Ready to rumble in West Virginia

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On the roster: Ready to rumble in West Virginia - Indiana Senate primary gets uglier and uglier - What Mueller wants to know - Sweet or sour?

READY TO RUMBLE IN WEST VIRGINIA
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Famed West Virginia sportscaster Tony Caridi’s catchphrase is, “It’s a great day to be a Mountaineer, wherever you are.” But we suspect that might not be so true for all of the participants in tonight’s Fox News Channel debate in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary.

After a grueling, expensive and oftentimes bitter contest the three top contenders for the chance to take on Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., will face each other and the questions from Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum here tonight.

With just one week until the vote we suspect that what has been a three-man race is about to take on a different construction. 

The stakes
While House Republicans are fighting a desperate battle to preserve control of the lower chamber, a tremendously favorable Senate map has Republicans in the upper chamber playing offense this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his crew are hoping to actually expand their one-seat majority because there are so many Democrats up for re-election in red states like West Virginia.

As it stands, Republicans are facing serious potential for defeats in two states, Arizona and Nevada, but Democrats are in arrears in at least four states, West Virginia, Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana.

Even if the GOP doesn’t get a clean sweep, the odds are still substantially in the Red Team’s favor. 

What makes West Virginia of particular importance, though, is not just that it represents a quarter of the Republican’s best chances, but that the race here could have second-order consequences in other states.

McConnell and his organization are pushing hard to stop former coal executive Don Blankenship from winning the Republican nomination here not just because they argue he is the least likely to defeat Manchin. They also are concerned about the fact that Blankenship, a gruff and exacting man, was only recently released from federal prison where he served a year-long sentence for violations of federal mine safety laws at a mine ware where 29 miners were killed in a 2010 explosion.

While Republican-affiliated outside groups have been spending to try to throttle Blankenship, at least one pro-Democrat group has been spending money to drag down his opponents, believing that the controversial businessman would be a blessing for the Blue Team.

Blankenship and his many supporters in West Virginia would argue that he is a figure like President Trump who may be beyond the norms of political convention but is the only candidate tough enough to defeat a well-funded, well-entrenched Democratic foe.

Tonight’s debate has national implications not just when it comes to one of the most completive Senate contest in the country, but the overall landscape of 2018.

The state of the race
Blankenship emerged as the early frontrunner thanks to his famous name, long involvement in state Republican politics and big campaign spending.

Blankenship’s first target was Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whom Blankenship derided as a carpetbagger and a phony. Morrisey first ran for office in his home state of New Jersey in between stints as a lobbyist and Hill staffer in Washington. Blankenship’s charge that Morrisey was insincere and opportunistic did plenty of damage to the candidate who was once presumed to have captured the Trumpian insurgent vote in a state where Trumpian insurgents are many.

Morrisey, aided by attacks from national Republicans on Blankenship, fought back tenaciously and eventually seemed to have halted Blankenship’s forward progress.

That, however, left the way clear for Rep. Evan Jenkins to slip past the other two combatants. Jenkins, little known outside of his Southern West Virginia district was able to assert himself well enough to take the lead in the poll Fox News conducted to determine who would be invited to this evening’s debate. But in a race like this being in front comes with considerable disadvantages.

Morrisey and Blankenship have to hope that Jenkins peaked too soon and that with increased scrutiny will wilt before the eyes of a skeptical electorate. Jenkins switched parties to run for the House, hardly a rarity in a state where the Republican governor was elected as a Democrat just two years ago. But both of his opponents describe him as an opportunist who is a member of the broad bipartisan establishment, aka The Swamp. 

Tune in
Join us at 6:30 p.m. ET live on the Fox News Channel, Fox News Radio and foxnews.com.

THE RULEBOOK: CHANGE IS A GOOD THING

“A frequent change of men will result from a frequent return of elections; and a frequent change of measures from a frequent change of men: whilst energy in government requires not only a certain duration of power, but the execution of it by a single hand.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 37

TIME OUT: NO CHEESE, PLEASE
WV Culture: “West Virginians enjoy and celebrate some native foods that many Americans don’t even know exist, much less eat — pawpaws and ramps come to mind. But the Mountain State is the bona fide birthplace of one beloved food item that has become much more familiar, in and out of the state, than these other homegrown delicacies — the pepperoni roll. The concept is culinary simplicity — bread dough wrapped around pepperoni. And no one seems to dispute that its inventor was Giuseppe (Joseph)Argiro, who came from Calabria, Italy, in 1920 to work in the Clarksburg-area coal mines. … The inventive Argiro got the idea for the pepperoni roll directly from his experiences in the mines. A common lunch for immigrant miners, according to Giuseppe’s younger son, Frank Argiro, consisted of ‘a slab of bread, a chunk of pepperoni, and a bucket of water.’ At some point between 1927 and 1938 — nobody seems to know exactly when — Giuseppe began placing the spicy pepperoni within the bread, and the pepperoni roll was born.”

Flag on the play? -
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HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
41.6 percent 
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent 
Net Score: 
-12 points
Change from one week ago: up 2.6 points 
[Average includes: Gallup: 42% approve - 53% disapprove; Fox News: 44% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 39% approve - 54% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 39% approve - 54% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 44% approval - 54% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 41.2 percent
Democratic average: 47.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up one point
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems - 40% GOP; NPR/PBS/Marist: 44% Dems - 39% GOP; ABC News/WaPo: 47% Dems - 43% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 47% Dems - 40% GOP; CNN: 50% Dems - 44% GOP.]

