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The California Political Earthquake? - Sunday Political Brunch - June 10, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W.Va.—Well, my headline is deceiving, yet it is an attention getter. No, there was truly no major earthquake in California, or in any of the eight states that held political primaries Tuesday. But California did have some rumblings and is certain to have some aftershocks. The truth about seismic activity in the Golden State is that most quakes are relatively mild, say in the 2.0 to 3.5 range. Yes, you might feel them, but they don’t really make an impact (or the news) unless they are, say, 5.0 or better. My point is a lot of the political rumblings out west (and elsewhere) are still hard to assess this early. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“California House Races” –National and state Democrats were targeting seven California House seats that are currently held by Republicans, but all in districts Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. It was a smart strategy as Democrats need to pick up 23 seats across the nation to re-take control of the House. In two of the districts, the incumbent Republican is retiring, so the seat is open. Gaining three or four seats in the nation’s most populous (and perhaps most liberal state) seems potentially doable.

“Jungle Primary” – California is the only state with a so-called “jungle primary.” I guess it got that unfortunate name because it’s a “survival of the fittest” game plan. Simply put, the top two vote-getters in any primary, even if they are in the same party, go onto face each other in the November election. California went through this just two years ago when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) defeated Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California) for an open Senate seat. Republicans had to sit it out in November. While this strategy is logical for Democrats, it’s execution may be flawed.

“The Lucky 7?” – Even though California Democrats flooded many of these primaries with multiple candidates (ten in one case), their results were mixed. In some districts, they were hoping with so many candidates on their side of the ballot, they would take the top two positions, thereby blocking a Republican challenger in the fall. It did not work in any districts. To be fair, Republicans tried to frontload a few of their races with multiple candidates, in hopes of taking the top two, and blocking a Democrat from November. That failed, too. But since Democrats need a net gain in seats, clearly the primary was a victory for most Republican House incumbents. We’ll see what voters say in November.

“Governor’s Race Coattails Matter” – The biggest factor in that ultimate House outcome may in fact be the race for Governor. Democrats ran several candidates in hopes of – again – taking the top two spots, and knocking Republicans out of a spot on the November ballot. It didn’t work. Republican businessman John Cox surged at the end, with the endorsement of President Trump, and secured the number-two spot behind Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-California). Can you imagine if Democrats had won both slots? Governor’s races can have strong coattail effects, pulling up candidates down the ballot. Democrats may have swept some of those vulnerable Republican House seats, but now may not because a GOP candidate for Governor (even if he loses) may help bring votes to those endangered House members, keeping them in office.

“No Sweet Home Alabama” – Loyalty is important in politics, but, so too, can be perceived disloyalty. Its reverberations can cut both ways. In Tuesday’s primary, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Alabama) failed to get a majority needed to avoid a runoff election. Now she must face a July 17th runoff to move onto November. Roby’s indiscretion? Many feel she was disloyal to President Trump when he was still running for the White House. When the “Access Hollywood” tapes came out in which Trump conceded that he sometimes groped women’s private parts without their consent, Roby renounced Trump and said she could not vote for him. Now she faces the former Democratic Congressman Bobby Bright, whom she defeated in 2010. He has since switched to the Republican Party.

“Montana’s a Key” – One of the races that got scant attention was Tuesday night’s U.S. Senate race in Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) had no primary opponent. State Auditor Matt Rosendale won a very close Republican primary and will face Sen. Tester in November. The Montana Senate seat is considered a toss-up, and one of the five-most vulnerable seats in the nation this year. It could mark a Senate gain for the GOP. President Trump is likely to get involved here and campaign in person. Trump has a vendetta against Tester, since it was the Montana incumbent who torpedoed the President’s recent nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Trump – as we’ve often seen by now – is a “get even” guy.

“Who’s Up Next?” – After Tuesday night, twenty states have now held primaries this year. Next Tuesday, June 12, five states will hold primary contests in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia. By next Tuesday, half the states will have cast ballots, but it is still hard to assess any significant trends this early, as we head to November.

“Why All of this Matters” – Political waves are about trends. People, politicians and pundits keep talking about the looming “blue wave” in 2018. With almost half of all states already weighing in, we’ve identified some potential (though modest) gains for Democrats, but perhaps not enough to re-take the U.S. House. Sometimes primaries in September and October offer a greater sense of urgency (and change) since they are so close to the November election. Control of Congress hangs in the balance.

What races are you watching in the primaries and into the fall? What issue is tops for you? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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

© Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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.

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