We continue our primary day coverage with John Nichols of The Nation by looking at Republican Don Blankenship’s loss in West Virginia and Democratic contests across the country that will shape the party’s mid-term playbook
AARON MATE: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. We’re continuing with John Nichols, national affairs correspondent, The Nation magazine. So, John, let’s move on to West Virginia, where you have Don Blankenship, a former CEO of Massey Energy, served time in prison for his role in a mining disaster that killed 29 miners, now running for the Senate nomination. And he made an ad appealing to voters that drew a lot of controversy taking on Mitch McConnell and saying he has a ‘China family’ because of his wife being of Chinese background. Let’s go to that clip.
DON BLANKENSHIP CAMPAIGN AD: 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.
AARON MATE: So that’s the campaign ad from Don Blankenship. Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao is the secretary of transportation and is of Chinese background. So, John Nichols, with the votes results we have right now Blankinship is in third place, but as we’re speaking right now not all the results are in. Your thoughts on this very unusual race in West Virginia?
JOHN NICHOLS: It was an ugly race. I mean, Blankenship was, ran a crude campaign, at times a campaign that I think could fairly be described as racist, at the very least. In other cases just simply bizarre. And he terrified the Republican leadership because they were afraid that he was going to be nominated. Now, it looks, if the results that are in so far are accurate, it looks like he won’t be nominated. But he got a substantial vote. I mean, he’ll clearly be, you know, certainly in the double digits. Perhaps in the 20s. Not wiped out, not dismissed as somebody on the fringe.
And this speaks a lot to some of the realities of what’s going on in the Republican Party. The Republican establishment in Washington pretty aggressively came in looking for ways to prevent Don Blankenship from being the nominee for the Senate, because they felt if he was the nominee, ultimately they wouldn’t have a chance to win that race. And I think they were right about it. But I also think this is one of the dynamics within the Republican Party at this point, because they have become a place where these extreme, sometimes bizarre, contenders who have money come in and basically park themselves. That’s clearly what you saw down in Alabama with Judge Roy Moore, and Blankenship tried to do the same thing here.
So it was an important race for the Democratic, or for the Republican leadership. It looks like they’re going to prevail. Looks like they’re going to come out OK. But this has clearly shaken up the political process in West Virginia. And bizarrely enough, I tell you, don’t bet that Blankenship is gone. I mean, he might try for something else at some point down the line.
AARON MATE: You mean he can maybe run even as an independent in the fall election?
JOHN NICHOLS: I don’t anticipate that. I’m not saying that that would be the case. I’m saying, you know, potentially coming back, repositioning for another race at some point in the future. If he were to come into the November race with some kind of independent expenditure, some kind of endorsement, some kind of thing, he could still shake things up there. And again, what I’m, I’m not suggesting he’s going to be a viable figure down the line.
But understand, this is one of the most reprehensible people. I mean, his background, what he’s done, how he’s handled himself, that I’ve ever seen in American politics. And you know, he got a credible vote tonight. So we should, we should be a little bit shaken by that.
AARON MATE: Let’s switch to the Democratic side in West Virginia. You had the incumbent, Sen. Joe Manchin. He has defeated challenger Paula Jean Swearengin, but not by as big a margin as some people thought. Swearengin, who was a progressive, got 30 percent of the vote. Your thoughts on that race, John.
JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. I mean, I think it was always assumed that Manchin would win this primary, just as for most of the period we were talking before about Ohio it was assumed that Cordray would win. You have your frontrunners. You have the people who’ve accumulated most of the endorsements, have a substantial money advantage.
So what you look at these kinds of races is, you know, how did the grassroots candidate do? How did the candidate who, you know, didn’t have a lot of money, didn’t get a lot of attention, even, in many cases, but really ran, you know, sort of that traditional down, you know, in the communities knocking doors, you know, really pleading for people to pay attention. And in fact, Paula Jean Swearengin, frankly, did a very solid finish here. A third of the vote, roughly a third of the vote, against a incumbent U.S. senator who’s a former governor and pretty epic figure in the politics of the state is significant. It’s, you don’t read too much into it, but you do recognize that in this state some very progressive ideas resonated with a substantial chunk of people.
And if you look at the counties in the state, you will find some counties, rather populous counties where the challenger actually was getting into the 40, 42, 44 percent range. And you know, that’s a pretty credible, pretty credible vote total. I do think it says something important about what’s going on within the Democratic Party that across the country you now have a very substantial base, maybe not a majority, but a substantial base of people who really are looking for more progressive politics. And they weren’t getting that from Joe Manchin. Joe Manchin is a very centrist, very corporate Democrat.
AARON MATE: Well, on that note let’s move to Indiana, where I know that there’s a key House race that you were watching. Liz Watson, a labor-backed progressive candidate, she won the Democratic primary tonight, and that’s in a district where it’s hoped that, by Democrats, that that’s a district that could be flipped to their side from Republicans.
JOHN NICHOLS: You’re exactly right. Now, Liz Watson had a very credible and quite progressive opponent. So you had two decent people running this race, or several decent people. You know, many of these races also have, you know, some other candidates who don’t, don’t do as well.
