This week’s primaries are a gamble — and not just because many of them are in Nevada. Former President Donald Trump is backing challengers to not one but two incumbent members of Congress, which will once again put the power of his endorsement to the test. Meanwhile, both parties face decisions about how far right or left of center a nominee can be in a swing seat and still stand a chance of winning in November.
All told, four states are holding primaries on Tuesday: Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and South Carolina. We aren’t expecting any races in Maine or North Dakota to be competitive, but to make up for it, there’s a special election in Texas that either party could plausibly win. So grab your lucky dice and let’s roll through the important elections this week.
Races to watch: 1st and 7th congressional districts
Polls close: 7 p.m. Eastern
Plenty of Republicans — like South Carolina’s own senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott — have walked the line between criticizing and praising Trump and have managed to stay on his good side, but Rep. Nancy Mace, of South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, has not. Despite working for his 2016 presidential campaign early in the primary season, Mace ripped Trump a new one after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, saying that the insurrection had “wiped out” “[e]very accomplishment that Republicans have made over the last four years.” However, she quickly tried to mend those fences with votes against a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission and for ousting anti-Trump Rep. Liz Cheney from House Republican leadership.
Trump didn’t buy it. In February, he endorsed former state Rep. Katie Arrington — a loyalist who shares his false belief that the 2020 election was stolen — in the Republican primary against Mace. Notably, too, Arrington has experience taking down incumbents in this coastal, Charleston-area seat: She defeated former Rep. Mark Sanford in the 2018 Republican primary.
Mace looks like a tougher foe, however. First, she outraised Arrington by a whopping $4.1 million to $909,447, as of May 25. Second, Mace isn’t as anti-Trump as Sanford, who briefly ran against Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination; she didn’t vote to impeach Trump, for instance. She’s also argued that Arrington (who lost the general election in 2018) would lose the seat to Democrats in the fall, though redistricting made the 1st District safely Republican (it has a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of R+17), so that isn’t an honest argument. The primary could go either way: The only non-internal poll of the race, conducted May 26-29 by the Trafalgar Group, gave Mace 46 percent and Arrington 41 percent.
Next door in the 7th District, though, another anti-Trump Republican looks like he’s in more trouble. Rep. Tom Rice was one of the more anonymous members of the House GOP caucus before Jan. 13, 2021, when he shockingly voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot. (The vote came so far out of left field that some observers initially thought it was an error.)
Six other Republicans, all of them ardent Trump defenders, filed to run against Rice, and initially the field was quite muddled — Rice wasn’t polling great, but neither was anyone else. But in February, Trump tapped state Rep. Russell Fry as his preferred candidate, and Fry shot up in the polls. According to another Trafalgar Group poll, also conducted May 26-29, Fry entered the home stretch with 42 percent support to Rice’s 25 percent.
With other candidates like self-funder Ken Richardson still earning a decent share of the vote, however, it looks very possible that no one will win a majority on Tuesday. If that happens, the top two finishers — likely to be Fry and Rice — will head to a runoff on June 28. But given the size of the anti-incumbent vote, Rice is probably cooked either way.
Races to watch: 34th Congressional District
Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern
Texas’s primaries were on March 1 with its runoff elections on May 24, but there’s one more election on our radar in the Lone Star State before this November’s general election: the special election in the 34th District following the resignation of Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela.
The winner of Tuesday’s special election will finish Vela’s truncated term, which ends in January. But Republicans in the state are eager to go ahead and flip the 34th District as they attempt to make inroads in South Texas — along with several other border-area seats in the fall. Republican gains in the 34th might be short-lived, though, because while Tuesday’s election will happen under the previous, more competitive boundaries of the 34th District — which has a partisan lean of D+5 — the November election, which will decide who succeeds Vela for a full term in Congress, will be held under new district boundaries that are much more favorable to Democrats — its boundaries have a partisan lean of D+17.
On the Republican side, the biggest name in the four-person field is Mayra Flores, the current GOP nominee for the seat in the November general election. Not only does Flores have the backing of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, but she also has the support of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC close to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. There haven’t been many public polls of the race, but a new RRH Elections/Poll Project USA poll gave Flores a 9-point edge over her nearest opponent, former Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez, a Democrat. According to the survey, Flores led among likely or completed voters with 43 percent support, while Sanchez netted 34 percent. Another internal party poll conducted in late April by Ragnar Research Partners for Flores and the National Republican Congressional Committee similarly gave Flores an edge over Sanchez, 24 percent support to 19 percent. In that survey, Democrat Rene Coronado, a civil service director, came in third, at 9 percent, while Republican Juana Cantu-Cabrera, one of Flores’s opponents in the March primary, earned 7 percent. Forty-one percent of voters, however, were still undecided. And as far as outside spending goes, Flores has an edge here, too. She and her allies have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars and resources into TV ads, and as of May 25, Flores significantly outraised Sanchez. Sanchez does, though, have a little bit more cash on hand ($104,017) than Flores ($100,387).
