How are we going to use the results of the May 17 primary to measure Donald Trump’s influence over the North Carolina Republican Party?
The outcomes of three primary races give us a good chance to judge how much the former president’s great popularity with Republicans translates into power to win GOP primaries. Also, we can begin to make judgments about how much Trump-endorsed winners owe their patron.
In the recent Ohio U.S. Senate Republican primary, the Trump-endorsed J.D. Vance won even though he secured only about 31% of the total vote. He will be the Republican candidate in the fall.
But can Vance’s primary victory prove Trump’s overwhelming power even when his candidate received less than one-third of the total primary vote?
I don’t think so.
The North Carolina primary results in the three races featuring Trump-endorsed candidates could raise the same question.
First, in the U.S. Senate Republican primary Trump-endorsed U.S. Rep. Ted Budd faces former Gov. Pat McCrory, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, first-time political candidate Marjorie Eastman, and several others.
Budd also got the endorsement and millions of dollars in spending by the powerful Club for Growth super PAC, which is arguably even more important than Trump’s endorsement.
If Budd wins at least 40% of the primary vote, Trump can legitimately brag about his influence. But anything less would be a disappointment for him.
Madison Cawthorn is running for re-election to the U.S. House with Trump’s support. Interestingly, when he first ran for Congress two years ago, Cawthorn’s primary opponent got Trump’s support.
Cawthorn won anyway.
This year, Cawthorn got Trump’s endorsement in March at Mar-a-Lago. Trump called Cawthorn a friend who has “done an incredible job in Congress.”
“He has my endorsement,” he said. “He has my complete and total, as I like to say, endorsement. And he’s a very special guy and let’s back him all the way, whatever he wants to do.”
Since then, Cawthorn has faced a wave of unfavorable news coverage of irresponsible behavior and inattention to duties in Congress. At least two credible candidates opposed him. A win by either would be due largely to Cawthorn’s antics. A primary loss would be on his shoulders, not Trump’s.
However, if Cawthorn wins nomination with more than 30%, look for Trump to claim credit.
Meanwhile, a third candidate for the U.S. House with Trump’s backing is, according to The New York Times, “the purest test of the former president’s influence yet.”
That candidate, Bo Hines, also has support from Club for Growth, which planned to spend $1.3 million for him in the primary.
The 26-year-old Hines was a star football player at N.C. State before transferring to Yale and then, as he put it: “After graduating from Yale, I pursued a law degree from the Wake Forest School of Law to escape the leftist propaganda of the Ivy League.”
He does not lack for ambition. As early as 2005, he confessed his hope to be “governor of North Carolina, and the ultimate goal would be president.”
Nor does he lack for money. His parents are Charlotte-based wealthy entrepreneurs, but his reports show almost no contributions from Johnston, southern Wake, and other counties that make up the congressional district where he is running.
His main opponent, Kelly Daughtry, has deep connections to that district. Her well-known and respected father, Leo Daughtry, a lawyer, served in both the North Carolina Senate and House, and on the UNC Board of Governors. Kelly Daughtry herself has contributed almost $3 million to the campaign.
• Big win for Trump if Budd gets 40% or more.
• Big win for Trump if Cawthorn survives his primary and no big loss for Trump if Cawthorn loses.
• Very big loss for Trump and the probable end of Hines’ political career if Kelly Daughtry beats him and wins nomination even at just over 30%.
D.G. Martin hosted “North Carolina Bookwatch,” for more than 20 years.
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