In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The first big multi-state primary election night of 2018 is here, with major implications for the battle to control the Senate and a key swing-state governorship.

West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina voters head to the polls on Tuesday. Republican voters in three states will pick their nominee in top Senate races — with at least one possible “dumpster fire” candidate in the mix. But Democrats have their own worries in Ohio, where a well-known iconoclastic Democrat has an outside shot at winning his state’s gubernatorial nomination in spite of his strange defense of Russia, praise of President Trump and ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Here’s the full run-down of what to watch in each state:

WEST VIRGINIA — GOP Senate primary, House primary

Republicans feel renewed panic that their voters might be about to choose a man who just got out of jail for his role in the deaths of 29 mine workers to be the party’s nominee against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) — a potential nominee referred to as a “dumpster fire” who can’t win the general election.

Don Blankenship has the momentum heading into Tuesday’s election even though a GOP super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dropped more than $1 million against him, and strategists closely following the race say he’s as likely to win as West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) or Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) in the close race.

That alarm has reached the White House:

Republicans admit a Blankenship nomination would almost certainly end their chances of defeating Manchin in the fall in a state President Trump carried by 42 percentage points in 2016.

Democrats would obviously love to face Blankenship. But they’ve also made it clear they’d prefer the hardline conservative Morrisey to Jenkins, a genial, more centrist candidate they think would give Manchin the toughest challenge. A pro-Manchin group has dropped more than $2 million to try to wipe out Jenkins.

Republicans will also pick a replacement for Jenkins in his safely GOP seat.

INDIANA — GOP Senate primary, primaries for two GOP House seats

Republicans will also pick their nominee to go up against Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), one of the country’s most endangered Democrats, in a fight that’s become increasingly nasty in the closing weeks.

Indiana Republicans think self-funding businessman and former state Rep. Mike Braun (R) has the inside track on the nomination, but wouldn’t be surprised if hardline conservative Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) pulls off a win — and aren’t totally counting out Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN). All three, like the West Virginia candidates, have bear-hugged Trump — Rokita has run ads promising to help end special counsel Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt,” while Messer is calling for Trump to get the Nobel Peace Prize.

Donnelly’s allies have a slight preference to face Rokita, a somewhat prickly personality who has rubbed many establishment Republicans the wrong way. But they think that Braun’s business issues could give them some fodder in the fall in what will likely be a top Senate race regardless of the nominee.

Republicans will also pick replacements for Rokita and Messer — and one top candidate is businessman Greg Pence, the vice president’s brother.

OHIO — Gubernatorial primaries, GOP Senate primary, primaries for former Rep. Pat Tiberi’s (R-OH) seat, anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative

The big primary battles in this state are for governor — and Democrats have the bigger problem on their hands if the wrong candidate gets through.

Eccentric former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has made a lot of noise in his bid against former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray (D). Cordray has spent much more money and has bigger-name supporters (not including Dave Matthews, of course), and most Democrats think he’ll win. But they’re still a bit nervous that Kucinich could pull off an upset in spite of his praise of Trump, meeting with Syrian dictator Assad, and repeated defense of Russian aggression across the globe.

On the GOP side, Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) is the front-runner, but Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R) has real support as well and could pull off the upset. If DeWine and Cordray win, it’d set up a rematch of DeWine’s 2010 defeat of Cordray, who was seeking reelection as state attorney general.

Both parties will also pick nominees for what will likely be the last hotly contested House special election of the year — and one where Republicans are deeply worried they might nominate a hardliner out of step with the suburban district long held by Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) and give Democrats an even better shot at winning the GOP-leaning district.

Republicans will pick their nominee for an uphill fight against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) has Trump’s endorsement and much more money than businessman Mike Gibbons, and is expected to win the nomination.

The state’s voters will also decide whether to support a ballot amendment that would minimize partisans’ ability to gerrymander the state, and are expected to pass it, as well as a choice to replace Renacci.

NORTH CAROLINA: House GOP incumbents facing primaries

Reps. Rob Pittenger (R-NC) and Walter Jones (R-NC) are both facing serious primaries once again, though both are expected to hang on for victory.

Pittenger is in a rematch against minister and former Senate candidate Mark Harris (R), who is close with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R). Pittenger barely won last time, but released an internal poll earlier this spring showing him with a big lead.

