Establishment failures, diverse wins mark primary results

Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, right, speaks to supporters with his wife Casey at an election party after winning the Republican primary Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

President Donald Trump got his man in battleground Florida, but he watched a prominent immigration ally fall in Arizona in what was another eventful night in the 2018 midterm season.

Arizona and Florida held primaries Tuesday, both of which tested Trump’s influence. There were also new signs of diversity on the Democratic side.

Takeaways from one of the final rounds of voting ahead of midterm elections:

FLORIDA ESTABLISHMENT FAIL

The political establishment in both parties had a bad night in Florida’s high-profile race for governor.

On the Republican side, Trump got his man, Republican congressman Ron DeSantis, who beat out the establishment favorite, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Despite Trump’s support, DeSantis was not the strongest general election candidate in the race, operatives in both parties suggest.

The three-term Republican congressman who makes frequent Fox News appearances is known as an immigration hard-liner in a state where Hispanic voters hold outsized sway. And lest there be any question about his allegiance to Trump’s divisive immigration policies, DeSantis encourages his toddler to “build the wall” with blocks in one campaign ad.

That’s a message that may play well among a general electorate in West Virginia, where Trump won by more than 40 percentage points in 2016, but Trump carried Florida by only a single percentage point.

On the Democratic side, liberal champion Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, bested a crowded field that included establishment favorite Gwen Graham, the former congresswoman and daughter of Florida political icon Bob Graham.

Graham, who was considered a centrist, was viewed as a more attractive general election candidate in the purple state. Gillum is more liberal, having earned the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire Tom Steyer.

To win the governor’s office for the first time since 1999, Democrats will have to come together quickly.

The results on both sides underscore the outsized influence of each party’s most passionate voters in lower-turnout off-year elections.

McSALLY’S CHALLENGE

Martha McSally won the GOP nomination for Arizona Senate, but the results show how divided the party is and the challenge that lies ahead.

A significant number of Republicans backed former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and fellow immigration hard-liner Kelli Ward.

Now McSally has to bring together the party — including some of Trump’s most devoted supporters — going into the fall against Democrat Krysten Sinema, who is widely considered well-positioned. The race gives Democrats one of their best pickup opportunities in the nation.

Meanwhile, it would be wrong to assume that McSally’s win is a repudiation of the tough rhetoric of her challengers, who essentially split the conservative vote.

The 86-year-old man known nationwide as Sheriff Joe, who personifies the tough immigration policies that define the modern-day Republican Party, may never serve in public office again after his loss Tuesday.

(For those who forget, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt last year for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining immigrants in the country illegally. Trump later pardoned him.)

MISSING: BLUE WAVE IN FLORIDA

If a Democratic wave is coming to Florida, it may have to be supplied by independents.

With just a handful of precincts left to count, Republicans cast more than 1.6 million Florida ballots, while registered Democrats were on track to fall just below 1.5 million. Beyond the raw vote totals, the GOP count also was a larger share of its last presidential election turnout.

That measure is a useful way to assess which party is more excited about a midterm election, and it’s particularly useful in Florida because the state limits primaries only to voters registered by party.

The GOP total came to almost 35 percent of what Trump won in Florida in 2016. The Democrats’ total was about 33 percent of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 turnout.

Of course, it doesn’t mean Republicans are guaranteed big wins in Florida this fall. But it does show the GOP base in Florida is anything but depressed, turning out in solid numbers to nominate DeSantis after he was endorsed by Trump.

The scenario cuts against the grain of a midterm election cycle that’s been defined by energy on the left in other states, and it puts an added burden on Florida Democratic candidates to attract voters who didn’t participate in Tuesday’s primaries.

FLORIDA MONEY PIT

There was less drama on the Senate side in battleground Florida, but the stage is now set for what will likely be the nation’s most expensive midterm contest.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott easily captured the Republican nomination in the GOP’s bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. At 75 and seeking his fourth term, Nelson is considered particularly vulnerable as voters continue to show disdain for candidates with deep ties to the establishment.

Scott, an independently wealthy businessman, has already spent more $27 million on the race compared to Nelson’s $6 million. The conservative Koch network has identified the Senate seat as a top target, and outside groups on both sides are expected to dump millions more in the contest.

The extraordinary price tag of running a statewide campaign in Florida, which features 10 media markets, will test each side’s resolve and resources — particularly on the Democratic side.

Republicans know Scott can and will dump millions more of his own personal wealth into his campaign. Democrats aren’t so lucky.

National Democrats are already weighing how best to invest their limited dollars considering their challenges in other states where their incumbents are on the defensive. Yet if Democrats lose Nelson’s seat in Florida, their already narrow path to the Senate majority becomes virtually nonexistent.

