Winners and Losers From Tuesday’s Primaries

Voters in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina headed to the polls Tuesday to decide a number of key primaries. In West Virginia, the state’s Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won a closely watched US Senate primary, defeating US Rep. Evan Jenkins and former coal baron Don Blankenship. Blankenship had served a year in prison after 29 miners died in the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. He faced intense criticism after releasing an ad attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his “China family.” Patrick Morrisey will now face the conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November. In Ohio, Richard Cordray defeated former Congressmember Dennis Kucinich in the state’s Democratic primary for governor. Cordray served as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He will now face Mike DeWine in November to determine who will replace outgoing Ohio Governor John Kasich. In Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence’s brother Greg Pence won the Republican primary for a congressional seat in eastern Indiana. Female candidates were also big winners on Tuesday. According to Politico, there were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot Tuesday, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of them. In Ohio, Rachel Crooks, one of at least 19 women who have accused President Trump of sexual harassment and assault, won an uncontested primary for a seat in the state’s House of Representatives. For more, we speak with Tim Murphy, a senior reporter at Mother Jones, and Kevin Robillard, senior political reporter for HuffPost.

TRANSCRIPT:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Voters in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina headed to the polls Tuesday to decide a number of key primaries. In West Virginia, the state’s Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won a closely watched U.S. Senate primary, defeating U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins and former coal baron Don Blankenship. Blankenship had served a year in prison after 29 miners died in the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. He faced intense criticism after releasing an ad attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his, quote, “China family.” Patrick Morrisey will now face the conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin in November.

In Ohio, Richard Cordray defeated former Congressmember Dennis Kucinich in the state’s Democratic primary for governor. Cordray served as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He will now face Mike DeWine in November to determine who will replace outgoing Ohio Governor John Kasich.

AMY GOODMAN: In Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence’s brother, Greg Pence, won the Republican primary for the congressional seat in eastern Indiana that was once, well, Vice President Pence’s.

Female candidates were also big winners Tuesday. According to Politico, there were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of those 20 races. In Ohio, Rachel Crooks, one of at least 19 women who have accused President Trump of sexual harassment and assault, won an uncontested primary for a seat in the state’s House of Representatives.

To talk more about these races and other primary results, we’re joined by two guests. In New York, Tim Murphy, he’s a senior reporter at Mother Jones. His latest story is headlined “Donald Trump’s Attacks on the Justice System Are Helping This Ex-Con Coal Baron’s Campaign.” And in Washington, we’re joined by Kevin Robillard, senior political reporter for HuffPost.

Tim, I want to begin with you in West Virginia, because while Don Blankenship did not win, the man who went to prison related to the deaths of 29 miners at one of his Massey Energy coal mines, he did rock the Republican Party. And I wanted to go right now to his ad. This is one of Don Blankenship’s ads where he attacked the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and his so-called China family. McConnell, who has opposed Blankenship’s Senate run, is married to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

DON BLANKENSHIP: Hi. I’m Don Blankenship, candidate for U.S. Senate, and I approve this message. Swamp Captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars. Mitch’s swamp people are now running false negative ads against me. They are also childishly calling me “despicable” and “mentally ill.” The war to drain the swamp and create jobs for West Virginia people has begun. I will beat Joe Manchin and ditch Cocaine Mitch, for the sake of the kids.

AMY GOODMAN: “Cocaine Mitch” and the “China family.” And Elaine Chao’s father, he referred to as the “China person.” Now, you might just say, “Well, he lost. That’s the point.” But this was very significant in Republican politics.

TIM MURPHY: Yeah, and it’s important to note that Don Blankenship lost last night, but these kinds of attacks and this kind of campaign has worked for Republicans in the recent past. You don’t have to look any further than President Donald Trump. It worked for Roy Moore, to a point. And there’s reason to think it will work again. Don Blankenship happened to be uniquely fatally flawed for a state like West Virginia. He had just come out of federal prison. His probation —

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t he hated?

TIM MURPHY: He has described himself as the most hated man in Mingo County, which, ironically, was one of only four counties that he actually won last night, on the Republican side. So he was, you know, uniquely situated to lose this primary. The fact that it got as close as it did —

AMY GOODMAN: You said, “His probation…”?

TIM MURPHY: His probation period ends on Wednesday, so he can finally drive outside of the state of West Virginia if he wishes to. And he was a longtime resident of Las Vegas, until he came back to run for Senate. So, perhaps he’ll return home. So, this has worked for Republicans in the past, and it might work for them again. And the fact that Blankenship came as close as he did, you know, and threw the Republican Party into crisis mode, suggests that this is a really deep-seated problem.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But wasn’t part of that that he had a few million dollars of his own money to throw into the campaign, because, otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to mount all these television ads and all of the social media ads that he also mounted?

