Saturday, May 12, 2018

What To Make Of Tuesday's Primaries

It's been a few days since Tuesday's primaries and there are a couple of takeaways that are worth noting. The first was in West Virginia where most political pundits feel the GOP dodged a bullet when Don Blankenship came in third in the Republican primary. Had he won, they argue, Joe Manchin's reelection to another term in the Senate would've been all but guaranteed.

I'm not so certain. True, Blankenship would have been an embarrassment for the Republican Party, but given that Roy Moore almost won in Alabama this year and Donald Trump actually did in 2016, being an embarrassment isn't the disqualifier it used to be. Running against a loose canon like Blankenship would've forced Manchin into a tit for tat mud wrestling match, which was precisely how Trump beat Hillary Clinton. Against a more conventional opponent like Patrick Morrissey, who also happens to be the state's attorney general, Manchin will be able to run on his record, which as it turns out, is quite impressive.

Manchin is well liked and respected among the voters, and for a Democrat in a state Trump won by 42 points, that's no easy feat. I'm not saying he's a shoo-in, but it will be awfully difficult for Republicans to paint him as a liberal. I've been saying this for a while, but I like Manchin's chances this November, especially in light of the latest news that Blankenship has decided not to endorse Morrissey, which should help keep some of the Trumpier voters from turning out on election day.

To be fair, West Virginia wasn't the only state where a fringe candidate was defeated. In Ohio, Dennis Kucinich was trounced by former Attorney General Richard Cordray. And while Kucinich is no Blankenship, the fact is he had virtually no chance of being elected to the office of governor. At least with Cordray, who is viewed as a much more moderate candidate, Democrats have a fighting chance in November. I keep harping on this, but it's important for progressives to accept that outside of certain geographical areas of the country, they are not well liked. The Bernie wing of the party may have all the juice, but in places like Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota, that juice is undrinkable to a majority of the voters.

But the second, and perhaps more important, takeaway from Tuesday had to do with turnout; particularly Democratic turnout, which overall was greater than Republican turnout. This is a trend that began with last year's gubernatorial election in Virginia and has continued throughout these midterms. It's clear that Democratic voters are energized in a way we haven't seen since 2006. That was the year the GOP lost both houses of Congress. Republicans are worried a repeat might be in the offing. And if Tuesday is any indication, they have a right to be concerned.

In West Virginia, almost 160 thousand people turned out to vote in the Democratic primary compared to just 136 thousand who voted in the Republican primary. To some extent this isn't a total surprise; Registered Democrats do outnumber registered Republicans. And when Manchin won in 2012, he also got more votes in his primary than his Republican opponent got in his. For Democrats to hold onto this seat, though, Manchin will have to hope for a repeat performance this November.

Then there was North Carolina's 9th district, where incumbent Republican Robert Pittenger lost to challenger Mark Harris. In that race, Democrat Dan McCready got more votes in his primary than all three GOP candidates got in theirs combined. This seat has now gone from likely Republican to tossup.

And lastly, in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, Democratic turnout surpassed Republican turnout for the first time since 1982. According to the data, overall turnout was up 21 percent from the 2010 and 2014 midterms, both of which saw significant gains by Republicans. It cannot be overstated enough that Democrats historically have had problems getting their voters to the polls in midterm elections. This could be the year where all that changes.

When you look at the generic polling, which still shows Democrats ahead by 6 points in the RCP average, and combine that with what happened Tuesday, it's clear Democrats have a real shot of taking at least one chamber of Congress. It may not be a wave like the one we saw in '06, but with only 23 seats needed in the House to regain the majority, it doesn't have to be.

As they say in baseball, they all look like line drives in the box score.

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