Pennsylvania Republican primary tests Trump’s grip on his party

A Donald Trump-endorsed candidate in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary is fighting off challenges from a former hedge fund boss and a late-surging ultra-conservative, as voters in five states head to the polls on Tuesday to pick their candidates for November’s midterms.

Members of the Democratic and Republican parties will cast their ballots in primary races in Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania on Tuesday, in the biggest day of voting so far this year.

The race to be the Republican candidate for the US Senate from Pennsylvania is being particularly closely watched for signs of how tight of a grip Trump still has over his party’s conservative base.

A day before the election, the three Pennsylvania candidates were locked in a near-dead heat in the polls. Mehmet Oz, the television personality and doctor who has been backed by Trump, was leading on 26 per cent, according to RealClearPolitics.

But Kathy Barnette, a political unknown who has surged in recent weeks, is now running neck and neck with 23 per cent, while David McCormick, the former chief executive of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, was polling at 20 per cent.

The Pennsylvania race has been bitterly fought and exposed deep divisions within the state’s Republican party. It has also been expensive — Oz and McCormick have traded personal insults and each has spent around $14mn on their campaigns, according to the latest figures from the Federal Election Commission.

Barnette in comparison has spent only $1.6mn, but her campaign has been boosted by a viral video in which she described having been conceived through rape, and explained how it made her oppose abortion in any circumstances.

As Barnette has risen in the polls, her opponents have warned she is less likely to defeat the Democrats at November’s election. Trump said last week: “Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats.”

Many of her supporters say they are motivated more by her ultra-conservative views, as well as distrust of both her main opponents, than they are by the endorsement of the former president.

If Barnette does win, she has a chance to become the first black woman Republican senator. But first she would have to defeat the Democratic candidate, who is likely to be John Fetterman, the current lieutenant-governor of the state. Fetterman has a massive lead in the polls, although he has spent the last few days recuperating after suffering a stroke on Friday.

Meanwhile the power of Trump’s endorsement will also be tested in North Carolina, where the scandal-hit member of Congress, Madison Cawthorn, is facing numerous Republican challengers in his bid for re-election. Cawthorn enjoyed a healthy polling lead until he had a spectacular falling- out with his fellow Republicans after claiming that he had been invited to an orgy in Washington and that he had seen political figures take cocaine in front of him.

Since then Cawthorn has been the subject of a number of damaging leaks. Trump has urged voters to give Cawthorn a second chance — though the one public poll that has been conducted since the row erupted suggests his lead has been cut significantly.

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