Tuesday, August 7, may have helped define the politics of the nearly three months that remain until the midterm elections, which in turn will determine the composition of the House and Senate for the next two years.
There were several primary elections on the 7th, but the election watched most closely wasn’t a primary, it was a special election to fill a vacant seat, Ohio’s 12th Congressional district, which includes part of Columbus, and suburbs to the north and east of that city. This is usually a very safe Republican district. It has been Republican most of the time since 1920, except for an eight-year stretch in the 1930s and a two year period in the early ‘80s. It is, in the cliches of our time, “deep red.”
The seat has been vacant since January when Pat Tiberi resigned.
In the special election, the Democratic candidate, Danny O’Conner, a political newcomer, provided an unexpectedly close contest, although at this writing the win seems to have gone to Republican state senator Troy Balderson, who had been enthusiastically endorsed by President Trump. So the Republicans won a seat they had to win, squeaker or not.
The numbers-oriented folks at the blog FiveThirtyEight.com said as they wrapped up their election night coverage, “Ohio 12 looks to have shifted by about 13 points towards Democrats relative to its partisan lean.”
In the various intra-party elections held the same day, one general pattern on the Dem side was that ‘establishment’ Democrats won against insurgents (Clinton style Democrats against Sanders style Democrats, so to speak).
The Republicans of Kansas
On the Republican side, the night had another squeaker, the primary that pitted Trump-supported Kris Kobach in his challenge to incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer for the Republican nomination for Governor of Kansas. The count may take days.
Colyer hasn’t been the incumbent for long. He became Governor just this January. He had been Lieutenant Governor under Gov. Sam Brownback. In January, Brownback resigned so that he could be sworn in as President Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
The morning after the primary, the intra-party challenger Kobach was said to have an edge of about 200 votes over Colyer. Some Republican ‘establishment’ folks are concerned that Kobach has been too friendly to white nationalists and as a consequence would be a weaker opponent for the Democratic nominee than Colyer.
The Democratic Party’s nominee for Governor in Kansas is Laura Kelly, a former assistant minority leader in the state senate. In her own successful primary campaign, abortion rights was a key issue. Kelly vowed that as Governor she will veto any new legislation that put new limits on a woman’s reproductive choice and will work to loosen some of the restrictions that Brownback had signed.
From the Left
It didn’t take observers very long to catch on to the fact that Kris Kobach, as Kansas’ Secretary of State, is the public official tasked with overseeing a recount, including it appears a necessary recount of the contest between himself and Governor Colyer. Josh Voorhees, in the center-right internet magazine Slate, wrote that even if Kobach “stays out of the nitty gritty” of the recount, “he’d still be the official signing off on how the recount is conducted.” He is unlikely to recuse himself, Voorhees says, because he “doesn’t care” about such matters as conflict of interest or its appearance.
Kobach did soon thereafter recuse himself, through, defying Voorhees’ low expectations.
KAKE, a Wichita television station, posted to Instagram about the Kansas Governor’s race to say, with reference to Kansas politics in general, “When you see a Democrat succeed, it’s because the Republicans were suffering from in-fighting.” The implication is that Ms Kelly may stand to benefit from this squeaker of a primary.
As to the marquee race in Ohio’s 12th, on the day before the vote, leftward twitter denizen Scott Dworkin linked to a clip of Balderson refusing to answer questions (in what might be described as an ambush interview). Dworkin commented, “He runs into a campaign office and completely ignores questions….We can’t afford to have cowards like this in Congress. #Vote OConnor tomorrow!”
Another leftist, who calls himself “Bozo Texino,” retweeted Dworkin’s tweet with that link, adding, “Who is seriously going to vote for this guy?”
Probably, one must answer, just enough voters to put him in Congress.
On Wednesday, Steven Shepard and Scott Bland, in Politico, were saying that one of the big takeaways from the Ohio election must be that “Republicans running in competitive districts against well-funded Democrats” won’t be able to expect the sort of cavalry-to-the-rescue attention from national Republicans that dragged Balderson across the finish line, “the weak will be left on the battlefield.”
Chris Cillizza, of CNNPolitics, said much the same. “Outside conservative groups dumped millions of dollars into this seat to save Balderson, a spending plan they simply won’t be able to repeat around the country.”
Meanwhile, Li Zhou at Vox focuses on good news for women. Once one counts the victories of women Tuesday, a total of at least 185 women will be on the ballot as a major party nominee for a seat in the US House of Representatives this November, easily a new record.
From the Right
Donald Trump endorsed Kobach, in the Kansas race the day before the vote, by way of a tweet. The President called Kobach a “fantastic guy who loves his state and our country.”
As the votes were being counted Wednesday, the alt-right organ Breitbart discussed what a history-making event a Kobach win will be, if that is how the numbers come out. John Binder wrote for Breitbart that the most recent time an insurgent candidate has defeated a sitting Governor in a primary in that state was in the 1950s.
The conservative blog RedState.com carries a piece by ‘DavenJ1,’ cautioning that Democrats “have their eyes on this race as they try to make inroads into America’s heartland and Trump country.” The inference is that since the Democrats would love this win, Kobach and Colyer should refrain from internecine Republican bickering that would help the Democratic cause.
Republicans Respond Re: Ohio
Turning to Republican reaction to the Ohio squeaker: Vice President Mike Pence, in tweeting his congratulations to Balderson, said he was sure that Balderson will be “a fighter in Washington for the great people of Ohio.”
At The National Review, that bastion of traditionalist conservatives, the predominant reaction to Balderson’s apparent victory was one of relief. Jim Geraghty called the result too close for comfort. He suggested that some Republicans will celebrate with Balderson on the ground that a win is a win, but he called this “whistling past the graveyard.”
Likewise, the Governor of Ohio, former Presidential candidate John Kasich, said the closeness of the race there “does not bode well” for Republicans in November.
On Instagram, the Washington Examiner said that “a democrat coming close to victory signals a vulnerable Republican Party in the suburbs.”
Some of the talk about Ohio on social media was about alleged voter fraud. Trump supporter Ken Jones tweets, “Dem Efforts to Steal Elections Using Voter Fraud is Alive and well.”