Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) has suddenly launched into full-on attack mode against ex-con coal baron Don Blankenship (R) ahead of the primary, the latest sign that Blankenship is a real threat to win on Tuesday.

Morrisey’s campaign is out with a digital ad ripping Blankenship as a “convicted criminal” who will blow a winnable Senate race, the first paid media from one of Blankenship’s actual opponents highlighting his role in the deaths of 29 mine workers. The spot follows a weekend robocall and press conference warning the same.

“Twenty-nine miners killed at Upper Big Branch Mine, owned and operated by Don Blankenship’s company. Families devastated, children left fatherless, wives widowed,” the ad’s narrator intones. “Blankenship was convicted and sentenced to prison for willfully conspiring to violate mine safety standards.”

Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) have mostly trained their fire on one another throughout the campaign, letting a GOP super-PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) do the dirty work against Blankenship.

That seemed to be working a few weeks ago, when polls found Morrisey and Jenkins up by double digits. But in the past week Blankenship seems to have caught some momentum, terrifying national Republicans who believe he’d cost them any chance of defeating Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) if he’s their nominee. In recent days, a number of internal polls show him rising, though they disagree on who has the lead in the race.

That’s led to a last-minute scramble to stop him once again, culminating in a tweet from President Trump Monday morning begging voters not to back him.

The spot also highlights Blankenship’s legal residency in Nevada and warns that “liberal Democrats will easily defeat him.”

“A convicted criminal or a proven conservative: That’s your choice,” the ad concludes.

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Hey everyone, TPM’s senior political correspondent at your service. I’m excited to kick off a weekly(ish) series responding to your questions. Keep ’em coming, and thanks for reading! I’m very interested to hear what you guys are interested in.

Here’s a good question to kick off with, from Hive poster “noomn”:

So far, the predictions I’ve seen for the 2018 Midterms range from ‘Republicans lose a few seats but hold the House and Senate’ to ‘Grab your board because the Dem Wave will be large enough to surf’. Do you have any bellwether races that you are following to help navigate and make sense of whatever outcomes occurs?

I think it’s still too early to tell how large the Democratic wave is going to be, and whether it will break evenly over the map or have a much stronger impact in Democratic-trending, more diverse and suburban areas than it might in the rural, whiter, less-educated and more populist parts of the country that Democrats need on the Senate map. It’s clear to me from special elections and fundraising that Democrats have a huge enthusiasm gap across the country, but how that plays out race-by-race is anyone’s guess at this point.

As I wrote last summer, House and Senate Democrats are looking at very different maps this year. While Democrats need to do better everywhere to win at least one chamber of Congress, House Democrats need to sweep the suburbs, while it’s less important for them to win in rural areas that have trended towards the GOP for decades.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are defending a whopping 10 seats in states Trump won last year, including some really tough terrain — North Dakota, West Virginia, Indiana and Missouri, to name a few states. Many of those states are much poorer, whiter and less educated than the country as a whole.

On the Senate map, Indiana may be the most interesting to me as a bellwether precisely because it might be the most boring race. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is a strong campaigner but doesn’t have the same powerful brand as some of his red-state colleagues, and Republicans don’t have any obviously fatally flawed candidates in their crowded primary field (they’ll pick the nominee Tuesday). So, in some ways, Indiana will be the best “generic Democrat versus Republican” test among the states Trump won. If Donnelly’s winning and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) can win an uphill Senate battle in his state, Democrats have a real shot at the Senate majority. If they don’t win in those two states, it’s hard to see them getting there. In the unlikely event that Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) can beat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), it would be a sign of a huge night for Democrats in which they’re romping in the House and winning both chambers.

I regularly ask my sources what few House races they think will decide the majority, and the district that everyone in both parties mentions is Rep. Mimi Walters’ (R-CA). She’s a strong campaigner in a GOP-leaning but Democratic-trending melting-pot district in Orange County. That race is going to be expensive as hell, and will likely be a good testing ground for how much the president hurts upscale Republicans.

