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Notes on the State of Politics: May 18, 2022

Dear Readers: This is the latest edition of Notes on the State of Politics, which features short updates on elections and politics.

The Editors


— The race for the Pennsylvania Republican Senate nomination remains uncalled, and it will remain a Toss-up in our ratings regardless of whether businessman David McCormick or television doctor Mehmet Oz eventually wins the right to face Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) in an open-seat race.

— Republicans are concerned about their chances in the open Pennsylvania gubernatorial race after far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) won the party’s nomination. We’re moving that race from Toss-up to Leans Democratic.

— The most notable development from the other primaries Tuesday was embattled Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R, NC-11) losing his bid for renomination.

— Blue Dog Rep. Kurt Schrader (D, OR-5) is currently trailing in his primary against a progressive challenger. Regardless of whether he ends up winning, we’re moving that race from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic.

Table 1: Crystal Ball gubernatorial rating change

Governor Old Rating New Rating
PA Open (Wolf, D) Toss-up Leans Democratic

Table 2: Crystal Ball House rating change

Member/District Old Rating New Rating
Kurt Schrader (D, OR-5) Likely Democratic Leans Democratic


Last night, in what was the busiest primary night of the year so far, the Keystone State, which is hosting competitive open-seat races for Senate and governor, took center stage.

In the Senate race, where Republican ballots are still being counted, the firmest conclusion we can make at this point is that, despite her late momentum, former congressional candidate Kathy Barnette won’t be the GOP nominee — taking about 25% of the vote, she finished a clear third place.

Throughout most of the night, former hedge fund CEO and Bush-era official David McCormick (somewhat surprisingly, considering his recent polling) kept a narrow but consistent lead over television doctor Mehmet Oz. McCormick’s strength seemed to come from the absentee vote, but as Election Day ballots rolled in, it was enough for Oz to narrowly pull ahead.

As of this writing, Oz holds a lead of about 2,500 votes, out of over 1.3 million Republican ballots cast. Meanwhile, the McCormick campaign claims that there are enough outstanding absentee votes for their candidate to reclaim the lead — the thinking seems to be that since McCormick won the overall absentee vote by 9 points, if he can replicate that showing with what’s out, the math may work in his favor. Still, as Inside Elections contributor Ryan Matsumoto estimates, the result could well be decided by just a few dozen votes. If McCormick does end up pulling ahead from his strength with the remaining ballots — and thus becomes the GOP nominee — it would be somewhat ironic, considering the GOP’s overall skepticism towards absentee voting.

Map 1 gives the breakdown of the Republican Senate primary. Compared to some past results, regionalism is less strong, although it still seemed to be a factor (the home county of candidates is provided on Pennsylvania ballots, which can provide some “home field” advantages).

Map 1: 2022 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary

McCormick, who was the only candidate from the west, carried Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County with close to 40%. Barnette, who was from Montgomery County, carried it, although Oz listed a residence there as well — perhaps Barnette being on the ballot there before helped (she was the 2020 GOP nominee in the 4th District).

In the 2016 Republican presidential primary, then-candidate Donald Trump’s best area of the state was in the northeast, an area once home to a healthy anthracite coal mining industry. Trump cleared 70% in 4 counties in that region, and Oz, his endorsed candidate, also performed well there. Before Oz moved to Pennsylvania to run for Senate, he lived in New Jersey — perhaps fittingly, he carried the counties that border the Garden State.

Keystone Democrats nominated Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who carried every county. Fetterman, with the visibility of a statewide office, was in the driver’s seat for much of the campaign, as Rep. Conor Lamb (D, PA-17) and Philadelphia-area state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta seemed to fight for second place. In a late twist, Fetterman suffered a stroke on Friday and was hospitalized, although he seems to be recovering well. Given his dominant showing, it does not seem like Fetterman’s health scare had any effect on the race.

The Crystal Ball rates the Senate contest as a Toss-up — in fact, Pennsylvania is the only race that we put in that category that does not feature a first-term Democratic incumbent. With either Oz or McCormick as the GOP nominee, we are inclined to keep our rating as-is. Towards the end of the campaign, elements of the GOP establishment went after Barnette, and the party may have dodged a bullet by passing her over.

In the gubernatorial race, though, state Republicans couldn’t rally to stop state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who ran on something of an unofficial ticket with Barnette. Described as a “Christian nationalist,” Mastriano has made Trump’s claims of election fraud in the 2020 election a centerpiece of his campaign. This may have prompted Trump to snub former GOP Rep. Lou Barletta, who was among the first sitting members of Congress to support Trump in 2016, and make a late Mastriano endorsement. “Where in the hell is the loyalty?” former Rep. Tom Marino, a Barletta surrogate, complained at an event over the weekend.