Jones, an independent-minded Republican with a libertarian streak who is well known for bucking party leaders, is in a tough race himself — and local county commissioner Scott Dacey has spent nearly as much money as the longtime incumbent, along with a small investment from a GOP super-PAC with ties to House leadership. But Jones has survived tougher challenges before and is expected to hang on.

We’ll keep you updated on the races as they get called.

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West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) has suddenly launched into full-on attack mode against ex-con coal baron Don Blankenship (R) ahead of the primary, the latest sign that Blankenship is a real threat to win on Tuesday.

Morrisey’s campaign is out with a digital ad ripping Blankenship as a “convicted criminal” who will blow a winnable Senate race, the first paid media from one of Blankenship’s actual opponents highlighting his role in the deaths of 29 mine workers. The spot follows a weekend robocall and press conference warning the same.

“Twenty-nine miners killed at Upper Big Branch Mine, owned and operated by Don Blankenship’s company. Families devastated, children left fatherless, wives widowed,” the ad’s narrator intones. “Blankenship was convicted and sentenced to prison for willfully conspiring to violate mine safety standards.”

Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) have mostly trained their fire on one another throughout the campaign, letting a GOP super-PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) do the dirty work against Blankenship.

That seemed to be working a few weeks ago, when polls found Morrisey and Jenkins up by double digits. But in the past week Blankenship seems to have caught some momentum, terrifying national Republicans who believe he’d cost them any chance of defeating Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) if he’s their nominee. In recent days, a number of internal polls show him rising, though they disagree on who has the lead in the race.

That’s led to a last-minute scramble to stop him once again, culminating in a tweet from President Trump Monday morning begging voters not to back him.

The spot also highlights Blankenship’s legal residency in Nevada and warns that “liberal Democrats will easily defeat him.”

“A convicted criminal or a proven conservative: That’s your choice,” the ad concludes.

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The Trump administration is rejecting a proposal by Kansas to kick people off of Medicaid after three years, and also plans to allow states to exempt American Indian tribal members from Medicaid work requirement rules.

The twin announcements came in a speech Monday morning given by the Trump administration’s top Medicaid and Medicare official, Seema Verma, to the American Hospital Association.

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The nastiest Senate primary in the country rumbles to its madcap conclusion on Tuesday – and may yield a GOP nominee so deeply flawed he could make Roy Moore look good by comparison.

Coal baron Don Blankenship, who’s fresh off a one-year prison sentence for his role in failing to prevent a mine explosion that killed 29 workers, has spent the closing weeks of the West Virginia Senate primary flaying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as “Cocaine Mitch” and attacking his “China people” family.

Blankenship’s high-profile war with national GOP leaders has eclipsed a sharp-elbowed fight between Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) that has left both with scars. Not to be left out, allies of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) have aired nearly $2 million in ads attacking Jenkins, the candidate they least want to face.

For Democrats, West Virginia’s primary has lived up to the state’s motto: Wild and wonderful. And it’s left GOP strategists hoping to defeat Manchin cringing and unsure who their nominee will be.

We’re all ready for this just to be over,” one top West Virginia Republican who’s unaligned in the primary told TPM. “It’s become really bitter.”

That alarm has risen to the top of the GOP, with President Trump himself urging West Virginians not to give Blankenship the nomination in a Monday morning tweet that compared him to Moore:

The race’s nasty tenor hasn’t helped Republicans as they hope to defeat Manchin in a state Trump won by a 41-point margin in 2016 and is a key battle in the war for the Senate.

The consensus in West Virginia is that Morrisey may be the slight favorite to be the nominee. He’s the only one who hasn’t faced a barrage of outside spending in the race, he doesn’t have Blankenship’s oversized baggage, and late endorsements from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have helped him with some in the GOP base.

But a number of Republicans worry Blankenship has some late momentum. They think all three candidates could win — two sources said they’d seen separate polls showing all three in the lead in the last week — and argue that a Blankenship nomination would be a disaster.

It’d be like watching a dumpster fire in Morgantown roll down the hill,” one unaligned West Virginia operative told TPM. “It’d be an absolute shitstorm. McConnell and he don’t like each other, and Manchin and he really don’t like each other.”

