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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

The Trump Foreign Policy Doctrine May Be Taking Shape - Sunday Political Brunch April 29, 2018

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia – More and more these days, the focus of the White House seems to be on foreign policy. President Trump has had a mixed record on his domestic agenda, but like many of his predecessors, going abroad lets him act as more of a free agent. We may about to see more of this, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“France’ – It’s tit-for-tat. Last year the French government gave President Trump a lavish reception in Paris. This week Trump returned the favor by hosting French President Emmanuel Macron for a state dinner at the White House. Yes, it’s a lot of pomp and ceremony (not to mention great food and wine), but it’s also a show of international solidarity with our allies who have been jittery in the year-plus Trump term. And I know it sounds cliché, but it gives a very unconventional president the occasion to look “presidential” in the more conventional sense. President Trump also gained a new Secretary of State in Mike Pompeo this week.

“Little Rocket Man” – President Trump loves to call people names, and we should be used to it by now. During the presidential campaign, his rival Senator Ted Cruz, (R) Texas, was called, “Lyin’ Ted.” In the general election former Senator Hillary Clinton, (D) New York, simply was labeled, “Crooked Hillary.” Say what you want about Trump, but he knows something about marketing and creating a bumper sticker that sticks. So, when he started referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as, “Little Rocket Man” after his abysmal missile launches, the double-entendre did not fall on deaf ears. And, yes, many people found it hysterical and I’m sure it embarrassed Kim. But then this week the leaders of North and South Korea met at the DMZ for the first time in over a decade; and the Kim-Trump summit is next.

“DACA” – Despite some successes, the President also had a foreign policy setback this week. For the third time, a federal District Court or Court of Appeals, has stopped his non-enforcement of the DACA policy set forth by President Obama. Yes, DACA is more of an immigration issue than foreign policy, but it is indeed both. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will likely answer this issue. And if the courts rule against Trump, look for legislative efforts to reverse the decision – assuming Republicans keep control of Congress.

“Why Presidents Do This” – Every President in my lifetime (and likely before), felt hamstrung by the checks and balances of Congress and the Federal Courts – especially on domestic issues. But all Presidents have had a much freer hand on foreign policy. Why? Well, the Constitution only requires Senate approval on treaties with foreign counties, so you don’t have to mess with the often-unruly House. Second – especially since the advent of Air Force One – is the imagery of our president travelling to a foreign land, whether friend or foe. The photo ops with that jet on international soil, with world leaders shaking hands, is gold. It beats staying home locked in an ugly battle with Congress on a budget bill.

“Reagan’s Tough Talk Worked” – ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” shouted President Reagan while standing outside Brandenburg Gate in Berlin - forty years after the end of World War II - but still in the height of the Cold War. Several months later, the wall indeed came down – perhaps more due to the collapse of the Soviet economy, than the harshness of the rhetoric. But, words do matter. Reagan was always good at tough talk (and more importantly conveying the tone that he meant business – whether he’d really take any action or not). Trump’s bluster may be the same kind of tone that makes North Korea flinch and back down. We’ll see.

“Clinton – Iraq” – Not only does the Constitution give a president more latitude on international relations, the public does, too. Not long after President Clinton took office, there was an assassination plot in the Mideast, to kill the man he had just defeated, President George H. W. Bush. Clinton responded by launching cruise missiles into Baghdad. “The Iraqi attack against President Bush was an attack against our country and against all Americans. We could not, and have not, let such action against our nation go unanswered. A firm response from the first days of our Revolution, America’s security has depended on the clarity of this message: don’t tread on us!” It was one of those moments where Americans stood shoulder-to-shoulder regardless of party. Politically, it was a stroke of genius.

“A Nixonian Moment?” – For better, or for worse, Richard Nixon will always be remembered for three things: Resigning over Watergate; opening Cold War diplomacy with the Soviet Union; and, opening diplomatic relations with China. The first is a testimony to his raging political paranoia; the second and third a testimony for his brilliance for political courage and ability to seize a moment and create an opportunity. Nixon could be brilliant, even in his own darkness. Is President Trump sitting down with Kim Jong Un on the same level? Historically no, because Kim is not of the status of China or Russia. But Trump’s harsh rhetoric and tough talk, followed by diplomatic talks, may neutralized the North Korean threat. That’s huge!

“How’d He Get Here?” – Yes, a year and a half after he was elected a lot of people are still scratching their heads saying, “How on Earth did Trump get to the White House?” Like many people I have become a Netflix junkie, so let me recommend two shows. “Trump: An American Dream” is a fascinating four-part series with mostly news clips and TV shows from the 1970s to the present. Whether you love Trump or loathe him, it’s fascinating multi-media refresher course in where he came from and how he arrived at this moment in time. The other is the film, “Get Me Roger Stone.” In the end you will love or despise Stone for how he does what he does, but he provides a fascinating insight. Both programs are provocative and well-done!

What do you want President Trump to do on the international stage? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images.

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