But even before the former president’s involvement in the gubernatorial primary, Mastriano seemed on track for a win: he took a strong 44% plurality, while Barletta finished next, with 20%. Aside from several northeastern counties near Barletta’s home — and 2 Philadelphia-area counties that similarly supported home-area candidates — Mastriano took everything.

Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro had no opposition for the gubernatorial nomination. Shapiro, who has been unofficially running for governor for some time, was reelected in 2020. Perhaps importantly, while Joe Biden carried Pennsylvania by 1 point, Shapiro won 51%-46%.

Given Mastriano’s liabilities and Shapiro’s strengths, we think that a move from Toss-up to Leans Democratic is justified. Though it is rare that we’d move such a key race in Democrats’ favor in this type of environment, we think it’s reasonable in this instance. During their (unsuccessful) efforts to blunt Mastriano’s momentum in the primary, Republicans were circulating an internal poll showing him down 49%-41% to Shapiro. According to our sources, the Shapiro campaign isn’t taking anything for granted, nor should he. Indeed, Shapiro ran ads designed to help Mastriano — this was a recent example of a more commonplace trend of one party playing in the other party’s primary. That said, Leans Democratic does not mean Safe Democratic, as the environment may be so good for Republicans that even a fringe candidate like Mastriano could win.

As for the congressional picture, last night’s results aren’t prompting us to make any immediate House rating changes. In eastern Pennsylvania, Republicans Lisa Scheller and Jim Bognet seem set to have rematches with Susan Wild (D, PA-7) and Matt Cartwright (D, PA-8), respectively — although Scheller is only up by 3 points in her primary her lead seems likely to hold. Redistricting made Wild’s swingy Biden-won Lehigh Valley seat more Republican, while Cartwright, who has a record of attracting adequate crossover support, kept a Scranton area Trump seat. Both are Toss-ups.

The Pittsburgh area featured 2 notable races. Ironically, had Lamb run for reelection — instead launching what turned into an uphill Senate campaign — he would have had a friendlier district: Redistricting expanded Biden’s margin in PA-17 from 2 points to almost 7. Veteran Christopher Deluzio will be defending the seat for Democrats, while Republicans nominated Jeremy Shaffer, a former local official who begins the general campaign with more cash on hand. PA-12, which includes Pittsburgh proper, is a more safely blue seat, and progressives may have scored a win there. As of this writing, state Rep. Summer Lee (D) is narrowly leading the more establishment-friendly Steve Irwin. The Republican nominee, Mike Doyle, shares the same name as the retiring longtime Democratic representative who holds the old version of this seat, but this district (Biden +20) is likely too blue for Republicans to flip even in a wave-style environment.

North Carolina

North Carolina, like Pennsylvania, is another perpetually close state that is seeing an open-seat Senate contest this year.

In the primary to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Rep. Ted Budd (R, NC-13) defeated former Gov. Pat McCrory with nearly 60% of the vote. Unofficial tallies have Budd carrying all but Mecklenburg County, where McCrory served as mayor of Charlotte for 14 years — and McCrory was only leading there by fewer than 100 votes. During the primary, Budd played up his endorsement from former President Trump and labeled McCrory as insufficiently conservative, while McCrory shot back by framing Budd as weak on foreign policy.

Former Rep. Mark Walker (R, NC-6), another major Republican, finished a distant third place, earning less than 10% overall. He placed second some Greensboro-area counties, where he was most known, but was generally not a factor.

On the Democratic side, former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley captured the Democratic nomination with more than 80% of the vote, against a field of minor candidates. Interestingly, much of the “protest vote” against Beasley came in the western part of the state, although she carried every county. In past cycles, minority-heavy eastern counties have been relatively more reluctant to back the establishment pick in Democratic primaries.

In any case, the Crystal Ball has had the North Carolina Senate race at Leans Republican since we first sized up the contest, and we feel comfortable leaving it there. An early May poll from Emerson College put Budd up 48%-41% in a hypothetical match-up with Beasley.

