5/17 Primary Watchlist: Statewide

The five states that will be featured in today’s article are Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Oregon. Kentucky polls will fully close at 7:00 EST, North Carolina’s at 7:30 EST, Pennsylvania’s at 8:00 EST, and Oregon’s and Idaho’s at 11:00 EST.


All three of Oregon, Kentucky, and Idaho’s Senate races are rated as safe for the incumbent party, with incumbent Democrat Ron Wyden expected to coast to re-nomination and re-election in Oregon and incumbent Republicans Rand Paul and Mike Crapo expected to sail to victory in Kentucky and Idaho, respectively.

In North Carolina, the de-facto Democratic nominee is former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, with Jeff Jackson’s early exit from the race making her a lock to seal the nomination. A strong candidate, Beasley outran Biden by over a full percentage point in 2020 in her 451-vote loss to Paul Newby; however, in a cycle like the one 2022 is shaping up to be, she begins as a clear underdog to Republican congressman Ted Budd, the likely GOP nominee.

Budd’s ascendancy in the GOP primary coincides with Pat McCrory’s collapse; at the beginning of the race, the former governor was leading the polls by over 30 points, but with Trump’s endorsement of Budd, the congressman has surged at the expense of the one-term governor. With Budd holding a prohibitive lead of almost 20 points in recent polling over McCrory and former congressman Mark Walker, the race is his to lose, and we rate the primaries as Likely Budd and Safe Beasley.

Budd is a broadly uncontroversial GOP nominee, and given Biden’s unpopularity, the Republican lean of the national environment, and the state’s overall Republican tilt, we rate the general election as lean Republican. Given that North Carolina was roughly 6 points to the right of the nation in 2020, and given that the generic ballot average is roughly R+2, Beasley would have to put up an overperformance for the ages to defeat Budd.

If the picture in North Carolina is nearly settled, however, the picture in Pennsylvania is nearly the opposite. While the Democratic base has coalesced around John Fetterman, with the Lieutenant Governor holding a prohibitive 30 point lead in recent polls, the Republican field has only gotten more crowded, with businessman David McCormick, teledoctor Mehmet Oz, and former congressional candidate Kathy Barnette all having a strong chance of winning the nomination.

While Oz began as the initial favorite, McCormick quickly surged upon his entry to the race, with the former Bridgewater Associates CEO picking up numerous endorsements across all wings of the GOP. By March, McCormick had surged into the lead, and rumors of Oz’s possible exit from the race had begun. But it was all upended with Donald Trump’s endorsement of Oz, which revitalized the former surgeon’s campaign and saw him nudge back into a slight lead.

The race was further complicated, however, by the rise of conservative insurgent Kathy Barnette, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump who had previously challenged Rep. Madeleine Dean in Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District in 2020. As McCormick and Oz fought each other on the airwaves in a bloody and negative battle, the space for disaffected voters unhappy with the conservative credentials of both candidates was filled by Barnette, who had made several controversial statements supporting Donald Trump’s baseless 2020 election fraud allegations and attended the January 6 Capitol Riots. Her meteoric rise has upended the race, and though there has been a concerted effort from much of the GOP establishment to sink her over the last week, most recent polls show her gaining rapidly, polling ahead of McCormick and just a couple points below Oz.

All three of McCormick, Oz, and Barnette have an excellent chance of winning this primary, and while the Democratic race is at Safe Fetterman, Split Ticket rates the GOP primary as a pure Tossup. One can make credible cases for each candidate being favored.

Oz is perhaps the easiest to make an argument for. Armed with the Trump endorsement, he has re-established a narrow polling lead, and he has led 10 of the last 11 publicly available polls of this race. The success of Trump-endorsed JD Vance in neighboring Ohio just a week ago shows that the former president’s GOP primary pull with Obama-Trump voters remains extremely strong, and Oz may be able to do very well with these voters as a result. Red flags abound here, however; Oz’s favorability is underwater, with a recent Emerson poll finding his favorability at a shocking -11 with GOP primary voters. It is difficult to imagine a candidate winning a race with favorables that are this bad, and if he is to win this race, it will be largely due to the vote splintering among many candidates. But with a candidate field of Oz, McCormick, Barnette, Carla Sands, and Jeff Bartos, that is exactly what might happen.

Pennsylvania primaries also tend to be heavily regionalized, and McCormick is the only candidate from Western Pennsylvania in this race. With each candidate’s home county being listed on the ballot next to their name, it is not difficult to imagine McCormick overperforming polls based on marginal and surge voters in the West breaking heavily for him based on geography alone. With Barnette in the race, however, the anti-Oz vote is no longer as likely to go to him as it once was, and his recent fall to third place in the averages suggests that he may be stalling and losing more voters to Barnette than one may think. There are a lot of reasons to like McCormick’s chances in this race, but there are also enough warning signs to give us pause, and so we think he is the least likely of the three frontrunners to win.

