An ebullient Mitch McConnell took a victory lap on Wednesday morning after the majority leader and his allies crushed former coal baron Don Blankenship in West Virginia‘s GOP primary, predicting that Senate Republicans will no longer be plagued by poor general election candidates in this year's Senate races.
With a divisive primary still looming in Arizona and an anti-establishment candidate challenging an incumbent in Mississippi, the result in West Virginia has McConnell confident that his party has turned the corner on nominating potentially unelectable candidates like Roy Moore in Alabama. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey handily defeated Blankenship, brightening Republican hopes of beating Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) this fall.
"It worked out very well, we've got a nominee that can win in November and that's what we hoped for," McConnell said in a rare hallway chat with a trio of reporters. "We're certainly going to be competitive. We've got a nominee who's clearly competitive and I think that happened in Indiana as well and we anticipate that happening in the rest of the primary season."
Blankenship's racist, slash-and-burn campaign against "Cocaine Mitch" and his "China people" allies "didn't seem to work out too well, did it?" the majority leader said with a chuckle as he walked into his Senate office.
Moore's win in the Alabama primary and subsequent loss in the general election raised GOP fears of blowing winnable races this year, hearkening back to past GOP candidates like Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock that lost to vulnerable Democrats. But McConnell says those days are over, despite Blankenship making the West Virginia Senate race about the Kentucky Republican leader.
"After the malfunctions in 2010 and 2012, we were determined to have nominees on the general election ballot who can actually win. Pretty simple: If you don't nominate somebody who's appealing to a broader audience, you can't win. And since then, the only place that didn't work out well was Alabama," McConnell said. "And I think we're in the process of getting fully electable nominees in all of the primaries this year, which gives us the best chance possible."
Senate Republicans hold just 51 seats but are facing a favorable political map in November, with 10 Democrats up for reelection in states that President Donald Trump won. Still, the Senate GOP faces difficult headwinds given Trump's unpopularity, so many Senate Republicans view merely holding the chamber as a significant achievement this fall.