CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Four states that backed President Donald Trump two years ago are set Tuesday to kick the 2018 primary season in high season. Here’s what to watch as voters in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia pick nominees for Senate, House and some state offices ahead of the November midterms.
REPUBLICANS NERVOUS ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia gave Trump his widest margin of any state in 2016, a 42-percentage point pounding of Democrat Hillary Clinton that had Republicans giddy over their chance to defeat Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin this November. Now Republicans are faced with the prospects of nominating ex-federal convict Don Blankenship, prompting warnings from Washington that they could hand Manchin a pass.
Blankenship, the former CEO at Massey Energy, served one year in federal prison for mine safety violations stemming from a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. His top rivals are Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
Blankenship has tried to litigate his conviction again during the campaign, blaming everyone from the Obama administration to Manchin, who was governor at the time of the disaster. Blankenship took his caustic campaign to the next level with an ad calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a “swamp captain” and accusing “Cocaine Mitch” of corruption on behalf of his “China family.” McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, was born in Taiwan.
ANOTHER TRUMP TEST
Trump tweeted Monday that Blankenship “can’t win the General Election.” He urged Republicans to back either Morrisey or Jenkins. “Remember Alabama,” he wrote, referring to Republican Roy Moore who lost a Senate special election in December to a Democrat after allegations surfaced that he had molested at least one teenage girl and pursued several others decades ago.
But Trump has a spotty record on swaying GOP voters. He backed Moore’s unsuccessful primary opponent last fall — before the assault allegations. Then Trump reluctantly backed Moore in the general election even after the allegations came to light.
GOP TANGLE IN INDIANA
Like West Virginia, Indiana is among 10 states where Republicans are looking to knock off incumbent Democratic senators in states Trump won. There’s no Indiana equivalent of Blankenship, but there’s a three-way run to the right, with the winner set to challenge Sen. Joe Donnelly this fall.
The Republicans have adopted Trump’s hard-line immigration rhetoric and his affinity for mocking opponents with derisive nicknames. There’s “Lyin’” Todd Rokita and Luke “Missing” Messer, two GOP congressmen seeking a promotion. “Tax Hike” Mike Braun is cozying up to Trump by playing the outsider card, but he’s blasted by his rivals as a “RINO” — Republican in name only — because of a long history of voting in Democratic primaries.
TWO OHIO GOVERNOR PRIMARIES
Republicans in Ohio are certain to nominate a candidate to the right of outgoing Gov. John Kasich, a Trump critic. The state GOP backs Attorney General Mike Dewine. Kasich endorsed his two-term Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, but she’s shied away from her would-be ally. Both candidates promise to undo Kasich’s expansion of Medicaid insurance after Democrats’ 2010 health care overhaul.
In the Democratic primary, Richard Cordray, who ran the federal consumer protection agency under President Barack Obama, is favored over former Congressman Dennis Kucinich. The Democratic establishment hopes Cordray manages a comfortable victory that positions him as the most palatable candidate across both parties’ slates, while freeing him from having to focus too heavily on rebuilding a divided Democratic base as he looks ahead to November.
A Kucinich upset would scramble the race altogether.
NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSMAN TRIES TO SURVIVE. AGAIN.
North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger must again withstand GOP challenger Mark Harris, a prominent Charlotte pastor who almost beat him two years ago. Pittenger was then running in a redrawn district and believes he’s in a stronger position now. Harris is unrelenting with the argument that Pittenger is just another Washington politician who’s not helping Trump “drain the swamp.”
The district is on national Democrats’ target list as they aim to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats necessary to regain House control. The likely Democratic nominee is a Marine veteran, Dan McCready, who has raised more campaign money than Pittenger and Harris combined.
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