennsylvania where Doug Mastriano, a state senator, won the Republican nomination - also an election denier. He was at Trump's rally on January 6, 2021, though he says that he left before the violent insurrection happened. And he got Trump's backing and really shot through to the top to be able to win that nomination.

KEITH: I think that we should put a finer point on his election denial. He is still saying that, essentially, he would be willing to throw out election results or do things that would go against the will of the voters if it didn't turn out the way he wanted it to. If he were to win, the governor of Pennsylvania names the secretary of state, the official that oversees elections. This is one more step of election deniers not being on the fringe, but being their party's nominee.

All right. We have to take a quick break. And when we get back, more primary results from North Carolina, Oregon and Idaho.

And we are back. And moving south, to North Carolina, Cheri Beasley won the North Carolina Democratic Senate primary race handily. She is the first Black woman to serve as a justice on the state Supreme Court. And on the Republican side, that race was also surprisingly decisive, right, Domenico?

MONTANARO: Yeah. And this is a place where Trump's endorsement really also did matter. He took Ted Budd, a congressman who wasn't particularly well known, to the top here. He had to do a lot of managing of this race. You might remember, early on, his daughter-in-law even thought about running for the Senate seat, Lara Trump, and she decided against it. He was facing a former governor in Pat McCrory. He was facing a former congressman in Mark Walker. And Trump's endorsement really helped put Budd over the edge, and he won pretty handily. Of course, Trump's endorsement didn't matter as strongly further down the ballot, where we saw controversial Madison Cawthorn - Congressman Madison Cawthorn - lose, which was a very big deal. But obviously with Cawthorn, there was a big difference between some of his controversial stuff and some other Republicans. He wound up crossing Republicans because he had accused them of, you know, attending cocaine and sex parties, and that really got them upset.

KEITH: Yeah. Well, and also, he had multiple citations for carrying guns where he wasn't supposed to carry guns, traffic citations, pictures leaked on the internet. I mean, the knives were out for him. I want to go back to the Senate race really quick, because Ted Budd beat former Governor Pat McCrory, who was a two-term governor of the state. And I saw an interview with him last night where he was just beside himself that Trump and Trump's allies had made him out to be some kind of RINO and, you know, Republican in name only. And he was like, if I'm a RINO, what is this party?

MONTANARO: Yeah. This is the guy who signed North Carolina's controversial bathroom bill that got the NCAA to not be in the state. If you remember, that was like the most controversial thing you could have possibly done back then. And it's kind of similar to what we saw in Idaho, where, in the governor's race, you had Brad Little hold off a Trump-endorsed firebrand who'd been backed by some extremists in the state as well. You know, and Brad Little had been taking heat because of how he handled COVID in the state, despite the fact that he signed a bill similar to Texas's anti-abortion rights legislation that banned abortion after six weeks.

GONYEA: It also seems in the fall, we will get a real test of North Carolina's battleground purple state status because Budd is now just, you know, aligned with Trump. It was the magic ticket for him in the primary, and it'll be the thing that really, you know, fuels his campaign going forward. Cheri Beasley is a very moderate, centrist Democrat. She is the kind of Democrat who does very well in North Carolina. Now, it's a midterm year, and the enthusiasm and the energy clearly seems to be, you know, on the Republican side. But it could be a really fascinating race to watch.

KEITH: Domenico, I want to take a step back here with you. You have been tracking how former President Trump's endorsements are doing. How is he doing?

MONTANARO: Well, it's fairly mixed right now. I mean, you know, you saw with Budd, with Mastriano in Pennsylvania, maybe even Dr. Oz do pretty well. Then there's other places where he hasn't done as well. But he's endorsed so many candidates for offices high and low, and he said himself that, you know, when it comes down to it, there are going to be people who win, people who lose, and that's OK with him.

KEITH: And I think there's an argument that most of the people who are running are pro-Trump, whether they're endorsed by him or not, that he has pretty successfully made it his party.

MONTANARO: No doubt about it - most influential person in the party.

KEITH: Let's talk about Oregon really quickly because there was a House race there where there was a test of moderate versus progressive, where there was a test of President Biden's cachet.

MONTANARO: Yeah. Speaking of presidential influence, I mean, let's look at the fifth congressional district, which was recently redrawn in Oregon. And you have longtime Congressman Kurt Schrader there who got Biden's endorsement. He's pretty moderate. And Biden's endorsement really irritated a lot of local officials, irritated progressives. And progressives backed an attorney there, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, and she currently leads by more than 20 points. Now, we're not sure what the final result will be because only 50-plus percent of the estimated vote was in because of a printing error in one county. So we're going to be waiting for that result. But if that holds, certainly shows Biden's endorsement, you know, and Biden's influence is fairly limited, especially as his national approval ratings have really not been very good.

KEITH: And we should say that Biden stayed out of that first race we were talking about, the Pennsylvania Senate race.

GONYEA: Fetterman has said he would welcome Biden coming to campaign for him. It is Scranton and Joe Biden, right? But we'll see how much that actually happens.

KEITH: All right. Well, we're going to leave it there for today. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

MONTANARO: I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

GONYEA: And I'm Don Gonyea, national political correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.