Primary season is underway. After a couple of ridiculously early primaries in March, we saw our first major Senate primaries of 2018 on Tuesday in Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. And the results had big implications for Republicans' efforts to hold the Senate in November.

We also saw, in Ohio, perhaps the first big result of Democrats' all-important effort to win key governor's races in hopes of preventing GOP redistricting dominance after the 2020 election. And in North Carolina, two House GOP incumbents were in trouble.

Below, some winners and losers.


The GOP's nightmare scenario

It's a pretty low bar to say you've won because a clearly disastrous candidate lost your primary, but this is a special case. The possibility that ex-con Don Blankenship might have won the West Virginia GOP Senate primary — despite overseeing a mine where 29 miners died and later serving a year in prison on a related charge — was a real one, and a really troubling one. But perhaps even worse than handing this “toss-up” seat back to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D) would have been the message a Blankenship victory would have sent to other GOP candidates: Be as conspiratorial and use as many racial dog whistles as you want.

Blankenship finished a distant third behind state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins. Still, the fact that he got around 20 percent of the vote and seemed to have a chance is remarkable.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whom Blankenship attacked as “Cocaine Mitch” by employing a bizarre conspiracy theory involving McConnell's “China family,” was clearly enjoying it.


According to the New York Times, there were 19 open House Democratic primaries featuring a woman candidate, and a woman emerged from more than 80 percent of those races. There are more women running than ever before following Trump's election, the Women's March and the rise of the #MeToo movement, but running and winning are two different things. This suggests they have electoral momentum too -- even as it will be tough for many of the women who won Tuesday to actually win their seats.

Democrats' redistricting hopes

Democrats are in an unenviable position when it comes to winning back power in the states and in Congress: They face huge deficits in many state legislative chambers that get to draw the maps. So winning key governor's races is their best way to get a seat at the table in states like Ohio, where they control only one-third of the state House and nine of 33 state Senate seats. Amber Phillips and I outlined seven redistricting-related governor's races in 2018 and 2020 awhile back.

Well, there was good news for Democrats in the first primary of those seven races: Their preferred candidate, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray, easily dispatched former congressman Dennis Kucinich on Tuesday. He'll face former senator and current Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R), who unseated Cordray for that job in 2010.

(Side note: Ohio voters passed a redistricting reform measure Tuesday, but its scope is somewhat limited.)

The Pence dynasty

The above title is tongue in cheek, but we did see the rise of the Other Pence on Tuesday. Greg Pence, the vice president's older brother, won a rather sleepy contest for the GOP nomination in Indiana's 6th Congressional District, where Rep. Luke Messer (R) was running for Senate and where Mike Pence once served. According to the New York Times, “In his first run for public office, Mr. Pence, 61, ran a largely hermetic race, declining to debate his opponents and refusing most requests for interviews.” Pence won easily despite a checkered business history. His name, it seems, was enough to dominate in fundraising and win what basically amounts to a ticket to Congress.


Members of Congress

If there was one descriptor you didn't want next to your name Tuesday, it was “congressman.” Two of them (Messer and Todd Rokita) lost to wealthy businessman Mike Braun in the Indiana GOP Senate primary to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D). One of them (Evan Jenkins) lost to Morrisey in the West Virginia GOP Senate primary. Kucinich lost in Ohio. Even Rep. Jim Renacci, who had Trump's backing and probably should have won the GOP nod to face Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) rather easily, failed to crest 50 percent.

The Braun dynasty

Alas, not all Indiana political dynasties are created equal. Despite Mike Braun's ascent in the Senate race, his brother Steve failed to follow in Greg Pence's footsteps and lost his GOP primary in Indiana's 4th District.

The bear-hug-Trump strategy

Tuesday's primaries were the first big test of an increasingly popular GOP primary strategy: When in doubt, bear-hug the president. Blankenship declared himself “Trumpier than Trump” (despite the president's urging people not to vote for Blankenship). Rokita went to massive lengths to associate himself with Trump, including donning a MAGA hat in an ad all about aligning with Trump and proposing legislation to hurry along special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation. Messer said he would nominate Trump for the Nobel peace prize. And Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) wouldn't go 30 seconds without mentioning Trump in his tough primary, which he became the first House incumbent to lose.

Aligning with Trump is probably a fixture of GOP primaries for now, but there's a difference between doing it a little bit and being over-the-top about it. We'll see how it shakes out going forward, but so far it looks like a strategy of desperation more than anything. And it surely didn't make the difference Tuesday.