But Watson really had a big win here. It was a very, very substantial win. Why that is important is that she is a young, super capable candidate who, she worked for a number of years in Washington. She worked with people like Bernie Sanders and others on a host of issues, sometimes helping to craft legislation. She’s a big, big favorite of organized labor. And she went back to her home district, her home region of southern Indiana, in a district where there is a very wealthy Republican incumbent. It’s certainly not an easy race there. But I will tell you that the Democrats are looking for situations like this. And the Progressive Caucus, the left folks in the House, endorsed Liz Watson early on and said, you know, they’d really like to see this candidate stepping up.
So what you’ve got here is a situation where it’s a potentially competitive district. You have a progressive candidate who ran on health care as a right, living wages, a real vision on labor rights and economic justice. Won a big primary victory, has raised decent money. And I think this is going to be one of the races that, that progressives especially should be looking at around the country. Because obviously Democrats have some real traction going into this fall. They’ll win seats. And we’ll see if they win enough to take the majority in the House. But then there’s always the question of the quality of the candidates, the qualities of the candidate. Who are you seeing come up. Are there people coming up who really could be leaders on economic justice, labor rights, a host of other progressive populist issues. And I think there’s very little doubt that Liz Watson is a good example of somebody who could be a leader in that way.
AARON MATE: John, as you survey the political landscape, what are some of the policy messages that you think would help Progressive Democrats succeed in these upcoming contests, in the midterms? What issues are you seeing that are resonating most with, with voters in the areas that, where Democrats will need them to win?
JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. I mean, I think there’s some issues that we would, we would predict, right. And that’s health care, education. These issues are always important. This year I think education even a little more important in some of our more competitive states, and even in some red states. We’ve seen the wave of teacher strikes across the country and teacher agitation, and what’s happened is that that has gotten a substantial amount of popular support. So I do think that these education issues are, are under covered, perhaps under noted by a lot of national correspondents. I think they’re real. I think health care is real, and people really are looking, especially in Democratic primaries, but I think in the broader sense for something much bolder than what we’ve got. I do believe, certainly if you look at the polling, that single-payer Medicare for all health care is a very attractive issue.
Then finally, I would put a related issue up higher than I think sometimes people do. And that’s prescription drug. There is simply no question that prescription drug prices have become a huge issue across the country, especially in areas that are not so wealthy, areas that aren’t always in the center of the attention on the national news. There’s a lot of people hurting because they’re having a terribly hard time affording, you know, prescriptions that they need to live.
And so I would suggest to you progressives who have bold, bold stands on education, health care, prescription drugs, and frankly I would, I would also throw the living wage issue in there. I think these are ones we’ve seen for a long time, and I think they resonate. One final one I’ll throw in, and I’ve seen it all over the country. I am seeing it resonate. It is a very big issue. And that is legalizing marijuana. And it is a popular issue on a variety of fronts, but in many, many states across the country it’s linked to criminal justice reform. And you’re seeing progressive candidates and even some more centrist Democratic candidates take this up as a major part of their agenda, because it really resonates. It’s a very, very popular issue, again because a lot of people want to legalize marijuana, but also because there’s a substantial number of people who see legalization of marijuana and addressing a host of drug policy issues as a way to get to the heart and soul of the injustice of our criminal justice system at this point.
AARON MATE: Finally, John, looking ahead, let’s talk about some of the key contests that you have your eye on. I’m thinking especially of in a couple of weeks we have in Texas the Democratic runoff, where Laura Moser, who was opposed by the Democratic Party leadership who came out against her, she made it to a runoff contest in what many people across the country are watching as sort of a key test of whether progressive Democrats can withstand the pressure from the central party leadership that is opposing them, in this case literally, in the case of Laura Moser.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, also, the broader question is, is the Democratic leadership, particularly the DCCC in Washington, out of touch? I mean, is it literally trying to impose candidates on districts who are not particularly popular in those districts? And, and this is, this is an old complaint. It’s not new. But it’s really come to the surface this year. And you’re right, the Moser race is a classic example. The other candidate is someone who’s worked for corporate law firms, and has been on the wrong side of some labor issues. Relatively progressive on some other issues, but certainly on some of those core economic issues somebody who’s very troublesome to a lot of labor folks. Laura Moser, somebody who’s got, had close ties to, you know, the Bernie Sanders community, to the labor community, running a very, very bold campaign there. We’ll see how that race comes out. I think it’s a close race.
I mean, I don’t think you’re likely to see a big, overwhelming victory one way or the other. But I do think it’s telling. If Laura Moser wins. That’s a powerful signal to the Democratic Party, to Democratic elites in Washington that maybe they ought to step back and let people on the ground choose the candidates that they’re most excited about. And I want to emphasize, we now have about a dozen races across the country where it’s quite evident that the DCCC and powerful people in D.C. have tried to manipulate those races on behalf of particular candidates. It is a very, very unpopular intervention on the part of [inaudible], at least that I hear from around the country. Even people who might be on the other side of the race don’t particularly like seeing the outside forces come in.
AARON MATE: We’ll leave it there. John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation magazine, thank you.
JOHN NICHOLS: It’s a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me on.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on the Real News.