Republicans hold a slim majority, 51-49, in the U.S. Senate. They fervently believe they can add to that narrow majority in November by beating Democratic incumbents who hold seats in what they correctly consider to be Republican states.
President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE won 10 states in 2016 where Democratic incumbents are up for reelection. One of their prime targets is Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE of West Virginia. No state went bigger for Trump in 2016 — he won there by a massive 42 points — but Manchin is no weakling or pushover.
Manchin is a former governor and has a distinct mountaineer brand attached to his name. The chance of beating Manchin was definitely challenged by the prospect of Republicans nominating Don Blankenship as their nominee.
On Tuesday night, that did not happen. Blankenship would have been a highly unconventional choice. First and foremost, he had just gotten out of prison for conspiracy to violate mine safety regulations. There was a mine that he owned and ran where 29 people died in a blast. He was held responsible for that tragedy and served a year in prison.
Blankenship during his campaign went after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE (R-Ky.) with a vengeance. He obviously felt that would stir up the conservative wing of his party, which has no fondness for McConnell, who they view as far too moderate.
In a deliberate, direct appeal to Trump supporters, he proclaimed: “I am Trumpier than Trump.” The only problem with that tactic was that Trump decided to tell the Republican voters of West Virginia not to vote for Blankenship.
Trump was not subtle. He said that Blankenship “can’t win the general election in your state … no way.” And, to make it even more emphatic, Trump added, “Remember Alabama” — a reference to Alabama Republican Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRoy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race Of inmates and asylums: Today's House Republicans make the John Birchers look quaint MORE losing to Democrat Doug Jones in a special Senate race there.
Blankenship sought to combat the Trump denunciation by saying, “No one, I mean no one, will tell us how to vote.”
Needless to say, GOP voters in West Virginia were confused. Blankenship finished a distant third. The Republican primary winner is West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
Morrisey is no sure winner in November, however. He has baggage of his own. He is not West Virginia born and raised; he came from New Jersey. In a state ravaged by the opioid crisis, his former occupation as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry will not be a plus.
Manchin, six years ago, won his Senate seat with 60 percent of the vote. This was during the same election, in 2012, when Republican presidential candidate Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Democrats aim for maximum pressure on GOP over debt ceiling MORE carried every county in the state.
In Indiana, the winner on Tuesday was former state legislator and wealthy businessman Mike Braun. Braun had a sartorial strategy: He refused to adopt the official “uniform” when it came to political attire; at every debate with his two opponents, he stood apart by wearing no suit and no tie.
His opponents were both sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Luke MesserAllen (Luke) Lucas MesserK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Yoder, Messer land on K Street House GOP to force members to give up leadership positions if running for higher office MORE distinguished himself by nominating Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. Rep. Todd RokitaTheodore (Todd) Edward RokitaJudge strikes down several Indiana abortion provisions Federal judge will not block Indiana University's vaccine mandate IU parents protest school's vaccine mandates MORE said special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE should end the investigation of Trump in the next 30 days if no incriminating evidence was found.
Both congressmen sought to swing Trump supporters to their side. Messer and Rokita have been longtime rivals going back to college days. Their statements about each other were very nasty and personal.
Braun lumped both into the same category and called them the “swamp brothers.” It worked. Putting $5.4 million of his own money into the campaign didn’t hurt, either.
Trump was in the Hoosier state on Thursday, surely giving Braun a big bump; after all, this is a state that Trump won by 19 points.
It is my opinion that U.S. Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (D-Ind.) is by far the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent. In 2012, he was blessed by an error-prone opponent and he was very lucky to win. Braun will put more of his own fortune into the general election race and is running in a very red state.
I would be astonished if Democrat Donnelly would be able to keep his seat. If he should, then the “giant blue wave” will be a giant reality.
Finally, Ohio: U.S. Rep. Jim RenacciJames (Jim) B. RenacciGovernors' races see flood of pro-Trump candidates Former House Republican to challenge DeWine for Ohio gubernatorial nomination The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Republicans seek to sink Jan. 6 commission MORE is the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees Wyden releases new tax proposals as Democrats work on .5T bill MORE is the state’s popular Democrat incumbent and has shown he can win in this increasingly red state. This is quite an accomplishment, since Brown is the only Democrat holding a high office in the state.
Trump won the state by a convincing 8 points in 2016. Ohio probably should no longer be considered a swing state. It should be deemed a true red state.
One dangerous sign for Democrats: Republican turnout on Tuesday exceeded Democrat turnout in Ohio.
Still, Brown has demonstrated his statewide appeal. He can relate and communicate with working-class voters, but this is a state that does not have much of a heart or mind for Democratic Party officeholders.
Brown will be tested in 2018 and will have to show he is the “notable exception” in the Buckeye state.
David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said the following about Tuesday’s elections: “There were no Republican winners on Tuesday night. The nasty and divisive GOP primaries have exposed the Republican nominee’s vulnerabilities and drained their resources … .”
This statement might very well be wishful thinking: Republicans helped themselves on Tuesday night. They didn’t nominate what would have been a disastrous Blankenship in West Virginia and, in Indiana, Mike Braun seems to be the best choice to defeat the incumbent Democrat.
It should be emphasized that West Virginia and Indiana will be highly competitive and close. But Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly are still highly vulnerable. Tuesday night did not change that one bit.
And Ohio, even with Sherrod Brown, is no sure thing.
Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics. He previously was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.