- - Wednesday, May 16, 2018


The blue wave that Democrats are counting on to win the day in November, and the Congress with it, just can’t seem to break out of the swamp. This week’s party primaries were counted on to produce candidates moderate enough, or at least sane enough, to restore credibility to Democratic prospects. It didn’t happen quite that way.

“Tuesday,” observes The Washington Post, the house organ of the party, “was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Democratic moderates. The success of very liberal candidates in primaries across four states is causing a new bout of heartburn among party strategists who worry about unelectable activists thwarting their drive for the House majority.”

Indeed. It’s going to take more than Alka-Seltzer to relieve that heartburn. The Democrats start with a severe handicap in the Senate. They hold 24 of the seats (plus two independents who caucus with them) up for election this year, and Republicans have to defend only 9. With a 51 to 49 split, every seat matters, and the results on Tuesday were good news for the president and his party.

Democratic prospects in the House of Representatives are better, but still muddy. The Democrats should gain seats, as opposition parties almost always do in the midterms, but Republicans now have a few things going for them this year. The economy is going gangbusters, with unemployment below 4 percent. The generic ballot polling shows that the Democrats hold only a 3-point lead over the Republicans, down from double digits several months ago.

Couple that with prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula and, though President Trump is not likely to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the party might continue to hold both houses of Congress. West Virginia provides a look at why and how the November outlook has changed. The state’s Republican primary pitted the state attorney general, a congressman, and an ex-convict against each other. The ex-convict, Don Blankenship, did prison time for his role in a coal-mining disaster that killed 29 persons, and he would likely have been a disastrous nominee.

He flirted with racial insult as well, with bizarre insinuations about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s marriage to an American woman of Chinese ancestry, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. In the end, the Blankenship candidacy, which was never the going concern the mainstream media said it was, collapsed, and he won only 20 percent of the vote. The state attorney general, Patrick Morrissey, won the nomination.

Democrats were counting on a Blankenship candidacy to set up another Alabama — a deep-red state sending a Democrat to the U.S. Senate to avoid electing a Republican judged by nearly everyone as beyond the pale. Mr. Morrissey is now a strong challenger to Sen. Joe Manchin, a tired Democrat representing a state that Donald Trump won with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Mr. Manchin tries to separate himself from the unpopular national party, but he usually votes with the Democrats.

In Indiana, the incumbent Democratic senator, Joe Donnelly, is posing as something of a closet Republican in a state that awarded President Trump 57 percent of the vote in 2016. “I’ve voted with the president 62 percent of the time,” he says. “I’ve voted for a whole bunch of his nominees we’ve worked together on the opioid issue. We’ve worked together on veterans issues.” But the inevitable question is, if he’s such a reliable ally of the president, why didn’t he vote for the president’s agenda that other 38 percent of the time?

Dimming Democratic prospects further in Indiana, the Republicans appear to have a good candidate in Mike Braun, a charismatic businessman who bested two congressmen for the nomination on Tuesday night. Mr. Braun is well spoken, blunt and casual, and likely to do well with working-class voters, the “deplorables” in Hillary Clinton’s description.

In North Dakota and Missouri, Republicans have strong candidates to take on Democratic incumbents, Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill. Mrs. McCaskill was something of a fluke winner in 2012, elected after the Republican candidate tried to practice a little medicine, drawing a distinction between “legitimate rape” and the other kind as a threat of pregnancy for women at the hands of rapists. Or something like that. It’s not yet summer, but this year the Democrats have, so far, cornered the market on terrible, horrible, no good, very bad doofus candidates.

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted of a misdemeanor, not a felony.

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