The Midterms Start Next Week
It may seem a counterintuitive statement to make in early May, six months before Election Day, but the mid-term elections begin in earnest next week.
For all of the prognosticating, breaking news banners on the cable networks and oddsmaking over the last many months, only two states, Texas and Illinois, have actually held their primaries thus far this election cycle. That all changes on Tuesday, when Hoosiers, North Carolinians, Ohioans and West Virginians go to the polls to decide which candidates will get run on the major parties’ tickets in November. Eight more states will hold their primaries throughout the rest of May, and June will see 19 states’ primary elections, from California to New York.
Though primary elections other than those for the White House seldom get the same attention or analysis as general elections, recent history demonstrates not only just how impactful they can be, but also their ability to represent the mood of the electorate. In retrospect, for example, many now view former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) shocking primary loss in 2014 to a then-political-novice/now-current-member-of-Congress Dave Brat (R-VA) as a harbinger of the deep anger and thirst for change amongst American voters that ultimately buoyed the presidential campaigns of both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and then-candidate Donald Trump. Though we have had a spate of special elections this cycle, based upon which most political pundits have concluded that the November midterms will see a Democratic wave, special elections are more often than not unique contests that take place in a vacuum. The primaries will therefore mark the beginning of our ability to glean more useful insights into the mood of the voters, which we can use to extrapolate potential outcomes in November.
But even on more superficial level, there are a couple of real doozies to watch on Tuesday. In West Virginia’s Senate GOP primary race, for example, Don Blankenship, who CNN’s Chris Cillizza earlier today called “the worst candidate in America”, is a former convict – the result, he says, of a vast left-wing conspiracy – who has taken to using racial epithets in his campaign ads and public remarks. Blankenship is running for the Republican nomination against a sitting member of Congress and West Virginia’s Attorney General, and the three-way race is close. The only public poll available, conducted last month, shows a tight campaign with the candidates all within five points of one another and about 40 percent of likely GOP voters unsure of who they will back next week. Perhaps this is why President Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., no stranger to backing nontraditional candidates for public office, took to Twitter yesterday to encourage West Virginian voters to reject Blankenship:
The victor in the West Virginia primary will face incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in Nevada.
In Ohio, voters on Tuesday will select the Democratic and Republican candidates to succeed John Kasich (R-OH) as Governor of the state. The leading candidate for the Democratic nod is Richard Cordray, the former Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. One would be forgiven for assuming, based on his tenure at the CFPB, that Cordray, a former Ohio Attorney General, would be the favored candidate of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. One would, however, be mistaken. Though Cordray has secured the vocal endorsement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and the broader Democratic establishment, Sen. Bernie Sanders has backed one of Cordray’s opponents: former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), the former Mayor of Cleveland and a sometimes presidential candidate, who is well-known for, among other things, being open about his experience seeing a UFO from the backyard of his friend, actress Shirley MacLaine. Similarly to West Virginia, the polling data in this race is sparse, and the data that is available isn’t particularly insightful. As of two weeks ago, more than half of likely Democratic voters reported that they hadn’t yet decided who they would vote for on Tuesday.
For Democrats in swing-state Ohio, which went for President Trump by more than eight points in 2016, the potential for a primary night upset next week is concerning. The party machine has rallied behind Cordray at least in part because he is perceived as being more electable statewide than Kucinich, who trails sitting Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R-OH), the likely Republican candidate for Governor in November, in polling by a margin almost twice as large as does Cordray. In a political environment in which the Democrats nationally expect to make significant gains in both Washington, DC and in statehouses across the country, ensuring that the most viable candidates fend off primary opponents has been a major focus for the party. We will start to find out on Tuesday how successful that effort has been.
So get the popcorn ready. The midterms start on Tuesday.