Mehmet Oz, the daytime television star backed by former president Donald Trump, was locked in a close fight with the former chief executive of Bridgewater to be the Republican candidate for the US Senate from Pennsylvania on Tuesday night.
With four-fifths of the vote counted, Oz trailed his main rival David McCormick by about one percentage point, with the rightwing outsider Kathy Barnette trailing in third place.
The closely fought Pennsylvania primary has been seen as a key test of Trump’s ongoing influence over the Republican party. Oz was trailing in the polls until he won the endorsement of the former president, but in recent weeks has faced a backlash from conservative voters who have criticised his former views on abortion and gun control.
McCormick, the former hedge fund boss, was at 32 per cent with roughly 80 per cent of the votes counted, with Oz at 31 per cent and Barnette at 24 per cent.
The Pennsylvania race was bitterly fought and exposed deep divisions within the state’s Republican party. It has also been expensive — Oz and McCormick have traded personal insults and each has spent about $14mn on their campaigns, according to the latest figures from the Federal Election Commission.
Barnette in comparison has spent only $1.6mn, but her campaign has been boosted by a viral video in which she described having been conceived through rape, and explained how it made her oppose abortion in any circumstances.
As Barnette has risen in the polls, her opponents have warned that she is less likely to defeat the Democrats at November’s election. Trump said last week: “Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the general election against the Radical Left Democrats.”
The winner will take on John Fetterman, the current lieutenant-governor of the state, who won the Democratic primary despite suffering a stroke on Friday.
Meanwhile, Trump’s endorsement proved insufficient to clinch a primary win for Madison Cawthorn, the freshman Republican member of Congress in North Carolina. Cawthorn enjoyed a healthy polling lead until he had a spectacular falling-out with his fellow Republicans after claiming that he had been invited to an orgy in Washington and that he had seen political figures take cocaine in front of him.
Since then Cawthorn has been the subject of a number of damaging leaks. Trump has urged voters to give Cawthorn a second chance, but that proved not to be enough to secure him victory, and he conceded to his opponent Chuck Edwards on Tuesday night.
Elsewhere another Trump-endorsed candidate Ted Budd won the nomination to be the Republican candidate for North Carolina. Budd said the former president’s backing had been “huge” for his hard-fought campaign against 13 opponents, including the former governor Pat McCrory.
Another Trump-endorsed candidate, Doug Mastriano, also won his contest to be the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor. Mastriano positioned himself as an ultra-conservative, though he won the former president’s endorsement relatively late, just four days before the election.