TIM MURPHY: Yeah, and that gets into this kind of, you know, new Trumpian era of the Republican Party. Blankenship left Massey Energy in 2011 with an $86 million golden parachute. He loaned his campaign about $2 million, and he spent that on some of the lowest-quality campaign ads that you’ll ever see. So, he just pumped in, you know, ad after ad after ad, all basically on the level of what you just saw. If it wasn’t “Cocaine Mitch,” it was attacking his opponents, it was attacking President Obama, African-American judges, you name it.

AMY GOODMAN: He refers to “Negroes,” not “African Americans.”

TIM MURPHY: Yeah, he referred to that in one of these interviews. And he also, you know, ran an ad where he just showed the faces of the judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals who upheld his conviction, four African-American judges, just so people knew.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, he is not — he’s saying it’s not that he referred to the “China family” or “Cocaine Mitch.” He is saying it’s because Trump refused to endorse him.

TIM MURPHY: Yeah. And when Trump came out and said, “Vote for anybody else,” Blankenship went out and said, “Well, I’m Trumpier than Trump.” You know, it turns out, Republican voters maybe didn’t want to go Trumpier than Trump. And I think, at the end of the day, that probably made a pretty big difference. It wasn’t that his opponents really went after him, because up until the final days they didn’t really touch Don Blankenship at all.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to bring in Kevin Robillard into the discussion. Your big takeaway from yesterday’s voting around the country, and especially the Ohio race, with Richard Cordray and Dennis Kucinich, two stalwarts of the sort of progressive or liberal wing of the Democratic Party going head to head against each other?

KEVIN ROBILLARD: Yeah, that race, a lot of people thought, was going to be quite close. It ended up basically being pretty much a romp by Cordray. He even won in Cuyahoga County, which is Kucinich’s home county, that includes the city of Cleveland. So, really, it really ended up being Cordray was sort of backed by elements of the left and, you could probably say, the Democratic establishment in the state. He had the backing of Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator who, obviously, came up with the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He also had the backing of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who was the last Democrat to get elected governor. Kucinich had the backing of Our Revolution, which is sort of the political group that came out of Bernie Sanders’s campaign, but not of Bernie Sanders himself, which may have made a difference here.

But, really, it ended up being a pretty big sweep by Cordray, and really just shows the Democratic establishment is still pretty good at winning these gubernatorial primaries. At this point they’ve won the last several in a row, dating back to last year’s Virginia gubernatorial race. And they also won in New Jersey and in Illinois recently. So, really, it shows that the Democratic establishment still has a pretty big hold on these Democratic primaries, and that, for the most part, all this liberal energy we’re seeing hasn’t necessarily translated into wins for sort of the most progressive candidates on the ballot. No one is saying that Richard Cordray isn’t progressive, but clearly Dennis Kucinich was sort of on the left of him.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich ran along with Akron City Councilwoman Tara Samples, who is African-American, to be his lieutenant governor. But I want to turn to Richard Cordray delivering his victory speech last night.

RICHARD CORDRAY: I’ve spent my entire career fighting for Ohio consumers, retirees and families. I’ve taken on powerful interests and gotten your money back when people mistreated you or tried to take advantage of you. Meanwhile, Mike DeWine has been serving those at the top, enabling powerful interests to have their way in Washington, and now in Columbus. Instead of being an advocate, he let Ohioans be taken advantage of for too long, costing us too much and undermining our future.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Richard Cordray, who you may remember was first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Let’s go on, Kevin Robillard, to other major races and also the significance of, in the Democratic primaries across these four states, 17 of 20 women who ran won.

KEVIN ROBILLARD: [inaudible] how much being a woman is now an advantage in a Democratic primary. The party has been trending that way for a few years now, but this has really — this year has really came into its own. If you look, you can go back to the first round of primaries in Illinois and Texas, you saw some similar results there. And really, it shows that much of the energy in the Democratic Party right now is sort of related to the Women’s March, is related to the defeat of Hillary Clinton. And it’s sort of interesting how now a woman in a Democratic primary sort of symbolizes change in a way that when Hillary Clinton was running, they almost ended up symbolizing the status quo. So, that shift has been really significant, and it’s really helped a lot of women candidates win their Democratic primaries around the country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Kevin, I wanted to ask you about a race in North Carolina that may be considered a minor race but really has perhaps major implications in Durham, the race for sheriff, where the candidate who pledged not to cooperate with ICE ended up winning and possibly will now become the first African-American county sheriff in Durham.

KEVIN ROBILLARD: Yeah, that’s really interesting. What we’ve seen a lot of is progressive energy being put toward sort of, basically, law enforcement positions. This is a sheriff’s race in North Carolina, where the incumbent Democrat had worked with the Trump administration, had worked with ICE. The new — the person who won and will likely win in November — Durham is a pretty Democratic area — has pledged not to cooperate with ICE.

