With Congress already looking at a substantial amount of change next year, voters added to that on Tuesday night, as Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) was defeated in his quest for a fourth term in office, the first sitting member of Congress to lose a re-election bid in the 2018 mid-term elections. Meanwhile, the Senate Majority Leader was all smiles, as a GOP candidate who had targeted his own party's leader failed to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in West Virginia.
Voters went to the polls in four states on Tuesday - North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, and Ohio, sending some different messages about where things might be going this November.
Here is some of what we learned:
1. GOP avoids a West Virginia headache. Worried that a convicted former coal mine executive might win the GOP Senate primary in West Virginia, President Donald Trump on Monday directly urged voters there to reject Don Blankenship, who had labeled himself, "Trumpier than Trump." But it didn't work for Blankenship, as state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the GOP nod, and will face Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in November. That outcome was also sweet music for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as Blankenship had called McConnell, "Cocaine Mitch" in a television ad. McConnell's people had the last laugh when the votes were in on Tuesday night, as they put out this photo on Twitter.
2. Washington outsider beats insiders in Indiana. When the GOP race for U.S. Senate began in Indiana, most political experts rightly focused on the two U.S. House members trying to move up, Rep. Todd Rokita and Rep. Luke Messer. But, they duked it out so much with each other, that they left an opening for someone else to win, and that's exactly what happened, as businessman Mike Braun swept to an easy victory; he'll face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) in November. The attack line on Braun was that he was a Democrat - but in his TV ads, he embraced Trump, and cast himself as the outsider, dispatching two members of Congress who did all they could in the closing days to say they were Trump supporters.
3. The other Braun brother wasn't so lucky. While Mike Braun won the GOP Senate nod, his brother Steve fell short in his bid to win the Republican nomination for a seat in Congress from Indiana. One reason? It may have been a Super PAC mailer by an out-of-state group that was done on his behalf, which attacked his opponent over supporting a 2016 gasoline tax increase in the Indiana legislature. You can see in the graphic below, "ARM" and "LEG" for gas prices. Except the guy being attacked in the ad was a vet who was wounded, and lost his left arm in the Vietnam War. Read that sentence again. Slowly. Someone didn't do their homework.
4. Pittenger defeat gives Democrats hope in North Carolina. As mentioned above, the first loss by a GOP incumbent who was running for re-election to Congress certainly opens up the seat held by Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC). Combine evidence of a more energetic Democratic electorate, with a big money advantage right now, and more liberal groups immediately declared that they have a good chance to win this open seat in November. Not many House members lose primaries - when they do, it's often not good news for their party in November if the district is at all in play. Two years ago, only five House members lost their primary - Pittenger is the first in 2018.
5. Mike Pence's brother may be on his way to Congress. Using a strategy of not talking very much to the news media, Greg Pence had no problems on primary night, winning the GOP nod for a U.S. House seat from Indiana which was once held by his brother, who is now the Vice President of the United States. Greg, who is older than Mike, has not held office before. But barring some kind of unforeseen shift in the tectonic plates below the Hoosier State, he should be in the U.S. House starting next January.
6. Establishment prevails in Ohio special election. In a proxy fight involving the House Freedom Caucus and the GOP regulars, the Establishment chalked up a narrow primary victory in a district near the state capital of Columbus, as state Rep. Troy Balderson held on for a late victory. "Troy has worked tirelessly to cut taxes and create jobs in the State Senate, and he will continue that important work on behalf of Ohio’s 12th District in Congress,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), who heads the national campaign arm for House Republicans. The special election for that seat will be in August, and will be a big battle this summer over the narrative of how well Democrats are going to do in November, or if Republicans have the chance to weather the storm of what's could be a tough year for them in Congressional mid-term elections.
7. 6 states down. A busy next few weeks. Think about it like your regular Tuesday bowling league - from now until the end of June, 26 more states will hold their primaries for Congress, as the two major parties start winnowing the field, and giving us more clues on who will hold the edge in November. Next week on May 15, it's Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon and Pennsylvania, then Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky on May 22. You never know what might happen along the way.