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A Primary Post Mortem -- The Sunday Political Brunch -- May 13, 2018

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia - The first big primary election cluster of the 2018 campaign season is over, and there's a lot to dissect. West Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina and Indiana all held primaries this past Tuesday, and the results are intriguing. Let's "brunch" on that this week.

"Trumping West Virginia" -- Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, (R-WV) is his party's nominee to take on Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). Look for this to be a battle over who supports President Trump the most. Yes Manchin is a Democrat, but he's perhaps the most conservative of his party in the Senate. Manchin says he voted with Trump 60 percent of the time, including recently supporting Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State and the scrapping of the Iran nuclear deal. But expect Morrisey to attack Manchin for his past support of Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama, as well as Manchin's vote against the Tax Reform Bill.

"House Cleaning?" -- Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) gave up a safe U.S. House in his losing bid for the Senate nomination. Now, popular State Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan) has a realistic chance to beat Delegate Carol Miller, (R-Cabell) in the race to succeed Jenkins. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is likely to dump a lot of money in the race to make it competitive. A safe seat for the GOP, is now likely a toss-up that Democrats could win. This will be a recurring theme.

"Indiana Doesn't Want Me" -- Like West Virginia, Indiana had a fascinating and combative Senate Primary Tuesday night. Two sitting U.S. House members sought the nomination, but both were defeated by former State House Member Mike Braun, (R-IN). That leaves two GOP Indiana Congressional seats open. Mind you, one of them is the seat long held by now Vice President Mike Pence, so there's a good chance it will stay Republican, but an open seat means it is more vulnerable.

"Ohio Showdown" - Four-term Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) is his party's nominee to take on incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in November. But that leaves Renacci's 16th district Congressional seat wide open. He was preceded in that office by a Democrat, and only retained the seat in 2012, by four percentage points. You can bet Democrats will make a strong bid for this seat in what is essentially a more "purple" district, that a firm "red" or "blue." Again, it could be a seat national Democrats target and try to flip.

"Primary Pains" -- Last week I wrote about a vulnerable Republican Congressional seat in North Carolina. Sure enough, in a rematch Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) lost to challenger Mark Harris, whom he barely defeated in 2016. It's a marginal district and again, one Democrats plan to target as a possible pick-up in November.

"Peat, and Repeat!" -- Yes, I'm painting a theme here. With 40 Republican U.S. House members either retiring, or running for other office this year, that leaves a lot of open seats in Congress. The biggest departure was House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R-WI) announcing he would not seek re-election. Right now Republicans hold 235 seats in the House, but if they have a net loss of 18 seats, Democrats will be back in charge of the House. It's very doable in what may be a big anti-Trump year.

"The Other Senate Race" -- West Virginia's U.S. Senate race got most of the national attention, Tuesday night, but keep an eye on Indiana. Senator Joe Donnelly, (D-IN), is thought to be one of the most vulnerable seats in the nation. In 2012, Donnelly barely got 50 percent of the vote over a very controversial Republican nominee. Many view this as the most likely Senate seat the GOP can flip this year. I would imagine Vice President Pence stumping for nominee and former State Rep. Mike Braun.

"The Trump Factor?" -- This is a very polarizing President, so he'll have to choose his battles carefully. Trump, I predict, will visit West Virginia often since he remains so popular here. He defeated Hillary Clinton by 42 percentage points here. But, will Trump travel to campaign for Republicans in North Carolina and Ohio, where he won by much smaller margins? I suspect some candidates will openly embrace and campaign with Trump, while others will give him the proverbial "ten-foot pole."

"Why All of this Matters" -- Midterm elections are a report card on any President's first two years in office. Traditionally the party out of power gains seats - like House Democrats in 2006 and House Republicans in 1994 - and both of the those times the minority party surged into the majority. 2018 could be fascinating, so stay tuned!

What is trending in your state? Just click the click on the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

(c) 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Mark Curtis, Ed.D. is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author, and is now Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia.

Photo courtesy: localdvm.com

Will May’s Primary Political Colors be Red or Blue? -- Sunday Political Brunch May 6, 2018

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia – We are six months away from the November election, but this week is a critical step in the process. Four states – Ohio, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Indiana hold primaries on Tuesday May 8, in what could be a bellwether for the nation. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Country Roads, Take Me Home - to DC” – By the accounts of most pundits and political analysts, West Virginia is home to the number-one U.S. Senate race in the nation this year. A state that turned from dark blue, to intensely red in just two election cycles, continues to trend Republican. The once very popular Governor-turned-Senator Manchin (D) is not safe. He told me the other day to expect $50 million dollars in spending on the general election, and an ugly fight ahead, assuming he beats his Democratic primary opponent Paula Jean Swearengin, a Bernie Sanders devotee.

