Editor’s Note: Alice Stewart is a CNN Political Commentator and former communications director for the Ted Cruz for President campaign. The views expressed in this commentary are hers.
The ballot on Tuesday left off the biggest winners: President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who stepped in to stand up for and against certain candidates.
Republican candidates who embraced President Trump and his “drain the swamp” message came out on top in key Senate and congressional races in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina, setting the stage for a strong field of GOP candidates heading into the general election in November.
Learning lessons from the past, the GOP is now determined to field a strong team of candidates heading into November. If the party bolsters this resolve with a strong economy and significant presidential foreign policy advancements, the GOP will be on solid ground. The Democrats may still pick up some seats, but the anticipated Blue Wave will be more like an uphill battle.
Trump didn’t hold back in tweeting his approval Wednesday morning, saying, “The Republican Party had a great night. Tremendous voter energy and excitement, and all candidates have a chance of winning in November.”
In the crucial West Virginia Senate primary, Republican State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey pulled off an upset and scored a win for the party over Rep. Evan Jenkins and former inmate and coal baron Don Blankenship. Morrisey will take on incumbent Joe Manchin, one of the most centrist Democrats in the Senate, in November.
To say this roller-derby type race gave GOP leaders a little heartburn is an understatement. Morrisey and Jenkins were out early with a fierce primary fight. Blankenship got into the race late with a slew of controversial, racially insensitive comments and a fierce attack on McConnell, calling him “Cocaine Mitch,” and claiming he created jobs for “China people.”
West Virginia (which Trump won by 42 points in 2016) offers one of the best chances Republicans have to turn a blue state red in the 2018 midterms, and after the disastrous mistake of nominating Roy Moore, who faced allegations of sexual abuse, in conservative stronghold Alabama, Republicans felt additional pressure to stop Blankenship in order to nominate a viable primary candidate heading into November.
Trump even used the bully pulpit of his Twitter feed to discourage voters from supporting Blankenship.
In the Indiana Senate GOP primary, businessman Mike Braun beat US Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita in a heated primary battle. Given that Trump won Indiana in 2016 by 20 points, all three candidates positioned themselves as the most dedicated to Trump supporters.
Messer wrote a letter nominating Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize, while Rokita played up to the base by running an ad bashing the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt.” Braun, who will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in the fall, beat Messer and Rokita by depicting himself as an outsider businessman like Trump.
In the Ohio GOP primary, both Rep. Jim Renacci and businessman Mike Gibbons campaigned as the ultimate outsider candidate. Trump-backed Renacci focused on his disgust with Washington status quo. Trump won Ohio in 2016 by a much smaller margin than West Virginia or Indiana, and many say Trump’s endorsement of Renacci, who will run against Sen. Sherrod Brown in the general election, was a key factor in his win.
In North Carolina, GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger became the first incumbent to lose in the 2018 primary cycle. Former Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church beat Pittenger with his “drain the swamp” message, running against the GOP-controlled Congress as much as against Pittenger. Harris now prepares for a competitive general election race against Iraq War veteran Dan McCready.
The Democrats’ anticipated Blue Wave was downgraded as voters backed strong candidates who can enable the GOP to hold and potentially expand its majority in the crucial midterm elections. As a footnote, it goes without saying that in this crazy world of politics, even losers win; at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, Blankenship’s parole ended. He said he plans to head to a luxury resort to relax and play blackjack. The winning candidates are off to the races in November.