McGinty, Van Hollen Win Senate Primaries in Pa., Md.

McGinty, Van Hollen Win Senate Primaries in Pa., Md.
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BETHESDA, Md. – The Democratic establishment won major victories in the Maryland and Pennsylvania Senate primaries Tuesday night, with preferred candidates Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Katie McGinty defeating their party opponents by significant margins.

In Maryland, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, Van Hollen was beating Rep. Donna Edwards handily, 53 percent to 39 percent, a much larger margin than predicted.

McGinty won the Pennsylvania Senate primary over Joe Sestak, a retired three-star admiral and former congressman, by a slimmer margin of 42 percent to 30 percent, with 80 percent of precincts reporting. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, the third candidate in the race, received 21 percent.

Both victorious candidates relied on a burst of momentum in the final stages of the primary to win hardfought and bruising primaries.

From here, however, the two races diverge. McGinty, a former Clinton administration official and chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf, will face a competitive general election against Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey in what is considered a crucial toss-up that could help determine which party controls the Senate. In Maryland, Van Hollen will be the heavy favorite against state Rep. Kathy Szeliga, who won the GOP primary Tuesday night.

McGinty, in her remarks to supporters, worked hard to tie Toomey to Donald Trump, who won a significant victory in the presidential primary in the state – though Toomey voted for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“We’re getting a taste of what the Toomey-Trump team would do right now as they lead an unprecedented obstruction of the Supreme Court and push for what would be the longest vacancy in our nation’s history,” McGinty said. “Now, do we need Toomey and Trump setting any more records like this? No, we sure don't. Why don't we try setting a different kind of record – like electing our first working mom to the U.S. Senate?”

The Democratic establishment went all out in backing McGinty, with Emily’s List and the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm spending millions in ads for her in the weeks leading up to Election Day. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed McGinty; Obama cut an advertisement for her that ran in the primary’s final days, while Biden campaigned with her in Philadelphia Monday.

The endorsements and support for McGinty came because Sestak, who narrowly lost in 2010, is an independent-minded candidate who has frustrated party members who view him as unreliable. Many Democrats considered McGinty the better option in the fall against Toomey, and Pennsylvania represents a seat they must win to reverse Republicans’ four-seat majority in the Senate.

Toomey, however, comes out of Tuesday night with a huge financial advantage, as he didn’t face a primary challenger and has nearly $10 million cash on hand. McGinty will need to quickly make up fundraising ground; she had just under $1 million cash on hand three weeks before the primary. But Democrats view Toomey as vulnerable, particularly if Donald Trump is the presidential nominee.

Toomey’s campaign had harsh words for McGinty after she won Tuesday night. “Democrats have thrown in their lot with a far-left machine politician who has an ethics rap sheet a mile long,” said Ted Kwong, a spokesman for Toomey. “Katie McGinty supports every item on her party bosses’ liberal agenda and is Pennsylvania’s No. 1 abuser of the revolving door between government and corporate boards. McGinty makes government work for her, not for us, and that’s not what our state is looking for in a U.S. senator.”

In Maryland, the weeks leading up to Election Night followed a somewhat similar script, with Van Hollen picking up momentum in the campaign’s final stages. Unlike Pennsylvania, however, Van Hollen won’t jump from a bruising primary into a competitive general election, but will be the heavy favorite to win in November and replace long-time Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring.

“Together we’re going to go forth from this evening and win the general election and we’re going to be part of the new Democratic majority of the United States Senate,” Van Hollen said to supporters here at his victory rally. “We’re going to say goodbye to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell.”

Van Hollen thanked Edwards, who he said was a “strong advocate for Democratic Party values and priorities.” Edwards, in an email to supporters after conceding the race, said she hoped her candidacy would be an example to young women.

“This campaign for the U.S. Senate ends tonight, but the values that drive us to fight for what we believe in, and the dreams I hope we inspired in young people to change the face of our democracy, never will,” Edwards wrote.

Van Hollen’s margin of victory was much larger than expected prior to Tuesday. Though polls showed a tight race, with Edwards holding momentum several weeks ago, a single television ad dramatically turned things in Van Hollen’s favor.

A super PAC supporting Edwards released an ad criticizing Van Hollen for a campaign finance deal he helped negotiate in 2010, accusing him of cutting a “backroom deal” that benefited the National Rifle Association. Several Maryland Democrats pointed to that advertisement, and the swift backlash from many in the party, including the White House, as the race’s turning point.

Van Hollen saw a significant victory in the early vote, 55 percent to 40 percent, which gave him a large head start Election Day. Maryland voters divided along several clear lines: Van Hollen, a white man who represents a district in the Washington suburbs, won the white vote by a 3-to-1 margin, according to exit polls from the Washington Post. Edwards, an African-American woman who represents a separate district outside Washington, won the black vote by a 2-to-1 margin. Van Hollen did much better among older voters, while Edwards had a significant edge with voters under 44.

The presidential race, which Hillary Clinton won easily, had little impact on the Senate results, according to the exit polls. Van Hollen won slim margins among both Clinton and Bernie Sanders voters.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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