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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

Republicans have been arguing for months that Democrats will blow a spate of winnable races by nominating hard-line liberal candidates out of step with their districts and states. On Tuesday, Democratic voters signaled they have no such plans.

In a number of races, the so-called establishment candidate handily won their primary, teeing up a tough general election battle for Republicans.

The clearest examples of this can be seen in Ohio, where former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray demolished former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to win his party’s gubernatorial nomination, and Democrats selected Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor as their nominee for the special election to replace former Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH).

Cordray won in spite of his previous opposition to gun control and Kucinich’s strong ties with the anti-war left (though Kucinich’s praise of President Trump, Russia and Syria certainly created problems for him among his base). O’Connor easily won his primary after getting a plethora of endorsements from local Democratic power players.

It was the same in North Carolina. Marine Corps veteran and green energy businessman Dan McCready (D), who has the support of the moderate Blue Dogs, cruised to victory over a poorly funded left-wing challenger. He’ll face hardline conservative pastor Mark Harris (R), who knocked off Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC). And Kathy Manning (D), a longtime Democratic Party donor, easily won her primary over a left-wing challenger to face Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) this fall.

In West Virginia, populist Democrat Richard Ojeda won the nomination for Rep. Evan Jenkins’ (R-WV) seat even though he said he voted for President Trump last year (though the state lawmaker isn’t exactly an establishment Democrat — the heavily tattooed former paratrooper led the fight to raise teacher pay and was an ardent supporter of the state’s teacher strike).

And in Indiana, a former Republican health care executive, Mel Hall (D), defeated a candidate calling for single-payer health care and will face Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) in a GOP-leaning seat this fall.

That hasn’t been the case everywhere this cycle. Blue Dog Democrats and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) had backed Jay Hulings in his bid to face Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), but he didn’t even get to the primary runoff. Instead, Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones, a favorite on the left backed by EMILY’s List, is the heavy favorite to emerge in that runoff. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s attacks against hardline liberal Laura Moser (D) backfired, elevating her into the primary runoff against establishment favorite Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (D), who has EMILY’s List’s support but is hated by organized labor. Most Democrats believe Fletcher would be the much more electable general election candidate in the GOP-leaning district held by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX).

Though they aren’t always favored by the party’s left flank, plenty of Tuesday’s Democratic nominees are strong liberals and populists — Cordray had support from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and led the charge against companies bilking average people, and Ojeda has a fierce populist spark. The true story from last night is that Democratic voters avoided bad fits for their districts, not that they nominated centrists over progressives. But it will be key for Democrats to keep this streak alive as the party looks to seize back the House and win other key races this fall.

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Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) has lost his primary to Baptist minister Mark Harris (R), making him the first congressional incumbent of 2018 to lose a primary and boosting Democrats’ chances of winning the seat.

Harris led Pittenger by 48.5 percent to 46.2 percent with all precincts reporting when the Associated Press called the race shortly after 10:30 p.m. EST.

“I have called Mark Harris and conceded the race and I wish him the best,” Pittenger said at his election night event.

That result gives Democrats a major boost as they look to win the Republican-leaning seat, which stretches out from Charlotte and President Trump won by 11 percentage points two years ago.

Democrats were already excited about their prospects in the district — and Republicans were nervous — because of a top-tier recruit, Marine Corps veteran and businessman Dan McCready (D).

But Harris, a hardline social conservative and former state senator who led the efforts to push through the state’s discriminatory and now-overturned “bathroom law” targeting the transgender community, gives them a much easier target.

Besides having a strong moderate against a hardline conservative in the suburban district, Democrats have another big advantage: McCready has well over $1 million in his campaign account, while Harris is basically broke after the primary.

Harris’s win came in rematch — Pittenger barely beat him two years ago.

But while Pittenger went down, independent-minded Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), a frequent thorn in the side of GOP leaders, held on to win a primary of his own. He’s said he’ll retire after his next term in office.

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Republicans avoided a serious disaster in West Virginia Tuesday, as West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) defeated ex-con coal baron Don Blankenship (R) and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) for the right to face Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Morrisey led Jenkins by 35 percent to 29 percent with Blankenship in a distant third at 20 percent as of 10:21 p.m. EST, when the Associated Press called the race.

Blankenship’s loss is a huge relief for Senate Republicans, who feared he might have had last-minute momentum in the race. He is just finishing up his parole after a year in prison for his role in the deaths of 29 of his workers in a mine explosion, and would have likely destroyed the GOP’s chances of defeating Manchin in a state Trump won by 42 percentage points in 2016.

But while Senate Republicans avoided a fiasco in the West Virginia, Rep. Robert Pittenger’s (R-NC) primary loss to a hardline pastor boosts Democrats’ chances in a key House race. Read about all of Tuesday’s big primaries from four states here.

Blankenship’s loss came after a nasty back-and-forth between Blankenship and Senate GOP leaders. A super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dropped more than $1 million on Blankenship’s head, attacking his ethics in TV spots. He responded with racially charged ads attacking McConnell’s “China family” and “Cocaine Mitch.”

But McConnell had the last laugh:

Blankenship conceded earlier on in a short speech, while wondering aloud if President Trump’s last-minute anti-endorsement had knocked him out of the race. 

Morrisey thanked Trump for the tweet as well, before making it clear he’d use the president to hammer Manchin.