Others Republican representatives in this bucket are Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), a member of GOP leadership and a key player in the Republican tax overhaul from a traditionally Republican district that Hillary Clinton won, and Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), who represents a very swingy Omaha district. If Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) is getting crushed early on election night in her Democratic-leaning district, it would portend big things for Democrats; if she’s hanging in there and has a close race, it won’t be a good sign for a Democratic takeover.

A few members to watch to see how well Democrats are bouncing back in more populist terrain: Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI), whose  district Obama carried by six points in 2008 and Trump won by the same margin last year, Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA) in northeastern Iowa, and Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) in downstate Illinois.

And for one last potential canary in Republican’s coal mine, keep an eye on the special election for former Rep. Pat Tiberi’s (R-OH) seat in a suburban Columbus district this summer. If Republicans lose that, it’ll be another big alarm bell for the party.

You can submit a question for Cameron to answer in this thread in The Hive. 

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The nastiest Senate primary in the country rumbles to its madcap conclusion on Tuesday – and may yield a GOP nominee so deeply flawed he could make Roy Moore look good by comparison.

Coal baron Don Blankenship, who’s fresh off a one-year prison sentence for his role in failing to prevent a mine explosion that killed 29 workers, has spent the closing weeks of the West Virginia Senate primary flaying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as “Cocaine Mitch” and attacking his “China people” family.

Blankenship’s high-profile war with national GOP leaders has eclipsed a sharp-elbowed fight between Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) that has left both with scars. Not to be left out, allies of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) have aired nearly $2 million in ads attacking Jenkins, the candidate they least want to face.

For Democrats, West Virginia’s primary has lived up to the state’s motto: Wild and wonderful. And it’s left GOP strategists hoping to defeat Manchin cringing and unsure who their nominee will be.

We’re all ready for this just to be over,” one top West Virginia Republican who’s unaligned in the primary told TPM. “It’s become really bitter.”

That alarm has risen to the top of the GOP, with President Trump himself urging West Virginians not to give Blankenship the nomination in a Monday morning tweet that compared him to Moore:

The race’s nasty tenor hasn’t helped Republicans as they hope to defeat Manchin in a state Trump won by a 41-point margin in 2016 and is a key battle in the war for the Senate.

The consensus in West Virginia is that Morrisey may be the slight favorite to be the nominee. He’s the only one who hasn’t faced a barrage of outside spending in the race, he doesn’t have Blankenship’s oversized baggage, and late endorsements from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have helped him with some in the GOP base.

But a number of Republicans worry Blankenship has some late momentum. They think all three candidates could win — two sources said they’d seen separate polls showing all three in the lead in the last week — and argue that a Blankenship nomination would be a disaster.

It’d be like watching a dumpster fire in Morgantown roll down the hill,” one unaligned West Virginia operative told TPM. “It’d be an absolute shitstorm. McConnell and he don’t like each other, and Manchin and he really don’t like each other.”

National Republicans publicly say they’d be fine with either Morrisey or Jenkins as nominee. But while some like his hard-charging style, many others privately many worry that Morrisey’s history as a former lobbyist who ran for Congress in his native New Jersey before moving to the state make him a less electable candidate than Jenkins.

Manchin’s allies clearly agree — which is why they’ve dumped a huge sum on Jenkins’ head in the closing weeks of the race.

Jenkins’ team argues he’s survived the attacks and will win on Tuesday.

“While Patrick Morrisey, Don Blankenship and the anti-Trump Schumer PAC have spent millions on false attacks against us, West Virginia voters aren’t buying it — because they saw for themselves this week that Evan Jenkins is the only candidate who truly represents West Virginia values and can beat Joe Manchin the fall,” said Jenkins adviser Andy Sere.

But Jenkins’ allies privately admit the combined assault against him has hurt the underfunded candidate.

Anytime you face an amount of money like this it’s tough to overcome,” one source close to Jenkins told TPM.

Ads by a McConnell-aligned super-PAC ripping Blankenship clearly had some impact. A trio of public polls of the primary found him sinking into the teens a few weeks ago, 10 points behind his two rivals. But those were conducted before his counter-punches against McConnell began landing in earnest, and before Democrats unleashed their attacks on Jenkins that knocked him down.

