A ‘Dumpster Fire’ Ex-Con And A Russia-Loving Dem: What To Watch In 2018’s First Big Primary Night

The first big multi-state primary election night of 2018 is here, with major implications for the battle to control the Senate and a key swing-state governorship.

West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina voters head to the polls on Tuesday. Republican voters in three states will pick their nominee in top Senate races — with at least one possible “dumpster fire” candidate in the mix. But Democrats have their own worries in Ohio, where a well-known iconoclastic Democrat has an outside shot at winning his state’s gubernatorial nomination in spite of his strange defense of Russia, praise of President Trump and ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Here’s the full run-down of what to watch in each state:

WEST VIRGINIA — GOP Senate primary, House primary

Republicans feel renewed panic that their voters might be about to choose a man who just got out of jail for his role in the deaths of 29 mine workers to be the party’s nominee against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) — a potential nominee referred to as a “dumpster fire” who can’t win the general election.

Don Blankenship has the momentum heading into Tuesday’s election even though a GOP super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dropped more than $1 million against him, and strategists closely following the race say he’s as likely to win as West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) or Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) in the close race.

That alarm has reached the White House:

Republicans admit a Blankenship nomination would almost certainly end their chances of defeating Manchin in the fall in a state President Trump carried by 42 percentage points in 2016.

Democrats would obviously love to face Blankenship. But they’ve also made it clear they’d prefer the hardline conservative Morrisey to Jenkins, a genial, more centrist candidate they think would give Manchin the toughest challenge. A pro-Manchin group has dropped more than $2 million to try to wipe out Jenkins.

Republicans will also pick a replacement for Jenkins in his safely GOP seat.

INDIANA — GOP Senate primary, primaries for two GOP House seats

Republicans will also pick their nominee to go up against Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), one of the country’s most endangered Democrats, in a fight that’s become increasingly nasty in the closing weeks.

Indiana Republicans think self-funding businessman and former state Rep. Mike Braun (R) has the inside track on the nomination, but wouldn’t be surprised if hardline conservative Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) pulls off a win — and aren’t totally counting out Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN). All three, like the West Virginia candidates, have bear-hugged Trump — Rokita has run ads promising to help end special counsel Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt,” while Messer is calling for Trump to get the Nobel Peace Prize.

Donnelly’s allies have a slight preference to face Rokita, a somewhat prickly personality who has rubbed many establishment Republicans the wrong way. But they think that Braun’s business issues could give them some fodder in the fall in what will likely be a top Senate race regardless of the nominee.

Republicans will also pick replacements for Rokita and Messer — and one top candidate is businessman Greg Pence, the vice president’s brother.

OHIO — Gubernatorial primaries, GOP Senate primary, primaries for former Rep. Pat Tiberi’s (R-OH) seat, anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative

The big primary battles in this state are for governor — and Democrats have the bigger problem on their hands if the wrong candidate gets through.

Eccentric former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has made a lot of noise in his bid against former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray (D). Cordray has spent much more money and has bigger-name supporters (not including Dave Matthews, of course), and most Democrats think he’ll win. But they’re still a bit nervous that Kucinich could pull off an upset in spite of his praise of Trump, meeting with Syrian dictator Assad, and repeated defense of Russian aggression across the globe.

On the GOP side, Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) is the front-runner, but Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R) has real support as well and could pull off the upset. If DeWine and Cordray win, it’d set up a rematch of DeWine’s 2010 defeat of Cordray, who was seeking reelection as state attorney general.

Both parties will also pick nominees for what will likely be the last hotly contested House special election of the year — and one where Republicans are deeply worried they might nominate a hardliner out of step with the suburban district long held by Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) and give Democrats an even better shot at winning the GOP-leaning district.

Republicans will pick their nominee for an uphill fight against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) has Trump’s endorsement and much more money than businessman Mike Gibbons, and is expected to win the nomination.

The state’s voters will also decide whether to support a ballot amendment that would minimize partisans’ ability to gerrymander the state, and are expected to pass it, as well as a choice to replace Renacci.

NORTH CAROLINA: House GOP incumbents facing primaries

Reps. Rob Pittenger (R-NC) and Walter Jones (R-NC) are both facing serious primaries once again, though both are expected to hang on for victory.

Pittenger is in a rematch against minister and former Senate candidate Mark Harris (R), who is close with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R). Pittenger barely won last time, but released an internal poll earlier this spring showing him with a big lead.

Jones, an independent-minded Republican with a libertarian streak who is well known for bucking party leaders, is in a tough race himself — and local county commissioner Scott Dacey has spent nearly as much money as the longtime incumbent, along with a small investment from a GOP super-PAC with ties to House leadership. But Jones has survived tougher challenges before and is expected to hang on.

We’ll keep you updated on the races as they get called.

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