Republican voters embrace Trump-style candidates

Republican voters embrace Trump-style candidates

Sanford, a former governor once seen as a possible candidate for president, lost to Katie Arrington, a state lawmaker, in a closely contested primary

Washington: Republican voters lashed out against traditional party leaders on Tuesday, ousting Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina and nominating a conservative firebrand for Senate in Virginia, the latest illustration that fealty to President Donald Trump and his hard-line politics is paramount on the right.

Sanford, a former governor once seen as a possible candidate for president, lost to Katie Arrington, a state lawmaker, in a closely contested primary, The Associated Press reported. Arrington had made the incumbent’s frequent criticism of Trump the centrepiece of her campaign. And the president endorsed her in an unexpected, and deeply personal, broadside against Sanford just three hours before the polls closed.

In Virginia, Republicans dismissed the concerns of mainstream party leaders to nominate Corey Stewart, a local official who has made his name attacking unauthorised immigrants and embracing emblems of the Confederacy, the AP reported. He will challenge Senator Tim Kaine, the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate.

Party leaders fear that Stewart, a fervent Trump supporter who has mimicked his slashing style, could drag down other Republicans in a state that is key to control of the House.

But Republican primary voters appeared more eager to punish Trump’s enemies than to reward his allies: Even as they seemed poised to turn out Sanford, South Carolina Republicans forced Governor Henry McMaster, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, into a runoff election against a 39-year-old political newcomer.

It was the upset in Sanford’s Charleston-area House district, however, that represented the starkest reminder that many Republican voters now demand total fidelity to the president: Sanford, who resurrected his career in the House after conducting a much-publicised extramarital affair as governor, has repeatedly taken aim at Trump.

Sanford had demanded Trump release his tax returns while bemoaning what he calls “the cult of personality” gripping the GOP. Arrington’s surprise victory seemed to vindicate Sanford’s assessment of the party — at his own expense.

Sanford remained defiant in the face of defeat, telling supporters in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, that he did not regret clashing with Trump.

“It may have cost me an election in this case, but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president,” Sanford said on Tuesday night as his chances appeared to grow more bleak.

Taking the stage at her election night party, Arrington affirmed Sanford’s assessment: “We are the party of Donald J. Trump,” she said in North Charleston, South Carolina.

The president’s popularity with conservative activists did seem to do in Sanford: Arrington focused relentlessly on his apostasies, assailing Sanford for “bashing our captain, President Trump,” as she put it in a debate earlier this month.

Trump, catching up on Tuesday with a campaign waged for months in his shadow, echoed those attacks. He invoked the affair Sanford conducted with an Argentine woman, effectively firing a warning shot at those Republicans who dare speak out against him.

“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA,” Trump wrote on Twitter, referencing his “Make America Great Again” slogan as he flew back from Singapore. “He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love.”

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Yet on the same night that Sanford struggled, McMaster, a staunch Trump ally, was forced into a runoff — a vivid illustration that the Republican base’s thirst for insurgency does not necessarily spare Trump’s supporters. McMaster, 71, who has been buffeted by an ongoing corruption investigation in the state capital, garnered just 44 per cent of the vote and will face John Warren in the June 26 runoff.

After Trump travelled to the state earlier this year to raise money for McMaster, the governor used footage from trip to make a television ad. Over the weekend, the president tweeted his support for McMaster, calling him “a special guy.”

The question now is whether Trump will campaign for McMaster in the runoff election, putting his own political capital on the line for a governor who was one of the first elected officials to endorse him and assumed his office when Nikki R. Haley became ambassador to the United Nations.

South Carolina Democrats, who have not won a governor’s race two decades, nominated James Smith, a state legislator and Afghanistan veteran for the state’s top job.

In Virginia, Republicans braced for the possibility of protracted turmoil: Stewart, who nearly seized the nomination for governor last year, has also savaged GOP leaders in the state and faced intense scrutiny for his associations with multiple white nationalist figures.

Republicans fear that having Stewart as their nominee against Kaine, the former vice-presidential nominee, will spur moderate voters and women to desert the party in droves, imperilling several contested House seats in the state. Republican candidates across the state may now find themselves captive to Stewart’s every utterance over the next five months — an unwelcome burden for lawmakers like Representatives Barbara Comstock and Scott Taylor, who were already endangered.

In an emphatic display of the energy behind Democratic women in congressional races this year, Virginia Democrats nominated three women on Tuesday night for the three most contested House seats in the state. They selected Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer, to oppose Representative Dave Brat outside of Richmond, and Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran, to challenge Representative Scott Taylor in his Hampton Roads-based seat.

And in the state’s most vulnerable Republican-held district, Democrats selected state Senator Jennifer Wexton to oppose Representative Barbara Comstock. Comstock’s district, which stretches from Northern Virginia to the Shenandoah Valley, voted strongly against Trump in 2016 and rejected Republican candidates for the legislature and statewide offices last fall.

Primaries were also held on Tuesday in North Dakota, Maine and Nevada, with the latter two featuring Democratic contests where long-serving women faced off against male opponents. Democratic women have fared well in many congressional primaries this year, but the Maine and Nevada races marked the starting line for a long season of more difficult primaries for female candidates for governor.

In Nevada, Steve Sisolak, a Clark County commissioner, easily defeated his fellow commissioner Chris Giunchigliani in a race that evolved into a proxy battle between former Senator Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton.

Sisolak entered the race with the blessing of Reid, the former Senate majority leader who remains the de facto head of the Nevada Democratic Party, and he raised significantly more money than the progressive Giunchigliani. She won an infusion of money from outside groups, most notably Emily’s List, the group that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, and a late endorsement from Clinton. But it was not enough to threaten Sisolak.

He will face Adam Laxalt, the 39-year-old state attorney general and grandson of former Senator Paul Laxalt, who easily won the Republican primary.

In Maine, where Democrats and Republicans were selecting their nominees for governor, a new system of voting promised to provide an atmosphere of uncertainty that could last for several days. Voters in the state were ranking primary candidates in order of preference, and using second- and third-place preferences to settle races in which no first-choice candidate achieves majority support. There is a crowded field of governor’s candidates in both parties and it is unlikely anyone will win based on the first round of preferences.