“Joe Manchin has become just another rubber stamp for the liberal Washington elite agenda,” he said in his victory speech. “When President Trump needed Joe Manchin’s help, on so many issues Sen. Manchin said no.”

Manchin obviously would have loved to face the toxic Blankenship. But his allies had also strongly signaled that they’d rather face Morrisey than Jenkins — they spent more than $2 million to damage the congressman, seeing Morrisey as vulnerable due to his past as a lobbyist and the fact that he lived in New Jersey for most of his life.

“This out-of-state lobbyist doesn’t know squat about the needs of West Virginia,” Mike Plante, a spokesman for the pro-Manchin group that spent heavily to defeat Jenkins, said in a statement.

Republicans believe Manchin’s opposition to Trump and his daughter’s work for a company that jacked up prescription drug prices leave him vulnerable in the deep red state.

The race is just one of many big primaries on Tuesday across four states. Keep on top of them all here.

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A wealthy businessman who borrowed President Trump’s outsider message and bear-hugged the president has won the three-way primary to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) this fall, a crucial battle for Senate control.

Mike Braun, a former state representative who spent millions of his own money on the race, led the field with 41 percent of the vote when CNN and NBC called the race shortly after 8 p.m. EST.  Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) were both hovering just under 30 percent.

“From the beginning our message has been pretty simple – we need more outsiders and less career politicians in Washington. More folks that have done something in the real world,” Braun said in a statement after his win. “Senator Donnelly is just another career politician who has spent nearly his entire career in politics and government. When he’s in Indiana he acts like one of us, but in Washington he votes against us, against President Trump and in lockstep with the Democrats.”

Braun vastly outspent his opponents on the race, running ads highlighting his business record and one particularly effective spot with cardboard cutouts of Messer and Rokita where he asked voters if they could tell one from the other (spoiler alert: they couldn’t).

All three bear-hugged Trump in the conservative state — Rokita ran ads pledging to end Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt” against Trump, while Messer called for Trump to get the Nobel Peace Prize.

Messer and Rokita attacked Braun for his past votes in Democratic primaries. But Braun’s strong ads and outsider brand were enough to push past the two longtime lawmakers and get over his

He’ll square off now against Donnelly in a state Trump won by 19 percentage points in 2016.

Most close to Donnelly preferred to face Rokita but weren’t strongly in favor of one candidate over the other, and see an opening attacking Braun on his business ties. As the Associated Press recently reported, Braun’s company buys many foreign products and he’s been accused of treating his workers poorly. Those attacks will go against the GOP’s ideological hits on Donnelly for voting against the GOP’s tax cuts and for his family company’s ties to Mexico.

Donnelly’s campaign focused on the positive, mentioning the bills he’s passed that Trump has signed and not mentioning Braun.

“It’s clear [Indiana voters] want a champion for working families in the Senate – one who’ll work hard and reach across the aisle to protect their access to affordable health care, defend Medicare and Social Security, and keep good-paying jobs here in Indiana,” Donnelly campaign manager Peter Hanscom said in a statement.

But Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody promised that “Hoosiers will come to understand why Rep. Braun funded his own primary campaign with the profits he made from importing auto parts from China at the expense of Hoosier workers: because he believes public office is his best opportunity to put his wallet first, and Hoosiers last.  ”

The race will be a key one in deciding whether Democrats have a shot at winning the Senate. Donnelly is one of 10 Democrats running for reelection in states Trump won in 2016, and one of five in states he won by a wide margin.

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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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National Democrats are jumping into a hotly contested House primary in California, trying to avoid the disastrous situation of being left without a candidate in the general election in a Democratic-leaning district.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has launched ads against a pair of Republicans running for retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s (R-CA) district, hammering local Republican lawmaker Shawn Nelson’s “hypocrisy” for taking a government pension after promising not to and slamming former California state Sen. Bob Huff (R) for backing “billions in higher sales taxes.” The organization is spending $300,000 on cable, radio and digital ads.

The goal: To knock them both down so that only one Republican emerges in the race and Democrats don’t get locked out in a crucial pickup opportunity in their battle for House control.

California’s unusual all-party “jungle primary” means the top two candidates in the June primary election advance to the general election, regardless of party. In the past, that’s allowed two Republicans to advance in two competitive districts while a crowded Democratic field divides voters between several candidates — something Democrats are seriously concerned may happen again.

In this district, which Hillary Clinton won by nine points, there are just three competitive Republican candidates and five competitive Democrats. That means if Democrats split up their votes relatively evenly and no front-runner emerges over the next month, they’re at real risk of two Republicans advancing and their party blowing a winnable race.

The DCCC notably doesn’t go after GOP front-runner Young Kim, a former Royce staffer, in their attacks.

This district is one of four where Democrats are seriously worried they might not get a candidate through because of the high number of viable candidates running on their side — they’re also worried about getting candidates through against scandal-plagued Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Duncan Hunter (R-CA), as well as the race for retiring Rep. Darrel Issa’s (R-CA) seat.

But national Democrats are facing a tough situation in trying to massage these races, as many past attempts to push out candidates or elevate one of their own over other Democrats have led to bitter responses from those candidates and a backlash against the party.

A move like this isn’t going to cause any problems for the DCCC, but it remains to be seen how well they manage these tensions going forward — especially if they feel they have to turn on one of their own in the race’s closing days to preserve their chance at a seat. Their early efforts to play in primaries haven’t always gone so well this year.

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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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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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