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Early insights from Tuesday’s primaries – NBC4 Washington


The presidential primaries may have already been decided, but election season continues.

Voters in several states, including Maryland and West Virginia, chose nominees Tuesday in crucial races that could decide the balance of power on Capitol Hill next year.

Here are some early takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries:

Former Republican Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan easily won his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate seat opened by the retirement of Democratic Senator Ben Cardin. The battle for the Senate in the solidly Democratic state would normally be a softer one, but Hogan is a candidate unlike any other Republican.

During his two terms as governor, Hogan won a significant number of Democratic votes and remained popular among much of the state’s left. He has been a sharp Trump critic, which endears him to some of the Democratic electorate and could blunt attacks from the left. That’s why Senate Republicans relentlessly tried to get him to run for the newly vacant seat as part of their plan to hand control of the chamber to Democrats, who currently have a two-seat majority.

Candidates with cross-party appeal, like Hogan, used to be a staple of national politics, but they are quickly fading in an era when voters routinely vote for a straight party line rather than for individual politicians. During the last two presidential elections, only one senator — Republican Susan Collins of Maine — won a state that also supported a presidential candidate from another party.

There have been recent cautionary tales of popular, moderate governors from minority parties failing to win Senate seats in recent elections, suggesting that voters are much more willing to cast their partisan politics for federal offices than for state offices. In Montana and Tennessee, former Democratic governors Steve Bullock and Phil Bredesen ran for open Senate seats in deep red states in 2020 and 2018, respectively. Both lost badly.

For the Maryland version of this, expect Democrats, who previously praised Hogan’s anti-Trump positions, to portray him as a threat to abortion rights and rights because he has said he would work with Republicans, which could give the Republican Party a majority in the Senate. That could mean a tough road for Hogan to win a state that Biden won by 33 percentage points.

Still, Hogan will undoubtedly shake up the Senate map and put Democrats even more on the defensive. They must defend three seats in states that Donald Trump won, including a newly vacant seat in Trump’s best state, West Virginia.

Hogan will face Democrat Angela Alsobrooks, who scored a notable victory in a contentious primary in which she spent dramatically.

If she wins in November, Alsobrooks would be the first Black senator from Maryland, which has one of the largest Black populations in the country. The only Black woman currently serving in the U.S. Senate, Laphonza Butler of California, is stepping down after her term ends in December. The chamber has three black male senators.

Alsobrooks defeated Rep. David Trone, who spent more than $61 million of his own money in his Democratic primary for the Senate nomination. She overcame Trone’s financial advantage by winning support from the state’s top Democrats, including Governor Wes Moore, Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Steny Hoyer. She campaigned on growing economic opportunity, education and abortion rights and blasted Trone for donating to Republicans across the country, including those who oppose abortion rights.

Trone, 68, who is white, had his share of stumbles, including using racial slurs in front of a black witness during a House committee hearing. Trone said he was trying to use a similar-sounding word.

The biggest shift in the U.S. Senate may have already occurred Tuesday night, when West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice formally won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

Manchin was a centrist Democrat who was a lightning rod for the left and right, but survived politically when his state shifted far to the right. It is likely that he was the only Democrat who could win a Senate election in the state and that Justice will now replace him.

That will swing the Senate even more toward Trump, regardless of whether the Republican Party flips additional seats to give him 50 or more senators. Trump endorsed Justice, a wealthy coal magnate turned Democratic politician turned Republican whose folksy demeanor and ubiquitous English bulldog — named Babydog — endeared him to West Virginia voters.

Like Trump, Justice has been dogged by legal controversies: his companies have been sued for defaulting on their debts and tax authorities have seized his properties. And like Trump, the Justice Department has strayed from Republican orthodoxy. He embraced the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Biden signed into law and has become a cornerstone of the incumbent president’s campaign. That earned him attacks from his rival, Rep. Alex Mooney, but it wasn’t enough to dilute Justice’s advantages.

Justice will join a Republican caucus in the Senate that has steadily grown Trumpier as critics of the former president have retired and been replaced by allies winning party primaries. It’s impossible to know how he will vote on every issue, but in that respect he also fits Trump’s mold.

It’s been two months since former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley ran for the GOP presidential nomination, but she continues to garner votes from Republicans who don’t want to vote for former President Donald Trump.

Fresh off a stunning 15% in last week’s Republican primaries in Indiana, Haley received tens of thousands of votes in West Virginia and Maryland on Tuesday night. Maryland, a highly educated, DC-adjacent state, is particularly tailor-made for Haley’s less ideological, technocratic approach. But even then, Haley’s strength is striking.

The continued votes for Haley could be a warning sign for Trump. Even as the Republican Party unites around him, some voters still want to vote against him. However, it is possible that many of these voters are already Biden voters, who simply chose to vote in the Republican party primaries and revel in embarrassing Trump. If that’s the case, the protest vote in November won’t mean much.

Biden has been the target of his own protest campaign against his handling of the war in Gaza. Disillusioned Democrats have urged primary voters to vote “uncommitted” if the option is available. It was in Maryland, but the percentage of those votes was relatively low.

In West Virginia, Biden won handily, but about a fifth of the Democratic electorate chose other candidates. That’s not unusual for an incumbent Democratic president in an ancestrally Democratic state that has shifted sharply to the right — Barack Obama won just 59% of Democratic primaries there in 2012, when he ran for his second term.