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Primaries in Maryland and West Virginia will shape the battle this fall for a Senate majority

Signs are pictured outside an early voting center on Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Rockville, Md. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump look to pad their delegate totals in Maryland Tuesday, May 14. Maryland voters will also decide contested primaries in a Senate race. Former GOP Gov. Larry Hogan's late entry into the race has given Republicans hope of a possible pick-up in a state that hasn't elected a Republican U.S. senator since 1980. The leading Democratic primary candidates are U.S. Rep. David Trone and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. (AP Photo/Robert Yoon)
Robert Yoon/AP
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AP
Signs are pictured outside an early voting center on Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Rockville, Md. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump look to pad their delegate totals in Maryland Tuesday, May 14. Maryland voters will also decide contested primaries in a Senate race. Former GOP Gov. Larry Hogan's late entry into the race has given Republicans hope of a possible pick-up in a state that hasn't elected a Republican U.S. senator since 1980. The leading Democratic primary candidates are U.S. Rep. David Trone and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. (AP Photo/Robert Yoon)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Voters across Maryland and West Virginia will decide key primary elections Tuesday with big implications in the fight for the Senate majority this fall.

At the same time, Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican rival Donald Trump hope to project strength in low-stakes presidential primaries, while further down the ballot, two congressional candidates on opposite sides of the 2021 Capitol attack serve as a stark reminder that the nation remains deeply divided over the deadly insurrection.

In all, three states are hosting statewide primary elections on Tuesday — Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia — as Republicans and Democrats pick their nominees for a slate of fall elections. None are more consequential than Senate primaries in Maryland and West Virginia, where Republicans are eying pickup opportunities that could flip control of Congress' upper chamber for at least two years.

A TRUMP CRITIC VIES FOR MARYLAND'S GOP NOMINATION

In Maryland, Republican former Gov. Larry Hogan expects to dominate the state's GOP Senate primary despite his years-long criticism of Trump, whom Hogan describes as a threat to democracy. The former two-term governor would be the blue state's first Republican senator in more than four decades.

It's unclear whether Trump loyalists will ultimately embrace Hogan. In all, six other Republicans are challenging the 67-year-old former governor.

On the Democratic side, Rep. David Trone has been locked in a contentious — and expensive — battle with Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.

Trone, the co-founder of the Total Wine & More national liquor store chain, has put more than $61 million of his own money into the race. That's just shy of the national record for self-funding a Senate campaign, with much of it going to a months-long TV ad blitz. The three-term congressman says he’s better positioned to beat Hogan in November as a progressive Democrat not beholden to special interests.

Race has been an issue in the primary, with Alsobrooks working to become Maryland’s first Black U.S. senator. Trone apologized in March for what he said was the inadvertent use of a racial slur during a budget hearing.

Alsobrooks, who serves as chief executive of Maryland’s second-largest jurisdiction with the state’s largest number of registered Democrats, has been endorsed by many of the state’s top officials, including Gov. Wes Moore, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Steny Hoyer and a long list of state lawmakers.

She has campaigned on growing economic opportunity, investing in education and protecting abortion rights.

THE WEST VIRGINIA BATTLE TO REPLACE MANCHIN

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, the Republican Senate primary is likely to decide retiring Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin's replacement given the state's overwhelming Republican tilt.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice and U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney are the leading GOP candidates. With Manchin gone, the seat is almost guaranteed to turn red come November.

The Trump-endorsed Justice, a former billionaire with a folksy personality that’s made him wildly popular in the state, is the front-runner against Mooney and five other lesser-known Republicans. A former Democrat, Justice switched to the Republican Party in 2017. He announced the change at a Trump rally.

Mooney has tried to win over conservatives by labeling Justice a “RINO” — which stands for “Republican in name only” — who would support Democratic policies. Justice did support Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, saying West Virginia couldn't afford to turn away the money offered in the bill. Mooney voted against it.

On the other side, Democrats are choosing between Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, who has Manchin’s endorsement, and Marine Corps veteran Zach Shrewsbury, who has support from the Progressive Democrats of America. Also in the Democratic primary: former Republican Don Blankenship, who was convicted of violating safety standards after 29 people died in a 2010 coal mine explosion.

West Virginia is also deciding its candidates for governor.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the Republican nominee in the 2018 Senate race against Manchin, is running for the Republican nomination. He’s up against the sons of two members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation: car dealer Chris Miller, whose mother is Rep. Carol Miller, and former state Rep. Moore Capito, whose mother is Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner is also in the GOP race.

On the Democratic side, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams is unopposed.

TESTS OF STRENGTH IN THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY

There's far less drama in Tuesday's presidential primaries.

Biden and Trump have already amassed enough delegates to claim the presidential nominations at their respective national conventions this summer. Yet voters on both sides hope to register a significant protest vote Tuesday that will demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Biden-Trump rematch.

Maryland progressives especially unhappy with the Biden administration’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas are encouraging voters to select “uncommitted to any presidential candidate” instead of Biden. There is no uncommitted option in West Virginia or Nebraska.

Everett Bellamy, a Democrat who voted early in Annapolis, said he voted “uncommitted” instead of Biden as a protest against the killing of women and children and noncombatants in Gaza.

“I’ve got to make a decision come November, but for now while the violence is raging in Gaza and people are being killed every day and starving to death, I wanted to send a message,” Bellamy, 74, said after leaving an early voting center. “Hopefully, I have a better choice come November.”

Meanwhile, Trump's Republican critics cannot choose “uncommitted,” but they can choose his former GOP rival Nikki Haley, who will appear on the ballot in Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia despite formally suspending her campaign more than two months ago. Last week in Indiana, Haley earned nearly 22% of the Republican primary vote.

Trump has shrugged off his Republican critics, yet his weakness with the party's moderate wing could threaten him in the general election.

TWO SIDES OF THE INSURRECTION

Tuesday's elections also include two candidates who were intimately involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In West Virginia, a former member of the House of Delegates, Derrick Evans, is running for the Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District. The 39-year-old Trump loyalist served a three-month jail sentence after livestreaming himself participating in the storming of the U.S. Capitol. He calls himself the only elected official who “had the courage” to stand behind efforts to temporarily halt certification of Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Evans is trying to oust incumbent Republican Rep. Carol Miller.

In Maryland, former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn is is among nearly two dozen Democrats running in the state's 3rd Congressional District. The 40-year-old Democrat was in the Capitol working to repel the violent mob on Jan. 6.

Also on Tuesday, in North Carolina, voters will finalize their pick in what has become a one-person Republican primary in the state's 13th Congressional District. Trump endorsed Brad Knott this month, leading his opponent to suspend her campaign.

Willingham reported from Charleston, West Virginia. Peoples reported from Washington.