Tuesday was one of the most anticipated days on the 2022 primary calendar, featuring closely watched races that could offer an indication of what ideological direction both parties were headed in.
Instead, voters in five states — Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Idaho, Oregon, and Kentucky — took to the polls and produced a somewhat muddled picture for both Republicans and Democrats.
Here are two winners and two losers from this week’s primaries.
Winner: A “different type of Democrat”
In the end, John Fetterman’s victory in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary for Senate wasn’t that much of a surprise. Though a stroke and surgery grounded him in the last days of the race, he’d been leading in the polls for months, had widespread name recognition, and had run what seemed like a general election campaign during a primary.
The win revealed two things: Pennsylvania Democrats seem willing to embrace someone who espouses solidly progressive ideas, and who feels like an outsider who might shake things up in a general election — and, eventually, Washington.
He’s anything but a traditional candidate to win a swing-state Senate seat — and his campaign capitalized on that, calling him a “different type of Democrat,” who didn’t “look like a typical politician.” Standing at 6-foot-8 and dressed in hoodies, shorts, and baggy T-shirts, Fetterman raised a large amount of money from small-dollar donations and campaigned in cities, suburbs, and industrial towns. He ran on standard progressive points — Medicare-for-all, abortion rights, voting rights, abolishing the filibuster — but wouldn’t call himself a progressive, and veered away from the left on environmental policy and manufacturing jobs. In polling, his support cut across rural and urban settings, among moderates and liberals, and among people of all ages. The reality matched that: He was on track Tuesday to win almost every county in the state.
Fetterman’s rise coincides with the fall of rival Rep. Conor Lamb, a shock to the Democratic establishment in Washington, which once viewed Lamb as the ideal kind of moderate candidate to compete in a Trump-leaning field. But what worked in 2018, when Lamb eked out a win in Trump country, does not seem to be working in 2022. —Christian Paz
Loser: Madison Cawthorn’s antics
First-term Rep. Madison Cawthorn had every advantage heading into his GOP primary in North Carolina’s 11th District. He’s the incumbent, and got Trump’s “complete and total endorsement” more than a year ago. He had national name recognition in an eight-way race. But he wound up reportedly conceding to state Sen. Chuck Edwards Tuesday night before most outlets had even called the race.
That name recognition is also what undid Cawthorn. He rocketed into the spotlight following his 2020 primary upset, which put him on course to become the youngest person ever elected to Congress. Then he stayed in the spotlight by doing things like declaring his intention not to prioritize legislating, getting caught speeding without a valid driver’s license, carrying a firearm through airport security, claiming that some of his colleagues had invited him to an orgy and used cocaine in front of him, and calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “a thug” — a comment that prompted a talking-to from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Members of his own party were eventually put off by him — many in the North Carolina GOP establishment endorsed Edwards, including Sen. Thom Tillis.
On Sunday, Trump made a last-minute appeal on his social media platform Truth Social for voters to forgive Cawthorn for “some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again … let’s give Madison a second chance!” The now-26-year-old Cawthorn has time to seek many more chances in his career — but it appears he won’t get one in the 118th Congress. —Nicole Narea
Winner: Donald Trump
The limits of Trump’s endorsement became more evident this week: At least two of his chosen candidates, Cawthorn and Idaho gubernatorial challenger Janice McGeachin, seeking to oust an incumbent Republican, lost their races.
But there was plenty for him to like elsewhere. Current Rep. Ted Budd coasted to a win in his North Carolina GOP Senate primary over a former governor. Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a fervent proponent of Trump’s stolen election lies who only recently picked up the former president’s endorsement, also won his primary. Trump picks also won in a handful of competitive House primaries in both of those states, including former college football recruit Bo Hines in North Carolina’s 13th District.
Mehmet Oz, Trump’s candidate for the Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary, was leading businessman David McCormick by a thread in a race that was too close to call. “We’re not going to have a result tonight,” Oz said to supporters late Tuesday, projecting confidence that he would eventually win. Even if he doesn’t, the close race saves face for Trump on one of his big gambles.
In all those races, candidates who weren’t directly backed by Trump were still largely publicly deferential to him and his lies about the 2020 election — proof his grip is still plenty strong and his ability to push his party to extremes is potent.
The next question is whether that affection for Trump will be an asset or a hindrance in a general election. And it’s far from clear whether he did his party any favors with his picks as they gear up for contests this fall. —Li Zhou
.@CookPolitical will be moving this race from Toss Up to Lean Democrat upon Mastriano's #PAGov win. https://t.co/kZE7LG4Mil— Jessica Taylor (@JessicaTaylor) May 18, 2022
Loser: A clear narrative
Trump’s status on our list came with a strong caveat, but it was even harder to frame a big picture coming out of the biggest primary night thus far.
Though many races featured classic divides in ideology (progressives versus moderates, establishment picks versus challengers, Trumpy versus Trumpier), incumbency, and establishment support, the results were distinct. Each camp saw some wins, and no one appeared to be facing across-the-board losses.
An incumbent centrist, Rep. Kurt Schrader, was losing to a progressive challenger in Oregon’s Fifth District Democratic primary just as a liberal establishment favorite, former statehouse speaker Tina Kotek, won the primary for governor over a moderate challenger, state treasurer Tobias Read. Progressive former state Sen. Erica Smith lost in North Carolina’s First District, but progressive state Sen. Valerie Foushee won in the Fourth District; Cawthorn lost. Trump’s endorsement boosted one gubernatorial candidate (Mastriano, in Pennsylvania) but not another (McGeachin, in Idaho).
And the power of super PAC money also looked like a wash: Though it helped Foushee win her race, it didn’t help Carrick Flynn, a crypto-billionaire-backed political outsider, defeat state Rep. Andrea Salinas in Oregon’s Sixth Congressional District; in Pennsylvania’s 12th District, super PAC money might not have been enough to stop progressive upstart Summer Lee’s bid.
American politics is always more complicated than narratives show, and midterms are usually chaotic. But this year so far is showing the two political parties at a turning point, messily struggling to define themselves — and so far, it’s hard to discern what that definition is. —CP