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


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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