Five takeaways from Tuesday’s primary fights

Five takeaways from Tuesday’s primary fights
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Tuesday marked the first big, multistate primary night of the 2018 election cycle, with a flurry of competitive races — including several fought over President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE and the Republican establishment  — coming to their conclusions. Here are five takeaways from the elections in West Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio.


Congressmen shown the door

GOP primaries can be challenges for lawmakers who need to point to successful records in Congress while not offending their constituents’ anti-Washington sentiments.

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On Tuesday night, four incumbent members of Congress — including three looking for a promotion to the Senate — fell short against outsider foes. Now they’re headed for an earlier-than-planned retirement.

In Indiana, Reps. Todd RokitaTheodore (Todd) Edward RokitaFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations House passes year-end tax package Indiana New Members 2019 MORE and Luke MesserAllen (Luke) Lucas MesserYoder, Messer land on K Street House GOP to force members to give up leadership positions if running for higher office Indiana New Members 2019 MORE spent most of the Indiana Senate primary attacking each other as each looked to position himself as the most loyal Trump supporter in the race. But that feuding left a space for businessman Mike Braun to pitch himself as an alternative to the warring congressmen. Braun ultimately stormed to a comfortable 11-point margin of victory, as Rokita and Messer virtually split the rest of the vote.

Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE (R-W.Va.) lost West Virginia’s crowded primary, finishing second to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey but ahead of former coal baron and ex-convict Don Blankenship. Both of Jenkins’s top primary foes looked to use his time in Congress against him in the race. Jenkins was also pulled down by a Democratic super PAC, which spent millions attacking his work with the state medical association. 

And North Carolina GOP Rep. Robert PittengerRobert Miller PittengerNorth Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race North Carolina board calls for new election in contested House race Obama political arm to merge with Holder-run group MORE became the first incumbent House member to lose a primary this cycle when Pastor Mark Harris knocked him off. Harris had nearly taken Pittenger out of the seat two years earlier, when he lost to the incumbent by less than 200 votes.

Tuesday’s primaries weren’t all bad news for incumbents — Rep. Jim RenacciJames (Jim) B. RenacciGOP rep: If Mueller had found collusion, ‘investigation would have wrapped up very quickly’ House Ethics Committee extends probe into Renacci Sherrod Brown says he has 'no real timetable' for deciding on 2020 presidential run MORE (R-Ohio) won the primary for Ohio’s Senate race, while Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesNorth Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race House pays tribute to Walter Jones GOP leader presses Trump to agree to border deal MORE (R-N.C.) once again survived a tough challenge.

 


Attacking McConnell has its limits

Blankenship sought to close the gap in West Virginia by attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Overnight Health Care: McConnell offering bill to raise tobacco-buying age to 21 | NC gov vetoes 'born alive' abortion bill | CMS backs off controversial abortion proposal HR 1 brings successful local, state reforms to the federal level and deserves passage MORE (R-Ky.), a frequent target for the GOP grass roots. At the same time, McConnell and other Republican leaders feared Blankenship’s conviction — which came after an explosion at a coal mine Blankenship’s company ran killed 29 — would sink the party’s chances in November against Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections MORE (D-W.Va.)

Blankenship pejoratively referred to McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch” — an obscure reference to a package of cocaine found on a ship owned by McConnell’s father-in-law. Blankenship also targeted McConnell’s family in racial terms, calling the father of Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoWhy an independent panel must investigate Boeing crashes 'Distractor in Chief' has made room for unprecedented regulatory reform Trump Cabinet down to three women amid administration turnover MORE, McConnell’s Chinese-American wife, a “Chinaperson.”

As those comments dominated the news, Blankenship sought to portray the race as a fight between himself and McConnell. The former coal executive banked on conservative frustration with McConnell to boost his campaign, while a super PAC with ties to Washington Republicans slammed Blankenship with negative ads.

But when the dust settled, Blankenship fell flat, prompting the downtrodden candidate to openly ponder whether attacking McConnell had hurt his chances.

Blankenship’s defeat is good news for Republicans who saw him as a sure-fire loser in November. But it’s also a boon for McConnell and his allies, as McConnell emerged as the victor in his scrap with the GOP candidate. 