National Republicans publicly say they’d be fine with either Morrisey or Jenkins as nominee. But while some like his hard-charging style, many others privately many worry that Morrisey’s history as a former lobbyist who ran for Congress in his native New Jersey before moving to the state make him a less electable candidate than Jenkins.

Manchin’s allies clearly agree — which is why they’ve dumped a huge sum on Jenkins’ head in the closing weeks of the race.

Jenkins’ team argues he’s survived the attacks and will win on Tuesday.

“While Patrick Morrisey, Don Blankenship and the anti-Trump Schumer PAC have spent millions on false attacks against us, West Virginia voters aren’t buying it — because they saw for themselves this week that Evan Jenkins is the only candidate who truly represents West Virginia values and can beat Joe Manchin the fall,” said Jenkins adviser Andy Sere.

But Jenkins’ allies privately admit the combined assault against him has hurt the underfunded candidate.

Anytime you face an amount of money like this it’s tough to overcome,” one source close to Jenkins told TPM.

Ads by a McConnell-aligned super-PAC ripping Blankenship clearly had some impact. A trio of public polls of the primary found him sinking into the teens a few weeks ago, 10 points behind his two rivals. But those were conducted before his counter-punches against McConnell began landing in earnest, and before Democrats unleashed their attacks on Jenkins that knocked him down.

Blankenship also may be experiencing the rare post-debate bump for a non-presidential candidate. Even his detractors say he handled himself well onstage in a debate that aired nationally on Fox News last week.

Blankenship’s got momentum right now,” said former West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Doug McKinney, a Jenkins backer. “People were surprised at what a good showing Don made at the three-way debate last week … I would not be too surprised if any one of the three of them wins.”

Democrats agree, though most think that Morrisey or Jenkins is still more likely to emerge.

“The race has become a lot more fluid in the final days here. It’s tightened up amongst all three of them,” said Mike Plante, who’s working on the Manchin-aligned super-PAC that eviscerated Jenkins. “The more people have learned about these candidates, the less they’ve liked about them.”

Blankenship avoided the line of fire during the debate face-off as Jenkins and Morrisey tore into one another. That’s a dynamic that’s carried through the race as the two more establishment candidates have focused their attacks on one another and avoided poking the bear and risking vicious attacks from the self-funding candidate.

That dynamic has national Republicans alarmed — including the White House. President Trump pointedly had Jenkins and Morrisey by his side at an official event the last time he was in his state, with Blankenship left out in the cold. And on Thursday, after meeting with Republican National Committee officials, Donald Trump Jr. let out a tweetstorm calling for West Virginians not to nominate Blankenship while comparing him to Moore:

After mostly focusing his ire on Jenkins, Morrisey has suddenly pivoted into an attack on Blankenship in the race’s final days, with a robocall released over the weekend and a Sunday press conference aimed squarely at attacking his opponent’s criminal past.

“Don Blankenship’s disrespect for the law and the people of West Virginia threatens to block our ability to advance conservative policies and imperils Republican chances of defeating Sen. Joe Manchin in the fall,” Morrisey said in a statement blasted out by his team on Friday. “Don’s continued flouting of the law demonstrates that he has learned nothing from his past legal troubles and his time in prison.”

Blankenship’s team is supremely confident he’ll win on Tuesday — and roll their eyes at establishment Republicans’ view that he can’t beat Manchin in the fall.

“How many times do they need to go down the road of ‘this person’s unelectable’ before they realize voters just don’t give a shit?” Blankenship spokesman Greg Thomas told TPM. “They said the same thing about Donald Trump.”

That GOP infighting has Republicans worried the wounds of the primary will be difficult to heal.

And the primary remains anyone’s to win. Just ask the campaigns.

“I’d rather be us than Jenkins, I’d rather be us than Don,” said Morrisey adviser Nachama Soloveichik. “But this will be close.”

This story was updated a 8:20 a.m. to include President Trump’s tweet on the race.

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Republicans are worried they might lose one more big special election right before the midterms – and a nasty proxy war between the establishment and hardline wings of their party isn’t making them feel any better.

