Voters go back to the polls Tuesday for the next round of primary elections in West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina, with ballots featuring a range of striking candidates: racists, neo-Confederates, Assad-sympathizing leftists, and Mike Pence’s brother.
Short of Texas and Illinois, which have already held their primaries, this is the biggest election so far in advance of the 2018 midterms. Here are the four big stories to keep an eye on:
West Virginia’s wild, racist, populist Senate race
Former coal mining magnate Don Blankenship went to jail in 2016 after 29 people died in an explosion at his Upper Big Branch mine. He received the maximum sentence—one year—for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards.
And on Tuesday, he might win the Republican nomination to be a U.S. senator.
Blankenship had portrayed himself as a “political prisoner” victimized by overzealous prosecutors of Barack Obama. He has railed against the status quo in Washington and tried to align himself closely with President Donald Trump.
There's been almost no public polling of the race, but Blankenship’s candidacy has worried Washington Republicans enough that they've been funneling money into a shady PAC to hammer him. The Republican establishment desperately wants to defeat Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin this November, but going to jail after the deaths of 29 miners is what the D.C. consultant class calls a political vulnerability.
Blankenship hasn't taken the attacks lying down. The race went completely bananas in the past two weeks after he began waging a race-baiting campaign against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “I have an issue when the father-in-law is a wealthy Chinaperson and there’s a lot of connections to some of the brass, if you will, in China,” Blankenship said on a local radio program.
Chao’s father, James Chao, was one of the youngest Chinese sea captains in modern history and is the chairman of Foremost Group, a shipping, trading, and finance company based in New York City but with business in China.
A longtime adviser for McConnell, Josh Holmes, called Blankenship “mentally ill,” and then Blankenship dubbed McConnell “cocaine Mitch” who has “created millions of jobs for China people” in an ad that must be seen to be believed:
The return of Dennis Kucinich?
Former congressman and failed presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has some Democrats in Washington nervous that he might win on Tuesday.
Kucinich is running to be the Democratic nominee in this fall’s Ohio gubernatorial race against Richard Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Many Democrats are worried that Kucinich, a quirky lefty who claims he has seen UFOs and has met multiple times with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the midst of the country’s bloody civil war, will lose the general election if he’s the nominee. Cordray is a bit less exciting than Kucinich but also boasts a liberal record and has the support of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
The public polling has been scant. One poll found them tied while another found Cordray with a double-digit lead with half the voters undecided. Kucinich has tried to make gun control a campaign issue as Cordray had an A rating from the NRA while serving as the state’s attorney general (Kucinich had an F). The Parkland school shooting in February has provoked a burst of grassroots energy on the left surrounding gun control, but it’s unclear how that will affect this race.
Veep Mike Pence’s older brother heading to Congress?
Another Pence may be coming to Washington. The vice president’s older brother Greg Pence will try to become the Republican nominee in Indiana’s 6th congressional district, the same seat Mike Pence held before he became Indiana’s governor.
Big Brother Greg has had a lot of help from out-of-state donors and allies of the Trump administration, perhaps trying to curry favor with the vice president. Several members of Congress, including Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, have donated, as well as Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, and Dallas investor Doug Deason, according to a tally by the Indy Star. That has resulted in the state’s most expensive House primary, with over $1.5 million being raised between the two top contenders.
Local businessman Jonathan Lamb has raised half a million dollars (much of it through personal loans to the campaign) and has tried to make Greg Pence’s last name a liability.
“I am not running because I come from a political family with ties to Washington, D.C., or because I have deep-pocketed special-interest money backing and funding my campaign,” Lamb said in a statement during the campaign. “I am running to make a difference for my children and all Hoosiers.”
Fights over the Confederacy in Republican primaries
Some wounds never heal. In North Carolina, three Republican state representatives are having to fend off intra-party challengers who are attacking them over a bill they co-sponsored that would remove the prohibition on secession from the state’s constitution.
That ban was put in place in the aftermath of the Civil War.
“I don't think you should sponsor a bill that raises the issue that you're seceding from the Union," Joe McLaughlin, a Republican running against state Rep. George Cleveland, told the News & Observer. "It's an unnecessary distraction and red meat for the Left."
Cleveland defended the bill to the News & Observer, saying the secession restriction "was stuck in our constitution during Reconstruction. To me, it was a no harm, no foul — it was just a gesture to clean up some ancient stuff."
Rep. Larry Pittman, who's also being challenged in a primary, has been attacked for his Facebook post calling Abraham Lincoln a “tyrant” akin to Adolf Hitler.
The controversial statements are not isolated incidents. The members regularly create controversy and spark national headlines. In 2012, Pittman called for restoring public hangings as punishment. He also suggested that punishment should be applied to doctors performing abortions.
The challengers are being outspent, but we'll see if they can win by making an argument for sanity and rejecting the “South Will Rise Again” ethos.
Cover image: Supporters of Don Blankenship, who is running for the Republican nomination for Senate in West Virginia, attend a town hall meeting at Macado's restaurant in Bluefield, West Virginia, on May 3, 2018. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.