Power Rankings: Not so peachy primaries

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On the roster: Power Rankings: Not so peachy primaries – The Rulebook: It pays to be independent – Time Out: Homer cooking – Trump said to be focused on Kavanaugh, Hardiman – :

POWER RANKINGS: NOT SO PEACHY PRIMARIES  
Political primaries are like peach picking. You can shake the tree a little and you can grasp with a firm hand, but if you squeeze too hard the fruit will be rotten before it can ever get ripe.

We’re more than halfway through the primary calendar and both parties have, for the most part, avoided the kind of unforced errors that looked possible at the beginning of this election year. 

But not in every case… 

With this many bushels of peaches picked by the parties, it’s time again for us to look at our Fox News Power Rankings for the Senate [you can see the original rankings here and read about our system here] and sort out some bruised fruit. 

Arizona Republican politics is rough stuff, so we always knew that the race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake was bound to get pretty ugly, and hoo-boy were we right.

Parties can have bad primaries in a couple of different general ways. Sometimes, base voters just make a mistake and choose a candidate who can’t compete in a general election. Sometimes these choices to damage in other races, sometimes even beyond state lines. Virginia Republicans’ choice of Corey Stewart to oppose Sen. Tim Kaine, for example, is a straight forward example of this tendency. 

More common, though, is the kind of bad primary in which the election itself damages the party’s chances. Either candidates are pushed to take extreme positions or the general foulness of the fight does damage to the survivor that lingers on in the fall. 

Democrats are living through this right now in their Nevada gubernatorial race where a particularly bitter and personal primary fight puts nominee Steve Sisolak at an unnecessary disadvantage in his match up with state Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

But in their Senate race, Arizona Republicans may end up with the worst of both worlds: A fringy nominee who is further damaged by an ugly and acrimonious nominating process. 

Democrats are seemingly quite content with their presumptive nominee, Kyrsten Sinema. She’s taking full advantage of being essentially unopposed in the Grand Canyon State’s Aug. 28 primary, dishing out sharp elbows to the Democratic leadership and staking out her brand as an independent-minded centrist. 

Meanwhile, Republicans are melting down. The frontrunner, Rep. Martha McSally still looks like the GOP’s best bet for holding on to the seat. Her track record as a moderate and her military service made McSally a good pick for the GOP in her district, which covers the eastern suburbs of Tucson all the way to the New Mexico border. Republican horse pickers in Washington believe that those same characteristics would serve her well in a Senate run, but as the race has progressed, McSally has struggled to find a tone that works. 

Her chief rival for the nomination is a former state senator who got lots of attention for her ill-fated primary challenge to Sen. John McCain in 2016. Kelli Ward was already running against Flake before the senator announced his retirement and just shifted her line of attack against the Washington elite from Flake to McSally. Ward, an absolute hardliner on immigration and a favorite of the Bannonite populist right, is Team MAGA all the way. 

Further complicating the race is that former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is also running, kind of… At 86 and in possession of a preemptive pardon from President Trump for Arpaio’s refusal to comply with court orders relating to his tenure as sheriff, hasn’t been much of a retail politician. But his famous name and attachment to causes dear to populist Republicans’ hearts – particularly his insistence that the 44th president is a secret Kenyan – give Arpaio electoral clout. 

There’s not a ton of polling on the primary, but what there is shows Arpaio consistently trailing both McSally and Ward with McSally in the lead. This has created a problem for Ward who has been stuck fighting her fellow MAGAite for right-wing votes instead of focusing on roughing up McSally.

But it has been McSally who has been struggling the most to reinvent herself as a born-again Trump Republican, particularly on the issue of immigration, which is sure to be the dominate issue in the fall. McSally still has the lead, but with six weeks until the election there’s going to be a lot of rough road ahead. 

Given the Democrats’ primary layup and the growing possibility the Republicans will nominate either a damaged or unsuitable candidate, we are moving this race from “Toss Up” to “Lean Democrat.” 

It’s just the opposite for Republicans in North Dakota, however. 

Incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp barely squeaked by in 2012 to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, who had been in office for 20 years. Given North Dakota’s reddening hue, the freshman was automatically at the top of Republicans’ target lists for 2018. 

Heitkamp has tried to play the angles with Trump in many of the same ways her fellow red-state Democrats have, and to some success. But ultimately, what she needed this year was a weak Republican opponent like some of the other vulnerable Democrats have drawn. Heitkamp did not get so lucky. 

Rep. Kevin Cramer has been in Washington as long as Heitkamp and, like her, is elected statewide in the sparsely populated Peace Garden State. He’s won by stout margins three times, including a 45-point romp in 2016. Cramer looks like he’s cruising now and we have reason to believe that Democrats are unlikely to invest too deeply on behalf of an incumbent facing such long odds in a state Trump won by nearly 40 points. 

