Primaries To Watch

[ Posted Tuesday, May 8th, 2018 – 17:00 UTC ]

We are now exactly six months away from this year's midterm congressional elections. Today, four states are holding their primaries: Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia. This means the 2018 election season can be said to have already begun in earnest. There are two races everyone will be watching tonight, one on each side of the aisle. The Senate GOP primary in West Virginia is the more important of the two, but the Democratic governor's race in Ohio is also going to garner some attention.

Of course, there are more than just these two races taking place tonight, but in most of the others the outcome is either a foregone conclusion or else won't matter all that much when we get to the general election. In North Carolina, Republicans are trying to primary one of their own House members, but he's survived this sort of thing before. In Indiana, there is a three-way race on the Republican side for who is going to take on Senator Joe Donnelly, the incumbent Democrat. In this race, as in many other Republican contests during the primary season, the three candidates are all trying to out-Trump each other -- vying for who can proclaim their fealty to Trump the loudest. But all three are fairly solid and serious candidates for the general election race, so no matter what the outcome the general election Donnelly will have to run won't be all that different.

Senator Donnelly is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate up for re-election this year. There are many other vulnerable Democratic senators running in states which Donald Trump won, sometimes by a wide margin. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Claire McCaskill in Missouri, for example, are two others who face daunting prospects in November. If the Democrats have any chance at all of retaking control of the Senate, they must win almost all of these close races, as well as picking off a few Republicans elsewhere. So the Donnelly race is going to become important later on, no matter which Republican wins the primary tonight.

An even bigger target for Republicans, however, is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Donald Trump won the state by a whopping 41 points, after all. The state has been trending Republican since the 1990s, which was the last time they voted for a Democrat in a presidential race (they went for Bill Clinton twice). Manchin has managed to stay in office and get elected in West Virginia by being a moderate or even "Blue Dog" Democrat. In his first run for the Senate seat he holds, he appeared in an ad where he shot a cap-and-trade bill with a rifle, for instance. But it remains to be seen whether he'll survive this midterm cycle or not.

The GOP primary race to take on Manchin, however, is making a whole lot of Republicans very worried, because they might just end up with an unelectable candidate, even in a state they should have a very good chance of picking up. Two rather mainstream Republicans (Evan Jenkins and Patrick Morrisey) are running for the nomination, but they are splitting the vote between them. This has given Don Blankenship, a rather colorful character (to put it mildly), a real chance of winning tonight. Even Trump himself is worried, as evidenced by a tweet he sent out a few days ago, where instead of endorsing any one candidate, he unendorsed the wild card:

To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference. Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can't win the General Election in your State...No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!

Blankenship responded by reminding Trump he had endorsed Roy Moore, who lost his Senate race in Alabama: "Again, we all really like President Trump's policies but we know that he doesn't get things right. I mean he recommended that people vote for a guy that was basically accused of pedophilia in Alabama." Blankenship calls himself "Trumpier than Trump," which is actually a pretty fair assessment, given what else he's said out on the campaign trail.

Don Blankenship is a former chairman of Massey Energy, and was found guilty of safety violations that led to a mine explosion and disaster that took the lives of 29 coal miners. He spent a year in prison as a result. He claims total innocence for this now, and bizarrely states that it was "the federal government" who caused the explosion, in what can only be labelled a conspiracy theory.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is perhaps the most worried about the prospects of Blankenship winning the GOP nomination tonight. He intervened in the race by running ads against Blankenship, and Blankenship has fought back hard. He not only ran an ad calling McConnell "Cocaine Mitch," but he's been attacking McConnell's extended family for being "Chinapersons" -- a term he refuses to back down from and continues to use, even though it has been reported that his current girlfriend was born in China and that Blankenship had previously considered moving to China and becoming a Chinese citizen. Mitch McConnell's wife is Elaine Chao, who sits on Donald Trump's cabinet. Her father owns a shipping company, and one of their ships was found years ago to have 40 kilograms of cocaine on board (hence the "Cocaine Mitch" label).

Obviously, Blankenship is the loosest of loose cannons, which is why the Republican Party is desperately hoping he won't win the primary tonight. They see a repeat of Todd Akin or Christine O'Donnell, in fact -- losing a Senate race that they really should have had a good chance of winning, due to a completely unhinged candidate torpedoing himself by his off-the-cuff remarks on the campaign trail. They are right to be worried.

Of course, there's no guarantee that even if Blankenship wins the GOP nomination Joe Manchin will win the general election. Republicans have successfully elected other colorful characters to the Senate, after all. Again, Trump won West Virginia by 41 points, so Manchin's got an uphill climb no matter who he's going to be running against in November. But Democrats are going to feel a whole lot better about his chances if Blankenship pulls an upset tonight, that's for sure.

