GOP advances Senate candidates in West Virginia and Maryland who could flip Democratic seats

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan won Republican Senate nominations on Tuesday as voters across neighboring states with antithetical politics decided contests with big implications for the Senate majority fight this fall.

At the same time, Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican rival Donald Trump tried to project strength in low−stakes presidential primaries. Further down the ballot, two congressional candidates on opposite sides of the 2021 Capitol attack serve as a stark reminder that the nation remains deeply divided over the deadly insurrection.

In all, three states hosted statewide primary elections on Tuesday — Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia — as Republicans and Democrats pick their nominees for a slate of fall elections. None were more consequential than Senate primaries in deep−blue Maryland and deep−red West Virginia, where Republicans are eying pickup opportunities that could flip control of Congress’ upper chamber for at least two years.

A TRUMP CRITIC GRABS MARYLAND’S GOP NOMINATION

In Maryland, Hogan claimed the GOP Senate nomination, giving Republicans a legitimate chance at picking up a Senate seat in the deep−blue state for the first time in more than four decades.

Hogan overcame his years−long criticism of Trump, a position that put him at odds with many Republican primary voters but will undoubtedly help him in the general election this fall. Maryland voters gave Biden a 33−point victory over Trump four years ago.

On the Democratic side, Rep. David Trone has been locked in a contentious — and expensive — battle with Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.

Trone, the co−founder of the Total Wine & More national liquor store chain, has put more than $61 million of his own money into the race. That’s just shy of the national record for self−funding a Senate campaign, with much of it going to a months−long TV ad blitz. The three−term congressman says he’s better positioned to beat Hogan in November as a progressive Democrat not beholden to special interests.

Race has been an issue in the primary, with Alsobrooks working to become Maryland’s first Black U.S. senator. Trone apologized in March for what he said was the inadvertent use of a racial slur during a budget hearing.

Alsobrooks has been endorsed by many of the state’s top officials, including Gov. Wes Moore, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Steny Hoyer and a long list of state lawmakers. She has campaigned on growing economic opportunity, investing in education and protecting abortion rights.

THE WEST VIRGINIA BATTLE TO REPLACE MANCHIN

Justice’s won his primary against U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney in the race to replace Sen. Joe Manchin. With Manchin gone, the seat is almost guaranteed to turn red come November.

The Trump−endorsed Justice, a former billionaire with a folksy personality, is wildly popular in the state. He also earned Trump’s endorsement. A former Democrat, Justice switched to the Republican Party in 2017, announcing the change at a Trump rally.

Mooney had tried to win over conservatives by labeling Justice a “RINO” — which stands for “Republican in name only” — who would support Democratic policies. Justice did support Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, saying West Virginia couldn’t afford to turn away the money offered in the bill.

At a polling place in West Virginia’s capital city, voter Steve Ervin said his votes Tuesday were directly related to Trump.

“I really did an exhaustive study of the sample ballot of who I believe supported Trump and Trump supported them,” said Ervin, who works in the state’s unemployment office. “That’s what I made my whole decision on.”

West Virginia is also deciding its candidates for governor. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the Republican nominee in the 2018 Senate race against Manchin, is running for the Republican nomination. He’s up against former state Rep. Moore Capito, whose mother is Sen. Shelley Moore Capito.

TESTS OF STRENGTH IN THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY

Biden and Trump have already amassed enough delegates to claim the presidential nominations at their respective national conventions this summer. Yet voters on both sides hope to register a significant protest vote Tuesday that will demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Biden−Trump rematch.

Both Biden and Trump won their primaries in West Virginia and Maryland.

Still, Maryland progressives especially unhappy with the Biden administration’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas had encouraged voters to select “uncommitted to any presidential candidate” instead of Biden. There was no uncommitted option in West Virginia or Nebraska.

Everett Bellamy, a Democrat who voted early in Annapolis, said he voted “uncommitted” instead of Biden as a protest against the killing of women and children and noncombatants in Gaza.

“I wanted to send a message,” Bellamy, 74, said after leaving an early voting center.

Meanwhile, Trump’s Republican critics cannot choose “uncommitted,” but they can choose his former GOP rival Nikki Haley, who will appear on the ballot in Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia despite formally suspending her campaign more than two months ago.

Derek Faux, an independent voter from Charleston, W.V., said he supported Haley, and in other Republican races, he said he voted for the candidates he believed were least like Trump.

“I would rather see moderate, reasonable Republicans than some of the other folks,” said Faux, a librarian.

TWO SIDES OF THE INSURRECTION

Tuesday’s elections also include two candidates who were intimately involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In West Virginia, a former member of the House of Delegates, Derrick Evans, is running for the Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District. The 39−year−old Trump loyalist served a three−month jail sentence after livestreaming himself participating in the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Evans is trying to oust incumbent Republican Rep. Carol Miller.

In Maryland, former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn is among nearly two dozen Democrats running in the state’s 3rd Congressional District. The 40−year−old Democrat was in the Capitol working to repel the violent mob on Jan. 6.

OTHER KEY RACES

In Nebraska, Republican Sens. Deb Fischer and Pete Ricketts both face nominal opposition in their primaries, one of the rare occasions when both senators in a state are on the ballot at the same time. And in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon faces a challenge from his right flank.

In North Carolina, voters finalized their pick of the Trump−endorsed Brad Knott in what had become a one−person Republican primary in the state’s 13th Congressional District.

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This story has deleted an incorrect reference to a California election being Tuesday. The California election is next week.

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Willingham reported from Charleston, West Virginia. Peoples reported from Washington.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election−2024.

Brian Witte, Leah Willingham And Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

Photo: AP