Key takeaways from Tuesday's primaries: Warning signs for Trump, Biden; Moreno wins Ohio GOP Senate primary

Presumptive nominees score wins in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Kansas and Arizona — but questions remain for November

As this year’s presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, President Biden and former President Donald Trump swept Tuesday’s uncontested primaries in Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Illinois and Kansas, adding hundreds of delegates to their respective tallies and continuing their unimpeded march to the summer conventions, where they will formally accept their parties’ nominations.

But this week’s contests weren’t entirely devoid of drama, especially with a pivotal U.S. Senate primary in Ohio. Here are some key takeaways from the latest round.

Resistance remains

It’s no secret that significant numbers of Democrats and Republicans don’t want to nominate Biden and Trump (again).

Even now, 21% of potential GOP primary voters prefer “someone else” over Trump, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — while a full 35% of their Democratic-leaning counterparts prefer someone else over Biden.

But will that resistance keep materializing at the ballot box? Or will it subside now that the contested phase of the 2024 primary season is petering out?

Tuesday offered some clues. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley together drew just under 20% of the vote, despite having dropped out of the race.

In 2020, Trump won nearly 94% of the Florida primary vote as an incumbent president facing two long-shot opponents. This year, he captured about 81% of the vote.

The results were similar in other states. Haley won about 20% of the vote in Arizona, 16% in Kansas and 14% in Ohio and Illinois. In Kansas, an option for “None of the Names Shown” took another 5% of the vote.

The only way to interpret these continued votes for DeSantis, Haley and other options is as a protest against Trump.

Haley announces the suspension of her presidential campaign.
Haley announces the suspension of her presidential campaign in Daniel Island, S.C., on March 6. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

This opposition could extend to the general election. In Ohio on Tuesday, half of Haley’s supporters said they would back Biden over Trump in November, according to preliminary exit polls.

Similarly, progressives are still turning out on the Democratic side to protest Biden’s Gaza policy. So far, an average of 10% of 2024 Democratic primary participants have voted for “uncommitted” in states where that’s been an option, according to the New York Times — while about 12% have voted for a named candidate other than Biden in places where “uncommitted” hasn’t appeared on the ballot.

That’s higher than the average “protest” vote (about 7%) across uncontested primaries in 2004, 2012 and 2020.

Tuesday’s protest votes didn’t quite match earlier highs in Michigan, Minnesota and Hawaii. But 10% voted “None of the Names Shown” in otherwise moderate Kansas. Dean Phillips, a little-known congressman from Minnesota who ended his campaign after Super Tuesday, pulled 13% of the vote in Ohio.

Of course, such numbers are far too small to derail the Biden or Trump candidacies. But with “double haters” — voters who dislike both nominees but are still engaged enough to vote — set to decide the election, Tuesday’s results signal just how much work both men have left to do, especially in key battleground states.

The race to replace McCarthy

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters at a caucus night watch party with Donald Trump in Las Vegas.
Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters at a caucus night watch party with Donald Trump in Las Vegas on Feb. 8. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

In California, Republican state Legislator Vince Fong advanced to a May election to decide who will complete the remainder of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s term, which runs through January.

According to the Associated Press, it was not yet clear who will emerge from a crowded field to take on Fong in the May 21 special election in the solidly conservative district. Republicans are expected to easily hold the seat.

Fong, a onetime McCarthy aide, was endorsed by the former speaker — and by Trump.

Key Senate race is set

While presidential primary numbers are always interesting, hard-core politicos were paying more attention Tuesday to the results of Ohio’s GOP Senate primary, in which state Sen. Matt Dolan, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and businessman Bernie Moreno competed for a chance to take on longtime Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in November.

In the end, Moreno came out on top. The Associated Press called the contest at 8:35 p.m.

The race was critical for two reasons.

First, Brown is an old-school progressive populist who has found a way to keep winning in increasingly red Ohio by emphasizing the “dignity of work” — but he will still be one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats this fall, and Republicans may only need to net a single seat to recapture control of the chamber. That put a lot of weight on their choice of nominee.

Second, the primary battle between Moreno and Dolan turned into a proxy war between the GOP’s MAGA and establishment factions over the future of the party itself. Dolan — who has consistently said that Trump lost the 2020 election and bears blame for Jan. 6 — won the backing of Gov. Mike DeWine and former Sen. Rob Portman; Moreno, a former car dealer, attracted the support of Trump and Sen. J.D. Vance.

At a rally over the weekend, Trump praised Moreno as an “America first champion” who is “going to be a warrior in Washington,” while Moreno mocked his opponent as “Mitt Dolan” (in reference to now-Utah senator and frequent Trump critic Mitt Romney, the GOP’s establishment-friendly 2012 nominee).

On Tuesday, Moreno’s MAGA message worked — even with a third candidate, LaRose, splitting the antiestablishment vote. It’s another sign that the GOP base has yet to learn the lessons of its 2018, 2020 and 2022 losses — and that it’s gravitating toward candidates who aim to excite Trump loyalists rather than persuade swing voters.

Nearly every pre-primary poll showed Brown leading Moreno by a much larger margin than Dolan.

Gauging the Latino vote

One of the biggest political stories of the last few years has been the rightward drift among Latino voters, who previously voted Democratic by overwhelming margins and whom Democrats have long taken for granted as part of their “emerging coalition.”

In 2012, Barack Obama beat Romney by 40 percentage points among Latino voters nationally, according to Catalist, a political research firm. In 2016, Hillary Clinton did even better, winning the Latino vote by 42 points.

But in 2020, Biden’s margin among Latinos shrank to 26 points — a shift driven at least in part by working-class Latinos and because more Latino men voted Republican than in the past.

According to the New York Times, primary results earlier this month in Texas added “more evidence of this shift: In the heavily Latino counties of the lower Rio Grande Valley, Mr. Biden averaged less than 65 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary earlier this month. In 2012, Mr. Obama, who was similarly running for re-election with only token opposition in the primary, won these counties with more than 85 percent of the primary vote.”

No wonder, then, that Biden is spending the first half of this week in Nevada and Arizona, states where Latinos comprise about a quarter of the vote.

On Tuesday in Arizona, the question wasn’t whether Biden would win so much as whether the results would show a similar pattern as in Texas, with a lower share of the vote than Obama in heavily Latino areas.

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Jacquelyn Martin/AP, Ronda Churchill/Reuters