This is a historically Democratic seat. Vela represented the district since 2013, and Democratic presidential candidates handily beat Republicans in the district in 2012 and 2016. And in 2020, President Biden still won the district by 4 percentage points. But the Republican offensive has caught Democrats off guard in an area of the state they have long dominated. Part of the struggle for Democrats here is that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t get involved in the race until recently, when it launched a $100,000 ad buy in partnership with Sanchez’s campaign.
It seems as if Democrats’ strategy has been to avoid investing heavily in this race and instead wait until the fall. It’s also worth noting that Sanchez isn’t running to fill Vela’s full term; instead, it’s Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez — who opted to not run in Tuesday’s special election — who sailed through the March 1 primary and will be the party’s nominee against Flores this fall. So, even if Sanchez were to win, he’d hold the seat only until January. National Democrats, meanwhile, have maintained that Gonzalez will easily triumph in November, especially since that race will take place under district lines that are more favorable to Democrats.
Of course, though, another possible wrinkle in Tuesday’s race is that the special election could go to a runoff given the presence of Coronado and Cantu-Cabrera, two lesser-known candidates, on the ballot; if no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters go head-to-head later this year. Still, Sanchez has expressed confidence that his party can win the seat outright.
Races to watch: U.S. Senate; 1st, 3rd and 4th congressional districts; governor; attorney general; secretary of state
Polls close: 10 p.m. Eastern
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is one of the most vulnerable politicians in the country this year, and eight Republicans are running for U.S. Senate in hopes of replacing her. The front-runner is former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who boasts endorsements from both Trump and the Club for Growth, an anti-government-spending outside group that has a lot of influence in Republican primaries. Laxalt was a co-chair of Trump’s 2020 campaign in Nevada and announced a lawsuit two days after the election, falsely alleging that thousands of improper votes had been cast in Nevada.
However, Army veteran Sam Brown has run a stunningly effective grassroots campaign that has contrasted his outsider status with Laxalt’s establishment roots. (Laxalt is the grandson of former Nevada Gov. and Sen. Paul Laxalt.) Brown has also somehow tried to position himself as even Trumpier than Laxalt, too, arguing that Laxalt was not aggressive enough in trying to stop alleged voter fraud. As of May 25, Brown has raised more than $2 million from small donors and almost $4 million in total, which he has used to outspend Laxalt on TV and radio ads through June 1. A June 6-7 poll from OH Predictive Insights/the Nevada Independent still gave Laxalt a 48 percent to 34 percent lead among likely voters, but that represented a tightening of the race since January.
Even more Republicans — 15! — are vying for the right to take on Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak in the race for governor. When former Sen. Dean Heller jumped into the race last year, he looked like the favorite based on his political experience (he didn’t lose a single election from 1990 until 2018) and born-again Trumpism. But Heller struggled with fundraising and failed to make voters forget his moderate past. By January 2022, a new front-runner had emerged: Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
Ironically, Lombardo is not as Trumpist as Heller on issues like immigration and the 2020 election (when asked if it was fair, he said he didn’t have enough information to say), but Trump endorsed him anyway in late April, after it became clear he was leading. Despite that vote of confidence, however, Lombardo doesn’t seem to be running away with the nomination. The aforementioned OH Predictive Insights/Nevada Independent poll gave him just 34 percent, little changed from January. But instead of Heller (who took just 10 percent), his closest competitor was Trump true believer Joey Gilbert, an attorney and former professional boxer who attended the Jan. 6 riot. Gilbert received 21 percent support in the poll.
Republicans also face a choice of whom to nominate in Nevada’s three competitive, Democratic-held U.S. House seats. Thanks to redistricting, that list now includes the 1st District, which went from a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of D+22 to just D+4 in an attempt to shore up the other Democratic seats. Eight Republicans are fighting for the nomination, and without any public polls of the primary, it’s hard to say who’s favored.
One strong contender could be Carolina Serrano, who led the Trump campaign’s Hispanic outreach efforts in Las Vegas in 2020. In addition to her campaign experience, Serrano has raised the most money as of May 25 ($568,123) and has Laxalt’s endorsement. But Army veteran Mark Robertson has raised nearly as much ($542,621) and has the backing of diehard Arizona conservative Rep. Andy Biggs. Pro-Israel activist David Brog has also raised a respectable $381,728, and former Rep. Cresent Hardy could draw support from those looking for an experienced hand (though he has somehow raised just $9,000).
