The build-up to November's midterms got its latest jolt yesterday in a string of races across the Midwest. Tuesday was the biggest day so far of the 2018 primaries, and conservatives had plenty to be happy about. For all the talk about Democrats' enthusiasm, Republican turnout in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and North Carolina seemed to tell a different story.
In positive news for concerned GOP leaders, the base is engaging at just the right time. Tuesday's primaries were a major reversal in the turnout trends earlier in the year. To a lot of people's surprise, Republican turnout was up 61 percent in West Virginia from 2014, compared to the Democrats' modest 14 percent jump. In Indiana, the trend continued, with GOP turnout 43 percent higher than four years ago. In Ohio, the GOP actually outperformed Democrats in every single statewide race, which is saying something in a state as evenly divided as the Buckeyes'. Turnout there also jumped 48 percent from the last midterm election.
Three of the states heading to the polls yesterday had primaries for U.S. Senate seats that are currently held by Democrats – and all three (West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana) are states that Trump won. So it's significant that the GOP has finally solidified who their candidates will be in the race against Democrat incumbents. In West Virginia, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey defeated the establishment's Rep. Evan Jenkins (R) and coal businessman Don Blankenship, which was a huge victory for values voters. Hoosiers picked businessman Mike Braun in the Indiana Senate Republican primary over two current GOP congressmen. In North Carolina, Rep. Walter Jones (R) escaped a challenge by Scott Dacey.
Obviously, both parties understand the significance of these senate races. If President Trump wants to continue his record-setting pace on judges, he'll need all the Republican votes he can get. In a chamber where the margin of control is razor-thin, the GOP would be in a much better position for things like defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing Obamacare if it had even one more conservative.
Of course, there were also a lot of primaries for open House seats. Interestingly, voters' exasperation with the current Congress seemed to have played a big role in North Carolina, where a competitive race between Mark Harris and Rep. Robert Pittenger (R) went down to the wire. Harris, one of FRC's Watchmen pastors who was critical in FRC Action's highly successful effort in the 2016 general election, prevailed. Interestingly, in a pattern that might play out elsewhere, reporter Katie Glueck tweeted, "On the ground in #NC9, I heard a lot of Mark Harris voters express frustration over the omnibus spending bill/that it didn't defund Planned Parenthood, something national evangelical leaders have worried about, including how it affects conservative turnout."
If House and Senate leaders want to keep their majority, they'll have to prove their sincerity on these issues and more leading up to November. Voters don't want talk -- they want action on Planned Parenthood and out-of-control spending. Let's hope that message was received on Capitol Hill, where there's a lot of work left to be done.