His name may not be on the ballot, but President Donald Trump is figuring prominently in a number of primary races on Tuesday, as voters go to the polls to pick candidates for Congress in Ohio, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Indiana, kicking off primaries for the U.S. House and Senate in 30 states over the next six weeks.
For Republicans, the outcome of primaries in three of the states voting today could be an important sign as to their party's chances to keep control of the U.S. Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections, as Republicans target seats held by Democrats in several states won by the President - Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
Let's take a look at what's at stake as the 2018 mid-terms really start to move into high gear:
1. Trump jumps in West Virginia GOP Senate primary. Trying to avert a repeat of troubles in Alabama last year, where Republicans lost a Senate seat due to a candidate with personal troubles, President Donald Trump on Monday specifically asked GOP voters in West Virginia *NOT* to vote for Don Blankenship, a convicted mining executive, who went to prison over a mine accident that killed 29 people. And it hasn't just been the President - his son Donald Jr., last week called on West Virginia GOP voters not to vote for Blankenship. "I know the first thing (Democratic Sen. Joe) Manchin will do is run ads featuring the families of those 29 miners killed due to actions that sent you to prison," Trump Jr. said. Blankenship fired back by labeling the President's son as part of the GOP Establishment.
2. Who is Don Blankenship, and why does he worry Trump? If you listen to Blankenship, he says he might well be more "Trumpier than Trump." But he has national Republicans worried that he'll be a disaster in November, as the GOP tries to unseat Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). This TV ad that Blankenship ran recently was just one of the red flags for the national GOP, which doesn't want explain why someone who was in prison recently is winning their party's nomination for U.S. Senate. Republicans already watched their party botch a Senate race in Alabama. They fear this would be a repeat.
3. Indiana GOP Senate primary also worth watching. In Indiana, the GOP race to take on Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) has also been a battle which has centered around the President. This race has two current members of the U.S. House, who have been trying to out-do each other with their support of Mr. Trump, but they seem to be trailing outsider businessman Mike Braun, who has attacked them as part of the problem in D.C. "Todd the Fraud" is what he calls Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN). "They vote like liberals," Braun said of Rokita and Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN). Those two have fought back by saying that Braun voted Democratic for most of his life, and by praising the President. Messer last week said Trump should get the Nobel Peace Prize for work on North Korea. Rokita introduced a resolution to end the Russia probe in 30 days. Will it be enough to derail Braun, whose ads are also filled with praise for Mr. Trump?
4. Trump also figures in Ohio GOP Senate primary. It hasn't garnered the attention of West Virginia and Indiana, but the Buckeye State is also seeing its share of "I like Donald Trump more than you do." Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) - who was with the President on Saturday in Cleveland, was hit with a defamation lawsuit by Mike Gibbons, a Republican running against him for Senate, who labels himself a "conservative outsider." "Renacci has falsely stated that Gibbons is anti-Trump," Gibbons said in a statement. "Nothing could be further from the truth." Renacci is the favorite, but think about it - we have Republican Senate primaries in Ohio, West Virginia, and Indiana, where one of the main battlegrounds is - who is more like the President.
5. No current House members seem in primary duress. While turnover in Congress for the 2018 mid-term elections is already approaching levels for all of 2016, no current lawmakers appear to be in danger of losing today. Most of the attention will be on who wins in certain seats to set up races for November. One of those races is in Indiana, where Greg Pence - the brother of the Vice President of the United States - is vying for the GOP nomination for Congress in Indiana's 6th District. Pence is being challenged by Jonathan Lamb, who has pressed Pence for not showing up at events, or talking to reporters.
Don't forget to join me on Twitter tonight - @jamiedupree - for the latest on the primary results. Make it a regular Tuesday night appointment for the next six weeks!