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The Political Dog Daze of Summer -- Sunday Political Brunch June 3, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W.Va – We’ve had blistering heat and humidity in much of the nation over the past week. Politics took a very brief break over the Memorial Day weekend, but with primaries and other political events this coming week, we’re heading into the “dog days” or perhaps more fitting, the “dog daze” of summer.

“Eight is Enough” – Eights states will hold primaries Tuesday, one of the biggest voting dates of the year so far. Voters will go to the polls in Alabama, California, Tennessee, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

"Missouri: The Don't Show Me State" -- Don't believe for a minute that the resignation of Governor Eric Greitens (R-Missouri) this week was strictly a legal maneuver to avoid prosecution. There had to be a great pressure from the national and state Republican parties, to get him to go. The reason? Missouri is one of the top five Senate races in the nation this year with incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on the bubble. Greitens sex scandal threatened to hurt candidates on the GOP ballot. Attorney General Josh Hawley (R-MO) is the frontrunner, but the primary isn't until August. But if it looked like the state party was trying to protect and preserve Greitens it could have been a November disaster. Right now, most polls show the McCaskill-Hawley match-up to be dead heat.

"The Tennessee Waltz" -- Retiring Senator Bob Coker, (R-TN) was a likely shoo-in for reelection, but chose not to run. Like so many GOP seats in the House and Senate this year, abandoning a safe-seat has created toss-up races with Democrats being very competitive. Like Missouri, the primary isn't until August but right now the frontrunners are Rep. Marsha Blackburn, (R-TN) and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, (D-TN). Many national polls now put this as a toss-up. That might explain why President Trump held a raucous rally there Tuesday night supporting Blackburn (with even Trump’s bitter enemy Corker sharing the stage).

"Iowa First" – Among the thing to watch this coming Tuesday are not just individual races, but state trends. Iowa - the first state to caucus in 2020 - will once again be a bellwether, swing state in the next Presidential race. Iowa has bounced back and forth between Democrats and Republicans for decades. In the last 11 Presidential races Iowa went blue six times, and red five times. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA) took office when former Gov. Terry Branstad quit to become Ambassador to China. Gov. Reynolds has no primary opponent, but Democratic businessman Fred Hubbell, leads a crowded field of five candidates. The bottom line - If Republicans can't hold this seat in November - it could signal trouble for Trump in 2020.

"California Dreamin'" -- There's an old saying, "be careful what you wish for!" A few years ago, California went for a Democratic-led effort to change the primary system. Instead of letting the two major parties pick nominees for November, its switched to a top-two general election, in which both candidates might be from the same party. This, in fact happened in the U.S. Senate race in 2016. But now Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is the frontrunner, but there are so many Democrats in the field that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has slipped to third place behind Republican businessman John Cox. Yes, a GOP win in California is still a long shot, but it's no longer a Democratic slam dunk.

"California Nightmare" -- Democrats - who dominate the Golden State -were also hoping to make huge gains in Congress, targeting three vulnerable seats. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Darryl Issa, (R-CA), are both retiring. And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, (R-CA) is facing a tough reelection challenge. But here's the problem for Democrats. They are fielding so many candidates in the primary, that it could ensure a GOP path to victory in November. Democrats are having conflicts between the liberal-progressive wing of the party, and the moderates (who may have a better chance at beating Republicans). We've seen this in other states, too. I would say Democrats need to win at least two - if not all three - of these California seats, to take control of the House in November.

“Swing States” – Okay, of the eight states holding primaries Tuesday only Iowa is a true swing state. New Mexico, Montana and Tennessee are potentially swing states. California is a solid blue state. Alabama, Mississippi, and South Dakota are reliably red. If they all lean in their current directions in 2018, it’s going to be tough for a Democratic takeover this year and in 2020. But if Democrats can swing some races in the two potentially swing states of Montana and Tennessee, they have a shot.

“WV Wildcard” – Things here in the Mountain State have gotten dicey again in what may still be the number one U.S. Senate race in the nation this year. Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-WV) is vulnerable in a state that turned from solidly blue, to solidly red in just two election cycles. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won a contentious Republican primary by a comfortable margin. But, now GOP third-place finisher, former coal executive, and federal convict Don Blankenship says he hopes to run as the Constitution Party nominee. There could be a big, expensive court fight over this, so stay tuned. Conventional wisdom is Blankenship pulls significant votes from Morrisey.

“North Korea Summit Rebirth?” – Let’s face it, a lot of the Republicans’ fates this fall depend on how well President Trump is doing. Trump was riding high in the polls over his looming nuclear summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Then the summit was cancelled, and now they are trying to piece it back together. Trump’s ratings rise and fall like a roller coaster, so a successful summit could give Republicans solid coattails in November. But if the deal goes south again, all bets are off.

