WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump waded into a Republican congressional primary in South Carolina a few hours before polls closed on Tuesday, urging voters to oust fellow Republican Mark Sanford because he had not been supportive enough of him.
Trump tweeted that Sanford was “nothing but trouble” and “very unhelpful to me” and endorsed Sanford’s challenger, state legislator Katie Arrington, for the nomination for the November congressional elections.
With nearly half of the vote counted, Arrington had a slight lead on Sanford, but it was unclear if she would manage to gain the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff between the top two vote-getters later this month.
South Carolina was one of five U.S. states choosing candidates on Tuesday for the Nov. 6 election, when Democrats are hoping to seize control of the U.S. Congress. Virginia, Nevada, North Dakota and Maine were also voting.
The conservative Sanford has been critical of Trump at times, saying he “fanned the flames” of intolerance and decrying his disregard for facts. But during the campaign, he ran ads noting how often he voted to back the president.
That was not enough for Trump, who has made allegiance to his leadership a litmus test in many Republican races across the country. Trump even made reference in his tweet to the 2009 scandal when Sanford, then the governor, disappeared for days before surfacing to say he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail.”
Sanford later admitted he was involved in an extramarital affair in Argentina. In his tweet, delivered while he returned from his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump said Sanford “is better off in Argentina.”
In Virginia, a state legislator favored by the Virginia Democratic Party establishment won a crowded battle for the right to challenge one of the most endangered congressional Republicans in November’s elections.
Democrat Jennifer Wexton won a six-way primary race in a suburban Washington district and will take on Republican Barbara Comstock, one of Democrats’ top targets in their push to pick up the 23 seats they need to claim a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Comstock’s suburban district, home to many federal government workers, has drifted left in recent years. Democrat Hillary Clinton carried it over Trump by 10 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election.
Corey Stewart, a combative conservative Republican who nearly upset Ed Gillespie for the party’s gubernatorial nomination last year, won the right to face Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, the 2016 vice presidential candidate, in November’s U.S. Senate election in November.
MAINE TESTS NEW VOTING SYSTEM
In Maine, some uncertainty surrounded a contest among candidates to replace outgoing Republican Governor Paul LePage, who said he might not certify election results because he opposes a new voting format.
Voters in Maine will be the first in the nation to use the system in a statewide election that lets voters rank candidates by preference rather than choosing just one.
Under the system, used now in a few local jurisdictions, the election is over if one candidate wins a majority. But if not, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated and their votes reallocated until one contender gains a majority.
LePage, in an interview with WCSH-TV on Tuesday, called the format “the most horrific thing in the world” and said he would probably not certify the results, and leave it to courts to decide.
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said the election results would be binding whether LePage certified them or not, the Portland Press Herald said.
In North Dakota and Nevada, voters will set the stage for two of the most competitive U.S. Senate races in November, when Democrats must pick up two seats to capture a Senate majority.
In North Dakota, Republican Representative Kevin Cramer faced little competition in the race for the nomination to challenge Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp.
In the swing state of Nevada, Democratic Representative Jacky Rosen was expected to sail to the nomination to face vulnerable Republican Senator Dean Heller.
Reporting by John Whitesides; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney