Capitol riots loom large in Republican primaries

By Sarah Smith
North America editor

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Dr Mehmet Oz and Donald TrumpImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Dr Mehmet Oz and Donald Trump at a campaign event in Pennsylvania on 6 May

Tuesday's primary election results were not a clean sweep for Donald Trump and the candidates he backed. But they did show the power his false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him continue to have within the party.

Any candidate who wants his backing has to sign up to the so-called "Big Lie".

His support is very valuable - if not always a guarantee of success. So many of the candidates in Republican races repeat his claims that the 2020 vote was rigged against him. The biggest winners last night were some of the most vehement election deniers.

In Pennsylvania, the far-right Doug Mastriano won in a landslide to become the Republican candidate for Governor of the state in November. He was at the Stop The Steal rally in Washington on 6 January, 2021 - the gathering that preceded the storming of the US Capitol - although he denies actually attending the riot. He has actively fought to overturn the 2020 result and argues that elected state officials can overturn the popular vote. If voted in as Pennsylvania governor - a key swing state - he will have a role in overseeing the 2024 presidential election.

Further south in North Carolina, a Trump-backed congressman, Ted Budd, won the Republican nomination for the Senate. He also would not say that President Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. In Congress last year he voted against certifying the results and pushed conspiracy theories about how the election was rigged.

The most watched race is the contest to be the Republican nominee for the Senate race in Pennsylvania. Too close to call as of Wednesday morning, it's currently a toss-up between the Trump-backed celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz and a hedge manager David McCormick - both of whom have cast doubt on the 2020 result.

The surprise outside challenger in that race was Kathy Barnette, on about 25% of the vote. Also a far-right candidate, she focussed much of her campaign on Trump's lies about the last presidential election - as well her personal story about being conceived when her mother being raped, aged 11, which she used to champion a ban on abortion. She, too, was at the 6 January rallies in Washington, protesting Biden's victory.

The Republican party establishment hates this focus on these falsehoods. They want to move on from 2020, fearing it will be a vote loser in the general election in November. These primary elections are a test of how a party's base are feeling - not of how candidates will fare in when they face the wider electorate.

But on the evidence of last night, it would seem that Donald Trump still wields outsized influence on Republican voters and that the Big Lie will be repeated throughout this election cycle.