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Jan. 6, Senate matchups and party fights: What to watch in Tuesday's primaries

Voters in Maryland, West Virginia and Nebraska head to the polls for primaries, while North Carolina holds primary runoffs.
Angela Alsobrooks and Rep. David Trone.
Angela Alsobrooks and Rep. David Trone face off in the Maryland Democratic Senate primary Tuesday. AP file

Voters head to the polls in four states Tuesday for primaries that will set up key Senate races and settle other intraparty battles, including a race that features a Jan. 6 Capitol rioter and another featuring a police officer who battled the rioters that day. 

Maryland, West Virginia and Nebraska are holding primaries, and North Carolina is holding runoffs for races in which candidates didn’t win majorities of the vote in its March primaries. 

Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement is on the line in West Virginia, where he shaped the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. And Trump is sure to notch two endorsement wins in North Carolina, where two of his preferred House candidates — lobbyist Addison McDowell and attorney Brad Knott — are the only candidates left standing in a pair of primary runoffs after their opponents ended their campaigns. 

Meanwhile, a few Republican lawmakers are looking to fend off primary challengers from their right, and a handful of open seats in Maryland will also help shape the Democratic caucus next year. 

Polls close at 7:30 p.m. ET in West Virginia and North Carolina, 8 p.m. ET in Maryland and 9 p.m. ET in Nebraska. Here are four things to watch.

Senate race matchups

Republicans are eyeing possible pickups in typically blue Maryland and red West Virginia as they look to flip the Senate this year. 

Manchin’s retirement makes West Virginia, which Trump won by 39 points in 2020, a much easier target for the GOP. The Republican primary has still been a battle, and it will test Trump’s sway over primary voters.  

Trump endorsed GOP Gov. Jim Justice early on in the race, as did the National Republican Senatorial Committee. But Rep. Alex Mooney hasn’t let up, getting a major boost on the airwaves from Club for Growth Action, the political action committee of the conservative Club for Growth. 

Mooney and Club for Growth have tried to paint Justice as a liberal who raised taxes, while Justice has touted his work as governor. Justice has also emphasized Trump’s endorsement in each of his TV ads

Three candidates are competing for the Democratic nomination: Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, Marine veteran and organizer Zachary Shrewsbury and Don Blankenship, a former coal baron who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Senate in 2018. Blankenship spent a year in prison for violating mine safety rules after an explosion at one of his company’s mines. 

Maryland’s Senate matchup will also be decided Tuesday, and the race could be crucial to Senate control if former Gov. Larry Hogan prevails in the GOP primary. Republicans lauded Hogan, who was elected twice statewide in the traditionally Democratic state, as a top recruit, and he was quickly endorsed by the NRSC. 

Hogan, a vocal Trump critic, is in a primary against Robin Ficker, a perennial candidate who is self-funding his campaign. While Ficker has made many unsuccessful runs for office, he has outspent Hogan on the airwaves, launching ads saying Ficker would “stand with President Trump.” 

The NRSC has teamed up with Hogan on ads, launching spots focused on immigration, a top issue for GOP primary voters.

Hogan’s entrance into the race did shake up the Democratic primary between Rep. David Trone and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, both of whom argue they can hold on to the seat in November.

Trone, who has some endorsements from notable House members and the state teachers union, has blanketed the airwaves in TV ads. He lent his campaign more than $60 million, leveraging his personal fortune as the founder of the Total Wine & More retail chain. 

Alsobrooks, who would be the state’s first Black female senator, has endorsements from Gov. Wes Moore, Sen. Chris Van Hollen and other members of the congressional delegation. She got a late boost on the airwaves from EMILY’s List, a group that backs female candidates who support abortion rights. 

Senate matchups will also be set in deep-red Nebraska. GOP Sen. Pete Ricketts is running to serve out the final two years of former Sen. Ben Sasse’s term after he was appointed to the Senate last year. The only Democrat vying to take him on is Preston Love Jr., an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha. 

Democrats didn’t field a candidate to take on Republican Sen. Deb Fischer, who is running for a third term. So she is expected to face independent Dan Osborne, a union leader, in November. 

