What Happened in Tuesday’s Primaries

Rep. Mark Sanford waits for his introduction during a town hall meeting March 18, 2017, in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Rep. Mark Sanford waits for his introduction during a town hall meeting March 18, 2017, in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Sean Rayford/Getty Images

The big news out of Tuesday’s scattershot primaries was the rather shocking defeat of Republican Rep. Mark Sanford, who managed to survive a bizarre scandal nearly a decade ago but who couldn’t survive a run-in with Donald Trump in 2018. But that wasn’t the only development that could reshape the landscape this November. The GOP may have wasted an opportunity to mount a credible challenge to a Democratic senator in a swing state this fall. Democratic women continued to dominate congressional primaries at a historic clip. And Maine tried out a new system of voting, which could leave key races uncalled for days, if not longer.

Here’s what happened in each state.


Republican voters selected county supervisor Corey Stewart to challenge Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, and Republican leaders were none too happy with that decision, since Stewart is best known for championing Confederate symbols and praising white nationalists. As former Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling put it: “Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight.” Or as one GOP strategist tweeted: “Can we just skip past the part where the media focuses on all the idiotic, racist & embarrassing things Corey Stewart will say & do the next five months and just acknowledge Tim Kaine won his re-election tonight.” There was one high-ranking Republican who cheered Stewart’s victory:

Most prognosticators don’t share that assessment. In addition to making life easier on Kaine and Senate Democrats, Stewart’s nomination is also likely to make life that much more difficult for down-ballot Republicans in Virginia.

Democratic women, meanwhile, continued to dominate in congressional contests, winning all five primaries in which at least one female candidate was competing. Among the winners: businesswoman Elaine Luria in the 2nd, former CIA operative Abigail Spanberger in the 7th, and state Sen. Jennifer Wexton in the 10th. All three are believed to have a legitimate chance to take down a GOP incumbent: Reps. Scott Taylor, Dave Brat, and Barbara Comstock, respectively.

South Carolina

The Palmetto State was the site of the biggest surprise of the night: Rep. Mark Sanford became the second GOP incumbent to lose a primary this year, falling to state lawmaker Katie Arrington. Arrington spent much of the campaign attacking Sanford for his public criticism of Trump, and the president gave her a late push with a Twitter endorsement that came a few hours before the polls closed.

Trump wasn’t as successful in the GOP gubernatorial primary. The president endorsed Gov. Henry McMaster, who was an early Trump supporter, but the South Carolina Republican came up a few points shy of the 50-percent threshold needed to secure the nomination outright. McMaster will now face businessman John Warren in a runoff. On the Democratic side, state Rep. James Smith had no such problems. After getting a push from Joe Biden and Rep. Jim Clyburn, Smith won his nomination outright.


As expected, Democrats picked Rep. Jacky Rosen to challenge Republican Sen. Dean Heller in what could be a make-or-break contest for Democrats as they try to regain the upper chamber. Democrats also got the candidates they wanted in the two House races expected to be competitive this fall. In the 3rd, Democratic philanthropist Susie Lee and Republican businessman Danny Tarkanian won the nominations. (Tarkanian has a long history of winning GOP primaries—and then losing general elections.) And in the 4th, the nominees are a pair of former congressmen: Democratic Steven Horsford, who represented the district between 2013 to 2015, and Republican Cresent Hardy, who represented it between 2015 and 2017.

In the gubernatorial race, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt easily won the Republican nomination for governor. He’ll face Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a Democrat who’s trying to play things right down the middle in the swing state: “I’m not real liberal, I’m not real conservative. Some people would like me to be more liberal than I am.”


Only one of the state’s three primaries of note had been called as of early Wednesday: Republicans nominated businessman Shawn Moody to replace term-limited Gov. Paul LePage. On the Democratic side, Janet Mills and Adam Cote were well in front of the field with around 30 percent apiece. And in the state’s Second Congressional District, state House Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden led conservationist Lucas St. Clair for the Democratic nomination by about 10 points. It could be awhile before we know either nominee, however.

Under the state’s new system of ranked voting, if no candidate gets a majority of the vote—as seems certain in the Democratic gubernatorial contest, and possible in the congressional one—the last-place finisher is eliminated and his or her voters are then divvied up by election officials according those voters’ second choices. The process—which isn’t expected to begin until sometime next week—then repeats itself until a candidate claims a majority of the vote.

North Dakota

No surprises here. Rep. Kevin Cramer easily won the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and state Sen. Kelly Armstrong coasted to victory the GOP primary to fill Cramer’s seat.