That’s why we’re moving North Dakota from “Toss Up” to “Lean Republican.”

Not all incumbents are created equal, though. Joe Manchin has been winning statewide elections in West Virginia since 2004 and his family traces its political roots to the 1960s. Republicans always knew that he would be tough to beat. 

The West Virginia GOP’s dogfight of a primary didn’t help much either. Scathing, personal attacks certainly did their damage to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who was portrayed as an ethically challenged carpetbagger by his rivals, Rep. Evan Jenkins and businessman Don Blankenship. Those are the kinds of claims that hurt the most in primaries since they transfer so easily to the general election. 

Morrisey delivered a commanding win in June and certainly has time to change the race, but is so far running at a distinct disadvantage. Further complicating things for Morrisey is that his party is badly in disarray in Charleston. Many state Republicans are calling for the impeachment of Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who refuses to work from the capital, preferring to run state business from the Greenbrier Resort which he owns. When you are trying to knock off a well-entrenched incumbent, it’s generally not good to have your party tearing itself apart. When it’s happening while you are the state’s top lawyer, it’s particularly unhelpful. 

Two months on from the Republican primary, the race looks increasingly like Manchin’s to lose. So we’re sliding West Virginia’s Senate contest from “Toss Up” to “Lean Democrat.” 

THE RULEBOOK: IT PAYS TO BE INDEPENDENT 
“In the general course of human nature, A POWER OVER A MAN’s SUBSISTENCE AMOUNTS TO A POWER OVER HIS WILL. And we can never hope to see realized in practice, the complete separation of the judicial from the legislative power, in any system which leaves the former dependent for pecuniary resources on the occasional grants of the latter.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 79

TIME OUT: HOMER COOKING
Paris Review: “The Iliad, attributed to Homer (seventh or eighth century B.C., possibly), tells of a dispute during the Trojan War between Agamemnon, the commander of the Greek forces, and Achilles, his star warrior. … Simone Weil, in a famous essay titled ‘The Iliad or the Poem of Force,’ wrote that violence is the poem’s central character, but that ‘Justice and love … bathe the work in their light without ever becoming noticeable themselves, except as a kind of accent.’ The destruction, in other words, only underlines the importance of what is being lost. …In that spirit, it becomes a wonderful book to cook from, and turns out to be full of scenes of communality where the Greek troops mark events of social and religious significance with feasting and drinking wine. Homer even includes quite a bit of technical detail on what cuts of meat they’re using and how they’re preparing them.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
41.4 percent 
Average disapproval: 
52 percent 
Net Score:
 -10.6 points
Change from one week ago: 
down 1.2 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 40% approve – 55% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve – 53% disapprove; IBD: 41% approve – 54% disapprove; CNBC: 41% approve – 47% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk University: 43% approve – 51% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 
41 percent
Democratic average: 48.2 percent
Advantage: 
Democrats plus 7.2 points
Change from one week ago: 
Democratic advantage up 0.2 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 50% Dems – 41% GOP; IBD: 48% Dems – 40% GOP; USA Today/Suffolk University: 45% Dems – 39% GOP; CNN: 50% Dems – 42% GOP; Gallup: 48% Dems – 43% GOP.]

TRUMP SAID TO BE FOCUSED ON KAVANAUGH, HARDIMAN
NYT: “President Trump has decided on his nominee to the Supreme Court after spending Monday morning working the phones primarily seeking input about two judges who were said to be the finalists, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Thomas M. Hardiman, people familiar with the discussions said. … Mr. Trump had been going back and forth between Judge Kavanaugh, the favorite of the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, and Judge Hardiman, whom the president’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a former colleague of Judge Hardiman’s, has pressed him to choose. Two other candidates for the seat of the retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Judge Raymond Kethledge — were not the focus of Mr. Trump’s morning discussions, according to those familiar with the discussions. The drama-focused president is going to announce his choice for the Kennedy seat in a Monday night address to the country at 9 p.m.”

Conservative group hitting airwaves to pressure red state Dems – Fox News: “A conservative group planned Monday to launch a high-dollar ad campaign in support of President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, as both sides gird for a costly and confrontational battle before the nominee is even announced. Judicial Crisis Network is launching a $1.4 million ad buy on national cable and digital, with a particular focus on four states: Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia. The ad is expected to feature an introductory bio on the president’s yet-to-be-named Supreme Court nominee. The campaign is set to launch ‘as soon as the nominee is announced,’ according to Judicial Crisis Network.”