House Republicans face challengers from the right 

Multiple House Republicans face primary challengers from their right. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, one of 17 Republicans representing districts Joe Biden won in 2020, faces businessman Dan Frei in the Omaha-based 2nd District. 

Frei has support from the state Republican Party, which didn’t endorse any members of the state’s congressional delegation and instead backed three primary challengers. Bacon and an allied super PAC funded by Ricketts have far outspent Frei in the race, and Bacon has expressed confidence that he’ll prevail Tuesday. 

Rep. Don Bacon on Capitol Hill
Rep. Don Bacon on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 30. Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

If Bacon wins his primary, he’ll face a rematch against Democratic state Sen. Tony Vargas, who lost to him by 3 points in 2022. Democrats are optimistic about defeating Bacon in a presidential year, with abortion expected to be a top issue for voters (and as Bacon has touted his endorsements from anti-abortion-rights groups in his primary).

In West Virginia’s 1st District, Miller faces former state Del. Derrick Evans in the GOP primary. 

Evans was convicted of a felony for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He touted his actions on Jan. 6 in a TV ad, saying he “stood with President Trump to peacefully and patriotically protest the stolen election,” and claimed he has been held “hostage” as a “political prisoner.” (Evans pleaded guilty to a felony count of civil disorder in March 2022.)

Miller, who has outspent Evans on the airwaves, cited his past candidacy as a Democrat. Miller has also launched an ad featuring Trump praising her, even though Trump hasn’t endorsed in the primary. 

Former Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn runs for Congress

Tuesday’s primaries also include a face that could be familiar to those who watched the testimony during the House’s investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol: former Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who is running in Maryland’s open 3rd District

The seat, being vacated by the retiring Democratic Rep. Paul Sarbanes, is in a Democratic-leaning area, meaning the winner of the primary will be the favorite in November. Dunn has been the top fundraiser in the race by multiple millions of dollars, allowing him to spend more than $2 million on ads, according to AdImpact, including on ads highlighting his actions on Jan. 6

The United Democracy Project, a super PAC aligned with the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has spent more than $3.5 million to boost state Sen. Sarah Elfreth. The group’s ads are focusing not on issues related to Israel but on abortion and health care. Dunn’s campaign has tried to fight back by highlighting how UDP relies in part on Republican donors (an attack UDP responded to with a spot of its own, saying Dunn should be “ashamed of himself”). 

There are also competitive and crowded primaries in Maryland’s 6th District to replace Trone in the House. Among the Democrats are April McLain Delaney (a former deputy assistant commerce secretary and the wife of former Rep. John Delaney), state Del. Joe Vogel, Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez and Montgomery County Council member Laurie-Anne Sayles. And in the Republican primary, 2022 GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox and former state Del. Neil Parrott are the top candidates. 

Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger’s retirement is opening another Democratic-leaning seat — Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and state Del. Harry Bhandari are among the top candidates in that race, while the Republican field includes Kimberly Klacik, a pro-Trump radio personality who was the GOP nominee in a different Maryland congressional district in 2020.

Brutal primary for West Virginia governor 

The race to replace Justice has been wild and brutal, with a crowded field that includes powerful politicians and scions of well-known political families in the state.

There doesn’t appear to be a clear runaway favorite in the crowded field. The candidates include two statewide officeholders, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Secretary of State Mac Warner, and two children of West Virginia Republican members of Congress — former state Rep. Moore Capito, the son of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, and businessman Chris Miller, the son of Rep. Carol Miller. (Tuesday’s elections are a family affair, as Riley Moore, the senator’s nephew and the former state representative’s cousin, is also running for an open House seat.)

There has been a flurry of ad spending — more than $33 million by the candidates and outside groups. Justice has weighed in, backing Capito, but Trump hasn’t picked a candidate. 

The ad wars have gotten particularly nasty. A group supporting Morrisey has run a spate of different ads castigating transgender people and accusing Miller and Moore of being allies of the LGBTQ community. A group backing Miller compares Morrisey to a pig before it goes on to make similar anti-transgender arguments against Morrisey. And a group backing Capito blasted Morrisey’s lobbying work and argued he “cashed in from Big Pharma when they pushed their poison pills.”

The silver lining for the Republicans, however, is that whoever makes it through the messy primary will be heavily favored against Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, the only Democrat in the race.