WASHINGTON – The busiest primary day of the year so far arrives Tuesday – with the most volatile cast of characters.
There's the celebrity doctor facing a conservative commentator and a former hedge fund manager in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Democrat who is favored to win a Senate nomination but is recovering from a stroke. A North Carolina congressman trying to survive a knockout bid from fellow Republicans. An Idaho governor battling his lieutenant governor. And Donald Trump.
Primaries are being conducted in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Oregon and Idaho.
Some things to look forward to:
Madison Cawthorn's day of reckoning?
North Carolina's primary day features one of the year's most embattled incumbents: Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., whose turbulent term has been marked by ethics complaints, carrying handguns in airports, repeated traffic violations and a furor within his own party over remarks about cocaine and D.C. orgies.
Tar Heel Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., have organized opposition to Cawthorn and are backing the candidacy of State Sen. Chuck Edwards. He is one of several challengers to Cawthorn in a primary that could lead to a runoff between the top two finishers.
Trump, who is putting his political strength on the line nationwide this primary season, has endorsed Cawthorn, saying he deserves a "second chance."
Cawthorn says he is being unfairly targeted by so-called "Republicans In Name Only" because of his commitment to conservatism. In a pinned tweet, he said: "RINOS are tripping over themselves to defeat me. They will lose. We will win."
Dr. Oz's operation in Pennsylvania
Mehmet Oz, the surgeon-turned-talk show host, hopes to win the Republican nomination to a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania with the help of a Trump endorsement – but it won't be easy.
Many conservatives criticized Trump's endorsement, saying Oz has voiced liberal views in the past on items like abortion and gun control.
Celebrities? Outsiders?: Oz, Fetterman (and Trump) put fame to the test in Pennsylvania primary
Some responded by backing conservative commentator Kathy Barnette in the primary, despite a litany of far-right statements in the past from her about Muslims, gays, certain Republicans and former President Barack Obama.
Others favor anti-Oz candidate David McCormick, once the owner of the world's largest hedge fund.
NBC News this week broadcast pictures of Barnette during the march that preceded the Jan. 6. 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Barnette told reporters she did not enter the Capitol building that day and had traveled to Washington, D.C., to hear Trump speak and "see if there were answers about what many of us in the country felt unnerved about." Polls show a tightening race between Oz and Barnette, with McCormick still in striking distance.
"It's just too close among the top three to make a call," said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
John Fetterman's stroke
His wife, Gisele Fetterman, on Sunday told USA TODAY he is expected to make a full recovery.
"He's doing great. We were very lucky and acted in minutes – full recovery ahead," she said.
In a statement Sunday, John Fetterman said his stroke was caused by a clot from his heart being in an irregular rhythm for too long.
He said doctors told him he did not suffer any cognitive damage, and he expects to return to the campaign trail after a period of rest and recovery.
"But our campaign isn't slowing down one bit, and we are still on track to win this primary on Tuesday, and flip this Senate seat in November," he said in a statement.
The fall Senate race in Pennsylvania is of no small consequence. It could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate, currently split 50-50 with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes.
"Pennsylvania – once again, living up to its 'Keystone State' moniker," said Lara Brown, director and professor at the the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.
The Pennsylvania governor's race, meanwhile, features a now-familiar type: Republicans running on platforms touting Trump's myth of a "stolen election" in 2020.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is leading polls ahead of the Republican primary, is also a leading election denier in Pennsylvania.
He held rallies and makeshift hearings and for 17 months has participated in efforts to overturn President Joe Biden's win in Pennsylvania. Mastriano was spotted outside the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, but has said he did not breach the perimeter.
Mastriano has doubled down on his election fraud claims as he's sought the governor's seat. In March, he held a campaign event in Gettysburg and called it a "voter integrity conference," where attendees signed a pledge upon entering that they would decertify Pennsylvania's 2020 election results.
Mastriano led a "Stop the Steal" rally on the Pennsylvania Capitol steps Jan. 5, 2021 and organized buses to the "Save America" rally on Jan. 6, 2021, which preceded the U.S. Capitol attack. He has condemned the violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol, but he has continued to repeat false claims about the election.
He was subpoenaed in March by the U.S. House committee investigating what led to the Capitol attack, and Mastriano has not cooperated.
When Trump endorsed the gubernatorial candidate on Saturday, the former president said Mastriano "has been with me right from the beginning, and now I have an obligation to be with him."
Republican opponents say Mastriano is too far to the right to win a general election and would have little chance against likely Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro, the attorney general who is favored to win his party's primary on Tuesday.
Trump's endorsement of Mastriano created a conundrum for many Pennsylvania Republicans. Earlier in the week, the ex-president issued a statement urging people not to vote for Barnette in the Senate race – yet Mastriano and Barnette have campaigned together in recent days and are basically running as a team.
Mastriano is running for governor: What we know about his ties to Jan. 6
Idaho's political family feud
While both are Republicans, Idaho incumbent Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin have criticized each other for years, to the point where McGeachin is now running against the governor in a GOP primary.
McGeachin is running as the Trump-endorsed challenger against Little, who is a more traditional conservative.
Critics say McGeachin has gone from far-right to alt-right, partially because of a recent campaign rally where one of her headline speakers called for the execution of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
"You don't ask permission from Dr. Fauci. You ignore him and you indict him and you try him and you fry him!" Stew Peters, a former bounty hunter turned radio host who was removed from Spotify due to his opposition to COVID-19 vaccines, said during the rally.
McGeachin also faced criticism after she addressed a white nationalist group, America First Political Action Conference, in Florida.
On occasions when Little left the state, McGeachin used her authority as acting governor to issue executive orders that banned mask mandates and COVID-19 testing and vaccination requirements.
Little, a cattle rancher who pushes a traditional conservatism like cutting taxes, has enforced few regulations during COVID. He closed businesses in early 2020 and halted gatherings, but he never embraced masking or vaccines.
He has attracted more campaign donations in the conservative state, with $2.1 million compared to McGeachin's $700,000.
Because Idaho has a heavy Republican majority, whoever wins Tuesday is likely to be the next governor.
Battle of Oregon Democrats
A crowded House primary reflects Democratic divisions, including a battle pitting the Congressional Hispanic Caucus against a top party political action committee.
State Rep. Andrea Salinas is trying to become Oregon’s first elected Latina in Congress and enjoys the backing of the Hispanic caucus.
The House Majority PAC, which is aligned with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has endorsed Carrick Flynn, who has also received millions from a PAC backed by a cryptocurrency billionaire.
Salinas, a three-term state representative, recently received an endorsement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who described the candidate as an advocate for abortion access who helped Oregon pass strong reproductive rights legislation.
Public Policy Polling had Salinas and Flynn in a virtual tie in its most recent poll.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pennsylvania primary, Madison Cawthorn race in N.C. on tap Tuesday