THIS autumn Democrats must defend ten Senate seats in states that President Donald Trump won. They may well flip Republican-held seats in Nevada and Arizona, so Republicans have to pick off at least a few of those ten seats if they want to retain their majority. Primary elections in three of these states—West Virginia, Indiana and Ohio, as well as North Carolina—were held on May 8th. Viable candidates prevailed in all three, partly by emphasising their affinity with Mr Trump. Yet even though Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, anti-establishment anger still animates their base.

The fear for what remains of the Republican establishment was that Don Blankenship would prevail in West Virginia, where Mr Trump won 68.5% of the vote in 2016. Mr Blankenship is a doughy, charmless ex-convict who praised China’s “dictatorial capitalism” and spent a year in prison for conspiring to evade federal mine-safety standards after an accident killed 29 men at one of his company’s mines. His campaign ads featured him staring into the camera while droning racist bilge. On the other hand, he hates the federal government and Mitch McConnell—whom he called “Cocaine Mitch”, and whose “China family” (Mr McConnell’s wife was born in Taiwan) he mocked. Though the president urged people to vote against him, Mr Blakenship claimed to be Trumpier than Trump.

To the relief of Republicans running in November, he lost West Virginia’s Senate primary to Patrick Morrisey, the state’s attorney-general (Mr McConnell’s gloating tweet read “Thanks for playing, Don,” and depicted the Senate majority leader smirking in a cloud of white powder). In November he faces Joe Manchin, who will be a tougher opponent than the state’s numbers hint. Mr Manchin is a populist Democrat and wily campaigner with deep local roots, whereas Mr Morrisey did not move to West Virginia until 2006; before that he lobbied for pharmaceutical firms in Washington, which could prove damaging in a state wracked by opioid deaths. Elsewhere in West Virginia, Richard Ojeda, a pro-gun, tattooed army veteran who passionately defended his state’s striking teachers, won the 3rd District’s Democratic primary.

Indiana’s three-way slugfest ended with Mike Braun, a wealthy businessman, prevailing over Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, both Republican congressmen. (Evan Jenkins, another Republican congressman also lost in West Virginia.) All three candidates tried to claim Mr Trump’s mantle while emulating his style, lambasting each other with derisive nicknames: “Lyin’ Todd” for Mr Rokita, who falsely implied that Mr Trump had endorsed him; “Missing Messer” for the congressman who allegedly spends more time in the Washington area than Indiana; and “Tax Hike Mike” for Mr Braun, who voted to raise the gas tax when he was a state legislator. Mr Braun will face Joe Donnelly, the Democratic incumbent, in November, in a state Mr Trump won by nearly 20 points.

In North Carolina’s 9th District, Robert Pittenger, the incumbent Republican congressman, lost to Mark Harris, whom he defeated in 2016. Mr Harris, a Baptist pastor who called his opponent a “Republican liberal”, will face Dan McCready, a well-funded former marine turned solar-power executive, in November. Though the 9th has been Republican for decades, it is the sort of suburban district that Democrats think they can flip—and indeed over 10,000 more Democrats than Republicans voted in the primary.

The sole bright spot for House Republicans was seen in Ohio, where Jim Renacci, who has represented Ohio’s 16th District since 2010, defeated Mike Gibbons, a banker from Cleveland, following an endorsement from Mr Trump. Mr Renacci hopes to oust Sherrod Brown, a populist Democrat who has held the Senate seat since 2007.

The Democratic centre held in Ohio’s primary for governor, where Richard Cordray, once head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, defeated Dennis Kucinich, a former congressman and presidential candidate, who has defended both Mr Trump and Bashar al-Assad. Elizabeth Warren endorsed Mr Cordray, while groups affiliated with Bernie Sanders backed Mr Kucinich. Mr Cordray will face Mike DeWine, who beat him in the race for attorney-general in 2010. A battle between two mainstream politicians may not thrill the fringes, but it will satisfy the centre—a welcome rarity in American politics.