Whoever wins will face Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in November … probably. Titus faces a challenge in the Democratic primary from progressive activist Amy Vilela, who has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Our Revolution. It’s rare, of course, for an incumbent to lose in a primary, but there are a couple reasons to think this could be a sleeper race. First, because of how drastically Nevada’s congressional map was redrawn, only 52 percent of people in the new 1st District are Titus’s current constituents, meaning she may not get the full benefits of incumbency. Also, despite getting outraised $1.3 million to $490,568, Vilela has actually spent more money than Titus ($437,195 to $329,210) as of May 25, suggesting Titus may not be taking the challenge seriously. (That said, it’s possible that Titus has spent a lot more since then.) If Vilela does pull off an upset, though, it could make it more challenging for Democrats to hold this newly competitive seat in the current, Republican-leaning political environment.
Republicans also have their eye on defeating Democratic Rep. Susie Lee in the 3rd District, with its partisan lean of only D+2. Attorney April Becker looks like the cream of a five-candidate crop: She has raised $1.2 million and has a ton of institutional support from the National Republican Congressional Committee, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Nevada Republican Party. Groups that aim to elect more Republican women to Congress, such as Maggie’s List and Rep. Elise Stefanik’s E-PAC, are also backing her to the hilt. However, two men — engineer John Kovacs and Army veteran Noah Malgeri — have also raised a respectable sum of money for their campaigns and can’t be counted out.
Finally, three candidates are seeking the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in the 4th District, which is now Nevada’s bluest House seat, at D+5. Assemblywoman Annie Black is probably Democrats’ dream opponent; she has vociferously argued that the 2020 election was stolen, and she attended the Jan. 6 riot outside the Capitol (but also condemned those who actually broke into the building). However, she has raised only about half as much money as Air Force veteran Sam Peters, $360,755 versus $716,382, respectively. Peters, though, is no moderate; he has said he would not have voted to certify the results of the 2020 election.
With Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske term-limited, Nevadans will also elect a new top election official this year — an extremely important post given Nevada’s status as a key swing state. And most of the candidates in the Republican primary are at least sympathetic to — if not fully convinced by — Trump’s false belief that the 2020 election was stolen.
That includes the two front-runners, former Assemblyman Jim Marchant and former state Sen. Jesse Haw, who were tied for first place in the most recent poll of the race. However, Marchant has been much more assertive about his antidemocratic convictions. After losing a congressional race in 2020, Marchant sued for a rerun of the election, claiming he was a victim of fraud. “Your vote hasn’t counted for decades,” he told voters at a February debate. “You haven’t elected anybody. The people that are in office have been selected. You haven’t had a choice.” Marchant says he would not have certified the 2020 election in Nevada if he had been secretary of state at the time, and he wants to ban the use of electronic voting machines, mail voting and early voting.
By contrast, Haw, who has been blanketing the state with TV ads thanks to his significant financial advantage over his opponents, has been more evasive. He told the Nevada Independent that the 2020 election “had a lot of shenanigans and potential fraud” but has focused mostly on besmirching Nevada’s liberal election laws, such as a new regulation allowing non-family members to return other people’s absentee ballots.
The only Republican who has publicly acknowledged that President Biden legitimately won the election is Sparks City Councilman Kristopher Dahir, but he took only 3 percent in the poll. The winner of the GOP primary will face attorney Cisco Aguilar, the only Democrat in the running, in November.
Meet the Nevada GOP candidates who support Trump’s ‘big lie’ | FiveThirtyEight
Finally, two Republicans are also running in hopes of unseating Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford, the state’s chief law-enforcement officer. Former Nevada Cannabis Association President Tisha Black’s campaign is being run by consultants with ties to the Republican establishment, but she faces a spirited challenge from conservative activist Sigal Chattah.
Chattah says she decided to run for attorney general because of her belief that Nevada’s COVID-19 restrictions were unconstitutional, and her provocative rhetoric on and off the campaign trail has sometimes gotten her in trouble. (Most notably, a text message was leaked in which she said Ford, who is Black, “should be hanging from a [expletive] crane.”) She also says she wants to prosecute women who have abortions, though she has acknowledged that abortion is legally protected in Nevada and that she is obligated to uphold the law.
Both Black and Chattah have also pledged to use the power of their office to prosecute voter fraud, which they believe is more common than it really is. (“Our democracy, I believe, is in question,” Black told the Nevada Independent.) The only poll of the primary, conducted back in early May by OH Predictive Insights/the Nevada Independent, found a toss-up race, with the two candidates virtually tied and a plurality of voters undecided.
Nevada Democrats are vulnerable this fall | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast
That’s all she wrote for now, but our primary coverage will continue when the results start to roll in on Tuesday night. Join us at 7 p.m. Eastern for our live blog!