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SC incumbents challenged, Va. women rise as 5 states vote

SC incumbents challenged, Va. women rise as 5 states vote
Kathryn Ziesig/The Post And Courier via AP

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.

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IN SOUTH CAROLINA, INCUMBENTS FACE CHALLENGES

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 struggling to pull ahead of state Rep. Katie Arrington, who had attacked the incumbent for his frequent criticisms of Trump. Sanford spoke out against Trump as a candidate for president in 2016, and has called him culturally intolerant and criticized him for not releasing his tax returns.

Trump went after Sanford on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, as voters continued to go to the polls, calling him “very unhelpful.”

“He is MIA and nothing but trouble,” Trump tweeted. “He is better off in Argentina.”

As governor in 2009, Sanford famously disclosed that he had been carrying on an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina.

Sanford apologized, though the episode ended with his wife divorcing him. Meanwhile, Trump — who was captured on a 2005 tape bragging about groping women — has also been accused of sexually inappropriate advances by women, all of which he has denied.

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A HOUSE BELLWETHER IN 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.” 

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TURNING THE LePAGE

Maine voters are deciding how they’d prefer to veer in their search for the successor to term-limited, conservative Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

In a state represented by moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King, voters will choose from GOP candidates who echo LePage’s conservative policies but shy away from his controversial tone.

The field includes top Republicans in the state legislature, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette; LePage’s former state health agency chief, Mary Mayhew; and businessman Shawn Moody, who’s trying to claim the outsider mantle.

Democrats, with just 16 of the nation’s governorships, view the seat as one of their top pick-up opportunities.

First they must settle a seven-way primary field led by Attorney General Janet Mills and former state House Speaker Mark Eves.

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NEVADA, NORTH DAKOTA: SEE YOU IN NOVEMBER

Nevada and North Dakota are home to two of the most pivotal Senate races this year. What they don’t have is competitive Senate primaries.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, the only Republican seeking re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, and Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen are expected to sail through their primaries, and already have begun focusing their criticism on each other in what is expected to be among the most competitive Senate races this year.

One of the most interesting GOP primaries in Nevada involves legal brothel owner Dennis Hof challenging GOP state Rep. James Oscarson for his seat in the statehouse.

There’s also the return of Sharron Angle, the conservative who once ominously threatened to “take out” then-Sen. Harry Reid. Angle, who lost to Reid in her 2010 bid for Senate, is challenging Rep. Mark Amodei, who is favored in his campaign for renomination in Nevada’s 2nd District.

The most competitive choice for Democrats appears to be the battle between Clark County commissioners vying to be Nevada’s first Democratic governor in two decades.

Steve Sisolak is running as a centrist, and fellow board member Chris Giunchigliani is running as a progressive, knocking Sisolak for his positive rating from the National Rifle Association in light of the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October. Four lesser-known candidates are also running.

Republican Attorney Gen. Adam Laxalt is expected to easily clear the GOP field.

In North Dakota , GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer is a shoo-in to face moderate Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. She is seeking re-election in a state Trump carried by 36 percentage points in 2016.

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