Warning Signs For the Blue Wave? Republicans Shun Blankenship -- And Pick Strong Contenders
Results of Tuesday’s Republican Senate primaries — the first significant data set of the 2018 midterms — suggest that the GOP is poised to repeat its successful 2014 midterm performance, and to avoid the weak Senate nominees that emerged from the 2010 and 2012 primaries in states like Indiana, Delaware, Missouri and Nevada.
Republicans went to the polls on Tuesday to choose nominees in three key Senate races on one of the biggest primary days of 2018 -- and they did not squander a trio of their best pickup opportunities. While ambitious House Republicans elected since the 2010 Tea Party wave did not fare well in their bids to move up, Republican primary voters stayed away from the problematic candidates who have already cost them several special elections since President Donald Trump took office. Most obviously, the nomination of accused sexual predator Roy Moore in Alabama allowed Democrat Doug Jones to win a Senate seat in one of the nation's most conservative states. Because of Moore’s loss, Republican only hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate heading into this fall’s midterms.
Despite all the talk of a "blue wave," it's worth remembering that Democrats must defend Senate seats in 10 states won by Donald Trump in 2016. In none of those was the margin greater than in West Virginia. Although Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has won five statewide elections in his career, he is widely viewed as one of 2018's most vulnerable incumbents.
Manchin’s best chance of holding on to his seat was defeated on Tuesday, as wealthy coal executive Don Blankenship, who recently completed a prison term resulting from his role in a mine explosion that killed 29 people, finished a distant third in the Republican primary. Blankenship was convicted in 2015 of conspiring to skirt mine standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, where the disaster occurred in 2010. He declared himself the victim of an Obama administration conspiracy and presented an unexpected challenge to two more traditional Republican candidates, Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
Trump made an 11th-hour plea for voters to reject Blankenship after he seemed to surge, with two internal Republican polls showing him jumping into the lead over his two main rivals over the weekend. The president made no mention of Blakenship’s obvious ethical lapses in his tweet, simply warned West Virginia Republicans that he might cost them a winnable seat in November.
West Virginia gave the president 68 percent of its vote in 2016. Blankenship, who calls himself "Trumpier than Trump," ran campaign ads that referred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as "Cocaine Mitch" and described Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao's parents as "China family."
Perhaps Trump's intervention worked. In any event, the AP reports that Morrisey won the primary, with Rep. Evan Jenkins, a former Democrat, coming in second. Blankenship only got about 20 percent of the vote. Morrisey presents an excellent chance for Republicans to pick up this seat, although it's true that Manchin and his Democratic primary opponent got more votes than all the Republicans together.
A three-way Republican race to challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly -- one of the GOP’s top Senate targets -- ended with a wealthy businessman and former Democrat the victor.
Mike Braun, a former state legislator turned businessman, beat out House Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer. Braun funneled about $4.5 million of his own money into the race, in a campaign that saw more than $9 million in combined spending, making it one of the year's most expensive primary races of the year.
Rivals since college, Messer and Rokita left their seats in the House to run for the Senate. (Vice President Mike Pence’s brother won the GOP primary for Messer’s House seat on Tuesday.) They began attacking each other last year before either of them had announced his candidacy. While their battle hasn’t drawn much national attention, the relentless negative attacks drew Braun, who until recently had voted in Democratic primaries, into the race.
All three candidates attempted to out-Trump each other. Braun said Trump “paved the way” for a candidate who has spent most of his career in business. Rokita has been traveling the state with a cardboard cutout of the president and introduced a resolution to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Messser introduced a resolution calling on Trump to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Braun will certainly now win Trump's endorsement in his race against Donnelly, who has made little impression on the political world during six years in Washington and may be the Democratic incumbent least likely to succeed in 2018. Trump, who won Indiana by 20 points two years ago, plans to hold a campaign rally in the state on Thursday.
The only GOP House member who managed to take a major step toward promotion to the Senate on Tuesday was Rep. Jim Renacci, who will now challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in the fall.
But Ohio’s most-watched contest was the race to replace Gov. John Kasich, an anti-Trump Republican being forced out by term limits.
Richard Cordray, former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (now headed by Trump loyalist Mick Mulvaney), will be the Democratic nominee for Ohio governor. Cordray conclusively defeated Dennis Kucinich, the former congressman, presidential candidate and Cleveland mayor, winning every area of the state. The race was something of a proxy battle between two progressive leaders, pitting Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., against the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution. Cordray will now face former Sen. Mike DeWine, the Republican nominee, in a race likely to be seen as a national bellwether.