Decision 2018: Dawn of a “Republican spring”?

Throughout both the lead-up to primary season and the first two primaries (Illinois and Texas), the author has seen numerous signs pointing to an unusually energized Democratic electorate. Last night’s primary results, however, were not so one sided against the Republicans. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can take some satisfaction in the caliber of Republican nominees selected in Indiana and West Virginia.

Since “primary night” was four separate state contests, JMC will separately analyze each state’s results:

Indiana: The Republican Senate primary featured three candidates, two of whom were incumbent Republican Congressmen (Luke Messer and Todd Rokita) who allegedly had personal grudges against each other going back to their college days. But while they needlessly focused on tearing each other down, political novice/businessman Mike Braun embraced the outsider label and with adequate funding to get his message across, attacked both incumbents by using cardboard cutouts of them which he displayed in his commercials as proof that they were “cut from the same cardboard.” While Braun decisively won with 41% (5,500 votes separated the other two “cardboard candidates”), total Republican turnout was 505K, or 8% less than the 2010 GOP Senate contest and 24% less than the 2012 GOP Senate contest. Braun faces incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly, who was elected in 2012 over a Republican who self-destructed over his (in a debate) mishandling of a question about abortion and rape.

Ohio: Ohio Republicans opted for “safe”: Congressman Jim Renacci (who defeated a Democratic incumbent in the 2010 Republican wave) was nominated 47-32% to face two term Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown in November, while former Congressman/Senator/Attorney General Mike DeWine was nominated for Governor with 60%. What was notable about these top of the ballot races (which also faced competitive Democratic primaries) was that 55% of Ohio voters selected a Republican ballot (for comparison’s sake, 53% voted Republican in the 2010 primaries).

North Carolina: While there were no Senate or Governor’s races on the ballot this year, two incumbent Republican Congressmen (Walter Jones and Robert Pittenger) faced serious primary competition. Jones won his primary with 43% of the vote (more than enough to avoid a runoff), while Pittenger lost his primary 46-48.5% to pastor Mark Harris, who described Pittenger as “part of the Washington swamp” (in fact, Pittenger was first casualty of primary season). This race (the district is centered in Charlotte and is a relatively moderate district that only supported Trump 54-42%) will certainly be competitive in the fall, as Democrats nominated a Marine combat veteran (Dan McCready) who come political observers are already comparing to recently elected Democratic Congressman Conor Lamb.

West Virginia: The Republican Senate primary contest was similar to Indiana in that an outsider (business executive Don Blankenship) faced two more established Republicans, although Blankenship had the dubious distinction of serving time in prison for a mining explosion at his company. He further made Republicans nervous for his depiction of Mitch McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch” who has a “China family” and who “created millions of jobs for China people” (Senator McConnell’s wife/family are from Taiwan). Even the Trumps (both Donald Sr and Donald Jr) got involved in this race by encouraging West Virginia voters to vote against Blankenship. In the end, fears about Blankenship’s electoral prowess were unfounded: he was a dud of a candidate, running third with 20% of the vote. Attorney General Patrick Morrissey led with 35% of the vote, and he will face former Governor/Senator Joe Manchin. Curiously, Manchin faced a primary opponent who got 30% of the vote, and in last night’s primary contest, Republicans were more enthusiastic than Democrats: while 54% of West Virginians selected a Democratic ballot, Republican turnout was up 60%, while Democratic turnout up 20% relative to the 2014 primaries.


Republicans dodged several bullets last night, and in Ohio and West Virginia, there were no perceptible surges in Democratic turnout, unlike previous contests. Primary season moves next Tuesday to four more states (Idaho. Nebraska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania).

Congressional filing is also steadily progressing to its conclusion (filing for fall races in Louisiana is July 18-20), with 35 states seeing an end to its Congressional qualifying. 99% of 212 Republicans have Democratic opposition, while 80% of 154 Democratic held seats have Republican opposition.

While Republicans are certainly not out of the woods yet, last night’s contests (in terms of candidate selection and Democratic turnout) could have been far worse for them.