GOP Insiders Breathe Sigh of Relief After West Virginia Results

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, not convicted mine owner Don Blankenship, will take on Joe Manchin; elsewhere, outsiders succeed

Republican strategists avoided disaster Tuesday in the West Virginia primary, in which a controversial ex-felon went down to defeat on a night with a detectable anti-Establishment streak elsewhere.

Don Blankenship, a mine owner convicted of crimes related to safety lapses that caused 29 deaths, finished a distant third in the West Virginia GOP Senate primary. His criminal history, combined with racially tinged language, had GOP officials worried that the party risked losing a prime Senate pickup target for the fall.

Blankenship aired a TV spot accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of creating millions of jobs for “China people” and of collecting tens of millions of dollars from his “China family” — a reference to the senator’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whose family is from Taiwan.

Although Blankenship called himself “Trumpier than Trump,” President Donald Trump this week weighed in on Twitter, urging West Virginia Republicans to reject him. They did.

“Perhaps, President Trump has been successful,” Blankenship told supporters Tuesday, according to a tweet by ABC reporter Meridith McGraw.

That puts Democratic incumbents in both West Virginia and Indiana in GOP crosshairs. Alexandra Smith, executive director of the super PAC America Rising, vowed to spend heavily in both states and in Ohio, which also had a Republican Senate primary.

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“With our Republican candidates in place, the country will turn its attention to these critical choices,” she said in a statement. “America Rising PAC is ready to define the lackluster roster of Democratic incumbents by unleashing our months of opposition research to exploit their vulnerabilities and weaknesses to voters who overwhelmingly supported the president.”

McConnell, the target of Blankenship’s invective, trolled him a little bit Tuesday, tweeting, “Thanks for playing, Don.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey now moves on to challenge Manchin, who easily dispatched progressive challenger Paul Jean Swearengin in the Democratic primary, but who is believed by many political observers to be among the most vulnerable Senate incumbents.

Morrisey won on the strength of his support in the northern part of the state and the Eastern Panhandle. Rep. Evan Jenkins, meanwhile, won most of the counties in his congressional district in the southern part of the state.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), praised Morrisey.

“I have two words for Sen. Joe Manchin: Watch out,” she said in a statement. “To the West Virginians who feel they no longer have a voice in the United States Senate with Manchin, the wait is over. Patrick Morrisey is a conservative fighter who will never back down.”

Tuesday offered signs that the wave of outsider fervor that carried Trump to the Republican nomination in 2016 has not subsided. In Indiana, businessman Mike Braun defeated a pair of incumbent congressmen to win the nomination for the Senate in a state that figures to be another top Republican target in November.

In North Carolina, challenger Mark Harris beat incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the GOP primary for a House seat in the suburbs of Charlotte. Pittenger is the first incumbent to lose in the primary season this year.

“Joe Donnelly is going to have a tough time, even though he has kind of gotten by, gotten along with certain segments of Indiana’s economy. I think his record is gonna be flushed out. And it’s all of our job to do it. And I think that’s what’s gonna carry me to victory.”

The Indiana GOP race became a contest over which candidate could more closely align himself with Trump. Rep. Todd Rokita cut an ad wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat. Rep. Luke Messer led a drive to nominate Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But it was Braun who carried the day by casting himself as a Trump-like outsider with real-world business experience and not just a career in politics.

After winning, he immediately set his sights on incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly, criticizing his vote against tax reform.

Related: Tuesday Features Hot Primaries in Four States; Here Are the Stakes

“Joe Donnelly is going to have a tough time, even though he has kind of gotten by, gotten along with certain segments of Indiana’s economy,” he said. “I think his record is gonna be flushed out. And it’s all of our job to do it. And I think that’s what’s gonna carry me to victory.”

In Ohio, Rep. Jim Renacci won a five-way Senate primary for the right to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, who was unopposed Tuesday. Most analysts consider Brown the favorite in November.

The general election for governor in the Buckeye state will be a rematch of the 2010 attorney general’s race. Democrat Richard Cordray, who lost that race, easily defeated former presidential candidate and Rep. Dennis Kucinich for the Democratic nomination. Cordray was the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — created by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress in 2010 after the 2008 financial crisis — and has the backing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Mike DeWine, Ohio’s incumbent attorney general, who also has served as a U.S. senator, won the Republican primary with about 60 percent of the vote.

(photo credit, homepage image: Patrick Morissey, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore; photo credit, article image: Patrick Morissey, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)

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