Barnette is perhaps the biggest wild-card in this race. Her rise has been nothing short of remarkable in a political sense; three weeks ago, she was polling below 10% and all eyes were on Oz and McCormick, but her success has been so remarkable with the base that even Donald Trump had to weigh in once again to remind voters that his candidate of choice was Oz. In recent polls, Barnette also has the highest favorables of any candidate. However, Barnette has not led a single publicly available poll of the race, has not spent nearly as much money as the other two, and is far more of an unknown and was the focus of relentless GOP attacks in the last week. Because of this, we think that while Barnette gets second place, she is just a shade less likely to win than Oz.

If we had to pick an ordering, it thus would be Oz, Barnette, McCormick, with Oz and Barnette neck-and-neck and McCormick being a bit further behind the other two; however, virtually any permutation of these three is defensible, and it is difficult to recall a recent statewide primary with as even of a spread as this, even including Ohio. But in terms of electability, the preference for the Republican Party is likely completely different; McCormick would, in our eyes, be the most electable Republican by some distance and would be favored against Fetterman, whereas Oz and Barnette would be in toss-up races. Barnette, in particular, has adopted such fringe, archconservative stances that many who are reminded of Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin believe she would easily be the single most vulnerable Republican Senate candidate.

Democrats might be hoping, then, for a Barnette primary win, because this very likely gives Fetterman the best chance of winning the seat in November. It must be said, however, that in an environment like this, while Fetterman might arguably be favored against Barnette, the Republican still has an excellent shot no matter who their nominee is. But to those who remember the 2010 and 2012 cycles all too well, a McCormick (or even an Oz) victory would bring about a big sigh of relief. Our general election rating is a tossup, but perhaps no race depends on candidate quality as much as this one.


Of this week’s five states, only Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Oregon have governor’s elections. The other two states, Kentucky and North Carolina elected their governors in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Kentucky has gubernatorial elections on the off-year after the midterms, although Secretary of State Daniel Cameron (R) recently announced a bid for governor, almost certainly against incumbent governor Andy Beshear (D) in a decidedly Republican state.

North Carolina’s governor, Roy Cooper, expanded his victory margin from 2016, but is term-limited and therefore will be ineligible to run in 2024.


Doug Mastriano, a State Senator from the southern edge of Pennsylvania, shot up in the polls as the more moderate wing of the commonwealth’s Republican Party failed to coalesce behind a single candidate. Trump’s endorsement of State Senator Mastriano on May 14th sealed the deal; the candidate for governor now has a commanding lead in the primary, with runner-up and former congressman Lou Barletta now out of striking distance. We can classify this primary race as Safe Mastriano.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Josh Shapiro is facing minimal opposition to nomination. He is expected to easily glide to victory, and Split Ticket assigns a rating of Safe Shapiro for the Democratic primary.

Although Split Ticket currently rates the Pennsylvania’s governor’s race as a Tossup, we agreed that a Mastriano-Shapiro matchup would be favorable for the Attorney General. The State Senator is a controversial figure for his open association with conspiracy theorists and his extremist election policy that are expected to play into the hands of Shapiro. Should Mastriano be nominated to lead the Republican effort to flip the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg, our rating would be moved to Leans Democratic. This is supported by a anti-Mastriano Republican internal poll which showed Shapiro ahead by eight percent versus Mastriano. Shapiro’s demonstrated overperformance mixed with Republican concerns regarding electability are likely to fuel Democratic hopes of maintaining their control of the Keystone State’s executive position.


Idaho’s governor Brad Little has faced challenge from his right flank by his lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, who was responsible for overriding Little’s policy on COVID in the instances where she was acting governor. Although McGeachin has the coveted Trump endorsement, Idaho may prove to be another state where the former President’s endorsement alone is not enough to secure victory.

Polling suggests Little will cruise to re-nomination on Tuesday, and then an almost-certain re-election in November. Split Ticket rates this Safe Little and Safe Republican.


Oregon has historically been more competitive on the gubernatorial level than its Presidential lean would suggest. Although the Democrats have held the seat since 1987, the party only won more than 52% of the popular vote once, in 1998. This is partly due to lingering Republican strength, but is also thanks to a strong minor party tradition. Term-limited governor Kate Brown can not run for reelection, and so both parties will have to bring fresh figures to the ballot.

On the Democratic side, former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek leads in a single month-old poll. Nonetheless, Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read is not the favorite to receive nomination based off of the vast disparity in endorsements offered by elected officials in the Beaver State. We’ll hold this race as Likely Kotek based off of what we know.

For the Republicans, former minority leader of the Oregon House of Representatives Christine Drazan also leads in the limited public polling, and also has the backing of a solid majority of her party’s endorsers. We can classify this race as Likely Drazan from the limited information available.

Another factor which must be considered in this race is Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic State Senator running as an ideologically moderate Independent candidate who may siphon votes away from both parties. She touts an impressive set of bipartisan endorsements, from former politicians. If she performs well in polling, it could certainly make this race more interesting and volatile.

Until polling can paint a different picture of the race for Governor in Oregon, Split Ticket is satisfied with the present rating of Likely Democratic for the outcome of the race. Republicans still have shot to flip this seat, but the partisan lean of the state may be too much for the GOP to overcome, even in a wave election.

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