BY MAX ROTHSCHILD
Primary elections were held in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and North Carolina on May 8. In West Virginia, Patrick Morrissey’s defeat of Evan Jenkins and Don Blankenship in the Republican Senate Primary was a large upset, while Mike Braun’s victory in Indiana’s Republican Senate Primary was particularly illuminating. These two elections give a grander look at the developing election climate in the largest sample size of voting behavior since Donald Trump was elected.
Now that Patrick Morrisey has won the West Virginia Senate primary, he will face incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Manchin for the open West Virginia seat in the general election in November. Senator Manchin would have been better prepared to face off against Don Blankenship, a convicted felon who used racist language across his campaign and presented a far less serious threat than Morrisey. While Blankenship did not receive support from the Republican establishment due to his open racism and checkered past, Morrisey will have the entire Republican establishment behind him.
The Republican establishment support for Morrisey may represent a problem for Manchin, a Democratic senator with a reputation for his conservative inclinations. West Virginia’s recent history has seen the state lean further towards conservatism and the Republican party, meaning Manchin may find difficulty beating out Morrisey for the Senate seat. Manchin won the West Virginia Senate seat in 2012 and, up until that time, the state mostly elected Democratic candidates for the last 80 years. However, since Manchin’s election, the Republican party has gained majority control over the West Virginia state government. The party currently controls the majority of the state’s congressional delegation, statewide offices, and state legislature. In other words, Manchin may have a tough road ahead of him.
Although Manchin previously may have seemed like a pretty solid fit for the conservative-leaning state, West Virginia’s recent change in political preference poses a large problem for his re-election. Manchin won 60 percent of the vote in 2012, and he is one of America’s most conservative Democratic senators. With both Manchin and Morrisey running as establishment-backed candidates (and Donald Trump voicing vigorous support for Morrisey), the race should be tight.
Interestingly, Blankenship employed much of the same populist tactics that Trump used in his own campaign, using similarly racist and inflammatory rhetoric. Oddly enough, it was Trump, along with Mitch Mcconnell, who may have had the greatest impact on Blankenship’s defeat. After “a Republican group backed by Mr. McConnell’s allies spent heavily attacking Mr. Blankenship,” Trump sent out a tweet on Monday communicating to West Virginia Republicans that Mr. Blankenship “can’t win the General Election in your State.”
Mike Braun won the Republican Senate primary in Indiana after a hard-fought, albeit petulant, campaign. Braun, like President Trump, ran as a political outsider unsupported by the Republican establishment. Although Braun holds only slightly more political experience than Trump, the businessman makes up for what he lacks in political experience with business experience. In that vein, he purportedly self-funded his campaign, which Trump also claims to have done. At the Decatur County Lincoln Day Dinner, Braun told supporters, “My supporters are not insiders. They’re folks like you.”
The parallels between Braun and Trump don’t end there; Braun has repeatedly gone after the “Washington swamp” and attacked his primary opponents for their involvement in Washington. Braun was also up against established political veterans, that few expected him to overcome. But, in the Trump era, it seems that such opinions are somewhat naive.
The messiness of the Indiana primaries should not be overlooked, primarily because it will impact Braun’s race against Democrat Joe Donnelly. The Indiana primaries included some pretty invasive and personal attacks, as the three candidates fell victim to stories about “out-of-state living arrangements, questionable uses of tax dollars, drunken-driving convictions, voting histories and ethical transgressions.”
All of these attacks – a fair share of which were directed at Braun – will not bode well against Donnelly, who one voter characterized as “low key and not very controversial.” Donnelly has reportedly been one of the country’s most bipartisan senators in the Trump era. In fact, he’s voted in support of Trump’s decisions 55 percent of the time, making him the 4th most pro-Trump Democrat.
Like Manchin in the West Virginia race, Donnelly is a vulnerable incumbent representing the Democrats in the race for the open Indiana Senate seat. Indiana is a very red state; 56 percent of its citizens voted for Trump and is the home state of Vice President Mike Pence.
It seems that the race for the Senate seat in Indiana may be strikingly similar to the race in West Virginia. Both states currently have extremely bipartisan Democratic senators (Manchin has voted for Trump’s positions 61 percent of the time) and both of those senators are susceptible to defeat due to the extreme conservatism existing in both states.