By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump's efforts to punish his perceived enemies will be tested in South Carolina on Tuesday as Republican U.S. Representatives Tom Rice and Nancy Mace try to fend off Trump-backed primary election challengers.
In Nevada, Trump-endorsed Republican Adam Laxalt is seeking his party's nomination for a crucial U.S. Senate race in this year's midterm elections. Republican Jim Marchant, who falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, is vying for a chance to become the state's top election official.
Voters also go to the polls in Maine and North Dakota to choose party nominees to compete in the November general election.
With Democratic President Joe Biden slumping in the polls and soaring inflation souring voters' moods, Republicans are expected to win control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. That would bring Biden's legislative agenda to a halt and give Republicans the power to launch investigations that could be politically damaging.
Rice, a five-term South Carolina incumbent who was one of 10 Republicans to vote for Trump's impeachment after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, is seeking reelection against a crowded field of contenders that includes Trump-backed challenger Russell Fry, a state legislator.
Mace, a first-term incumbent, drew Trump's ire by refusing to back Republican efforts to challenge the 2020 presidential election results and then breaking party ranks to hold his former adviser, Steve Bannon, in contempt of Congress. She is defending her seat against Trump-endorsed Katie Arrington, a former state lawmaker.
Arrington won the same district's 2018 Republican primary only to lose in the general election to Democrat Joe Cunningham, who in turn lost to Mace in 2020.
Rice and Mace each need to more than 50% of Tuesday's vote to avoid a June 28 run-off. Whoever ultimately wins the two Republican contests will likely be elected to Congress in November.
The results will be watched as a measure of Trump's continued influence over the Republican Party as he hints at another run for the White House in 2024. His endorsees so far have had mixed success in battleground states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina.
KEY NEVADA CONTESTS
Republicans in Nevada are looking to pick up the Senate seat held by Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the 2022 midterm campaign.
Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, leads a crowded field of Republican primary contenders. He holds a 15-point advantage over his nearest rival, political newcomer Sam Brown, according to a May poll by the Nevada Independent.
Laxalt is the son of former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici and the grandson of former Nevada governor and U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt.
In Nevada's secretary of state contest, Marchant, a former state legislator, is vying for the party nomination to oversee the 2024 presidential election against six other Republican candidates. He has received endorsements from high-profile conservatives, including former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and pro-Trump businessman Mike Lindell.
Among 2020 election deniers running for election posts across the country, Marchant has distinguished himself by claiming that elections have been rigged for decades and by arguing that electronic voting machines should be replaced by paper ballots. He blamed his own 2020 U.S. House loss to Democratic Representative Steven Horsford on election fraud.
Republicans also will select nominees to run against three vulnerable House Democrats from Nevada – Horsford, Dina Titus and Susie Lee.
Titus, who entered Congress in 2009, faces a challenge for her party nomination from progressive Democrat Amy Vilela, who is endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders.
The Republican field in Titus' district includes former Nevada Trump campaign aide Carolina Serrano, retired Army Colonel Mark Robertson and pro-Israel activist David Brog. Brog is endorsed by Trump's former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
In Maine, Paul LePage, whose turbulent eight years as the state's governor foreshadowed Trump's rise, is running unopposed for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Governor Janet Mills in November.
LePage, who once described himself as “Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” was widely criticized as governor for his inflammatory remarks on a host of topics from immigration, the environment and LGBTQ issues to abortion and voting rights. He left office with an approval rating below 40%.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alistair Bell)