First, here are the best previews of the race that I have seen thus far:
- Nathaniel Rakich (FiveThirtyEight): “What’s At Stake In The First Big Primary Day Of 2018”
- David Byler (The Weekly Standard): “How Much Would a Blankenship Nomination Hurt West Virginia Republicans? “
- Harry Enten (CNN): “Yes, Don Blankenship can win and other nuggets as Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia head to the polls”
Now for the 3 key contests I’m looking at and why they’re important…
1. West Virginia Senate GOP Primary
Republican voters in West Virginia on Tuesday will have the opportunity to select their nominee to face off against Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. The selection of a quality candidate is key to the GOP’s ability to fight Manchin in November, a possibly uphill battle in what should otherwise be an easy battle in a state that is 39 points more Republican than the rest of the nation. The key contenders are U.S. Rep Evan Jenkins, WV Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, and Chairman/CEO of Massey Energy and convicted felon Don Blankenship.
In recent weeks, the conventional wisdom has shifted to treating Blankenship as a sort of Trumpian candidate, willing to wage war on the establishment (or anyone) to garner media attention and raise his profile. Though journalists have seemed to take the bait, we don’t have much evidence that Blankenship really has the lead that some reporting of internal polling might hint that he has. We should be viewing this race as a tossup contest, as far as I’m concerned, though it’s worth noting that Blankenship can feasible win this first-past-the-post plurality primary by consolidating support that might otherwise be split between Jenkins and Morrisey.
As if it hadn’t been said enough, a Blankeship win would likely be a worse outcome for the GOP in November than a win by the other candidates. His odd ploys for advertising and strange statements make him appear weak and cause some to believe some otherwise Republican voters would cast ballots for Manchin in the fall. However, Blankenship’s strategy could pan out for him — the constant media grabs and demonization of establishment politicians has certainly worked before (see: Donald J Trump).
2. North Carolina’s 9th and 13th Congressional Districts
These R+14 and R+11 congressional districts are two that Democrats hope can be battlegrounds in a probable Democratic wave in the fall. Both are less red than the average swing in federal special elections since November 2017 (D+17), though for various reasons, we shouldn’t expect a swing that large in incumbent-occupied districts like these two. This being said, my current forecasts for the seats aren’t great for Republicans.