We’ve also seen this in district attorney primaries throughout the country, in Philadelphia last year. I think we could see it coming up next month. There are a series of primaries in California where there are number of progressives running for district attorney positions. It’s been a really interesting place to see where this energy has gone. You’ve seen groups like the ACLU, you’ve seen George Soros, who’s obviously a big liberal donor, has gotten involved in some of these fights. And it’s a place where progressives are really making some progress, ousting more established Democrats, in a way that they aren’t necessarily doing a little bit further up the ballot, say, at the gubernatorial or Senate level.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, let’s go to hear the winner of the Durham sheriff’s race, Clarence Birkhead, speaking last night after winning the primary.

CLARENCE BIRKHEAD: We have to do everything we can possibly do to keep our families together, to not cooperate with ICE. That work starts today. We have to do everything we can possibly do to clean up our jail, to treat individuals who are incarcerated with humanity and dignity, make sure they have the services they need. We’re going to keep our Durham safe, get guns off the street, work together for a new Durham, a safe Durham for everyone.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Clarence Birkhead, speaking last night after winning the primary that will likely propel him to become the first African-American Durham County sheriff. And the importance in terms of a state like North Carolina, also possibly states like Georgia and Alabama, that have seen — not only have large African-American populations, but have seen influxes in recent years of a considerable number of people from Latin America, of immigrants from Latin America, into those states, Kevin?

KEVIN ROBILLARD: Yeah, it’s really been interesting, and it’s sort of a way for — again, for sort of at a very low level, to fight back against some of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. And I think you’re starting to see that sort of alliance come together, or coalition come together, to basically fight these policies at the local level. And this is one example of that.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what happened in Indiana, Kevin.

KEVIN ROBILLARD: Yeah. So, in Indiana, there were sort of two big takeaways. First, there was Greg Pence, who’s obviously the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, won his brother’s congressional seat pretty easily, basically walked into the seat, didn’t really seem to do much campaigning or many media interviews.

The other big race in Indiana was the Senate primary to see who’s going to take on Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly in the fall. That was won by Mike Braun, who is a sort of a former state legislator but really has built his career in business. He ran as sort of a miniaturized version of Trump, in some ways. He’s not nearly as sort of bombastic as Trump is, doesn’t have the penchant for saying sort of as many crazy things as Trump does, but definitely said, you know, “I’m here to support the Trump agenda. I’m an outsider like Trump.”

The other big takeaway from that is that he beat two sitting congressmen. This was actually a really bad night for sitting members of Congress who were running for higher races. Both in Indiana, two lost. Rep. Evan Jenkins lost in West Virginia. And in Ohio, Congressman Jim Renacci won the Republican nomination for Senate, but did it pretty underwhelmingly. He didn’t manage to break 50 percent of the vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Murphy, let’s go back to West Virginia, very quickly. Talk about Richard Ojeda, the pro-marijuana, pro-coal Democrat, who voted for Trump, and now regrets it. He won the Democratic primary for a congressional seat in West Virginia. This is a clip from a report that you did, Tim.

RICHARD OJEDA: We haven’t had anybody in Washington, D.C., in quite some time that’s actualy fought for the 3rd Congressional District. We haven’t. We’re a state that is broke. We’re not really a state, we’re a colony. Everything that we’ve ever had in this state has been sent out of West Virginia to make other people millionaires and billionaires, and the people of West Virginia have always been poor.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Murphy, your comment?

TIM MURPHY: Yeah, Richard Ojeda, you know, at first glance, almost looks like kind of a unicorn in Democratic politics. He’s pro-gun. He’s pro-coal. He got elected to a seat that President Donald Trump carried by about — you know, he won with like 70 percent of the vote in 2016. But he is riding a really significant wave in West Virginia and sort of across the country. He was at the vanguard of the teachers’ strike last winter. He was sort of, you know, the Paul Revere of the teachers’ strike, gave a big floor speech in January that signaled that this was something that was on the horizon. He’s gotten a lot of momentum from teachers in West Virginia. He’s led the push, you know, for more teacher pay. He’s also led the push to build a marijuana industry in the state. So he is running on a real kind of populist wave that sort of offers a counter to a lot of what we’ve seen from President Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: And he won.

TIM MURPHY: And he won his primary.

AMY GOODMAN: The Democratic primary. Well, we’re going to leave it there, continue, of course, to follow election politics. Tim Murphy is senior reporter at Mother Jones. Thanks so much. And I also want to thank our guest Kevin Robillard, who is with HuffPost.

In breaking news, President Trump says North Korea has released three Americans imprisoned in North Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will return with them to the United States.

That does it for our show. By the way, Democracy Now! is accepting applications for our paid video production fellowships, as well as a variety of paid internships. Find out more at democracynow.org. Also, I’ll be speaking at UC Santa Cruz in California on May 17th along with Daniel Ellsberg. Check our website at democracynow.org.