Takeaways from primaries in Maryland, West Virginia and Nebraska

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP

The matchups are set for two key races in this fall’s battle for control of the narrowly divided Senate after Tuesday primaries in which two Republican governors — one former, one sitting — advanced, and a Democratic county executive beat a congressman who pumped tens of milions of his own dollars into his campaign.

In Maryland, popular moderate former Gov. Larry Hogan won the Republican primary. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks defeated Rep. David Trone, who loaned his campaign at least $62 million, in a hard-fought and expensive Democratic primary.

And in West Virginia — where Sen. Joe Manchin’s retirement has handed Republicans a critical pick-up opportunity — Gov. Jim Justice easily won the GOP primary, setting the stage for a November matchup with the Democratic nominee, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, in which Justice will be heavily favored. Elliott is endorsed by Manchin, making the prospect of a late independent entry in a bid to keep his seat unlikely.

Meanwhile, two moderate House Republicans fended off conservative challengers, and West Virginia Republicans chose their nominee to replace Justice in the governor’s office.

And while Tuesday’s contests took place in states that aren’t competitive in presidential elections — except Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, because the state awards its electoral college votes partially to the winners of each district — it offered a glimpse at a recurring theme: signs that some Republican voters are still voting against Trump. In deep-red Nebraska, with 38% of the expected vote counted, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley had more than 20% of the vote. She was near 20% in Maryland, too, with 65% of the estimated vote counted.

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries in Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia:

Trone’s millions couldn’t stop Alsobrooks in Maryland

Trone’s money bomb failed to detonate in Maryland on Tuesday, as the third-term House Democrat lost the party’s Senate primary to Alsobrooks.

Alsobrooks, who could become only the third Black woman elected to the US Senate and the first Black senator from Maryland, will face off with popular former Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, in November for a seat that Democrats cannot afford to lose as they battle to keep control of the chamber.

Trone not only spent tens of millions of his own cash, but pledged to do more of the same if he was nominated. Alas, he was not. Alsobrooks should not hurt for funds, though, with an array of outside groups poised to jump into the race for a seat Democrats have held since 1977, when Paul Sarbanes began his three-decade Senate career.

But Hogan, who has occasionally been critical of former President Donald Trump, could complicate matters. Getting him into the race was seen as a coup for the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, and, at the very least, his name on the ballot means Democrats will have to invest considerable sums in the race.

Justice positioned to flip Manchin’s Senate seat in West Virginia

Republicans are well-positioned to flip party control of the West Virginia Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Joe Manchin.

Justice, a two-term governor, coasted to victory in Tuesday’s GOP primary against a field that included US Rep. Alex Mooney, a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus. He’ll face Elliott, the winner of a three-way Democratic primary, in November. While Manchin reportedly may have considered an independent bid had former coal executive Don Blankenship won the Democratic primary, that idea is all but gone with his endorsed candidate moving on to November.

Justice, the 73-year-old owner of the Greenbrier resort who turned a coal mining business he inherited into a sprawling empire, was elected governor in 2016 as a Democrat but switched his party affiliation early in his first term — a move he announced at an August 2017 rally with Trump.

Though Justice won as a Democrat in 2016 and Manchin was reelected in 2018, West Virginia is now a heavily Republican state — Trump took more than 68% of the vote there in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and Manchin is the lone remaining Democrat to hold nonjudicial statewide office.

AIPAC gets a big win in deep blue Maryland

Maryland state Sen. Sarah Elfreth didn’t enjoy much name recognition outside the district she is now poised to represent in Congress next year, but that low national profile might have helped her chances in deep blue suburban Baltimore.

Elfreth emerged from a field of more than 20 primary candidates by stressing her local connections and, as the campaign got tight, her top rival’s lack thereof. Former police officer Harry Dunn, who defended the US Capitol against pro-Trump insurrectionists on January 6, 2021, was the preferred candidate of several Democratic bigwigs, but Elfreth – with a major boost from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s super PAC, United Democracy Project – comfortably won the nomination.

In addition to UDP, which spent $3.6 million on advertising alone, Elfreth also had strong support from organized labor, including the powerful Maryland State Education Association, and from retiring Sen. Ben Cardin, former Sen. Barbara Mikulski and an impressive slate of state and local lawmakers.

What’s less clear is why AIPAC decided to spend so big in the district, especially since there wasn’t much daylight between Elfreth and Dunn, who was widely regarded as her top rival. The impetus might have been the candidacy of labor lawyer John Morse, who was endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Morse was long since left behind by the frontrunners.

Moderate House GOP incumbents survive

It was a good night for the more moderate House Republican incumbents.

In Nebraska’s 2nd District, a competitive Omaha-based district, Rep. Don Bacon defeated conservative challenger Dan Frei, who was endorsed by Rep. Bob Good, the chairman of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus. Bacon is now headed for a rematch with Democratic state lawmaker Tony Vargas in November.

US Rep. Carol Miller, a member of the center-right Main Street Caucus, fended off a challenge from Derrick Evans, a former state lawmaker who served three months in prison after filming himself behind police lines and in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Morrisey wins nasty West Virginia gubernatorial primary

With Justice term-limited out of the office, the GOP primary drew a host of well-connected Republicans vying to replace him in the governor’s mansion.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won a race that also featured Moore Capito, the son of Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito; Secretary of State Mac Warner; and Chris Miller, the son of Carol Miller, the congresswoman.

The primary was a nasty one. It featured a political action committee supporting Morrisey airing television spots taking aim at transgender people and describing Miller and Capito as allies of LGBT people. A pro-Capito group similarly aired ads comparing Morrisey to a pig and criticizing “the woke sex change industry.”

Morrisey will face Democratic Huntington Mayor Steve Williams in the general election.

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