Meet the four finalists – WSJ: “As the clock ticks on President Donald Trump’s choice for a Supreme Court vacancy, each of the four people under close consideration could move the court in a more conservative direction for decades. ‘Republicans are holding four lottery tickets, and all of them are winners,’ Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said Sunday in a Fox News interview. Here’s a look at the top contenders…”

Williamson: Court packing would be destructive – National Review: “The current push on the Left to expand the no-quarter approach to Supreme Court politics by introducing court-packing schemes is genuinely dangerous for the country. That’s worth thinking about, but it is also worth considering — not that I’ll shed any tears over it — that it’s dangerous to the political aspirations of the Democratic party, too. Republicans have bested them in all their own favorite games, gerrymandering, filibusters, and weaponizing congressional procedure prominent among them. They’d probably be better at court-packing, too. The Republicans may look divided and in disarray in the Trump era — and they are, of course — but it is the Democrats who have the more pressing long-term coalitional problem of being a party in which little old white liberal ladies lord over a growing and politically dynamic constituency that is much younger, much browner…”

Klein: court packing is an understandable response from liberals – Vox: “The Supreme Court is meant to be insulated from democracy. It’s not meant to be a partisan tool for undermining democracy. What’s emerging now is a dangerous loop, in which Republicans barely holding onto power manage to keep control of the Supreme Court by any means necessary, and in return, the Supreme Court’s Republican appointees issue rulings to help their party cling to political power. In the long term, that’s bad for the country’s unity and the Court’s legitimacy.” 

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Boris Johnson 
quits as UK foreign secretary, threatening May’s grasp on power – Fox News

Socialist protesters hound McConnell on Kentucky visit 
– Louisville Courier Journal

Can Richard Cordray sell left-wing populism in Ohio?
 – Bloomberg 

Meet the Democratic strategist who’s changing the way campaigns use video
 – Politico

The Beto goes on – Politico

AUDIBLE: HE’S NOT WRONG…
“This primary felt like it was who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck, and who could be the craziest.” – Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, R-Ga., in a leaked recording released by his opponent in the GOP gubernatorial primary runoff, Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s campaign.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris, great commentary on the thirteen colonies and how people lived back then. So nice to see you describe how leaders of the colonies got together to solve problems of a new nation without much of a pattern to follow. Not always in agreement, but looking for ways to create a better life for all. It’s shameful how we operate today in a two party system in which corruption and selfishness abound. Keep up the good work. Would like to see more articles about how our ancestors helped each other to solve common problems.” – Howard Lewis, Canfield, Ohio

[Ed. note: Thank you for the kind words, Mr. Lewis. I like your idea. I also like the idea of talking about what’s happened in our history when we have FAILED to solve common problems. The agonies of the summer of 1968 or the spring of 1861 teaches a great deal about the consequences of failing to maintain a healthy republic.]

“Chris: Very insightful analysis on the Founding Fathers and their reliance on each other.  I commend to your attention a terrific book from 1982 titled ‘The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790’ by Rhys Isaac, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in History for this seminal work.  It is about the ‘Great Awakening’ and how the Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists sought to de-emphasize the role of the Established (Anglican) Church in Virginia; the roles played in that by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson; the conflict over that issue between the Gentry from Tidewater and the planters/yeomen of the western counties; and how the Gentry (despite their long economic and religious connections to England) threw-in their lot with the planters/yeomen when it became clear to the Gentry that the furor over the continuation of the Establish Church was the precursor to a fight with England over independence of the colonies.” – Bill Canfield, McLean, Va.

[Ed. note: So true, Mr. Canfield! I will look at that book forthwith. It is easy to forget in our rapidly secularizing culture that many of the political fault lines we know today descend from those sectarian divisions that predate even our founding.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at 
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

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WLUK: “It may be the dead of summer, but in one small area of Appleton [Wisconsin] signs of a long winter can still be seen. There’s still a snow pile inside Appleton’s Yellow Ramp. Despite a hot, steamy weekend last weekend, the snow is still staying strong. One man saw the rare sight, and decided to snap a photo and send it to the City of Appleton’s Twitter and a response didn’t take long. ‘Figured I’d share it with the City of Appleton since this is one of their parking ramps and figured there might be an opportunity to have some fun with it,’ said JP Heim. ‘Just knowing that, even in Wisconsin where we get a lot of snow and it can hang out, you know, a long time. I thought, man, people are going to get a kick out of this,’ said Chad Doran with the City of Appleton. Now, the area where the snow pile sits is the dumping spot for snow that collects on the roof. Doran said the snow pile is now like a tourist attraction.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Liberalism does not want to admit that the court has become its last reliable instrument for achieving its political objectives. So liberals have created a great philosophical superstructure to justify their freewheeling, freestyle constitutional interpretation.” – Charles Krauthammer writing in the Washington Post, April 6, 2017

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.