‘Big blue wave’ boasting is dissipating, but it's not time to celebrate yet

Voters in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Vermont cast ballots in primaries Tuesday, as predictions of a “big blue wave” driven by anti-Trump sentiment are dissipating. Most available data of any real relevance thus far suggests the blue wave isn’t forming.

All that could still change. There’s a long way to go before the ballots that count the most are cast, and all indications are the November elections will be tight.

The biggest surprise in the voting Tuesday came in Minnesota, with the defeat of former two-term GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Pawlenty dropped his support for President Trump in the 2016 presidential race after a tape surfaced of Trump boasting about grabbing women. GOP primary voters instead selected Trump supporter Jeff Johnson as their nominee for governor, showing the president remains popular among Republicans.

Nationally, President Trump’s approval rating has again hit 50 percent in the Rasmussen Poll (while sinking to 39 percent in Gallup’s) and the Democrats’ lead on the generic ballot test has closed to a hair under 4 percent.

Balanced against that is the behavior of the voters. Turnout in most places is up for Democrats over what it was in the 2014 midterms and down for the GOP.

In Wisconsin, where both parties had competitive, top-of-the-ticket statewide primaries Tuesday, nearly 75,000 more Democrats showed up to vote than Republicans. In Minnesota the gap was almost 250,000.

The difference in enthusiasm may be enough to boost the Democrats in their bid to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives by a narrow margin. But it probably isn’t enough to make Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., leader of the Senate majority. And it probably won’t change in any appreciable way the GOP’s hold on governorships and state legislative chambers.

What’s evident is that the battle for control of the Democratic Party between the left and far-left is damaging the brand.

Dissatisfied Republicans and self-described independents may be uncomfortable for the moment with the leadership at the top of the GOP. But they don’t want to go back to the way things were when Democrats under Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Schumer last controlled Congress.

Nonetheless, the GOP is going to have to fight to hang onto its majorities in the House and Senate in November.

Here’s a roundup of the primaries Tuesday:

Minnesota

Pawlenty, a former GOP presidential primary candidate and Washington lobbyist, seemed to be on the road to an easy victory and a real shot at regaining the office he occupied from 2003 to 2011. Unfortunately for him, Minnesota voters preferred – as has been the trend all year – to support an outsider rather than a government insider. In this case the outsider was Johnson, who had earlier won the party endorsement.

Pawlenty had been harshly critical of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump came within 2 points of Hillary Clinton, who carried Minnesota. When you consider no Republican has carried the state for president since Richard Nixon in 1972, that strong support for Trump in GOP ranks proved to be something that Pawlenty could not surmount.

The Democrats, also in something of a surprise, chose retiring 1st District U.S. Rep. Tim Walz as their nominee for governor over the more liberal state party-endorsed state Rep. Erin Murphy and state Attorney General Lori Swanson.

And in the race to succeed Swanson as attorney general, Democrats nominated retiring U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison – the vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Ellison denied allegations of assault made by a former girlfriend in the closing days of the race.

In a U.S. Senate primary, Democratic Sen. Tina Smith – who was appointed to the seat held by Sen. Al Franken after he resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct – easily won nomination for a full term. She will face GOP state Sen. Karin Housley in November.

Longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar won her primary for re-election with 96 percent of the vote and will face state Rep. Jim Newberger as her Republican opponent.

The GOP thinks it has a shot at winning Walz’s open congressional seat in the fall as well as the open seat in the 8th Congressional District in the northern part of the state, both of which Trump carried in the 2016 presidential race.

At the same time, Republicans are playing defense in the traditionally Republican 2nd Congressional District, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis is having to deal with fallout stemming from controversial things he said while a host on talk radio before coming to Congress.

Wisconsin

Republican Gov. Scott Walker easily won his primary for a third term and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers won the Democratic nomination to try to unseat Walker.

In the race to take on two-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Republican state Sen. Leah Vulkmir – who had Walker’s full support – defeated businessman and Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson, a former chairman of the College Young Democrats of America.

Walker’s presence at the top of the ticket helps Vulkmir in her uphill but very winnable battle against Baldwin, while Vulkmir will help Walker hang onto the job that once looked like it could propel him into the presidency.

In the open 1st Congressional District being seat vacated by retiring Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Ryan-endorsed Bryan Steil, a former aide to the outgoing speaker, easily won the GOP nomination and will face Democrat Randy Bryce in the fall.

Connecticut

Republicans once again picked the outsider, businessman Bob Stefanowski, as their gubernatorial standard-bearer in Tuesday’s primary. He finished first atop a field of five to earn the right to run for what national Republicans regard as their best chance to take a governorship away from the Democrats in the fall.

Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy, who’s the most unpopular state chief executive in the nation, chose not to run for re-election, allowing the party to turn to businessman and failed 2006 U.S. Senate nominee Ned Lamont.

Stefanowski’s promised to abolish the state income tax if elected, a bold step that may have put him at the top of the field in a state now close to bankruptcy as the corporations for which it was once home base are leaving for states with better business environments.

Vermont

Democrats opted for Christine Hallquist, a transgender former energy company executive. as their choice to take on incumbent GOP Gov. Phil Scott. Vermont is one of the few states that still elects its governor every two years instead of every four.

In the race for the U.S. Senate, incumbent independent Bernie Sanders was the easy winner in the Democratic primary with 95 percent of the vote. He is expected to turn down the Democratic nomination, as he has done in the past, and run as an independent. He is an overwhelming favorite to win re-election.

The race for the Republican nomination to Sanders’ Senate seat remained too close to call Wednesday.