DIVERSITY WAVE GROWS

In his upset victory, Gillum joins two other African-American gubernatorial nominees on the November ballot, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams and Maryland Democrat Ben Jealous, in what may be the party’s most diverse midterm class in history.

No state is currently represented by a black governor.

The nominations, of course, do not mean the candidates will continue to re-write history.

Republicans have cast Gillum, like the other black nominees, as part of their party’s far-left fringe. Indeed, in all three cases, the candidates were backed by Sanders. Progressive billionaires Steyer and George Soros invested heavily in Gillum’s primary campaign as well.

Diversity may help win Democratic primaries in 2018, but it’s unclear if it’ll help Democrats pick up seats among a broader general election audience.

___

Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
_______________________________________________________

Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Key races too close to call but Trump claims victory anyway

Danny O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder, shakes hands with supporters during an election night watch party at the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Two high-stakes elections that tested President Donald Trump’s clout and cost both parties millions of dollars were too close to call early Wednesday. Trump claimed victory in one nevertheless.

In battleground Ohio, the president took credit for Republican Troy Balderson’s performance, calling it “a great victory,” even though the contest could be headed to a recount. Democrats could also celebrate their showing in a district that has gone Republican for decades.

“We’re not stopping now,” Democrat Danny O’Connor told cheering supporters. He’ll reprise his campaign against Balderson from now through November’s general election.

In deep-red Kansas ′ Republican gubernatorial primary, the candidate Trump backed on the eve of the election, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was neck and neck with current Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer.

The day’s races in five states, like many before them, tested the persistence of Trump’s fiery supporters and the momentum of the Democratic Party’s anti-Trump resistance.

The results were helping determine the political landscape — and Trump’s standing within his own party — as the GOP defends its House and Senate majorities this fall.

In Kansas, Republicans were fighting among themselves in an unusual battle for governor in which the president sided with the incumbent’s challenger.

Should the polarizing Kobach win the primary, some Republican operatives fear he could lose the governorship to Democrats this fall. The race could become further disrupted if Kansas City-area businessman Greg Orman makes it onto the November ballot. He submitted petitions Monday with more than 10,000 signatures for what could become the most serious independent run for Kansas governor in decades.

Trump made his preference clear for Kobach.

“He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country – he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military,” the president tweeted on the eve of the election.

Republicans were hoping for Democratic discord in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, a suburban Kansas City district where several candidates were fighting for the chance to take on Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in November.

The five-way Democratic primary featured labor lawyer Brent Welder, who campaigned recently with self-described democratic socialists Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and ascending political star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York congressional candidate.

Also in the race: Native American attorney Sharice Davids and former school teacher Tom Niermann.

In Ohio, the script for the special election was somewhat familiar: An experienced Trump loyalist, Balderson, was fighting a strong challenge from O’Connor, a fresh-faced Democrat, in a congressional district held by the Republican Party for more than three decades. As voters were going to the polls, Trump said Balderson would make a “great congressman.”

The winner takes the seat previously held by Pat Tiberi, a nine-term incumbent who resigned to take a job with an Ohio business group.

Balderson and O’Connor will reprise their race in the general election in just three months. There were at least 3,367 provisional ballots left to be reviewed. That’s enough for O’Connor to potentially pick up enough to force a recount.

The Associated Press does not declare winners in races subject to an automatic recount.

In a special election season that featured nearly a dozen congressional contests, Democrats claimed just a handful of wins, but they may have cause for optimism this fall. In virtually every special election test dating back to the spring of 2017, Democratic candidates performed significantly better than their party in those same places two years earlier.

Trump won Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, for example, by more than 11 points in 2016; on Tuesday night, Balderson and O’Connor were separated by less than 1 point.

There are 79 House races this fall considered more competitive than the Ohio district — at least looking at Trump’s 2016 performance — according to data compiled by the Democrats’ national campaign committee.

Despite the deadlocked race, the specific Ohio returns suggest considerably higher Democratic enthusiasm less than 100 days before the midterms.

O’Connor’s total of nearly 100,000 votes far exceeded what the district’s former Republican congressman Pat Tiberi’s Democratic opponent got in 2014. Balderson’s total — just more than 101,500 votes — is barely two-thirds of Tiberi’s 2014 mark of about 150,000.

The two will face off again in November to see who holds the seat in 2019 and 2020.

“Over the next three months, I’m going to do everything I can to keep America great again, so that when we come back here in November — get ready, we gotta come back here in November — I have earned your vote for a second time,” Balderson told supporters.

It’s unclear how much Trump’s support helped or hurt Balderson. Described by campaign operatives as a “Whole Foods” district, the largely suburban region features a more affluent and educated voter base than the typical Trump stronghold.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a leading voice in the GOP’s shrinking anti-Trump wing, once represented the district in Congress.

