Will copying Donald Trump’s personae be successful for GOP Senate primary candidates? Republican hopefuls in Ohio, West Virginia, and Indiana are counting on it.
Mike Braun is a businessman in Indiana who has taken the mantle of outsider, claims to speak for angry voters, and is self-financing his campaign.
In West Virginia, coal baron Don Blankenship is using his conviction stemming from a mine blast in 2010 that killed 29 people to go after the Justice Department for railroading him. By some estimates, he currently leads the race against two more establishment candidates.
And in Ohio, another businessman, Mike Gibbons, has sworn allegiance to Trump and is suing his opponent, Rep. Jim Renacci, for libel because the congressman has accused Gibbons of being anti-Trump.
All three candidates are running in races that national Republicans feel can yield Senate pickups. And all three candidates have failed to earn Trump’s endorsement, although they all claim to be the most loyal to the president of all Republicans in the race.
Braun, who owns a distribution and freight company, says he would not have launched his Republican effort for the U.S. Senate if Trump had not blazed the trail two years ago.
“I thought there was the opportunity to define a different kind of candidacy, one from the outsider business world, the same thing Trump did,” he told Reuters ahead of the primary vote on Tuesday.
Other Republican primary races in Ohio and West Virginia on Tuesday also feature outsider businessmen who have gone all out to show their allegiance to Trump and accuse their rivals of lacking the same fealty.
The three contests herald a wave of primaries in the coming weeks in critical states such as Pennsylvania, California, Iowa, and New Jersey that will help determine whether Democrats can pick up two seats in the Senate and 23 seats in the House of Representatives in November to take control of Congress.
The candidates also highlight a shift in the Republican Party to embrace more populist, nativist and protectionist candidates skeptical of immigration and free trade – a seismic change from the party’s traditional alliance of social conservatives and free-marketeers.
How those Trump-like candidates fare in coming primaries and November’s elections will indicate whether “Trumpism” remains a dominant force in the Republican Party heading into the 2020 presidential election.
Trump won West Virginia by 40 points and it was thought that incumbent Joe Manchin might be in trouble. But Manchin has kept a centrist profile while in office, voting with Trump some of the time and criticizing the leadership of his own party. He’s vulnerable, but if Blankenship wins the primary on Tuesday, the national GOP fears a repeat of Alabama, where Roy Moore blew a race the GOP was widely expected to win.
Same holds true for Indiana, where Braun is neck and neck with two other Republicans. Trump won Indiana by 20 points and incumbent Senator Joe Donnelly, another centrist Democrat, is thought to be vulnerable against the right Republican candidate. Braun is not expected to win the primary but anything can happen and Washington Republicans are watching the race nervously.
In Ohio, any Republican will have an uphill climb against incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown:
In Ohio, businessman Mike Gibbons is squaring off against U.S. Representative Jim Renacci to see who will challenge Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown in November. While Gibbons has played the Trump card, however, Renacci snagged the president’s endorsement.
To show how much he supports Trump, Gibbons, an investment banker, on Friday filed a defamation lawsuit against Renacci, alleging his campaign falsely claimed Gibbons is anti-Trump.
Brown is polling well against all Republicans, so either Gibbons or Renacci will have a tough task in flipping the seat.
There is only one Donald Trump and aping his style and position on some issues will only take a candidate so far. But the one significant factor that might make a Trump mini-me the best candidate in a general election is their appeal to independents.
As we’ve seen with Trump, it’s best not to count anyone out until the votes have been counted.