The other race worth watching is over on the Democratic side of the aisle. In Ohio, Richard Cordray is taking on Dennis Kucinich in the primary for the governor's race. In many Democratic primary races which have happened (or are still happening) since 2016, the media loves to cast the choice as one that refights the Bernie Sanders / Hillary Clinton primary -- a true progressive versus an establishment party candidate, in other words. But the Ohio race just doesn't fit into that mold, really, because both candidates have some pretty strong progressive credentials.

Cordray was hand-picked by Elizabeth Warren to run the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He took on the big banks directly, in other words. He's been endorsed by Warren in the governor's race. Those are pretty solid progressive credentials, making it impossible to cast Cordray as some sort of Clintonian pro-business candidate.

Kucinich, on the other hand, is about as progressive as they come, by any measure. He's picked up the endorsement of the Bernie Sanders group Our Revolution, but again this race just doesn't really fit a Clinton-versus-Sanders storyline. However, Democrats are worried about Kucinich in the same way Republicans are worried about Blankenship in West Virginia. Kucinich has actually supported Syria's Bashar Al-Assad, and gave a speech (which he was paid $20,000 for) to a pro-Assad group. He has since decided to return the money, but being pro-Assad is not exactly a mainstream American political position to take these days. Kucinich has also featured Representative Tulsi Gabbard in campaign ads (Gabbard endorsed him), who also has supported Assad (she infamously traveled to Syria last year to meet with him). These positions would be tough to defend in a general election campaign, obviously. Republican ads would, no doubt, be continually hitting Kucinich on the subject.

Cordray is seen as much more electable by the Democratic Party. He might have a good chance at winning the governor's office, which would be very important after the House of Representatives redistricts (following the 2020 Census), so it is seen as a key race for Democrats.

From this point on, primaries are going to be happening on an almost-weekly basis. Not all of them will have close races worth watching, so columns like this may not happen as frequently. We are now six months away from the November elections, though, which means that midterm season has officially begun in a big way.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


12 Comments on “Primaries To Watch”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Well, that was quick. Race in OH called for Cordray with only 1.1% of precincts reporting...


  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Ohio congressional redistricting reform passes!!!

  3. [3] 
    Paula wrote:

    Huge relief to me that Cordray won. And his lead over Kucinich is growing - it was something like 63-33 when they called it for Cordray and that was with 11% reporting or something like that. Now, at 63% reporting it's Cordray 62.7 and Kucinich at 22%, with Joe Schiavoni at 9% and others totalling 6%.

    I used to like Kucinich - sort of. He always said things I liked, but eventually it became clear that was his schtick. He's a talker, not a doer, and not an ally-builder in Congress.

    After he was redistricted out he fumbled around for awhile and then he did the-thing-I-can't-forgive - he started doing the FOX News appearances to diss Obama. I didn't think he'd do well in the general but I did think he'd do better in the primary. His running mate was popular. But a big loss is a relief - hopefully his followers won't be sore losers. We'll see.

    On the GOP side I'm relieved Mike DeWine beat Mary Taylor. DeWine is not admirable at all and I want Cordray to beat him. But Taylor was running as a hardcore Trumpiac and it would have been a horrible statement about Ohio if she'd won. I'd have liked her loss to be bigger - the score is 59-40 right now - but at least she lost.

  4. [4] 
    Paula wrote:

    [2] TS: yes and it passed big!

  5. [5] 
    Paula wrote:

    Looks like Blankenship lost too. Good. He was supposed to be "trumpier than trump". Hopefully that will not be seen as a positive any longer.

  6. [6] 
    Kick wrote:

    TS, Paula

    Great news about Ohio congressional redistricting reform. :)

  7. [7] 
    Paula wrote:

    [6]Kick: Yep!

  8. [8] 
    TheStig wrote:


    News indicated Blankenshp

  9. [9] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Cat submitted that stub. Reports last evening said Blankenshp was surging. Not enough, he placed 3rd. Trump will undoubtedly claim credit for stopping him. It could even be true. That would break his 3000+ NYT record for successive lies!

  10. [10] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Paula [3] -

    Kucinich reportedly helped set up an interview for Fox with Assad while he was there. I mean, being pro-peace is one thing, but supporting a dictator in a war is quite another, if you know what I mean...

    As for redistricting reform, this is a trend I sincerely hope grows in the future. One state at a time... helped by that SCOTUS ruling about AZ.

    The Stig [8] -

    Your cat types pretty well, I have to admit. Although swatting the send button early is a bit frisky... heh.

    I doubt Trump had much to do with Blankenship's loss, although anything's possible. I think killing 29 miners was a bit too much for the WV electorate, personally. Or at least I would LIKE to believe that...


  11. [11] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Trump must surely regret his decision to save a few bucks by not installing sprinklers in his pants....also his recent purchase of a knock-off Avenatti with way too many miles on his clock. I understand the retro charm of a Giuliani, but it's as impractical as owning a 1979 FIAT Spider. Fix It Again Tony.

  12. [12] 
    TheStig wrote:


    I agree, but in his concession speech, Blankenship was quick to blame Trump for his 3rd place showing.

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