INDIANA SENATE PRIMARY GETS UGLIER AND UGLIER
Indy Star: “You know you are in the final days of one of the nation's nastiest Republican primary battles for U.S. Senate when one candidate uses a private conversation with another outside a restroom as fodder in a prime-time television debate. ‘I want you to know who Mike Braun is behind the camera,’ Congressman Luke Messer said, referring to one of his two primary opponents. ‘I confronted Mike Braun at one of our events about many of his lies in this campaign. And Mike looked at me he said, ‘You know what Luke, in this game, everybody makes it up.’’ ‘That's not good enough,’ Messer concluded. The attack during Monday night's debate at the WFYI studios in Indianapolis was indicative of a race where character has taken center stage. With few policy differences among the three candidates and with each pledging virtually unwavering support for President Donald Trump, the contest has become intensely personal.”

Ryan, McCarthy join fundraising forces - WaPo: “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are scheduled to join in hosting big-money fundraisers across the country over coming months, an unusual arrangement that could both boost Republican coffers ahead of the November midterm elections and also solidify McCarthy’s bid to succeed Ryan as speaker. The events, at least eight of which are scheduled, will benefit either the Congressional Leadership Fund, the biggest GOP super PAC focused on House races, or Protect the House, a joint fundraising committee helmed by McCarthy and Vice President Pence. This month, Ryan and McCarthy are scheduled to headline CLF fundraisers in Illinois and New York, plus a pair of D.C. events, while the duo will also host a Protect the House event in South Florida. Next month, Ryan and McCarthy are set to attend CLF events in Pennsylvania and Texas, as well as Protect the House events in D.C. and Midland, Tex.”

The Mooch to host fundraiser for felonious candidate - Politico: “Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci is headlining a fundraiser in support of former Rep. Michael Grimm's GOP primary bid in New York’s 11th Congressional District. Grimm is challenging incumbentDan Donovan. Scaramucci's support comes as Grimm — who pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud in 2014, resigned his seat in 2015 and then served eight months in prison — is trying to demonstrate his closeness to the president.The fundraiser will be held May 19 on Staten Island. The primary election takes place June 26.”

WHAT MUELLER WANTS TO KNOW
Fox News: “A lengthy list of questions for President Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller was leaked to The New York Times, marking the latest in a string of apparently deliberate disclosures relating to the ongoing probe into Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential election. Fox News has since obtained the questions, which cover Trump's interactions with key figures like former FBI Director James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. The Times called some of the questions ‘tantalizing’ and suggested they reveal that Mueller may have uncovered pre-election outreach by Trump's campaign to Russian officials. The questions cover Trump's motivations for firing Comey a year ago, as well as his reaction to Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation. Trump blasted the leak on Tuesday morning, calling it ‘disgraceful’ that the questions made it out to the media.”

Trump defenders ready to remove Rosenstein to stop probe - 
Fox News: “Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have drafted articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, calling it a ‘last resort’ if the Justice Department continues ‘slow walking’ its response to document requests. Sources with the caucus emphasized they are not planning right now to move forward with any impeachment effort -- apparently intending the draft as a warning shot to the DOJ in their quest for documents. The draft, obtained by Fox News Tuesday, comes just days after House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., announced they had reached an agreement with the Justice Department on producing documents. First reported by The Washington Post, the draft impeachment from the caucus, chaired by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., outlines eight instances of Rosenstein’s alleged wrongdoing. Rosenstein has been in conservative crosshairs in large part due to his oversight of the special counsel Russia investigation, which President Trump calls a ‘witch hunt.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump, Pence both to speak at NRA convention on Friday - AP

Trump’s pick to lead ICE to retire - WSJ

White House delays tariffs on EU, Canada, Mexico ahead of tense China talks - Fox News

Moore files lawsuit, claims he was victim to ‘political conspiracy’ - WaPo

Trump tweets support for term limits in Congress - WashEx

AUDIBLE: BAD STUFF?
“He always knows where I stand and he and I both know this story is total BS.” – Current Chief of Staff John Kelly in a statement released by the White House regarding him calling the president an idiot.  

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Hi, Regarding your new Midterms Election HQ page: What all voters want to know, based on what you know now, and as the campaign progresses, is what is your projection of the number of Republican and Democrat senators and representatives, i.e., who controls what after the mid-terms . . . Do you plan to make those projections and if so, when?” – Darrell Hanshaw, Austin, Texas

[Ed. note: Well, Mr. Hanshaw, we are projecting some of them already. There are 35 Senate seats up for grabs and 36 governorships and all 435 House seats. We can forecast most of those contests today, but that’s no big surprise in a republic with an incumbency retention rate that usually exceeds 95 percent. What you want to know, though, is how those races at the margins will turn out, and so do we. What I suspect you will see over time is that more races will migrate out of the “Lean Republican” and “Lean Democrat” categories into the “Likely” categories, but I also suspect you will see some move into the “Toss Up” aisle. I cannot promise today that we will winnow the number of toss-ups by the fall, but I suspect we will. There are seven currently for the Senate and I would be surprised if that number does not shrink in the coming weeks. For the House it could go in either direction depending on how the national political climate shapes up. Republicans will hope that the number of competitive races narrows while Democrats will be working mightily to expand it.] 

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SWEET OR SOUR?
WV Explorer: “Of all the odd community names one finds in West Virginia, Pickle Street may rank among the oddest. … There is little street-like about scenic U.S. 119, which wanders the valley between Glenville and Weston. Several obscure theories as to why the community is so-named have been put forth, though none may ring true, and the name origin may remain a mystery. According to one source, the community may have been named for a muddy track located along the old dirt road that led through the community. … Six-horse teams had to be used to pull supplies through, and on one occasion a wagon full of barrels, among which were pickle barrels, lost part of its load while attempting to negotiate the hole. … Another origin was postulated by Maud Harris Eakle, of Fairmont, who lived in Pickle Street when she was a child. She claims the place was named after a jar of pickled beans which she broke over the head of a schoolmate who had ‘said things about my mother.’”

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.