At times, the race centered on Trump’s tax cuts as much as the candidates.

O’Connor and his Democratic allies railed against the tax plan, casting it as a giveaway for the rich that exacerbates federal deficits and threatens Medicare and Social Security. Balderson and his Republican allies have backed away from the tax plan in recent weeks, training their fire instead on top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

O’Connor dominated Balderson on the local airwaves. His campaign spent $2.25 million on advertising compared to Balderson’s $507,000, according to campaign tallies of ad spending. The Republican campaign arm and its allied super PAC were forced to pick up the slack, spending more than $4 million between them.

In Michigan, former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib is poised to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. She won the Democratic nomination to run unopposed in November.

And in suburban Seattle, three Democrats vied in a jungle primary for the seat held by another retiring Republican, Rep. Dave Reichert.

The field was set in two Senate contests as well.

In Missouri, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill claimed her party’s nomination, while state Attorney General Josh Hawley will represent the GOP.

And in Michigan, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow will take on military veteran and business executive John James, who won the Republican nomination. He would join Tim Scott of South Carolina as the only black Republican senators if he wins in November.

Hours before polls opened, Trump again weighed in on Twitter, casting James as “a potential Republican star.”

___

Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Angie Wang in Westerville, Ohio, contributed.

___

Sign up for “Politics in Focus,” a weekly newsletter showcasing the AP’s best political reporting from around the country leading up to the midterm elections: https://bit.ly/2ICEr3D

_______________________________________________________

Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Election results give Democrats hope for November

Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer gives her acceptance speech after winning the Democratic primary during her election night party at the Sound Board at Motor City Casino, in Detroit. (David Guralnick/Detroit News via AP)

Democrats didn’t walk away with a clear win Tuesday night. But they didn’t have to. They essentially battled Republicans to a draw in a central Ohio congressional district that should have been an easy win for the GOP. Even a too-close-to-call result was a sign of Democratic momentum and offered clues for how to run in November.

Some takeaways from another round of voting ahead of the fall midterm elections:

URBAN-RURAL-SUBURBAN SPLITS PREVIEW NOVEMBER BATTLES

Democrat Danny O’Connor’s strong showing in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District offers his party a roadmap to the House majority: Galvanize suburbanites to join the party’s urban base and offset the Republican advantage in rural areas.

O’Connor came close to upsetting Republican Troy Balderson by running up his numbers closest to Columbus, performing better than Democrats recently have in the district’s suburban core, and even managing to dent the GOP advantage in rural areas. O’Connor won 65 percent of the vote in precincts closest to heavily Democratic Columbus. He ran ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential marks across the district: about 6 percentage points ahead of her mark in vote-rich Delaware, small-town Licking and rural Morrow counties.

Far from the city, Balderson answered with his own wide margins, peaking at 69 percent in rural Morrow County. In suburban Delaware County, Balderson led by 8 percentage points.

Many of the districts Democrats are hoping to flip in November are more favorable to them than the Ohio 12th. If they can compete there, they’re well positioned in the key battlegrounds.

The tight outcome also underscores lingering questions about President Donald Trump’s value — or liability — to Republicans in the districts that will determine whether the party maintains its control of Congress. Trump won the district by 11 percentage points in 2016, and he rallied on Balderson’s behalf ahead of Tuesday’s vote. While Trump declared Balderson the winner, the close margin, several thousand provisional votes and absentee ballots, and Ohio law putting off a final count means it will be weeks before the outcome is known.

THE YEAR OF WOMEN CONTINUES

There will be at least eight Democratic women running for governor in November.

Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Laura Kelly of Kansas joined the list Tuesday. Both will face Republican men. Unlike some of their fellow Democratic nominees in other states, neither would become their state’s first female governors. Whitmer and Kelly both have extensive records as legislative leaders and pitch themselves as get-it-done pragmatists. That’s not in line with some of the headliners of the #MeToo era and the anti-Trump resistance movement, but it may be Democrats’ best shot to flip two governor’s mansions that Republicans have held since 2011.

Two all-female races are set in Washington state. Democrat Lisa Brown, a university administrator and former state lawmaker, will take on Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking female House Republican, in an eastern Washington seat. Former state Republican chairwoman Susan Hutchison will try to unseat Sen. Maria Cantwell.

DEMS HAVE THEIR ANTI-TAX LAW PLAYBOOK

The narrow results in Ohio leave Democrats confident that they can win voters by running full-force against the GOP tax plan.