In eastern North Carolina, veteran Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D, NC-1) is retiring this cycle — he endorsed state Sen. Don Davis. Davis’s main opponent was former state Sen. Erica Smith, who made a run for Senate in 2020, and positioned herself as a more stridently progressive choice. Butterfield’s endorsement evidently carried weight: Davis won by a 63%-31% margin. Republican Sandy Smith, the GOP’s 2020 nominee against Butterfield, will get another try at the district in the general election. Smith earned 31% (just over the 30% runoff threshold), while her main opponent, Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson, was at 27%. Unlike the other Democratic-held districts in the state, NC-1 is not an especially urban district: its largest city, Greenville, has a population of fewer than 100,000 residents. The Crystal Ball rates the general election there as Leans Democratic.

Rep. David Price (D, NC-4), another long-serving member of the Tar Heel delegation, is retiring this cycle. In what was a victory for the Congressional Black Caucus, state Sen. Valerie Foushee won a 3-way primary to represent this Research Triangle-area seat. Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam placed second, while American Idol star Clay Aiken finished a poor third. While the district is deep blue, Foushee put together a powerful Democratic coalition: She got close to a majority in her home of Orange County (which houses Chapel Hill, and a sizable white liberal bloc) and carried the Black-majority precincts of Durham.

Just to the south, NC-13 is a McCain-to-Biden seat that should see a competitive general election. Democrats nominated state Sen. Wiley Nickel, who was originally running to replace Price, but represents part of the new 13th. First-time candidate Bo Hines, who faced accusations of carpetbagging, won the GOP nomination, likely due in part to a Trump endorsement. Hines has had a decidedly hot-and-cold relationship with GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R, NC-11). NC-13 is a Toss-up for the general election.

Speaking of Cawthorn, the youngest member of Congress was very narrowly upset last night by state Sen. Chuck Edwards. Edwards had the support of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), and campaigned as conservative, but one with a more parochial focus than the incumbent. Over the past few weeks, Cawthorn was on the receiving end of what seemed to be a massive opposition research dump — seemingly every day, he found himself at the center of a new scandal. In an 8-way primary, Edwards took a 33% plurality by winning the 3 counties that he represents in the state Senate. Both Edwards and Cawthorn are from Henderson County (just south of Asheville), which gave the former a 43%-25% margin. With a Safe Republican rating, NC-11 seems likely to see a more tranquil general election.

Kentucky, Idaho, and Oregon

A trio of smaller states also voted in primaries last night, and a few results are worth mentioning:

Kentucky incumbents had a largely favorable night — even the ones who weren’t actually on the ballot. In the Louisville-area 3rd District, retiring Rep. John Yarmuth (D) saw his preferred successor, state Sen. Morgan McGarvey, beat state Rep. Attica Scott by almost 30 points.

As expected, former state Rep. Charles Booker, the narrow runner-up in the 2020 Democratic Senate primary, will face off against 2-term Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). This is a Safe Republican race.

In Idaho, Republican Gov. Brad Little won renomination with 53% against 7 opponents, the most prominent of whom was Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. Little is considered a mainstream conservative, while McGeachin, who ran with Trump’s endorsement, railed against many of the social distancing measures that the governor put into place during the pandemic — she was also criticized for seeming sympathetic to right-wing militia groups. Former Rep. Raul Labrador (a far-right Republican who ran against Little in the 2018 gubernatorial primary) won the nomination for state Attorney General and, with Idaho’s lean, is a favorite to win the office. Little beat incumbent AG Lawrence Wasden (R).

The only contested congressional primary in Idaho was in District 2, where veteran Rep. Mike Simpson — who is a Republican much more like Little than McGeachin — won with a majority.

One state over, former Oregon state House Speaker Tina Kotek easily won the Democratic nod for governor over state Treasurer Tobias Read. Kotek resigned her seat earlier this year to focus on her statewide run. With about 20% of ballots outstanding, the GOP seems on track to nominate former state Rep. Christine Drazan. Drazan led the Republican caucus in the state House before resigning to run for governor (like Kotek).

Democrats have held the Oregon governorship since the 1986 elections, one of the longest streaks in the country. The Crystal Ball rates the general as Leans Democratic, but will 2022 be the year that Republicans can finally win there? The race has significant upset potential.

Finally, in Oregon’s redrawn 5th District, blue dog Rep. Kurt Schrader (D) was far behind attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a progressive who argued Schrader was not supportive enough of liberal priorities, although a lot of votes were outstanding from areas friendlier to Schrader. Schrader is backed by President Biden and is arguably a better fit for a competitive 53%-44% Biden district that only voted for Hillary Clinton by 3 points in 2016. As we wait for the race to be called, we’re moving the race from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic, and it may be a Toss-up before long. It is among the kinds of seats we could see flipping in a good Republican environment, as we discussed in last week’s Crystal Ball.