Our Polarizing Primaries Pennsylvania & North Carolina in Partial Rear View; Georgia Just Up Ahead

From the Editors | Issue 15 | May 24, 2022

Will these not so United States still have a functioning government, economy, and society, when…

  • The US House of Representatives is evenly divided between 215 Freedom Caucus Members from safe red seats and 215 Progressive Caucus members from safe blue seats (plus five centrist members of the Problem Solvers Caucus comparing retirement plans)? 
  • The US Senate is perfectly gridlocked between 50 red state Republicans performing for right-wing media audiences and 50 blue State Democrats performing for left-wing media? 
  • 50 state governments consisting of 25 red trifecta states controlling the legislature and the Governor’s mansion and 25 blue trifectas all producing approximately zero national level candidates with real experience or interest in bipartisan bill sponsorship, negotiation, and compromise?
  • Donald Trump, Jr. wins the GOP Presidential to run against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2028 or 2032, while major media companies rejoice and American moderates dig survivalist bunkers? (TPP’s guide to non-partisan bunker construction coming soon)

This Purple Principle Report examines our 2022 primaries with these concerning trends in mind. This week we reflect primarily on last week’s Pennsylvania and North Carolina primaries and look ahead to Georgia’s primaries next week.

Pennsylvania: “Virtue, Liberty and Independence” – and closed Primaries

Despite an inspiring state slogan and pivotal role in US political history, PA primaries are closed to independent/unaffiliated voters, making the path to general elections more difficult for moderate, centrist, and pragmatic candidates. Approximately 1.1 million indie PA voters were excluded from the 2022 primaries. 
PA State Senator Daniel Loughlin has introduced legislation to open PA primaries and the groups Ballot PA and Group of 70 are working to support this bill. 
Voter Turnout: The population of PA is 12,964,056 million with 8,735,712 million registered voters. Of these, 2,599,456 million (30% of registered voters; 20% of Pennsylvanians) voted in primaries: 1,341,585 million, for example, in the GOP gubernatorial primary that selected a Trump-endorsed election conspiracy theorist Doug Mastriano (589,224) – just 4.5% – and 1,257,871 million in the Senate Democratic primary that selected the more progressive Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (740,800, or 5.7%) over the centrist Congressman Conor Lamb by a 2 to 1 margin.

Governor’s Race: The GOP Goes Full Wacko

As many TPP podcast guests have noted, there are new and critically important axes in American politics, meaning: the right vs. left axis is no longer a sufficient guide in the post-truth era. We must also consider, particularly on the GOP side, the candidate’s commitment to democracy, including free and fair elections. 

In many GOP primaries this year, we now have establishment “pro-democracy” conservatives (few of whom will receive Trump endorsements) versus reactionary, pro-Trump populist Republicans whose commitment to peaceful transfer of power is under serious question. With the House expected to swing to the GOP in 2023, and possibly the Senate too, the results of these GOP primaries are critically important to preserving US democracy. 

With that in mind, the most polarizing result of the Pennsylvania primaries is Doug Mastriano’s decisive win in the GOP gubernatorial primary. A state Senator who attended January 6, Mastriano is a vocal proponent of election conspiracy theories. His victory in a pivotal swing state where the Governor holds great power over election integrity, including appointment of the Secretary of State who oversees the electoral process, is a big (thus worrisome) win for Pro-Trumpers in the GOP. Mastriano’s electability in the general election is in doubt. Then again, so was Donald Trump’s back in 2015-16. 

Another US Senate Seat Shifts, Whether Left or Right

Retiring GOP Senator Pat Toomey voted to convict Trump during impeachment proceedings following January 6 and publicly stated that Trump should not be the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2024. While he has not been a centrist or independent GOP vote in the Senate along the lines of a Romney, Collins, or Murkowski (up for re-election in AK this year), Toomey was ranked the 65th most bipartisan senator by the Lugar Center, meaning somewhere in the middle ranges. His replacement, whether GOP or Democrat, will very likely be less so. And in a chamber where 60 out of 100 votes is normally necessary to break gridlock, every shift right or left makes action on immigration, climate, the deficit, background checks for firearms, and other important issues less likely. 

On the GOP side, the race has narrowed to Trump-endorsed celebrity Dr. Oz (who is to the field of medicine as Trump to our national blood pressure) versus the non-Trump endorsed yet dubious-on-other-grounds, David McCormick. Should either candidate win the general election, the US Senate will be less of a governing body.

But Democrats went for something like celebrity, too. Lt. Gov John Fetterman is better known for his Viking-in-a-Hoodie appearance than his policy positions. He defeated the centrist Rep. Conor Lamb, a military veteran with impressive legal and legislative experience once considered a possible White House contender in that era, a few years ago, when experience counted for far more.

Fetterman’s two to one margin of victory may seem surprising. But, again, closed primaries exclude indies, who in Pennsylvania likely trend more centrist. And according to this Google Trends snapshot below, the Fetterman campaign dominated news cycles and search activity in the final days leading up to the primary.Pragmatic Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick won his primary against an opponent who said he was the “America First” candidate and that Fitzpatrick had abandoned conservative values. Fitzpatrick is ranked #1 by the Lugar Center bipartisan index. The Congressman won with 65.5% of the vote in this Republican-leaning district. A former FBI agent, Fitzpatrick was one of three GOP House members who crossed the aisles to vote for the 2020 George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which ultimately died in the Senate due to GOP opposition. Again, aisle crossing votes and voices are critical in a closely divided Congress. 