Former Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH), a top GOP establishment figure, is fighting like hell to help his hand-picked successor, state Sen. Troy Balderson (R), win his Tuesday primary. But Tea Party conservatives led by former House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) have gone all-in to add another member to their bloc of hardliners, with most backing Melanie Leneghan in the crowded field.

Republicans both in the state and nationally are bracing for a difficult August special election in the GOP-leaning district, which includes parts of Columbus and its well-educated suburbs, as well as more rural territory. President Trump won the district by 10 percentage points in 2016, a smaller margin than in some other places Democrats have won special elections in the past year. And GOP strategists say a tough fight would get even harder if Leneghan is their nominee.

“It’s going to be competitive, like a lot of suburban Republican seats around the country, regardless of who the nominee is because of the blue wave that’s coming. Add into that a nominee that’s well outside the mainstream of the party and that’s a recipe for disaster,” said John Weaver, a senior adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).

In an unusual move, Tiberi has spent almost a half-million dollars from his own campaign account to boost Balderson. He’s been backed by Defending Main Street, a centrist GOP group with Ohio ties, as well as another Republican super PAC that has ties to House GOP leadership.

On the other side is Jordan, who has come in hard for Leneghan, and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, whose super-PAC has been spending heavily on ads attacking Balderson.

Tiberi is close to both former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who used to hold this House seat, and the race may be the final salvo in the long-running feud between Jordan and Boehner’s allies, many of whom have left or are leaving office. Jordan led the charge to force Boehner from the speakership in 2015, and he helped fellow hardliner Warren Davidson (R-OH) win Boehner’s old congressional seat. He compared this race to that primary.

We want someone who’s going to take on the swamp and help President Trump get done what we told the American people we’re going to get done,” Jordan told TPM. “Melanie’s the right person, she’s a fighter, she’s not afraid.”

Democrats have been outperforming their normal numbers in almost every special election this year, making previously safe districts look competitive. While Rep. Conor Lamb’s (D-PA) recent special election victory in a heavily conservative southwestern Pennsylvania district is their only actual House pickup, they’ve won some other major races across the country, and all signs point to a huge enthusiasm gap heading into the midterms. Another special election loss for Republicans would deal their party a psychic blow — as well as bring Democrats one seat closer to the majority (though whoever wins this election is in for a rematch in November).

“If we heaven forbid were to lose this, it sets the narrative of what might be coming even more. We’ve got to put ourselves in a position to stave off another PA-18,” said former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges. “Leneghan could be the kind of candidate who could force us into a real hard fight.”

National Republicans concede the August special election is shaping up to be a tough fight for them, and say a Leneghan nomination would further fuel their problems.

“It’s going to be a competitive race,” said one GOP strategist closely following the election. “The candidate that comes out of there would definitely affect how much attention is given by the national parties.”

Both Balderson and Leneghan have been bear-hugging Trump in the primary. But Leneghan is more closely aligned tonally to the president, while Balderson has long been a Kasich ally in the statehouse — an problematic position to be in given how unpopular the anti-Trump governor has become with the state’s GOP base.

Balderson’s vote to help Kasich expand Medicaid coverage in the state is particularly hurtful in the primary — and has been the focus of the Club for Growth Action’s $200,000 worth of ads attacking him.

His vote to expand Medicaid was definitely noxious to us,” Club for Growth Vice President Andy Roth told TPM. “Obamacare is not popular among Republican voters. Neither is John Kasich in Ohio.”

Democrats have a crowded primary field as well, though strategists say Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor is the front-runner in their race.

Columbus and its suburbs have trended toward Democrats for years, but this gerrymandered district shouldn’t be anywhere near competitive in a normal year. And Republicans say a loss there could portend bigger losses this fall.

“It’s big, there’s no question about it,” former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka (R) told TPM. “Losing that seat changes the equation.”

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Ex-con coal baron Don Blankenship has arguably hit a new low in his bid to face Sen. Joe Manchin (R-WV), going after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) “China family” in a new ad with just days to go until the GOP primary.

“Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars,” Blankenship says without providing evidence in what could be his final ad of the primary.

The racially charged remarks attacking McConnell’s Chinese-American wife,  Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and her family are the latest escalation in the war between the deeply controversial Blankenship and the Senate majority leader.

