Senate Democrats shifted a historically challenging map, defined the issues and have voters’ enthusiasm. Each day this week, Quick Takes will focus on the major trends that have shaped the election. Today’s look: how the primaries crippled GOP nominees.

THE GOP’S NIGHTMARE PRIMARY SEASON. As a result of their struggle (covered yesterday) to recruit top-tier candidates in key states, Republicans faced a lineup of candidates that created broad primary fields with no clear frontrunner, forcing every candidate to race to the right and to spend scarce financial resources to do so.

ARIZONA: BRUISING,” “SAVAGE,” “CONTENTIOUS,” & “COMPLICATED”. The Arizona Senate GOP Primary exhibited all of the worst qualities of Republican primary seasons–deep divisions, candidate snafus, and contentious infighting.

Congresswoman Martha McSally limped through but emerged from the fight broke and with just weeks to try and get back to the middle after  pouring money into keeping her opponents at bay:

The Economist: The Republicans risk imploding in Arizona

  • “But Republican operatives worry that the lack of a presidential endorsement and the intra-party mudslinging this has caused will leave Ms McSally too little time to take on Ms Sinema effectively…While Ms McSally should have been busy appealing to potential Sinema-backing centrists, she has instead been countering attacks from Ms Ward, who has cast her as anti-Trump and soft on immigration.”

INDIANA: The Indiana Senate GOP Primary was so contentious that the Washington Post predicted in May 2018 that the vicious attacks would “haunt” whichever Republican candidate emerged:  “When this primary is over, each candidate will have been buried under at least $1 million of negative ads and countless negative news stories.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Rokita-Messer Grudge Match that had been simmering since college: a totally unvetted candidate opened his own wallet and purchased the primary outright. Republicans at the time thought that was a good thing, but like the kids say, that didn’t age well:

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS: But as Donnelly barnstorms the state in a used RV, it is Braun’s own sleepy campaign that’s leaving Republicans underwhelmed — and worried.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS:  The off-road accessory was shipped in a box emblazoned with the logo of an auto parts brand owned by Mike Braun, a multimillionaire businessman who often rails against foreign outsourcing in his bid to become Indiana’s next senator. The words “Made in China” were stamped across the packaging.
  • POLITICO: Employees of his company, Meyer Distributing, must spend $5,000 a year on health care before their bills are covered, and families pay double that, or $10,000 a year, according to a copy of the plan obtained by POLITICO.  “It was not real insurance,” said Heath Kluemper, who worked as a copywriter for Meyer in Jasper, Ind. “If I did ever have to go to the hospital, I’d have been screwed.”

MONTANA: A four-way primary field (and a proxy war with Zinke, who had previously faced Rosendale in a heated congressional primary) plunged Rosendale, into a deep financial disadvantage heading into the general.

  • Roll Call: “Tester starts with a significant financial advantage. He ended the pre-primary reporting period with $6.4 million in the bank compared to Rosendale’s $392,000.”

NEVADA: Senator Spineless Dean Heller got to avoid the embarrassment of underperforming or losing his primary thanks to a backroom deal, but unfortunately for him, Danny Tarkanian’s short-lived primary challenge forced Heller to lurch to the right on key issues, including health care and immigration, and spend money he otherwise would have been able to save for the general.

WISCONSIN: As the field winnowed from up to 7 candidates to a showdown between extremist state Senator Leah Vukmir and factually-challenged Dick Uhlein lapdog Kevin Nicholson, the danger Wisconsin Republicans faced was clear.  Here’s the AP in May of 2017:

But with at least seven possible Republican Senate candidates making the rounds, to some the dynamic is looking eerily familiar to 2012. That year four Republicans slugged it out in an expensive and negative primary that left nominee Tommy Thompson, the former four-term governor, bruised and broke.

Instead, they spent millions in candidate and PAC dollars fighting each other. It got so bad that Johnson pleaded with the candidates for one to drop out. Their nominee entered the general election at a massive financial disadvantage.

WEST VIRGINIA: While press and the Washington Republicans were focused on Don Blankenship, establishment spending inadvertently paved the way for the nomination of an opioid lobbyist Patrick Morrisey.

  • CNN: “A McConnell-linked super political action committee spent over $1.3 million in anti-Blankenship ads during the primary, causing the at-times acid tongued coal baron to attack McConnell in personal and biting terms”
  • Washington Post: “Morrisey fended off two challengers in the primary, but some Republicans think he has proved a lackluster candidate.”
  • Politico: “Republicans are worried that Manchin’s opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, has failed to close the gap since he emerged from a nasty primary in May. Morrisey has been blistered by ads from Democrats but has yet to hit the airwaves himself during the general election, and has less than $900,000 in the bank compared to Manchin’s $6.2 million war chest.”

BONUS:  OHIO AND PENNSYLVANIA.  Sure, Congressmen Renacci and Barletta both featured prominently in Monday’s roundup of recruitment failures, but their performance against no-name opposition is worthy of further inspection:

  • Renacci didn’t break 48%, depending on opposition to him splitting four ways across minor candidates that barely campaigned.
  • Barletta lost Erie County and the Pittsburgh media market to underfunded state Rep. Jim Christiana en route to just 63% of the vote..

Bottom Line: Primaries filled with intra-party fighting in key states left GOP nominees’ resources depleted and their campaigns weaker heading into the general while Democrats had the advantage of stockpiling funds and getting our message on the air unimpeded.


MN — Tina Smith’s new ad “Passed,” touts her record of delivering results for Minnesotans.
MO — Claire McCaskill is out with two new ads: “Born Here” and “State I Love” highlight Missouri and Claire’s bonds to her state.
MT – Jon Tester hits Matt Rosendale on health care in “Junk Insurance.”
WI — “Doing Right,” highlights Tammy Baldwin’s record of putting Wisconsinites first.


FL-The Hill: Obama to campaign for Gillum, Nelson in Florida

MI-Michigan Chronicle: Debbie Stabenow sews up last leg of election with stop at Detroit Denim

MI-WEMU: Senator Debbie Stabenow Makes “Made In Michigan” Tour Stop At Eastern Michigan University

MS-Y’all Politics: UAW endorses Espy for U.S. Senate

MO-Fox2: Senator Claire McCaskill campaigns across eastern Missouri

MT-KTVH: Sen. Tester speaks at MT Farmers Union convention

ND-AP: Heitkamp sends nearly $2.7M to North Dakota Democrats

OH-The Vindicator: Brown touts federal drug-abuse package in Mahoning County

OH-WFMJ: Senators Brown and Portman help pass federal addiction law

TN-Brentwood Home Page: Bredesen visits UAW Hall in Spring Hill, talks dangers of tariffs with China

WV-WBOY: United Mine Workers & Medal of Honor recipient hold rally for Manchin in Morgantown

WV-WBOY: Hundreds rally in Morgantown for Senator Manchin

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One Week Out: Republicans Are “Coming After Your Health Care”

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