Rep. Nancy Mace fends off Kevin McCarthy-backed challenger, wins South Carolina GOP primary

Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina won her bitterly fought Republican primary Tuesday, fending off a challenger who was backed by former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. 

Mace defeated attorney Catherine Templeton in the Charleston-based 1st District, The Associated Press projected, hitting the majority threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Mace led Templeton 57% to 30%, while Marine veteran Bill Young took 13%.

Mace’s role as one of the eight House Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy, R-Calif., as House speaker in October loomed large over the race. She faced millions of dollars in ad spending from outside groups aligned with McCarthy, and Templeton, who received financial support from McCarthy’s leadership PAC, said Mace’s vote is what pushed her to enter the race. 

But an endorsement from Donald Trump gave Mace a boost, despite her mixed history with Trump. Mace ardently supported him in the 2024 presidential primaries after she had called for the GOP to move on from him after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol and after she defeated a primary challenger Trump backed in 2022. 

Mace had also outraised Templeton and received support on the airwaves from the conservative Club for Growth Action.

Mace was looking for a decisive win; she told NBC News over the weekend, “I want to win bigger than ever before Tuesday night because I want to send a message to Washington that voters don’t care about D.C.” Her campaign office was adorned with “60-40” signs, signaling her desire for a big margin that avoided a runoff. 

Templeton, who was then-Gov. Nikki Haley’s labor secretary, had dismissed McCarthy’s influence in the race.

“Nobody’s paying attention to Kevin McCarthy in the Lowcountry of South Carolina,” Templeton recently told NBC News. 

McCarthy’s revenge tour against the Republicans who voted to remove him as speaker will continue this summer, though. His affiliated groups have also spent money against GOP Reps. Bob Good of Virginia and Eli Crane of Arizona ahead of their primaries in the coming weeks. And McCarthy’s chief agitator, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, also faces a primary challenger. 

Another South Carolina Republican escapes his primary

GOP Rep. William Timmons narrowly held off a primary challenger in South Carolina’s ruby-red 4th District, handing another defeat to House Republican hard-liners who have been looking to oust their own colleagues. 

Timmons, whom Trump endorsed, won his race against state Rep. Adam Morgan 52% to 48%, according to the AP. Morgan, the chair of the Freedom Caucus in the state House, had the support of some of Timmons’ Republican colleagues in Washington, including Good and Gaetz, who campaigned with him.

Good, Gaetz and other hard-liners have endorsed other primary challengers against House Republicans, but so far the incumbents have prevailed. 

“In Washington I am focused on policy — not headlines, on representing my constituents — not myself, and working with my colleagues instead of working against them,” Timmons said in a statement. “Now is the time for our party to unite to move the ball forward to advance conservative policy and focus our efforts on re-electing Donald Trump this November.” 

Timmons leaned into having the most coveted GOP primary endorsement in the race. He launched a TV ad with Trump speaking directly to the camera and calling Timmons “an America First patriot.” 

The race was emblematic of the divisions in the GOP conference, with GOP hard-liners pushing lawmakers to hold the conservative line at all costs and others like Timmons working across the aisle to find common ground. 

Pointing to his conservative voting record, Timmons recently told NBC News: “It’s not about policy. It’s about tactics.”

Timmons did look vulnerable, having narrowly avoided a runoff two years ago against lesser-funded opponents after he faced allegations of an extramarital affair. Timmons, who has since divorced, hasn’t publicly confirmed or denied the allegations, and some GOP strategists suggested they could hurt him among the district’s socially conservative, evangelical voters. 

Timmons had a financial advantage in the race and help from two outside groups. He also hammered Morgan in the final stretch for supporting an amendment to criminalize abortions, including fines and possible jail time for women who have them. Morgan defended the vote as closing a loophole and said he had voted in other instances not to penalize women. 

The attack underscored the shifting politics of abortion within the GOP, with Timmons arguing that such votes could paint the party as too extreme and threaten Trump’s chances for victory in November.

Elsewhere in South Carolina, pastor Mark Burns and nurse Sheri Biggs are heading to a GOP primary runoff on June 25 in the 3rd District in the race to replace retiring Rep. Jeff Duncan. 

Burns, who self-funded his campaign, had Trump’s endorsement. Trump also appeared in a TV ad for Burns reportedly recorded on the evening of April 19 at Trump Tower in New York City, the day Trump was in court for his hush money trial. 

Marquee Senate race set in Nevada

Nevada, North Dakota and Maine also held primary elections Tuesday, with Trump having intervened in many of the key races.

Army veteran Sam Brown won the Republican primary for the Senate in Nevada, NBC News projected, setting up one of the most pivotal races for control of the chamber against Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen.

Brown, who suffered catastrophic burns from an explosion during his service in Afghanistan, was the establishment favorite in the race against Jeff Gunter, who was Trump’s ambassador to Iceland. 

Brown’s candidacy is a bit of a role reversal from 2022, when he unsuccessfully ran to the right of former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the establishment’s pick in that Senate race. This time around, Brown was backed by Trump, who endorsed him days before the election in a state that typically votes heavily by mail.

In North Dakota, GOP Rep. Kelly Armstrong won his party’s primary for governor, making him the clear favorite to succeed Republican Gov. Doug Burgum. Armstrong’s victory is another win for Trump, who supported his bid against Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller. Burgum, a potential running mate for Trump, endorsed Miller.

Armstrong will face Democratic state Sen. Merrill Piepkorn in the fall in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since the 1988 election. 

Armstrong’s bid for governor meant he couldn’t run for re-election, creating an open primary for his seat. State Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, backed by both Trump and Burgum, won the GOP nomination in the state’s at-large House district, the AP projected.

In Maine’s 2nd District, Trump-backed state Rep. Austin Theriault won the Republican primary, the AP projected. Theriault, a former NASCAR driver, will face Rep. Jared Golden, a top Republican target as one of five Democrats running for re-election in a district Trump carried in 2020.

Aside from Tuesday’s primary contests, voters in Ohio’s 6th District picked a new member of Congress to replace former GOP Rep. Bill Johnson, who resigned in January.

Republican state Sen. Michael Rulli won the special election in the district over Democrat Michael Kripchak and will serve out the rest of Johnson’s term, NBC News projected. Once he’s sworn in, Republicans will have 219 members of the House, giving them a bit more cushion in the narrowly divided chamber. 

Rulli underperformed compared with past Republicans in the low-turnout special election, winning 55% of the vote to Kripchak’s 45%. Trump carried the district 64% to 35% in 2020, according to calculations from Daily Kos Elections. And Johnson won re-election in 2022 68% to 32%.