What are your thoughts on Campaign 2018? To share your opinion just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images.

Where’s the “Blue Wave?” – Sunday Political Brunch May 27, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – For the third straight week, we had four Tuesday state primaries across the nation. Are we seeing any trends yet? Voters went to the polls in Kentucky, Georgia, Texas, and Arkansas. Let’s “brunch” on that that this week.

“Kentucky” – There were a couple of interesting races in Kentucky. First-time Democratic candidate Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot, defeated Lexington’s openly gay Mayor, (and the party-backed candidate) Jim Gray. McGrath is the military-moderate to Gray’s progressive wing. This is a marginal district. Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) has held the 6th district seat for three terms, but it was held by a Democrat the decade before that. It’s the kind of swing district national Democrats may funnel a lot of money into, trying to it win back.

“A Teachable Moment” – The other fascinating race in Kentucky was when teacher, Travis Brenda, defeated the State House Majority Leader, Jonathon Shell (R-KY). Kentucky is one of several states that followed West Virginia’s lead this year in calling a teacher’s strike. Teachers nationwide feel very emboldened and empowered right now, after their success in the Mountain State. Teachers unions can put “boots on the ground,” and it paid off in Kentucky. Watch for this as a trend in other states in 2018. Yes, it’s only a race for State Representative, but as I often say here, political movements are built from the ground up, not the top down.

“Texas” -- It’s one of the reddest of the red states, but there is one intriguing Congressional race here. Despite being in Congress for nine terms, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is vulnerable. In fact, the respected Cook Political Report lists his seventh district race as the only Republican toss-up in the Lone Star State.

“Georgia” – The Democratic nomination of Stacey Abrams in Georgia is making headlines, because if elected, she would be the nation’s first African-American female governor. But it’s interesting for a more notable trend. In many of the 2018 primaries, Democrats in a variety of states have picked the liberal/progressive candidate instead of the more mainstream moderate choice. The theory is that it’s a strong appeal to poor and minority voters who may feel disenfranchised by the 2016 elections. That may be a tough sell in November. The two big wins for Democrats in 2017-18 were a House seat in Pennsylvania, and a Senate seat in Alabama, both taken by moderate-to-conservative Democrats.

“Arkansas” – A blue state that turned suddenly red after the election of native son President Bill Clinton offered few surprises Tuesday night. It remains decidedly red. Rep. French Hill (R-AR) expects a competitive challenge from Democratic nominee Clarke Tucker, but the Cook Political Report still lists this race as “Leans Republican.”

“Trump Factor?” – The Associated Press had a fascinating story this week about whether Republican midterm candidates wanted President Trump to campaign with them this fall. Dan David, a Republican candidate in a right-leaning GOP district in Pennsylvania, said bluntly, “I would like the president to do his job and I will do mine.” That’s a polite way of saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Trump on Top?” -- On the other hand, here in West Virginia, where Trump is extremely popular, GOP Senate nominee Patrick Morrisey is likely to host President Trump several times in his bid to unseat Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-WV). Trump is also likely to campaign in Indiana, where Republicans have a good shot to knock off Sen. Joe Donnelly, (D-IN). But Trump may stay away from Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) is trying to unseat long-time Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). In short, Trump goes where he can help; stays away from where he might hinder.

“North Korea and the Economy” – The two most important factors in an election are peace and prosperity. If President Trump eventually has a successful summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (the June 12th meeting was cancelled), and nuclear tensions ease, that will help Republican candidates across the ballot. If the economy remains hot, with unemployment low, and wages and benefits rising, that’s also a plus for Mr. Trump and his party. When former President Bill Clinton was making the case for his wife in 2008 and 2016, his mantra was, “What didn’t you like about the 90s, the peace or the prosperity?” His eight years saw a big economic uptick, and few troubles abroad. It certainly worked for his re-election, but he couldn’t transfer the resume to his wife’s fortune.

“Blue Wave?” – I hear the term tossed out a lot like it is somehow based in fact instead of wishful thinking. In addition to being a reporter, I am also a social scientist. I crunch and interpret poll numbers, and try to spot trends and significant changes in the electoral leanings. People talk about the “blue wave” as if it is a certainty, a fate accompli. There is no doubt the Democrats have a legitimate opportunity to take back the House and/or the Senate in November. But right now, the odds are challenging at best, especially in the Senate where Democrats are defending far more seats. So, to conclude in May, what will happen in November, smacks of over-confidence, the same malady that defeated Hillary Clinton and her “done deal” in 2016.

“Memorial Day” – God bless all those who served us and died in defense of this country. If there’s a Memorial Day parade, or a military cemetery ceremony near you, please go if you can. We stand on the shoulders of these heroes who built and saved our nation many times.

What are your predictions (educated guesses) for what will happen in November? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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