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Trump a factor in S.C. races as 5 states hold primaries

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), right, who is running

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), right, who is running for a full term, is seen during Tuesday's primary at Alhambra Hall polling station in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Photo Credit: AP / Grace Beahm Alford

South Carolina Republicans expressed their discontent during primary voting Tuesday as President Donald Trump sought to influence the race. And Democrats in Virginia backed women in key races that could determine control of the House.

Unable to muster 50 percent of the Republican primary vote for governor, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, one of Trump’s top allies in the state, was forced into a runoff for the GOP nomination. But partial returns showed Rep. Mark Sanford, a vocal Trump critic, in a battle with a devout Trump supporter for the nomination in a coastal congressional district.

In Virginia, two women will compete for a suburban Washington congressional district seen as key to Democrats’ hopes of retaking the House majority in November. Democratic women came out on top in two other Virginia congressional races that the party is closely watching.

Polls have closed in both states and well as Maine, North Dakota and Nevada. Together, they raise to 21 the number of states having held their 2018 primary elections so far.

South Carolina

McMaster, an early supporter of the president’s 2016 campaign, had Trump’s full endorsement, marked by a weekend tweet.

But while Trump remains very popular in the state, McMaster has been shadowed by a corruption probe involving a longtime political consultant. McMaster received the most votes of the four Republicans running, but will face Greenville businessman John Warren in a second contest June 26.

McMaster, the former lieutenant governor, assumed the governorship last year after Nikki Haley resigned to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Sanford was trailing a GOP challenger supported in last-minute tweets by Trump, who earlier Tuesday took swipes at the incumbent on Twitter, including Sanford’s disgraced gubernatorial term amid 2009 revelations of an extramarital affair.

As results came in Tuesday, Sanford told a crowd in suburban Charleston: “I’ve always been a realist and at this point, based on the numbers I see, I’m going to lose this race.”

With much of the vote counted, state Rep. Katie Arrington was on the cusp of winning outright.

But as Sanford spoke to the crowd, the race was still too close to call.

Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Ralph Norman faces a rematch from Archie Parnell, who won the Democratic nomination despite revelations from a divorce filing last month that he beat his wife more than 40 years ago. Parnell’s divorce records stated that in 1973, he broke a glass door with a tire iron, then beat his wife. Parnell didn’t deny the allegations but said he was a changed man. Parnell lost to Norman by just 3 percentage points in a special election last year.

Virginia

Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Wexton was the clear winner in a six-way primary in Virginia’s 10th District, and will challenge Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock.

Besides that district, considered key to the House battleground map this fall, Democrats in two other Virginia districts they hope to retake nominated women, including Abigail Spanberger in the 7th District and Elaine Luria in Virginia’s 2nd District.

In Comstock’s district, Wexton was the best-known in the field, and was viewed as the Democratic Party’s establishment choice. She had the endorsement of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

Comstock, a moderate Republican who easily beat back a challenge from conservative Shak Hill, is one of the Democrats’ top targets in November. The second-term House member’s district leans Republican, though Democrat Hillary Clinton received more votes there than Trump did in 2016.

Though Wexton favors a ban on the sale of assault weapons, she defies what has been the tendency in some swing districts to nominate Democrats with liberal profiles on other key issues. She has not called for a single-payer, government-run health insurance system, as some Democratic House primary winners in California, Nebraska and Pennsylvania have.

Democrats need to gain 23 seats to win the majority in the House.

In another big Virginia race, Republican Corey Stewart — once a state chairman to Trump’s presidential campaign who was fired for protesting the Republican National Committee — won the Republican primary to face Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.

Stewart surprised many by nearly winning last year’s Republican nomination for governor.

He was the top aide to Trump’s presidential campaign in Virginia in 2016, but was fired for staging an unauthorized protest of the Republican National Committee. Stewart had accused the party of inadequately defending the candidate after the release of a tape where Trump bragged about groping women.

As a candidate for governor in 2017, Stewart spoke out against removing Confederate monuments, including the Robert E. Lee statue that prompted a deadly protest in Charlottesville last year. Stewart called efforts to remove the monuments “an attempt to destroy traditional America.”

Maine

Maine voters had plenty of choices Tuesday to replace firebrand Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has served the maximum two terms allowed. A field of 11 Democrats and Republicans are seeking party nominations for the opportunity to succeed LePage, who streamlined government, lowered taxes and trimmed welfare but also angered some with his harsh tone and policy decisions.

Voters used the ranked-choice voting system for the first time in statewide primaries. They ranked candidates from first to last, and the election is over if one candidate wins a majority. If not, ballots will be shipped to Augusta for additional rounds of voting next week. The last-place candidate will be eliminated and votes reallocated. There can be as many rounds as necessary until a candidate gets a majority.

Meanwhile, Independent Sen. Angus King will face two lesser-known candidates, GOP state Sen. Eric Brakey and Portland Democrat Zak Ringelstein, who both won uncontested primaries Tuesday but now face a difficult challenge against a popular incumbent.

Nevada

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller secured his party’s nomination. He is considered the most vulnerable Republican U.S. senator seeking re-election this year because he’s the only one running in a state that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Heller was a past critic of Trump but has become closer to him in recent months and helped deliver the overhaul of the U.S. tax codes to Trump’s desk in December. Heller is expected to have a close race in November against his Democratic challenger, former Rep. Jacky Rosen.

A trio of Democrats has locked up nominations for congressional seats in Nevada. Rep. Dina Titus defeated challenger Reuben D’Silva on Tuesday in her bid for re-election.

Susie Lee cruised to an easy primary victory in a key congressional race in Nevada, setting up a battle in November for the seat left open when Rosen decided to run for Senate. Lee captured the nomination against largely unknown rivals in the district covering much of suburban Las Vegas.

And Steven Horsford won the primary for the congressional seat he held in southern Nevada for one term before Republican Cresent Hardy defeated him in 2014. He’ll face a rematch in November against Hardy, who captured the GOP nomination Tuesday night.

North Dakota

Rep. Kevin Cramer, looking ahead to a November battle with Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp that could be key to control the chamber, cruised to an easy victory in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary in North Dakota.

Cramer brushed aside a challenge from Air Force veteran Thomas O’Neill, who didn’t mount a major campaign. “It’s an important step in the process,” Cramer said. “Hopefully voters will get in the habit of voting for my name.”

In the only other statewide primary, state Sen. Kelly Armstrong eased past a pair of political newcomers in the GOP race for Cramer’s House seat. Armstrong left his post as state party chairman to run after Cramer announced his Senate bid. Democrat Mac Schneider, a former state senator who was unopposed, awaited Armstrong.

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