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Donald Trump turns 76 on Tuesday, and he hopes to celebrate by doing something he’s been unable to do so far this year — watch one of his endorsed candidates running in the Republican primaries knock off an incumbent who’s crossed the former president.
This year Trump’s birthday falls on the same day that four states — Nevada, South Carolina, Maine, and North Dakota — hold primaries, with Texas holding a congressional special election.
“Give me a birthday present, please. Two birthday presents,” Trump urged his supporters a week ago as he headlined a tele-rally for Katie Arrington and Russel Fry, the two Republican challengers he’s endorsed in the GOP primaries in South Carolina’s First and Seventh Congressional Districts.
Republican House of Representative candidates Katie Arrington, center, and Russell Fry, left, join former President Donald Trump, right, at a rally on March 12, 2022 in Florence, South Carolina. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Fry, a state representative, is one of a half dozen candidates primary challenging five-term Republican Rep. Tom Rice.
Rice was one of just ten House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump on charges that he fueled the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol perpetrated by right-wing extremists and other Trump supporters aiming to disrupt congressional certification of now-President Biden’s Election College victory in the 2020 election.
The self-described “Chamber of Commerce” style Republican is leaning into his impeachment vote.
“Republicans are supposed to protect the Constitution. We take an oath to protect the Constitution, not a man,” Rice emphasized in an interview with Fox News Digital on the eve of the primary. “And so what I did was take a conservative vote. If you want a conservative, I’m the guy.”
Six of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are running for reelection, and Rice is the first to face a challenger endorsed by the former president. Trump, nearly a year and a half removed from the White House, continues to hold immense sway over the GOP. And while his endorsed candidates have had great success in Republican primaries this year for open seats, he’s yet to knock off an incumbent. All of which adds to the stakes in Tuesday’s primary.
Fry told Fox News he wouldn’t be challenging Rice if the congressman hadn’t voted for impeachment, adding “I think the impeachment is the big elephant in the room and the voters are incredibly frustrated by that.”
The solidly red district, which covers the northeast corner of South Carolina and includes the Myrtle Beach metropolitan area, known as the Grand Strand, and the interior Pee Dee region, is Trump country.
Rice noted that “I have a very conservative voting record. I’ve voted with Donald Trump 95% of the time, more than anyone else in the South Carolina delegation until the impeachment vote.” But he argued that the Trump “aura is wearing a little thin” and that the former president should “absolutely not” be the leader of the GOP going forward.
Fry says the former president “continues to show that he’s the leader of our party,” and he said the former president’s endorsement of his campaign was “huge. We were tracking well, trending well, for a long time. After that endorsement, it’s been lights out. The energy is real. It’s incredible.”
With a crowded field of candidates, it’s probable no candidate will top 50% and that Rice and Fry will most likely face off again in a runoff election in two weeks.
That’s not the case in the neighboring First Congressional District — a key general election swing seat which includes much of coastal South Carolina including the fast-growing suburbs surrounding the city of Charleston — where first-term Rep. Nancy Mace is facing a single primary challenge from former state lawmaker Katie Arrington, who’s backed by Trump.
Mace was one of the earliest supporters of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. But while Mace didn’t vote to impeach, she did publicly state that Trump’s rhetoric leading up to the storming of the Capitol “put all of our lives at risk.” And last October, Mace was the lone South Carolina Republican to join congressional Democrats in voting to hold former Trump White House senior aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena issued by the House select committee investigating the riot at the Capitol.
Even though Trump’s targeting her, Mace is spotlighting her MAGA credentials.
“I’m the only candidate in this race that supports America First policies. We have a lot that we can agree on as Americans, as conservatives, as Republicans, no matter what brand of Republican you are in our country. I put our country first,” Mace told Fox News.
But Arrington charges that Mace is “not a conservative. That’s why I am running. She turned her back on us in the district. She turned her back on Donald J. Trump.”
Trump’s also hoping to celebrate in the key general election battleground state of Nevada.
“So if you would give me a nice birthday present — and that’s Adam, give me Adam as a birthday present,” the former president said last week as he headlined a tele-rally with former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the clear polling and fundraising front-runner in Nevada’s GOP Senate nomination race.
Laxalt faces seven other rivals for the chance to face off in November with first-term Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a former state attorney general whom national Republicans view as vulnerable. The race is one of a handful across the country that will likely decide if the GOP wins back the Senate majority in November’s midterms.
Besides Trump’s backing, Laxalt also enjoys the endorsement and support of longtime Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the big spending outside group Club for Growth. Trump, McConnell and the Club for Growth have often been at odds with each other this cycle in other high-profile Republican primaries. Two other stars on the right — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — traveled to Nevada in recent weeks to campaign with Laxalt.
Former Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt on the campaign trail as he runs for the 2022 GOP Senate nomination in Nevada (Adam Laxalt campaign)
“It’s always part of a primary to close strong,” Laxalt emphasized in an interview with Fox News. “It’s our job on top of the ticket to make sure we’re exciting our base and turning out our voters and the primary’s a great dry run for the general election.”
But before he faces off with Cortez Masto, Laxalt first needs to win on Tuesday and standing in his way is his top rival in the race, Sam Brown, a West Point graduate and retired Army captain who led troops in combat and who recovered from serious injuries sustained from an IED explosion during a 2008 deployment in Afghanistan.
Brown calls Laxalt an “elitist” and highlights his grassroots style campaign, telling Fox News “it’s always been about building relationships and talking to Nevadans, earning trust.” And he claims that “we provide a contrast to Adam Laxalt’s D.C. based campaign.”
Army veteran and first time Senate candidate Sam Brown is running for the GOP nomination in the swing state of Nevada. (Sam Brown Senate campaign)
There’s a crowded field of candidates vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, in the race to face off in November with Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who’s sitting on a formidable $9.5 million war chest. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo was the favorite even before he landed Trump’s endorsement. Among the others in the race — former Sen. Dean Heller, Democrat turned Republican North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, former boxer Joe Gilbert, and businessman Guy Nohra.
In Nevada’s Second Congressional District — a safe Republican seat — GOP Rep. Mark Amodei is facing multiple challenges from the right, including from Douglas County Commissioner Danny Tarkanian, who’s making his fourth bid for the House.
In the Las Vegas centric First Congressional District — a solidly blue seat — Democratic Rep. Dina Titus faces a primary challenge from the left from progressive activist Amy Viela.
Democratic Gov. Jane Mills of Maine is unopposed in her party’s primary, as is former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who’s hoping to win back his old job in November. Mills made history in 2018, as she won election as Maine’s first female governor, succeeding the term limited LePage.
In the state’s sprawling Second Congressional District — the largest east of the Mississippi River — former Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin is favored to win the GOP primary. That would set up a rematch with Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, who defeated Poliquin in 2018. Golden’s the only Democrat to vote against impeaching Trump in 2021 following the storming of the Capitol.
North Dakota’s also holding primaries on Tuesday.
And in Texas, there’s a special election in the 34th Congressional District to fill the final six months of the term of former Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, who stepped down earlier this year. The potential GOP pickup of this district — which stretches from areas east of San Antonio down to the U.S.-Mexico border — could be an indicator of bigger Republican wins in November in other districts along the border with large percentages of Spanish-speaking voters.
Fox News’ Jessica Loker and Austin Westfall contributed to this report
Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.