Blankenship also may be experiencing the rare post-debate bump for a non-presidential candidate. Even his detractors say he handled himself well onstage in a debate that aired nationally on Fox News last week.

Blankenship’s got momentum right now,” said former West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Doug McKinney, a Jenkins backer. “People were surprised at what a good showing Don made at the three-way debate last week … I would not be too surprised if any one of the three of them wins.”

Democrats agree, though most think that Morrisey or Jenkins is still more likely to emerge.

“The race has become a lot more fluid in the final days here. It’s tightened up amongst all three of them,” said Mike Plante, who’s working on the Manchin-aligned super-PAC that eviscerated Jenkins. “The more people have learned about these candidates, the less they’ve liked about them.”

Blankenship avoided the line of fire during the debate face-off as Jenkins and Morrisey tore into one another. That’s a dynamic that’s carried through the race as the two more establishment candidates have focused their attacks on one another and avoided poking the bear and risking vicious attacks from the self-funding candidate.

That dynamic has national Republicans alarmed — including the White House. President Trump pointedly had Jenkins and Morrisey by his side at an official event the last time he was in his state, with Blankenship left out in the cold. And on Thursday, after meeting with Republican National Committee officials, Donald Trump Jr. let out a tweetstorm calling for West Virginians not to nominate Blankenship while comparing him to Moore:

After mostly focusing his ire on Jenkins, Morrisey has suddenly pivoted into an attack on Blankenship in the race’s final days, with a robocall released over the weekend and a Sunday press conference aimed squarely at attacking his opponent’s criminal past.

“Don Blankenship’s disrespect for the law and the people of West Virginia threatens to block our ability to advance conservative policies and imperils Republican chances of defeating Sen. Joe Manchin in the fall,” Morrisey said in a statement blasted out by his team on Friday. “Don’s continued flouting of the law demonstrates that he has learned nothing from his past legal troubles and his time in prison.”

Blankenship’s team is supremely confident he’ll win on Tuesday — and roll their eyes at establishment Republicans’ view that he can’t beat Manchin in the fall.

“How many times do they need to go down the road of ‘this person’s unelectable’ before they realize voters just don’t give a shit?” Blankenship spokesman Greg Thomas told TPM. “They said the same thing about Donald Trump.”

That GOP infighting has Republicans worried the wounds of the primary will be difficult to heal.

And the primary remains anyone’s to win. Just ask the campaigns.

“I’d rather be us than Jenkins, I’d rather be us than Don,” said Morrisey adviser Nachama Soloveichik. “But this will be close.”

This story was updated a 8:20 a.m. to include President Trump’s tweet on the race.

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Republicans are worried they might lose one more big special election right before the midterms – and a nasty proxy war between the establishment and hardline wings of their party isn’t making them feel any better.

Former Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH), a top GOP establishment figure, is fighting like hell to help his hand-picked successor, state Sen. Troy Balderson (R), win his Tuesday primary. But Tea Party conservatives led by former House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) have gone all-in to add another member to their bloc of hardliners, with most backing Melanie Leneghan in the crowded field.

Republicans both in the state and nationally are bracing for a difficult August special election in the GOP-leaning district, which includes parts of Columbus and its well-educated suburbs, as well as more rural territory. President Trump won the district by 10 percentage points in 2016, a smaller margin than in some other places Democrats have won special elections in the past year. And GOP strategists say a tough fight would get even harder if Leneghan is their nominee.

“It’s going to be competitive, like a lot of suburban Republican seats around the country, regardless of who the nominee is because of the blue wave that’s coming. Add into that a nominee that’s well outside the mainstream of the party and that’s a recipe for disaster,” said John Weaver, a senior adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).

In an unusual move, Tiberi has spent almost a half-million dollars from his own campaign account to boost Balderson. He’s been backed by Defending Main Street, a centrist GOP group with Ohio ties, as well as another Republican super PAC that has ties to House GOP leadership.

On the other side is Jordan, who has come in hard for Leneghan, and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, whose super-PAC has been spending heavily on ads attacking Balderson.

