Credit where credit’s due, right? Depends on who’s giving the credit. The Washington Post’s report on the Senate primaries notes that Republican voters actually did a pretty good job of choosing competitive candidates this time around, as opposed to, oh … Alabama last year. The results give them an opportunity for three major pickups, and avoided another opportunity to put egg on the party’s collective face:
President Trump and the Republican Party avoided their worst-case fears Tuesday night in Senate primaries across the country, as voters nominated a slate of Senate candidates whom party strategists see as good bets to challenge vulnerable Democratic incumbents this fall.
The results came as something of a relief for a party that has suffered a series of setbacks in recent special elections. But Tuesday’s outcome also made clear that the current mood of the GOP remains angry, defiant and not the least bit satisfied with the change that has come to Washington over the past 16 months.
The winners of Republican Senate primaries in West Virginia, Indiana and Ohio prevailed in multimillion-dollar contests to prove themselves the most willing to take on the Washington elite. Their battles did not hinge on policy, since all the candidates basically agreed with the course set by Trump. They swung on attitude, style and outsider bona fides.
Well … not exactly, no. Of the three races, only one outsider won the nomination — Indiana’s Mike Braun, who ran against two well-respected House members, Luke Messer and Todd Rokita. Both Messer and Rokita won their own districts, but they wound up splitting the traditional vote while Braun had the outsider track (and the rest of the state) all to himself. In both Ohio and West Virginia, the winners were established Republican officeholders, Attorneys General Mike DeWine and Patrick Morrisey, respectively. DeWine in particular has a long record of electoral office, having been in both the House and Senate, the state legislature, and who also served one term as lieutenant governor.
What the Post really means is that Republican voters in West Virginia didn’t nominate Don Blankenship, whose supposed momentum got a lot of attention from the media last week. The New York Times reported that they “narrowly” averted catastrophe:
Republicans narrowly averted political disaster in the West Virginia Senate primary on Tuesday with the defeat of former coal executive Don Blankenship while mainstream Democrats fended off a liberal insurgent in the Ohio governor’s race, bringing relief to the establishment of both parties on a day of elections in four states.
Narrowly? Blankenship came in third with 19.9% of the vote, well behind Morrisey (34.7%) and Evan Jenkins (29.2%). Blankenship came up 20,000 votes short in a race where less than 137,000 ballots were cast. It was anything but narrow. Donald Trump and his son Don Jr both disavowed Blankenship when the media stoked the idea of a surge, but it appears that the big takeaway was that the surge was mostly a fantasy stoked by internal polling and media hype.
These three states were interesting for another reason. Democrats hoped to use these primaries to demonstrate a higher level of enthusiasm, but that didn’t exactly pan out. The Democratic WV Senate primary drew more voters than its GOP counterpart, but incumbent Joe Manchin got slightly less than 70% of the vote in it. In Indiana, 500,000 Republicans cast ballots in the Senate primary compared to only 287,325 in the Democratic primary, although Joe Donnelly did run uncontested in it. However, the open gubernatorial seat in Ohio drew contested primaries in both parties — and Republicans (827,393) drew nearly 200,000 more voters than Democrats (641,522).
Chris Wilson noticed the trend back to the GOP as well:
Tuesday primaries saw a trend reversal on GOP turnout enthusiasm (great news for @NRSC and @tankcat):
-GOP turnout up 61% over 2014 (Dems up just 14%)
-GOP turnout up 43% over 2014
-GOP outperformed Dems in every single statewide race
-Turnout up 48% over 2014
— Chris Wilson (@WilsonWPA) May 9, 2018
About the only sour note for Republicans was the defeat of incumbent Rep. Rick Pittenger in North Carolina, but that wasn’t entirely unexpected. Pittenger had barely won his primary two years ago over Mark Harris, a social-conservative preacher, by only 134 votes. The main issue was Pittenger’s vote to approve the budget bill. Walter Jones won his primary race in NC, as expected.
All in all, it was an evening worth celebrating for Republicans. And who better to lead the celebration than good ol’ “Cocaine Mitch” and his parting message for Blankenship?
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) May 9, 2018