“The GOP Mud Bath” –When any news network hosts a nationwide TV debate for a one-state primary election you know the race is a big deal with lots of consequences. On May 1, Fox News hosted a three-way debate with GOP candidates Rep. Evan Jenkins, (R-WV-3); State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey; and, former coal executive Don Blankenship. The race is a toss-up with the latest Fox News poll with Jenkins at 25 percent; Morrisey at 21 percent; and, Blankenship with 16 percent. A full 24 percent of voters are undecided, and 41 percent say they could possibly switch their allegiance. Someone asked me the other day who would win, and I said, “Flip a coin!” It may be the dirtiest, nastiest primary (and TV ads) I have ever witnessed.
(Jenkins and Morrisey are pictured above with President Trump who has endorsed no one).

“Advantage Jenkins” – If I had to give my best hypothesis (educated guess) it would be this: West Virginia has three U.S. House districts, but only one has a contested Republican primary. That would be House District 3, currently occupied by Evan Jenkins. There are seven Republicans and four Democrats in the primary. Four candidates are sitting legislators and a fifth is the immediate past chairman of the state GOP. If turnout in Jenkins’s home Congressional district outpaces the statewide average by a big margin, many of those same people who sent him to the U.S. House, will now vote to send him on to the Senate finale. That’s my $2 bet!
On the other hand, the district has the highest percentage of registered Democrats in the state. It’s a toss-up!

“Indiana Wants Me” – Indiana is another key state to watch, because like Joe Manchin, its Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is also vulnerable. As in West Virginia, three Republicans - including a sitting GOP Congressman - are vying for the chance to take on Donnelly. That makes that House seat an open contest.

“As Ohio Goes?” – Ohio looked like a possible toss-up race with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on the bubble. But the expected bid from State Treasurer Josh Mandel ended and many pundits call this race, “Leans Democrat.” House seats in Ohio are another story. Rep. Jim Renacci gave a up a safe seat to run for Senate, and Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-OH) resigned in January leaving an open seat for a special election. Yes, the GOP has held his seat since 1983, but the district demographics have shifted and Democrats are going to run an aggressive, expensive fight. These open seats in many states are where Republicans are most vulnerable.

“Carolina in My Mind” -- As I keep suggesting, Republicans face challenges keeping marginal seats. Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) barely won this seat over fellow GOP candidate Mark Harris in 2016. Harris is back for another primary challenge. No matter who wins Tuesday, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, and they plan to spend a lot of money to take back this seat. Democrats needs to pick and choose vulnerable seats like this across the country – as they did recently in Pennsylvania - instead of trying to win with a broad-brush campaign.

“Houston, We Have a Math Problem” – This year is unlike many other midterm elections, which usually favor the party out-of-power. But Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats in 2018, whereas Republicans incumbents are defending only eight. And as we’ve discussed, Democrats are very vulnerable in West Virginia and Indiana, but also in North Dakota, Missouri, Montana and even Florida. It’s possible the GOP will gain Senate seats, despite President Trump’s unpopularity. On the other hand, at least 40 U.S. House Republicans are either retiring or seeking other office, so Democrats have a realistic shot to retake the House. Nowhere is that more evident than here in West Virginia where Democrats could take a safe seat, given up by Rep. Evan Jenkins, (D-WV-3). For now, I predict the GOP holds both Congressional chambers, barely.

“Why All of This Matters” – These four primary states all went for Donald Trump in 2016. At least two of these states – Ohio and North Carolina – will be key battle grounds in 2020. Realistically, Trump needs to carry all four states again if he seeks a second term in 2020. There are trends to watch. If Republicans lose ground in any U.S. Senate or U.S. House seats, it could be a sign of a bad November. Even more critical, if the GOP takes sizable losses in the State Senates or Houses, or Constitutional officers, then watch out. Remember, the saying “all politics is local” means that political movements are from the ground up, not from the top town. If down-ballot Republicans take a beating (as we saw in 2017 in Virginia), November could get ugly.

What’s going on in your home state? Is it trending red or blue? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis is a nationally-known political author, analyst and reporter. He is now Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

© 2018 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media

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