Tiberi is close to both former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who used to hold this House seat, and the race may be the final salvo in the long-running feud between Jordan and Boehner’s allies, many of whom have left or are leaving office. Jordan led the charge to force Boehner from the speakership in 2015, and he helped fellow hardliner Warren Davidson (R-OH) win Boehner’s old congressional seat. He compared this race to that primary.

We want someone who’s going to take on the swamp and help President Trump get done what we told the American people we’re going to get done,” Jordan told TPM. “Melanie’s the right person, she’s a fighter, she’s not afraid.”

Democrats have been outperforming their normal numbers in almost every special election this year, making previously safe districts look competitive. While Rep. Conor Lamb’s (D-PA) recent special election victory in a heavily conservative southwestern Pennsylvania district is their only actual House pickup, they’ve won some other major races across the country, and all signs point to a huge enthusiasm gap heading into the midterms. Another special election loss for Republicans would deal their party a psychic blow — as well as bring Democrats one seat closer to the majority (though whoever wins this election is in for a rematch in November).

“If we heaven forbid were to lose this, it sets the narrative of what might be coming even more. We’ve got to put ourselves in a position to stave off another PA-18,” said former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges. “Leneghan could be the kind of candidate who could force us into a real hard fight.”

National Republicans concede the August special election is shaping up to be a tough fight for them, and say a Leneghan nomination would further fuel their problems.

“It’s going to be a competitive race,” said one GOP strategist closely following the election. “The candidate that comes out of there would definitely affect how much attention is given by the national parties.”

Both Balderson and Leneghan have been bear-hugging Trump in the primary. But Leneghan is more closely aligned tonally to the president, while Balderson has long been a Kasich ally in the statehouse — an problematic position to be in given how unpopular the anti-Trump governor has become with the state’s GOP base.

Balderson’s vote to help Kasich expand Medicaid coverage in the state is particularly hurtful in the primary — and has been the focus of the Club for Growth Action’s $200,000 worth of ads attacking him.

His vote to expand Medicaid was definitely noxious to us,” Club for Growth Vice President Andy Roth told TPM. “Obamacare is not popular among Republican voters. Neither is John Kasich in Ohio.”

Democrats have a crowded primary field as well, though strategists say Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor is the front-runner in their race.

Columbus and its suburbs have trended toward Democrats for years, but this gerrymandered district shouldn’t be anywhere near competitive in a normal year. And Republicans say a loss there could portend bigger losses this fall.

“It’s big, there’s no question about it,” former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka (R) told TPM. “Losing that seat changes the equation.”

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Ex-con coal baron Don Blankenship has arguably hit a new low in his bid to face Sen. Joe Manchin (R-WV), going after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) “China family” in a new ad with just days to go until the GOP primary.

“Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars,” Blankenship says without providing evidence in what could be his final ad of the primary.

The racially charged remarks attacking McConnell’s Chinese-American wife,  Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and her family are the latest escalation in the war between the deeply controversial Blankenship and the Senate majority leader.

Blankenship, who’s still on parole for his role in failing to prevent a 2010 mine disaster that killed 29 of his workers, has been under attack from McConnell’s allies, who believe for good reason he’d be a disastrous nominee for the party in a winnable race.

He’s responded with a string of nasty attacks on McConnell, calling him “Cocaine Mitch” because of a 2014 story that said drugs had been found on a shipping vessel owned by McConnell’s in-laws and accusing him of a conflict of interest because his father-in-law is “a wealthy China person,” comments he’s since defended.

The self-funding Blankenship has trailed Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) in recent polls ahead of the May 8 primary, but still has an outside shot of actually winning the nomination.

McConnell’s office pointed TPM to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and former McConnell staff when asked for a comment. They didn’t immediately respond.

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Roy Moore refuses to go away.

The former Alabama judge and dumpster fire of a Senate candidate sent out a statement on Thursday saying that he might run for statewide office in Alabama once again.

“If the opportunity arises to make a difference, I will have no reluctance to again run for political office, including that of Governor,” he said in a statement.

