Tuesday was a a good night for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and establishment Republicans. It was also a good night for the future leader of the House GOP and establishment Republicans in general. In West Virginia, coal magnate and convicted criminal Don Blankenship got blanked. The GOP got an outsider and businessman in Indiana and in both OH-12 and OH-16 the establishment favored candidate won.
Talk to many Republicans before the results and there was a palpable worry Blankenship and a flurry of extreme, outsider candidates would turn possible wins into surefire losses. Internal polls, I believe them as much as catnip is an aphrodisiac, had Blankenship ahead on the night of the primary. Polling in Ohio showed AG Mike Dewine might lose to much weaker Lt. Governor Mary Taylor. The standout was Congressman Rennaci turning in a weak performance in his Senate primary though he showed obvious strength in his home district.
Republicans have had issues with fringe candidates in the past and the wild swings of the last couple of elections seemed to upend traditional political orthodoxy. First, there was Trump being elected in 2016 despite having the worst favorable ratings of any party nominee ever (Clinton was/is second). Then, not months after this the wild swings to the Left in special elections, Alabama electing a Democratic Senator, a twenty point swing in PA-18 and AZ-8’s close call. All pointed to the potential for a surprise or more on Tuesday.
Perhaps the biggest surprises Tuesday night came from the Left. In West Virginia, incumbent Joe Manchin turned in a surprisingly low 70 percent primary win over a progressive challenger. Are West Virginia progressives willing to pull the lever for Senator or will they help his demise in the Fall? It was not all doom and gloom for the party favorites. In Ohio, Richard Corday turned in a surprisingly strong primary performance over two progressive challengers.
Tuesday highlighted how while the Democratic Party may be turning Left its primary voters are not. Despite several Bernie Sanders supporting groups jumping on-board with primary challengers in local and federal races not a single candidate won. Perhaps they can call West Virginia a moral victory but that is all it was.
Meanwhile, successful Republicans largely avoided DC and primary voters rewarded them. West Virginia AG Patrick Morrisey was a local politician who never held federal office. Mike Braun in Indiana is a businessman first and politico second. In OH-12 and OH-16 while the winners were favored by DC Republicans neither touted their DC endorsements nor had had office in DC. Republican primary voters dislike of the taint of DC showed through loud and clear.
Interestingly, despite all this, the outcomes of Tuesdays elections were largely, dare I say it, normal. Morrisey has his warts, his wife is a lobbyist and he grew up in New Jersey, but he is no Blankenship. Braun is a candidate the grassroots and DC can get behind. Democrats defeated their insurgents with little trouble.
Maybe the real message out of Tuesday is despite living in the era of Trump, voters can and will behave normally if the parties are pro-active and good candidates appeal to demands or change and new ideas while still behaving like conventional politicians. We will see whether it holds next Tuesday.