The 2018 political season kicked off in earnest on Tuesday with voters in four states -- Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and West Virginia -- going to the polls to pick candidates for Senate, governor and House.
I sifted through the primary results and came out with some of the best -- and the worst -- of the night that was. My picks are below.
* Mitch McConnell: The Senate majority leader became an issue in the West Virginia Senate primary when coal mine owner/ex-con Don Blankenship referred to the Kentucky Republican as "Cocaine Mitch" in an ad. Blankenship also suggested that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell's wife, was part of a family of "wealthy Chinaperson[s]" that somehow made McConnell biased against him. (Yes, I know that makes zero sense.) In the wake of Blankenship's third place (out of three) finish, McConnell's campaign team trolled the West Virginia Republican, with a little help from the Netflix show "Narcos."
McConnell's personal victory over Blankenship drew the most attention. But, in all three Senate races on the ballot Tuesday night -- Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia -- McConnell (and Senate Republicans) got solid candidates who will run real campaigns against Democratic incumbents. After the primary season disaster of years past, that's a major win.
* Establishment Democrats: Whereas McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan have, at times struggled to get their preferred candidates through primaries against more base-friendly candidate, the Democratic Party has experienced no such trouble. Tuesday night's vote was no exception. In Ohio, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray easily defeated liberal insurgent Dennis Kucinich to claim the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Cordray's win shows that Democratic voters aren't in open rebellion against their party establishment. That's good news for the presidential prospects of one Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.
* The Democratic House playing field: It was a relatively quiet day for House races but Democrats got some unexpected good news when conservative pastor Mark Harris knocked off Rep. Robert Pittenger in North Carolina's 6th district. Democrats already believed the seat was a potential pickup opportunity but believe that even more strongly due to Harris' strong conservative positioning in a district President Donald Trump won with only 54% in 2016.
* My beauty rest: By 7:30 pm on the east coast, all the polls were closed in the four states that voted on Tuesday. That's a huge win for campaign reporters everywhere -- especially me. I require at least eight hours of sleep in my hyperbaric chamber to fight the ravages of aging.
* Members of Congress: There was a time when being a sitting member of Congress was a major advantage when running statewide. You had a political base and a fundraising base. Those days are done -- at least for now. In Indiana, Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer lost their Senate bids to former state Rep. Mike Braun who ran as a Washington outsider. In West Virginia, Rep. Evan Jenkins lost his Senate bid to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey who ran as -- you guessed it! -- a Washington outsider. Yes, Rep. Jim Renacci won the Republican Senate nomination in Ohio but a) he had the vocal endorsement of the ultimate outsider Donald Trump and b) the field he faced was decidedly weak.
* Don Blankenship: Fresh out of prison for his role in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that left 29 people dead, Blankenship ran a campaign that felt more grounded in the 1950s than in 2018. His slurs against Secretary Chao, his casual use of the word "negro," his embrace of a variety of conspiracy theories -- it was an appeal to the worst in us. But, it didn't work. Despite rumors that Blankenship was surging in the final days of the race, his negatives were sky high and he was never a serious threat to Morrisey once the votes were counted. Which, no matter what your political leaning, is a good thing. Nominating someone with views like Blankenship's is a bad thing for our democracy.
* "Internal" polls: In the final five days of the West Virginia primary, the buzz coming out of the state was that Blankenship was surging. That buzz was driven by alleged internal GOP polls that showed Blankenship picking up steam. The data was not released publicly but rather simply whispered about in political circles. Turns out, Blankenship didn't have any particular momentum in the race's final days and, in fact, appeared to lose altitude over those closing days. My friend Harry Enten has much more on the perils of swallowing "internal polls" whole but suffice to say: Buyer beware.
* Lovers of chaos: This was not a night of fireworks. There were no major upsets. Things went largely as expected. Both parties, largely, got what they wanted. Of course, there are lots and lots of primaries to come....
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