Those remarks come after Moore’s Senate bid went down in flames last fall amidst accusations from multiple women of sexual misconduct — including many who said the incidents took place when they were teenagers.

It’s hard to see Moore even winning a primary in the ruby-red state — but his diehard supporters stuck with him through the last race, and might do so again in spite of his tremendous political baggage.

The statement comes as a clarification to his recent remarks that he had no plans to run for office, made at a press conference announcing a defamation lawsuit against some of his accusers.

Moore’s statement comes in the petulant tone familiar to those who covered the race that made Democrat Doug Jones a senator and gave his party an outside chance at winning back control of the upper chamber this fall.

Here’s Moore’s statement in full:

At a press conference on April 30, 2018 announcing the filing of a defamation lawsuit against my accusers, a reporter asked me if I had plans to run for public office again. ‘I have no plans at this time for running for anything,; I said. The reporter continued: ‘Not even Governor?’ I answered: ‘No.’

The Associated Press then sent out a story, picked up by Time Magazine, that misquoted me as saying I had ‘no plans to run for any office again, including that of Alabama governor.’

To clarify, as I said in my response, I have no plans at this time to run for office. Nevertheless, plans change. If the opportunity arises to make a difference, I will have no reluctance to again run for political office, including that of Governor.

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Republicans in competitive primaries have been racing all year to bear-hug President Trump, but on Wednesday we reached a new level of obsequiousness.

Five of the eight House Republicans who are running for Senate this year sent an open letter nominating Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize on Wednesday. That means nearly one third of the 18 members who signed the letter are hoping to win a seat in Congress’ upper chamber.

The effort is led by Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN), a Senate candidate who’s been calling for weeks for Trump to get the prize for his work pushing for a denuclearized North Korea. Messer’s facing a tough primary against fellow Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) and businessman Mike Braun (R). Senate candidates who joined Messer on the letter include Reps. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Jim Renacci (R-OH) and Evan Jenkins (R-WV), as well as Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), who’s running for governor.

The signees write that they can “think of no one more deserving of the committee’s work in 2019 than President Trump for his tireless work to bring peace to our world.”

Setting aside whether Trump deserves it (or whether the prospect’s any sillier than President Obama actually winning the prize early in his own presidency), it’s notable that so many statewide candidates were on the list. And it shows that to win primaries in today’s Republican Party, candidates are going to new lengths to kowtow to the president.

Not to be outdone, Rokita released a new ad of his own on Wednesday promising to stop Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt” investigation into the possibility that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, while accusing his opponents of not being loyal enough to the president.

The only Senate candidates not on Messer’s letter are Rokita, who Messer undoubtedly didn’t invite to join him, and Reps. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Lou Barletta (R-PA). Barletta is a close ally of Trump’s and one of his earliest House backers, and McSally, a one-time fierce Trump critic, has sought to embrace the president as she looks to ward off a pair of right-wing challengers in her own race.

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Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) is closing his heated primary race for the right to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) with an attack on Special Counsel Robert Mueller — and a promise to end his “witch hunt” into President Trump.

The congressman’s newest TV ad ahead — and possibly his final spot ahead of the May 8 primary — lumps together Mueller, Donnelly and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and argues Rokita is the only one who will truly defend Trump.


“Mueller, Pelosi, Donnelly. They’re using fake news to destroy our president. Who’s tough enough to stop the witch hunt?” the ad’s narrator says before knocking Rokita’s primary rivals, painting Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) as a “Never Trumper” and pointing out businessman Mike Braun (R) is a former Democrat.

The three candidates have been vying hard for the Trumpier-than-thou mantle in the race, much like Republicans in other hotly contested primaries, and Rokita even donned a MAGA hat in an earlier spot. But this may be the first time in the 2018 cycle that a candidate has explicitly asked for GOP voters’ support in order to halt the investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia. Keep an eye out for whether that becomes a theme in GOP primaries going forward.

Most Indiana Republicans think Braun is the favorite to win next week’s primary, but think Rokita has a chance to catch him.

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When a top Republican candidate for governor was confronted over his family company’s illegally underpaying workers earlier this week, he responded with a familiar refrain in modern GOP politics: Thanks, Obama.