Blankenship, who’s still on parole for his role in failing to prevent a 2010 mine disaster that killed 29 of his workers, has been under attack from McConnell’s allies, who believe for good reason he’d be a disastrous nominee for the party in a winnable race.

He’s responded with a string of nasty attacks on McConnell, calling him “Cocaine Mitch” because of a 2014 story that said drugs had been found on a shipping vessel owned by McConnell’s in-laws and accusing him of a conflict of interest because his father-in-law is “a wealthy China person,” comments he’s since defended.

The self-funding Blankenship has trailed Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) in recent polls ahead of the May 8 primary, but still has an outside shot of actually winning the nomination.

McConnell’s office pointed TPM to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and former McConnell staff when asked for a comment. They didn’t immediately respond.

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Roy Moore refuses to go away.

The former Alabama judge and dumpster fire of a Senate candidate sent out a statement on Thursday saying that he might run for statewide office in Alabama once again.

“If the opportunity arises to make a difference, I will have no reluctance to again run for political office, including that of Governor,” he said in a statement.

Those remarks come after Moore’s Senate bid went down in flames last fall amidst accusations from multiple women of sexual misconduct — including many who said the incidents took place when they were teenagers.

It’s hard to see Moore even winning a primary in the ruby-red state — but his diehard supporters stuck with him through the last race, and might do so again in spite of his tremendous political baggage.

The statement comes as a clarification to his recent remarks that he had no plans to run for office, made at a press conference announcing a defamation lawsuit against some of his accusers.

Moore’s statement comes in the petulant tone familiar to those who covered the race that made Democrat Doug Jones a senator and gave his party an outside chance at winning back control of the upper chamber this fall.

Here’s Moore’s statement in full:

At a press conference on April 30, 2018 announcing the filing of a defamation lawsuit against my accusers, a reporter asked me if I had plans to run for public office again. ‘I have no plans at this time for running for anything,; I said. The reporter continued: ‘Not even Governor?’ I answered: ‘No.’

The Associated Press then sent out a story, picked up by Time Magazine, that misquoted me as saying I had ‘no plans to run for any office again, including that of Alabama governor.’

To clarify, as I said in my response, I have no plans at this time to run for office. Nevertheless, plans change. If the opportunity arises to make a difference, I will have no reluctance to again run for political office, including that of Governor.

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Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) is closing his heated primary race for the right to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) with an attack on Special Counsel Robert Mueller — and a promise to end his “witch hunt” into President Trump.

The congressman’s newest TV ad ahead — and possibly his final spot ahead of the May 8 primary — lumps together Mueller, Donnelly and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and argues Rokita is the only one who will truly defend Trump.

 

“Mueller, Pelosi, Donnelly. They’re using fake news to destroy our president. Who’s tough enough to stop the witch hunt?” the ad’s narrator says before knocking Rokita’s primary rivals, painting Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) as a “Never Trumper” and pointing out businessman Mike Braun (R) is a former Democrat.

The three candidates have been vying hard for the Trumpier-than-thou mantle in the race, much like Republicans in other hotly contested primaries, and Rokita even donned a MAGA hat in an earlier spot. But this may be the first time in the 2018 cycle that a candidate has explicitly asked for GOP voters’ support in order to halt the investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia. Keep an eye out for whether that becomes a theme in GOP primaries going forward.

Most Indiana Republicans think Braun is the favorite to win next week’s primary, but think Rokita has a chance to catch him.

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When the Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) abruptly resigned last week after less than six months in his post, the agency gave no explanation.

But an e-mail from a BIA employee obtained by TPM claims the director, Bryan Rice, exhibited aggressive and intimidating behavior toward her in an incident she believes was captured by a surveillance camera. The woman involved and her supporters have been urging tribal leaders — via e-mail and social media — to submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Interior Department for the video of the alleged incident. At least five did so in the weeks leading up to Rice’s resignation, according to the agency’s FOIA logs.

The five identically worded FOIA queries read: “Request footage of the Indian Affairs FOIA Officer, Jessica Rogers and Bryan Rice, Bureau of Indian Affairs Director on the 4th floor north and south hallway in the main Interior building on December 6, 2017, between on or about 9 am and noon.”

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