Rep. Tom Rice, targeted by former President Donald Trump for voting to impeach him after the Capitol riot, was defeated by a Trump-backed challenger in South Carolina Tuesday night while Rep. Nancy Mace, who also incurred Trump's ire for criticizing him over Jan. 6, prevailed, NBC News projects.
Rice’s primary defeat in the state’s 7th Congressional District at the hands of state Rep. Russell Fry marks the first time this election cycle that a pro-impeachment Republican has lost at the ballot box. Rice's loss also delivered Trump his first victory against an incumbent this year. Trump-backed candidates had lost five straight races against incumbents entering Tuesday. (Trump was successful in ousting Rep. David McKinley in West Virginia, but McKinley was up against another incumbent in Rep. Alex Mooney. They were put into the same district as part of redistricting this year.)
But in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, a different story unfolded. Mace’s victory over former state Rep. Katie Arrington meant yet another loss for Trump in his effort to exact revenge on Republicans he’s deemed disloyal.
Trump reacted to both projected outcomes on his Truth Social platform. He called Arrington “a long shot” who “ran a great race and way over performed,” adding, “Congrats to Nancy Mace, who should easily be able to defeat her Democrat opponent!” Turning his attention to Fry and Rice, he wrote: “The biggest News of the evening so far is that Russell Fry beat Impeach Master Tom Rice with a Vote of more than 51%, therefore WINNING OUTRIGHT with no need for a run-off.”
Rice surprised many by joining nine other Republicans in voting to impeach Trump after the former president’s supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The congressman knew his impeachment vote could cost him re-election, but expressed no regrets in an interview with NBC News last week.
"Win, lose or draw, I did the right thing, and I know I did the right thing," he said, adding of Trump’s conduct amid the riot: "I can’t think of any president who has ever done anything worse in terms of government."
At his election night party, Fry took the stage to cheers of “fry that rice.”
“The voters have spoken. Tom Rice is coming home. And we did it, what everyone said could not be done,” he said of avoiding a runoff, adding, “Today, the conservatives in the Republican Party won. Today, Donald Trump won. And today, the voters of the 7th Congressional District won.”
Mace did not support impeachment but, like Rice, has questioned the role Trump should play in the future of the GOP. She also voted to hold Steve Bannon — the former Trump adviser and a major voice in perpetuating lies about the 2020 election — in contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena from the House committee investigating the attack. But she has not been as consistent as Rice has been in her opposition to Trump.
Asked by NBC News Tuesday evening what her message was for Trump, Mace said: "My message is the same to him as it is to anybody else on either side of the aisle."
"I am willing to work with anyone who is willing to work with me," she said. "Full stop."
"I am not unaccustomed to being called to the principal’s office, and sometimes it’s the vice principal’s office," she added when asked about her role in the party's future given her past criticism of Trump. "But I work really hard to represent the values of my district. I bring that voice to Washington and that’s why you saw us get elected and have a great win tonight."
As he weighs another White House bid in 2024, Trump’s influence was also on the line Tuesday in Nevada. There, his endorsed Senate candidate former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, and his pick for governor, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, won their GOP primaries, NBC News projects. Trump and his allies had been particularly nervous about signs of late momentum for Laxalt's chief rival, Sam Brown.
While Trump’s influence has been a major story in each race, the closing weeks in South Carolina's primaries have seen much attention paid to gas prices, with each candidate seeking to accuse their rival of being responsible for rising costs. Both Mace and Rice pointed to Arrington and Fry having voted in 2017 to raise the state gas tax when they were members of the state Legislature. In his tele-town hall with South Carolina voters last week, Trump himself made mention of gas prices, suggesting it was Fry and Arrington who would be best positioned to address the issue.
"It’s nice to look at what other people do, but we’re very much our own state with our own mind," Barbara Nielsen, a Beaufort County GOP activist who supports Arrington, told NBC News last week. "I know, all the news media has tried to, you know, they always look at where is Trump, who has he endorsed, and they try to make it into that. … I think that will probably factor in. But in the long run, it comes down to who the candidate is, and if they can close the deal."
The races had national involvement from big-name Republicans outside of Trump. Mace is backed by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served under Trump and is widely admired in the state, as well as former acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, made a campaign stop in support of Rice, who also won the backing of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Until Tuesday, Trump's most explicit efforts to punish those who've crossed him had not paid off for him in 2022.
In Georgia last month, for example, Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr — all of whom refused to rig the state's 2020 election results in Trump's favor — won their GOP primaries against challengers the former president had endorsed. And in Alabama's Senate primary last month, Rep. Mo Brooks advanced to a runoff election even after Trump rescinded his endorsement, citing Brooks' desire to move on from the 2020 election. Over the weekend, Trump endorsed Brooks' Republican rival in the runoff, Katie Britt.
Trump has had better endorsement luck in wider open races that lack the revenge narrative, including the Ohio and Pennsylvania Senate primaries. He also has padded his endorsement record by backing many candidates who were well on their way to winning before he got involved.
In Nevada, Trump's Senate endorsement was more about loyalty. Laxalt, as a Trump campaign co-chair in 2020, was behind several unsuccessful legal challenges to the election results in a state Joe Biden narrowly won. Laxalt, like Trump, raised baseless doubts about election integrity, but official investigations found no widespread fraud.
But Laxalt faced a robust fight from Brown, a retired Army captain whose straw poll victories and knack for collecting small donations has indicated momentum with grassroots voters. Laxalt had much of the national GOP establishment behind him, but some surveys had showed the race tightening. Last week, Trump held a telephone rally for Laxalt and his son Donald Trump Jr. traveled to Nevada for an in-person campaign event.
Laxalt will face Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto, who was comfortably renominated Tuesday, NBC News projects. That race is expected to be one of the most competitive races that could determine control of the chamber this fall.
Trump Jr. also campaigned last week for Lombardo. Polls had shown the sheriff as the front-runner in a field that included former Sen. Dean Heller and retired professional boxer Joey Gilbert, who had the state party’s endorsement. Lombardo will face Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak — who also won renomination Tuesday, NBC News projects — in the general election.
Nevada's contest for secretary of state will also be one to watch in November. Election denier Jim Marchant, a former state legislator who has said he would not have certified the 2020 results in the state Joe Biden won, came out on top in the GOP primary, NBC News projects. Trump had not endorsed in the race. Marchant will face Democratic candidate Cisco Aguilar.
Other primaries on the ballot Tuesday included the South Carolina race for governor. Republican incumbent Henry McMaster was renominated after facing a challenge from political newcomer Harrison Musselwhite, a truck driver campaigning as "Trucker Bob," NBC News projects. McMaster will face former Rep. Joe Cunningham, the winner of the Democratic primary, NBC News projects.
Also in South Carolina, the Democratic Senate primary is heading to a runoff, NBC News projects, with author Catherine Fleming Bruce advancing and the race for the second spot too close to call between Spartanburg County Democratic Party chair Angela Geter and state Rep. Krystle Matthews. The eventual winner will fface U.S. Sen. Tim Scott this fall. Scott, who is unopposed in the Republican primary, is seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2024.
Voters in Maine will also cast primary ballots Tuesday.
In the state’s competitive 2nd Congressional District, which covers the mostly rural northern three-quarters of the state, moderate Democratic Rep. Jared Golden is seen as one of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents in the fall. He'll face a rematch against former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whom he defeated in 2018, NBC News projects.
Meanwhile, Maine's marquee race this fall is already set. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and Republican Paul LePage — a former two-term governor who left office highly unpopular — are running unopposed for their parties’ nominations.