Adam Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and a top candidate for his party’s gubernatorial nomination in the key swing state, responded to questions about his family company’s failure to pay four workers minimum wage by blaming it on the previous president.

“After three days of Obama regulators crawling around our lower intestine, they came up with a $250 fine, which was later dismissed,” he told local reporters — even though that Department of Labor investigation into his family’s company, which forced them to pay $1,672 in back wages, began a year before Obama was even in office.

Putnam’s strategy of blaming a politicized government and sowing doubts about the integrity of federal officials is just the latest example of a Trump-era GOP candidate with legal problems attacking the former administration. That borrows from the president’s own playbook of attacking the intelligence community, the FBI and anyone else who’s investigating his team for possible wrongdoing as being politically motivated members of the “deep state” loyal to the former president, even if they’re career civil servants or Republicans.

“You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI — it’s a disgrace,” Trump ranted during a recent appearance on Fox & Friends, his latest broadside against the agency. “And our Justice Department — which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won’t — our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia.”

Some Republicans warn that Trump’s attacks have deepened the conservative base’s distrust of all government that helped him win the presidency in the first place, and given an opening to candidates that in past years never would have stood a chance.

“Law enforcement is now under question, maybe for political reasons, with the same fervor we’ve traditionally held for other government entities, whether it’s the IRS or the Bureau of Land Management or generic government,” Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman, told TPM.

Heye warned that those attacks have signaled to candidates that “it’s not just okay” to attack law enforcement to score political points and avoid dealing with their own legal issues, “it’s beneficial to do so.”

Putnam’s relatively minor offense pales in comparison to some of the other Republicans’ who are currently making bids for federal office. A trio of actual convicted criminals are running serious races for Congress this year, shrugging off their pasts by capitalizing on the GOP base’s distrust of government institutions and the press that has been both fueled by and a strong source of support for Trump himself.

Former coal baron Don Blankenship is running for the right to face Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) this fall even though he’s still on parole after a year in prison for his role in failing to prevent a mine accident that killed 29 workers. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) only avoided jail time for criminal contempt because Trump pardoned him — and now he’s running for the Senate in Arizona. Former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) is seeking a comeback in his old congressional district after a stint behind bars for tax fraud, challenging Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) by complaining/bragging “the entire Obama Justice Department [was] weaponized against me.” All three have largely blamed Obama for their past troubles rather than take responsibility for their actions, even when the courts have found them all guilty.

And that’s not to mention other GOP candidates who’ve been in legal trouble turning on both law enforcement officials and the press, and claiming politicized “witch hunts.” That was the strategy Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore took after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct during his Senate campaign, after he’d already secured the Republican nomination. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) has made similar attacks against Republicans in his state as he seeks to fend off calls for his resignation over accusations of sexually and fiscally illegal behavior. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) lied about body-slamming a reporter on his way to winning office, and while he’s since apologized for his actions he’s also fundraised off claims that the “leftist media” is unfairly out to get him.

Republicans warn that they must stop those candidates in the primaries before they win their nominations and destroy their party’s chances of winning their races. But they admit that’s easier said than done.

“When I chaired the NRSC [National Republican Senatorial Committtee], what I conveyed to people in states across the country is if you nominate somebody who can only win a primary but cannot win a general election then you have not served the cause of winning a Republican majority, in this case keeping a Republican majority, so it matters,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) told TPM. “But I think it’s very difficult for a Republican Party, an NRSC or an organization to convince voters that that view is better than their view, so voters are going to decide this.”

Moran, like many other GOP senators, showed no interest in discussing the question of what these types of candidates were doing to Republican voters’ trust in the rule of law.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), one of the few Alabama Republicans who refused to back Moore even as he was facing growing legal problems last fall, told TPM, “It’s best for both parties to have good candidates, to have clean candidates — you’re going to be scrutinized, you’re going to be scrubbed and scrubbed again.”

But he argued Trump’s attacks on the legal system and voters’ distrust of institutions were valid, saying that while they were overall trustworthy there were plenty of bad apples.

