EMILY FENG, HOST:
Midterm elections are nearly half a year away, but the primary contest to determine who will run for the House and Senate seats this fall - those have already started. Former President Trump is playing a big role by endorsing Republican candidates who pledge loyalty to him. Some of those candidates had their primaries Tuesday, and more elections next week will test the power of a Trump endorsement.
Joining us now is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hello, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there. Good to join you.
FENG: So catch us up on what's happened this week so far in Pennsylvania, where Trump-endorsed candidate Dr. Oz took on former hedge fund CEO David McCormick.
MONTANARO: Yeah, that's right. You know, and Mehmet Oz is only narrowly ahead at this hour by 1,100 votes out of more than 1.3 million. We aren't likely to know the winner for days, if not weeks because the margin is just so small. It's well within the 0.5 percentage points that would trigger an automatic recount. And that's bad news for Republicans because it means a delay to the general election in a key Senate race Democrats are targeting as a pickup opportunity after what's really been a bruising Republican primary.
The Democratic nominee is Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who dons a chin beard and tattoos. He had a stroke in the past several days and had a pacemaker installed on Election Day. He looks the part of a blue-collar trucker more than someone with a Harvard degree and the politics of Bernie Sanders, but that's true, too. This is really going to be a big test for him, for Democrats and, when we finally get to a general election, of whether a Democrat with his kind of image and tone can appeal to that populous Venn diagram of the left and some on the right.
FENG: So much drama. President Trump - how have his endorsements fared so far?
MONTANARO: They've had some mixed success. You know, this week, Oz, of course, locked in that tight race. Trump got a win in the Pennsylvania governor's race, giving a major boost to State Senator Doug Mastriano. Mastriano's pretty controversial and hard right. He was at Trump's January 6 rally, marched to the Capitol, though he says he left before the violent insurrection took place. And he's an election denier and culture warrior in a purple state saying, if elected, he's going to focus on Day 1 on things like how kids are taught about racism in schools and which bathrooms people can use.
In North Carolina this week, Trump was largely responsible for Congressman Ted Budd winning the GOP nomination for the Senate race, though he had less success with the controversial Congressman Madison Cawthorn, who lost his bid for reelection. Out West in the Idaho governor's race, his preferred candidate, who had the backing of some extremists in the state, you know, took on a sitting Republican governor and really was trounced.
But even, you know, the explicit - even though the explicit record of endorsements was mixed, the winner, you could really argue, is MAGA. You know, virtually every Republican who's run has tried to be MAGA and vie for Trump's support - not everyone, but most. And, you know, Trump has truly taken over the party's heart and soul. There is just no majority against Trumpism. The minority really is those right now opposed to it.
FENG: Well, there are more of Trump's candidates who are being tested next Tuesday. Which races are you watching closely?
MONTANARO: So much of the action really is in Georgia. You know, Trump recruited and endorsed David Perdue, the former senator, to take on incumbent Governor Brian Kemp because Trump was upset that Kemp didn't do more to overturn the results of the presidential election in the state that he lost. But right now, it looks like Kemp is winning by a lot in the polls, despite Perdue making the entire election essentially pushing Trump's lie. Perdue is running hardly any ads now, and Trumpworld (ph) behind the scenes has really abandoned Perdue. It really is shocking to watch, frankly. For someone who was the CEO of Reebok, in David Perdue, and was considered a business-establishment Republican, for him to take this turn really surprising to a lot of people who've watched his career.
Then, of course, there's the secretary of state's race there. There's no greater target for Trump than Brad Raffensperger, the incumbent secretary of state, the Republican who also refused to bow to Trump's pressure on the election. And also watching Texas, where there's a key Democratic primary between Democrat - the Democrat in Congress, Henry Cuellar, against progressive Jessica Cisneros. Cuellar's the only Democrat in Congress who considers himself against abortion rights, quite the shift in the Democratic Party, which used to have more people who consider themselves against abortion rights. And abortion we're seeing become a huge issue in this election.
FENG: Thank you. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
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