ON TUESDAY, voters in four states head to the polls.
West Virginia features a three-way Republican primary to determine who will challenge Joe Manchin in this autumn’s Senate race. For most of the 20th century, coal dominated West Virginia’s economy and Democrats dominated its politics. Democrats were the party of organised labour, and in few places was the right to organise bought with as much blood as in West Virginia. But over time, Appalachian coal mines grew less productive; today most coal is mined from open pits in Wyoming. The plummeting price of natural gas and renewables hastened America’s shift away from coal. Membership in the United Mine Workers, the state’s most powerful union, roughly halved from the 1950s to the early 21st century. It now represents less than 40% of all miners—and that’s not many people (as of 2016, America had more yoga teachers than coal miners).
At the same time—as union power and membership declined across America—the Democratic party grew more uniformly socially liberal: a terrible fit for staid, socially conservative West Virginia. In 2012 Barack Obama lost the Democratic primary to Keith Judd, who at the time happened to be living in a federal prison in Texarkana, Texas (West Virginia is the second-whitest state in America). Many in West Virginia remain convinced that ever-stricter environmental regulations killed their coal industry, though that is not true.
Though Mr Manchin doughtily hangs on as the state’s sole statewide Democrat, West Virginia is Trump country. The two mainstream Republican senate hopefuls, Evan Jenkins and Patrick Morrisey—a congressman and attorney-general, respectively—bashed each other to a pulp over which one was really a closet liberal: Mr Jenkins, who was a Democrat until 2013, or Mr Morrisey, who only moved to the state in 2006.
That let the third candidate, Don Blankenship, steal a march; recent polls show him leading. After an accident killed 29 people at a mine he owned, Mr Blankenship spent a year in prison for conspiring to violate federal mine-safety laws. He lives in Las Vegas and has praised China’s “dictatorial capitalism”, even as he has called Mitch McConnell’s father-in-law a “wealthy Chinaperson” and derided “Cocaine Mitch” and his “China family”. A PAC aligned with Mr McConnell has spent heavily against Mr Blankenship, and even Donald Trump junior urged West Virginians to reject him.
But nativism and McConnell-bashing may pay dividends on Tuesday. Democrats who cheer his victory because they think Mr Manchin will wipe the floor with him should recall the lessons of 2016, and be careful what they wish for.
The Republican senate primary in Indiana has also been a three-headed slugfest. Like West Virginia, Indiana is a Trump state with a Democratic senator, Joe Donnelly, elected on Mr Obama’s coattails, who now looks vulnerable. With little daylight on issues between the three—Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, both congressmen; and Mike Braun, a wealthy former state legislator—the campaign has centred on personal attacks.
Mr Rokita calls Mr Braun a “lifelong Democrat” and Mr Messer a “never Trumper”—a similar charge levelled by Mr Messer against Mr Rokita. Mr Braun, meanwhile, paints them both as DC swamp creatures—and he seems to be winning. As in West Virginia, Mr Braun’s appeal shows that the Republican base’s anti-establishment frenzy imperils elected Republicans just as much as it does Democrats. Whoever emerges from the mudpit on Tuesday will be less toxic than Mr Blankenship of West Virginia, and will present a formidable challenge to Mr Donnelly.
Donald Trump visited Ohio on Saturday to tout his tax reform, and ended up urging people to vote for Jim Renacci, leading a pack of five candidates in the Republican senate primary, though with a large share of voters still undecided. His leading rival is Mike Gibbons, a businessman from Cleveland. Predictably, the two are battling over which one of them loves Mr Trump more. Mr Gibbons has taken the unusual step of suing Mr Renacci’s campaign for calling him “anti-Trump”. The winner will face Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s rumpled Democratic senator and a dark-horse 2020 hopeful, in November.
But the more interesting Ohio primary is on the Democratic side, for governor. Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general and the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is facing Dennis Kucinich, a former congressman, mayor of Cleveland and presidential candidate. Mr Cordray is dull, restrained and mainstream; Mr Kucinich is voluble and erratic, having defended both Mr Trump and Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator.
Elizabeth Warren, a progressive senator from Massachusetts and possible 2020 presidential candidate, has endorsed Mr Cordray, while backers of Bernie Sanders favour Mr Kucinich (Mr Sanders himself has kept his distance). A victory for Mr Kucinich could signal that Democrats face their own anti-establishmentarians, who risk nominating candidates able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Mr Cordray leads in the polls, though here too a large share of voters remain undecided.
In North Carolina all 13 incumbents are seeking re-election to the House. Neither senate seat is up, nor is the governor’s mansion. The fireworks here will happen in November.