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4 states held primaries — with key races in Nevada and South Carolina

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

If a candidate had former President Trump's endorsement, they may well have come out on top in some key primary races. His picks did particularly well yesterday in Nevada and saw a split on two races in South Carolina. The latest tests of Donald Trump's influence on the Republican Party could provide some crucial indicators for the November midterms. Senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro tracked all the returns for us. All right. Let's begin in South Carolina. Trump endorsed challengers to a pair of GOP members of Congress, Tom Rice and Nancy Mace. Rice lost. Mace won. What happened?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, Trump targeted Rice because he voted for Trump's impeachment, stemming from January 6. He was one of just 10 Republicans to do so. Rice lost handily to State Representative Russell Fry. Mace was critical of Trump's conduct on January 6. But she didn't vote for his impeachment. And she survived her race. Rice and Mace, we should say, ran pretty different races in dealing with Trump. Mace tried to tow a line, saying she agreed with Trump on policy and expressed affinity for him. Rice, on the other hand, said it'd be a badge of honor to lose to a Trump-backed candidate. I guess he got it. Now, we should note that Rice's district is more conservative than Mace's, which made his path from the start much more difficult.

MARTINEZ: All right. Now let's move west to Nevada, where there's a key Senate race now. Tell us what happened there.

MONTANARO: Well, the former state attorney general, Adam Laxalt, prevailed there by a fairly wide margin. He had Trump's endorsement. But to get it, he went pretty far to the right, backing Trump's election lies about how the 2020 presidential election, he said, was stolen and conducted in the state. But of course, those weren't true. This really sets up a big race this fall between Laxalt and Democratic incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Republicans believe Masto is pretty vulnerable. They see this as, perhaps, their best pickup opportunity. Democrats are confident in their own ability to organize in this state, though, and think that she should hold on. But this should be circled on everyone's list as a real key Senate race to watch. Also, we don't talk a lot about state secretary of state races. But in Nevada, an election denier won the GOP nomination last night, Jim Marchant. He said his No. 1 priority will be to overhaul the fraudulent election system in Nevada. And the system was proven not to be fraudulent, of course. But it's a pretty big deal because we've seen election deniers running for secretary of state in a bunch of other places. And one was just installed in Florida by Governor Ron DeSantis. So that means there's a potential that in 2024, we could have election deniers in charge of the machinations of close elections in two pretty swing states.

MARTINEZ: You know, Trump has endorsed dozens of candidates. So here's a slice of my sports brain at work here, Domenico. His win-loss record, I mean, what's it looking like? And what could it say about his influence on the GOP?

MONTANARO: Yeah. It's a little more complicated because of incumbencies here, but it's pretty mixed. He's had some - he's had more success in open races rather than against incumbents. But he's given everyone a run for their money and made them work for it. And as for his influence, it's still - you know, he's still the most important person in the Republican Party. But there appears to be at least some daylight in his grip on the GOP. Republicans still like him a lot, but maybe not quite as intensely as when he was in office. And other Republicans are looking to test the waters in 2024. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, for example, reportedly gathering donors to take the temperature and see what it would be like for him. Others are making plans for talks in early states. And I do wonder, you know, with the January 6 hearings going on and Trump's conduct in the spotlight, all these Republicans who tried to get him reelected testifying to his conduct, it's hard to see that not taking some kind of toll on Trump in 2024.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.