Pragmatic Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick won his primary against an opponent who said he was the “America First” candidate and that Fitzpatrick had abandoned conservative values. Fitzpatrick is ranked #1 by the Lugar Center bipartisan index. The Congressman won with 65.5% of the vote in this Republican-leaning district. A former FBI agent, Fitzpatrick was one of three GOP House members who crossed the aisles to vote for the 2020 George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which ultimately died in the Senate due to GOP opposition. Again, aisle crossing votes and voices are critical in a closely divided Congress. 

These Pennsylvania primary results reminded us of our 2020 TPP podcast conversation with former three-term PA centrist Congressman Jason Altmire in the episode, “Congress and Partisanship: Tales from Dead Center.” Author of a first rate political memoir entitled Dead Center, the centrist Democrat Altmire held a few joint town halls with the centrist Republican House member from the adjacent district until House leaders from both parties told them both to cut out that comity.

“Well, who has the upper hand are the partisans on both sides, the Republicans and the Democrats. On the Democratic side, there are still a handful of members who come from districts like I described, where the swing vote in the middle is very important. And the groups within Congress who are representative of those types of members, there’s a group called the New Democrat coalition, which is a pro-business Democratic group. You also have the Blue Dog coalition, and the Blue Dogs are not about issues at all. They’re about what I’m talking about, about working with the other side and having the two parties negotiate and compromise and come to agreement on issues”

— Former Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-4, 2007 to 2013)

North Carolina: Senate Toss-up Formed; House Clown Jettisoned

Primaries in NC

North Carolina has an open partisan primary, with partisan registration. This means that voters are not required to formally affiliate with a party, but instead can choose to vote in either the Republican or Democrat primary. Fully one third of NC voters are registered as unaffiliated which makes predictive polling for general elections far more of a challenge. 

Primary Turnout

The population of NC is 10,551,162 million with approximately 7.2 million registered voters. Of these, approximately 1.4 million voted in primaries (approximately 20%): On the GOP side, NC elected Trump-endorsed Senate candidate Ted Budd defeated the more moderate former Governor Pat McCory by a two to one margin. Yet that was only 445,000 votes, or 6% of registered voters. On the Democratic side, former State Supreme Court Justice, Cheri Beasley, cruised to the nomination. Without a legislative record, her policy positions are hard to pinpoint. The winner will replace the retiring Senator Richard Burr, a relative GOP moderate in today’s terms. Burr had been an early critic of Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ campaign and voted to remove Trump from office post January 6, which resulted in his censure by the North Carolina GOP. 

Celebrity, with Notoriety, Has Its Limits

Trump-endorsed House candidate and full time provocateur, Madison Cawthorn fell to Chuck Edwards in the District, with Edwards receiving support from the NC Republican establishment including retiring Senator Burr and sitting Senator Tillis. Trump, meanwhile, called on Republicans to give Cawthorn another chance. Edwards will likely be a consistent conservative vote in the House but a less vocal proponent of conspiracy theories. And that has benefits for these constituents and the US House. 

This snapshot of internet and media coverage of Madison Cawthorn and challenger Chuck Edwards does suggest that not all publicity is good publicity. Cawthorn’s antics generated much more press and buzz, as this Google Trends graph shows. Yet Edwards, with the backing of the state’s GOP establishment, stayed below the radar and won.

Other Primary Results, Polar and Not So Polar

Oregon’s 5th District pushed left as the moderate, Biden-endorsed incumbent Democrat Kurt Schrader lost to progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who received 60.5% of the vote. Schrader outspent Skinner 6-1. But because of redrawn districts, Schrader was at a high risk of being primaried from the left. Another bit of polarity is added to an already polarized Congress. 

Idaho incumbent Republican governor Brad Little (52.8% of the vote) defeated Trump endorsed candidate Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (32.2% of the vote). The Governor and Lieutenant Governor, running on separate tickets, did not see eye to eye, or mask to mask, during the pandemic. Little’s victory fits the mold of a more establishment Republican defeating a far right Trump supporter.

Partners in Purple

  • Ballot PA
    This organization, a project of Group of 70, is a growing coalition of civic, community and business organizations committed to open and free elections in Pennsylvania that lead to responsive and accountable government.
  • Better Ballot North Carolina
    BBNC is a non-partisan, grassroots campaign made up of politically diverse citizens working to make elections more fair and democratic by advocating for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in NC.
  • Independent Pennsylvanians
    Independent Pennsylvanians is an association of independent and independent-minded voters that supports issues and campaigns at the local, state and national level designed to increase the visibility and power of the independent voter—now the fastest growing political force in America.
  • Democracy NC
    This nonpartisan organization focuses on protecting voting rights for North Carolinians. They balance research, training, policy advocacy, and organizing efforts across the state to maintain every voter’s voice.
  • Fair Districts PA
    Fair Districts PA is a nonpartisan, statewide coalition of organizations and individuals working to create a process for redistricting that is transparent, impartial, and fair.
  • Duke University Polarization Lab
    Dr. Chris Bail, a Season Two TPP guest, is the founding director of this interdisciplinary research center which develops tools and insights to understand and combat political polarization in America and its relationship to social media.

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