 


Trump avoids another primary defeat

President Trump loves to win, so Tuesday’s result resonated in the White House for more ways than one.

With Republicans scrambling in the final days of the West Virginia race to block Blankenship, they convinced Trump to put his own reputation on the line by directing his supporters to vote against the former coal executive.

Trump has had a mixed record when endorsing a high-profile candidate for office. He backed successful GOP special House election candidates in 2017, fundraising for Georgia’s Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race McBath fundraising off 'get back in the kitchen' remarks Ex-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 MORE, recording a robocall for Montana’s Greg GianforteGregory Richard GianforteJournalists seek federal, state support for right to inform the public Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo criticize Trump’s response to Coast Guard lieutenant's arrest Sarah Sanders: Trump hasn't ‘at any point’ done anything but ‘condemn violence against journalists' MORE and tweeting about Kansas’s Ron EstesRonald (Ron) Gene EstesUniversity of Kansas to offer course on 'Angry White Male' Kansas New Members 2019 Cards Against Humanity offering midterm expansion pack in effort to back Dems in key races MORE and South Carolina’s Ralph NormanRalph Warren NormanRepublicans offer 'free market alternative' to paid family leave Trump says Navy SEAL charged with war crimes will be moved to 'less restrictive confinement' House conservatives ask Trump to declassify documents underlying Mueller investigation MORE.

But Trump’s candidates haven’t always done well. The Republican pick in the Virginia’s governor race faltered, despite a Trump endorsement. And Trump’s backing failed to put Republicans ahead in the Alabama Senate race or a Pennsylvania special House election — even though the races were held in solidly pro-Trump areas.

A Blankenship victory would have raised more questions about Trump’s ability to motivate the party base. But instead, Trump was on the winning side.

 


Trump loyalty isn’t always enough for candidates

Trump still enjoys an overwhelming favorable rating among Republican primary electorates, but many candidates who sought to make Trump the central focus of their campaign fell flat.

In the Indiana Senate race, Rokita went to great lengths to frame himself as Trump’s most loyal backer, donning a “Make America Great Again” hat in a campaign ad and calling himself “pro-Trump.”

That prompted Messer to try to position  himself as the most pro-Trump candidate, organizing a petition to nominate Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Trump also became the central messaging point in West Virginia, with Jenkins attempting to spin Trump’s tweet criticizing Blankenship as an endorsement of his campaign.

In North Carolina’s two biggest Republican primaries over House seats, both candidates who staked their reelection solely on Trump faltered.

Pittenger lost his reelection bid, despite framing support for Trump as an imperative and touting a voting record that showed him supporting Trump 97 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. When Harris attacked Pittenger for backing a congressional spending bill Harris deemed not conservative enough, the congressman argued that he only voted “yes” because Trump wanted the measure passed.

Jones, whose independent streak has defined much of his career, triumphed over an opponent who criticized his votes against tax reform and the latest ObamaCare repeal plan as votes against the president.

Trump still remains hugely popular with Republicans, but Tuesday’s results suggest that loyalty to Trump won’t be enough to guarantee voters’ support — especially in tough primary fights.

 


Party establishments get their picks in crucial special election

They might not have grabbed the headlines, but Tuesday’s special election primaries for Ohio’s 12th Congressional District set up the race to be a slugfest.

Democrats have outperformed this cycle in wealthy, well-educated areas, even in red-leaning districts. So with the district left open by the retirement of Rep. Pat TiberiPatrick (Pat) Joseph TiberiOhio New Members 2019 Many authors of GOP tax law will not be returning to Congress GOP Rep. Balderson holds onto seat in Ohio MORE (R) also representing the richest and best-educated electorate in Ohio, there’s a chance that Democrats can win the seat — even though Trump won the district by 11 points in 2016.

Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson squeaked through the crowded GOP primary, which turned into a clash between the establishment-backed Balderson and Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan, who was backed by influential members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Both sides poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race in the final weeks, and Balderson ultimately prevailed by just a single percentage point.

On the Democratic side, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor, the frontrunner in the race, cruised to victory over two other candidates.

O’Connor was seen by many Democrats as the party’s best chance in a general election, and the Republican establishment fretted that Leneghan’s conservative credentials could put the district at risk. Now both sides have the candidate they wanted — just ahead of a closely watched general election race.