GOP outsiders in – and out – as primary season kicks off
Republican voters rejected ex-convict Don Blankenship Tuesday in a West Virginia Senate primary in which he sold himself as “Trumpier than Trump” but was vigorously opposed by the president. GOP voters in Indiana, meanwhile, chose wealthy businessman Mike Braun over two sitting congressmen to lead the party’s charge against a vulnerable Democratic senator in the fall.
In a possible sign of party unrest, Rep. Robert Pittenger lost the Republican primary for his seat in North Carolina to the Rev. Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor he narrowly beat two years ago. Both men campaigned as evangelical Christians who would outdo the other to support Donald Trump.
These were among a slate of elections, kicking off the primary season, that tested the limits of the anti-establishment fervor that has defined the Trump era.
Hopelessly behind in West Virginia, Blankenship conceded defeat in the state’s GOP Senate primary election. That was welcome news for Trump and his allies who had fought aggressively to undermine Blankenship, an ex-convict who they feared would have little chance of defeating Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin this fall.
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the nomination, promoting his record of challenging policies of the administration of former President Barack Obama and deflecting criticism of his roots in New Jersey, where he lost a 2000 congressional race.
There was less drama in Indiana, where Republican voters nominated businessman Braun to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in November. Braun, a onetime critic of Trump, has more recently declared that the president should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The West Virginia Republican Senate contest in particular headlined a slate of primary elections across four states on Tuesday that will help shape the political landscape in this fall’s midterm elections. Control of Congress is at stake in addition to state governments across the nation.
In most cases, the Republican candidates on the ballot Tuesday had competed to be seen as the most conservative, the most anti-Washington and the most loyal to the Republican president.
In Indiana, Democrat Donnelly will face off in November against Braun, a multimillionaire owner of a national auto-parts distribution business who was highly critical of Trump throughout the 2016 general election. He has since come around, voicing praise for the “Trump agenda” – if not always the president’s inflammatory rhetoric and tweets.