“Look, you have rogue people in every agency,” he said. “You have that in the IRS, you’ve seen that. You see that in the FBI, you see that in prosecutors, in the courts.”

Grimm, Arpaio and Blankenship are all underdogs in their races. Moore lost after a large chunk of GOP voters abandoned him. Greitens is facing plenty of pressure from his fellow Republicans to step down. Gianforte may have a real race partly because of his past violence. But this phenomena of politicians behaving badly blaming the government and the media — while retaining cachet within their party — shows how Trump’s attacks on law enforcement have bled into the GOP base’s consciousness. It’s left plenty of right-wing media consumers just as skeptical of law enforcement as they long have been of other parts of government — distrust that has been built by years of right-wing faux and overblown scandals, from the IRS to Benghazi to Fast & Furious. And candidates who would have had zero chance of even winning a primary in past years see an opening.

Republicans don’t have a monopoly on candidates blaming conspiracies for their legal troubles — or even on blaming Obama. When the Justice Department indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on corruption charges, he and his allies suggested that it was payback for his refusal to support the administration’s positions on Cuba and Iran. Hillary Clinton had plenty of her own complaints about how the DOJ handled its investigation of her use of a private email server, some more valid than others. And during Rep. Jim Traficant’s (D-OH) legal scandal two decades ago, he vowed to expose the FBI for corruption. Others have had success attacking their investigators — Oliver North almost became senator years ago after being a central player in Iran-contra by doing the same.

And this is far from the first time a raft of unelectable GOP candidates has made real noise in primaries. But in the past, their problem was usually ideology, not illegality. In the Trump era, that’s changed.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) admitted he was concerned about that chunk of the party base that wouldn’t even accept legal verdicts as settled fact, but argued “gratefully I think it’s pretty small” in terms of the overall GOP electorate.

But he warned that those candidates becoming the nominee would be deeply damaging.

Usually, it works itself out in the primary,” he said. “But when a Roy Moore gets nominated, we see what happens.”

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Another day, another set of good polling numbers for Senate Democrats.

Democrats hold leads in the trio of their best chances to pick up Senate seats, according to new surveys released by Axios, the latest sign that they have a real shot at netting the two seats necessary to retake the Senate this fall.

The most eye-popping numbers come from Arizona, where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has a 51 percent to 42 percent lead over Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in their hypothetical matchup to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). McSally, the GOP establishment favorite, is squaring off in a primary against former state Rep. Kelli Ward (R) and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R). Sinema leads Ward by 51 percent to 43 percent in the survey, and has a gaping 61 percent to 32 percent lead over the well-known and deeply polarizing Arpaio.

Those numbers come in the wake of a surprisingly narrow win for Rep.-elect Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) in a ruby-red House district west of Phoenix earlier this week. She won by less than 5 percentage points in a district Trump carried by 21, results that set off alarm bells in GOP circles.

The polls, from the online company SurveyMonkey, find similarly positive results for Democrats in two other states where they got good polling news earlier this week. In their Nevada survey, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) leads Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) by 50 percent to 44 percent. In Tennessee, former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) has a 48 percent to 47 percent lead over Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

That’s a bit rosier than what Mark Mellman, a top Democratic pollster with a good track record in Nevada, found in a survey released earlier this week: In his poll, Heller led Rosen by 40 percent to 39 percent, a bad spot for an incumbent to be in but not as dire a situation as this other poll suggests. Another poll released earlier this week found Bredesen with a three-point lead over Blackburn.

Online polling still isn’t quite as trustworthy as live-caller polls, according to many experts, and one poll should never be taken as gospel. But these results are the latest to show Democrats in good position in all three states.

The party still has very narrow path to retaking the Senate: They’re defending 10 seats in states President Trump won, including five in states he carried by at least 19 percentage points. They’d need to sweep the table in those races and win two of these three seats, or sweep these seats if they lose even one of those contests. If they lose two incumbents, they’d somehow need to win these seats and pull off a huge upset in a state like Texas, likely their next-best shot on the map.

But with polls like these, Democrats have to be feeling quietly confident that they might really have a shot to pull the inside straight they need to take back the Senate.

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