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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 1:00 am

Sanford trails in GOP contest

Trump tweet bashes SC incumbent

Associated Press

South Carolina Republicans expressed their discontent during primary voting Tuesday as President Donald Trump sought to influence the race. And Democrats in Virginia backed women in key races that could determine control of the House.

Partial returns showed Rep. Mark Sanford, a vocal Trump critic, trailing a devout Trump supporter for the nomination in a coastal congressional district.

As results came in Tuesday, Sanford told a crowd in suburban Charleston: “I've always been a realist and at this point, based on the numbers I see, I'm going to lose this race.”

With much of the vote counted, state Rep. Katie Arrington was on the cusp of winning outright. But as Sanford spoke to the crowd, the race was still too close to call.

Arrington says Sanford criticized Trump too much, calling him a “Never Trumper.” One ad said “it's time for Mark Sanford to take a hike – for real this time.”

That refers to 2009, when Sanford's aides said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he actually visited a woman with whom he was having an affair in Argentina.

Trump went after Sanford on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, as voters continued to go to the polls, calling him “very unhelpful.”

“He is MIA and nothing but trouble,” Trump tweeted. “He is better off in Argentina.”

Unable to muster 50 percent of the Republican primary vote for governor, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, one of Trump's top allies in the state, was forced into a runoff for the GOP nomination. He and Greenville businessman John Warren are headed for a second contest June 26.

In Virginia, two women will compete for a suburban Washington congressional district seen as key to Democrats' hopes of retaking the House majority in November. Democratic women came out on top in two other Virginia congressional races that the party is closely watching.

Democratic State Sen. Jennifer Wexton was the clear winner in a six-way primary in Virginia's 10th District, and will challenge Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock.

Besides that district, considered key to the House battleground map this fall, Democrats in two other Virginia districts they hope to retake nominated women, including Abigail Spanberger in the 7th District and Elaine Luria in Virginia's 2nd District.

In Comstock's district, Wexton was the best-known in the field, and was viewed as the Democratic Party's establishment choice. She had the endorsement of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

Comstock, a moderate Republican who easily beat back a challenge from conservative Shak Hill, is one of the Democrats' top targets in November. The second-term House member's district leans Republican, though Democrat Hillary Clinton received more votes there than Trump did in 2016.

Democrats need to gain 23 seats to win the majority in the House.

In another big Virginia race, Republican Corey Stewart – once a state chairman to Trump's presidential campaign who was fired for protesting the Republican National Committee – won the Republican primary to face Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.

Stewart surprised many by nearly winning last year's Republican nomination for governor.

He was the top aide to Trump's presidential campaign in Virginia in 2016, but was fired for staging an unauthorized protest of the Republican National Committee. Stewart had accused the party of inadequately defending the candidate after the release of a tape where Trump bragged about groping women.

As a candidate for governor in 2017, Stewart spoke out against removing Confederate monuments, including the Robert E. Lee statue that prompted a deadly protest in Charlottesville last year. Elections also were scheduled in Maine, Nevada and North Dakota. Together, they raise to 21 the number of states having held their 2018 primary elections so far.

Maine voters were deciding how they'd prefer to veer in their search for the successor to term-limited, conservative Republican Gov. Paul LePage. GOP primary voters were choosing from candidates who echo LePage's conservative policies but shy away from his controversial tone. Democrats view the seat as one of their top pick-up opportunities.