Blankenship Sinks, NC GOP Rep. Falls — Here’s Tuesday’s Full Primary Wrap

UNITED STATES - MAY 3: Don Blankenship, who is running for the Republican nomination for Senate in West Virginia, conducts a town hall meeting at Macado's restaurant in Bluefield, W.Va., on May 3, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group

This story was last updated at 11:30 p.m. EST to include the latest election results.

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

Republican voters in three states picked their nominees in three top Senate races — and their fear of a “dumpster fire” candidate didn’t materialize. Democrats, meanwhile avoided their own headache as former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray thumped former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to set up a rematch against Attorney General Mike DeWine (R), this time for Ohio Governor.

But while Republicans avoided disaster in one key Senate race, they worsened their prospects in a key House election.

Here’s the full run-down of what happened in each state.

WEST VIRGINIA — GOP Senate primary, House primary

Republicans’ renewed panic that their voters might 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) turned out to be overblown.

Party leaders were worried that Don Blankenship had 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 said he was as likely to win as West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) or Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) in the close race.

That alarm reached the White House:

But Morrisey won the race, with Jenkins in second place and Blankenship in distant third.

Democrats would obviously have loved to face Blankenship. But they’d 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.

In the race for Jenkins’ seat, West Virginia state Del. Carol Miller (R) won the primary and will be the favorite against populist Democrat Richard Ojeda.

NORTH CAROLINA: House GOP incumbents facing primaries

Rep. Rob Pittenger (R-NC) became the first congressional incumbent to lose reelection on Tuesday, falling short against a hardline preacher that gives Democrats an even better chance of capturing the GOP-leaning seat.

Pittenger lost his a rematch to minister and former Senate candidate Mark Harris (R), who is close with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and was a leading voice in the fight for North Carolina’s deeply divisive “bathroom law” that targeted transgender people.

But Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), an independent-minded Republican with a libertarian streak who is well known for bucking party leaders, defeated local county commissioner Scott Dacey, who spent nearly as much money as the longtime incumbent. He’s said he’ll retire after the next term.


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 were for governor — and Democrats would have had the bigger problem on their hands if the wrong candidate got through.

Eccentric former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) made a lot of noise in his bid against former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray (D). But Cordray spent much more money, had bigger-name supporters (not including Dave Matthews), and easily defeated Kucinich, who was damaged by 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) defeated Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R), setting up a rematch of DeWine’s 2010 defeat of Cordray, who was seeking reelection as state attorney general.

Both parties also picked 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. It appeared as of late Tuesday night that the establishment GOP candidate had eked out a win — a relief for them but no guarantee he’ll win in August.

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) won his primary to face Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). But he had a surprisingly close race against businessman Mike Gibbons even though he had Trump’s endorsement and spent much more money than Gibbons.

The state’s voters also supported a ballot amendment to minimize partisans’ ability to gerrymander the state.

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

Braun, a wealthy former state rep. and businessman, won the primary to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), one of the country’s most endangered Democrats.

He defeated hardline conservative Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN). All three, like the West Virginia candidates, bear-hugged Trump — Rokita ran ads promising to help end special counsel Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt,” while Messer called for Trump to get the Nobel Peace Prize.

Donnelly’s allies had a slight preference to face Rokita, a 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.

Businessman Greg Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s brother, won the primary for Messer’s seat, while state Rep. Jim Baird (R) won the primary for Rokita’s.


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