Relief for Republicans as convicted coal baron loses in West Virginia primary

Democrats also got off lightly after Dennis Kucinich, who has refused to condemn Assad, flopped in the Ohio gubernatorial race

Both Democratic and Republican insiders breathed sighs of relief on Tuesday night as outsider candidates widely believed to be flawed, if not unelectable, lost in critical primaries.

In West Virginia, Don Blankenship, the coal baron who was convicted in a fatal mine disaster and ran television ads considered to be racist by many, finished third. Republicans were angst-ridden at the possibility that Blankenship, who served a year in prison for wilfully violating mine safety and health standards after an explosion that killed 29 people in 2010 could become their standard bearer. He received further national attention after he ran a controversial television ad where he talked about “China people.”

Instead, the state attorney general Patrick Morrisey won, edging out two-term incumbent congressman Evan Jenkins. Morrisey, a former lobbyist who was attacked for New Jersey roots and ties to the pharmaceutical industry, was heavily backed by movement conservatives like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. In contrast, Jenkins, who faced criticism for being a registered Democrat until 2013, was considered a favorite of establishment Republicans.

With 90% of precincts reporting, Morrisey received with 35% of the vote while Jenkins received 29% and Blankenship 20%.

Blankenship had been seen as surging recent days that left Republicans afraid that they would virtually forfeit the general election in the deep red state if he was the nominee. President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter urging West Virginians to vote against Blankenship in a state that he won by over 40 points. “To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference. Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State...No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!” tweeted Trump. “Remember Alabama” was an invocation of the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama where Republicans nominated Roy Moore, a controversial former judge who faced accusations of sexual assault.

The convicted former coal CEO had based much of his campaign on his loathing for senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, attacking McConnell’s family and dubbing the Kentucky Republican “Cocaine Mitch.” After his defeat, McConnell’s campaign account tweeted a picture of the Senator surrounded by white powder with the caption “Thanks for playing Don.”

Morrisey will face incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin in November.

The marquee race for Democrats on Tuesday was the Ohio gubernatorial primary, where the former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich flopped in a comeback attempt against Richard Cordray, the former head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB). Cordray was strongly backed by Elizabeth Warren, who campaigned for him in the state.

With 81% of precincts reporting, Cordray was beating Kucinich by a margin of 63% to 22%.

Kucinich, a former congressman, faced scrutiny over his ties to the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his refusal to condemn the Assad regime. Democrats were worried that Kucinich’s baggage could drag the rest of the ticket down if he were the party’s nominee.

Cordray will face Mike DeWine, a former US senator and the state’s current attorney general. DeWine easily defeated a primary challenge from the state’s lieutenant governor, Mary Taylor.

In Ohio’s Republican primary for US Senate, Jim Renacci, an incumbent congressman who was vocally supported by Trump, defeated businessman Mike Gibbons for the Republican nomination

Businessman Mike Braun, beat two US congressmen in the Indiana’s Republican Senate primary and will face the incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly in what is expected to be one of the most competitive races of the 2018.

Trump won Indiana by almost 20 points, and Republicans there have long targeted Donnelly. The president will appear at a campaign stop there on Thursday along with Vice-President Mike Pence.

Braun, a businessman, won a decisive victory over the US representatives Luke Messer and Todd Rokita by attacking the congressmen as identical creatures of the Washington “swamp”.

Meanwhile, both Rokita and Messer tried to closely tie themselves to Trump; Messer nominated Trump for the Nobel peace prize while Rokita campaigned with a cardboard cutout of him.

Greg Pence, Mike’s older brother, easily won the primary for the safe Republican seat vacated by Messer.

In another House race, Robert Pittenger of North Carolina became the first incumbent to lose a primary on Tuesday. Pittenger, a three term congressman, lost to conservative pastor Mark Harris who attacked him as insufficiently conservative. Harris had lost a 2016 primary bid against Pittenger by 134 votes. The suburban Charlotte district has been considered competitive in a general election and Democratic nominee Dan McCready has been a fundraising juggernaut who had $1.3m cash on hand at the end of the last reporting period.


Ben Jacobs in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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