O’Connor watched Republican outside groups outspend him as they poured millions into the race. But the GOP barrage mostly steered clear of touting the tax cuts that Republicans once said would be the key to maintaining control of Congress. Instead, they dusted off their well-worn approach of tying Democratic nominees to unpopular national party leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

O’Connor, meanwhile, hammered the tax law as a threat to Social Security and Medicare. It’s a similar argument to what Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania used earlier this year to win a special election in heavy GOP territory.

Republican incumbents still insist that they’ll champion tax cuts as the reason for strong economic numbers so far this year. But two high-profile special elections leave Democrats confident in their attacks on the signature legislation of Trump’s first two years, and that ensures voters in battleground House districts will see and hear plenty of advertisements warning them about potential consequences of the Republican law.

___

Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP .

_______________________________________________________

Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

A high-stakes special election in Ohio tests Trump’s appeal

Republican Troy Balderson, a candidate for Ohio’s 12th District, joins volunteers at a phone bank in Westerville, Ohio, on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, a day ahead of a special election for the congressional seat. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)

President Donald Trump’s preferred congressional candidate — and his chief legislative achievement — are about to be tested in battleground Ohio in the season’s final high-stakes special election.

The midsummer affair comes as Trump’s shadow looms over primary contests in four other states on Tuesday, none bigger than Kansas, where the Republican president roiled the governor’s race Monday by opposing the sitting GOP governor on the eve of the election.

The races, like dozens before them, pit the strength of the Republican president’s fiery coalition against the Democratic Party’s anti-Trump resistance. The results will help determine the political landscape — and Trump’s standing within his own party — just three months before the GOP defends its House and Senate majorities across the nation.

Voters in Ohio and Kansas join those across Missouri, Michigan and Washington state at the ballot box. But only Ohio will send someone to Congress after the votes are counted.

The script for Ohio’s special election is perhaps familiar: An experienced Trump loyalist, two-term state Sen. Troy Balderson, is fighting off a strong challenge from a fresh-faced Democrat, 31-year-old county official Danny O’Connor, in a congressional district held by the Republican Party for more than three decades.

The winner will fill the seat previously held by Pat Tiberi, a nine-term Republican incumbent who resigned to take a job with an Ohio business group.

Trump himself campaigned at Balderson’s side just 72 hours before Election Day, a weekend appearance to help energize his loyalists in a district the president carried by 11 percentage points.

But there was little evidence of enthusiasm on the eve of the election as Balderson tried to connect with voters over the phone during a brief stop at a campaign phone bank. He appeared equally uncomfortable answering questions from reporters about whether Trump’s appearance might blunt the impact of the recent endorsement from a prominent Trump adversary, Republican Gov. John Kasich.

Balderson said simply that it was an honor and “incredible” to appear with and be supported by the president. He called the race “very close.”

“It’s going to be tough, but we feel very positive, we feel very good with the amount of volunteers that we’ve had here, the enthusiasm, the amount of hours that we’ve put in,” Balderson said.

It’s unclear, however, whether Trump’s support helps or hurts his preferred candidate. Described by campaign operatives as a “Whole Foods” district, the largely suburban region features a far more affluent and educated voter base than the typical Trump stronghold.

Kasich, a leading voice in the GOP’s shrinking anti-Trump wing, previously represented the district in Congress.

The race has centered on Trump’s tax cuts at times as much as the candidates themselves.

O’Connor and his Democratic allies have railed against the tax plan, casting it as a giveaway for the rich that exacerbates federal deficits and threatens Medicare and Social Security. Balderson and his Republican allies have backed away from the tax plan in recent weeks, training their fire instead on top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

O’Connor has dominated Balderson on the local airwaves. His campaign spent $2.25 million on advertising compared to Balderson’s $507,000, according to campaign tallies of ad spending. The Republican campaign arm and its allied super PAC was forced to pick up the slack, spending more than $4 million between them.

During a lively event in a Democrat-heavy Columbus neighborhood Monday, O’Connor urged volunteer canvassers to think about what’s at stake for working people, including access to affordable health care.

“They do everything right and, right now in Washington, D.C., no one has their back,” he said. “That’s about to change in 28 hours, because we are sprinting. We are sprinting through the finish line for this race. We are working so hard because we are part of a movement, we are part of a grassroots movement that is going to change the way politics works.”

Meanwhile, more than 700 miles to the west, Kansas Republicans were fighting among themselves in the escalating battle for governor, where Secretary of State Kris Kobach was trying to unseat Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Should the polarizing Kobach win, some Republican operatives fear he could lose the governor’s seat to Democrats this fall. The race could become further disrupted if Kansas City-area businessman Greg Orman makes it onto the November ballot. He submitted petitions Monday with more than 10,000 signatures for what could become the most serious independent run for Kansas governor in decades.

Trump didn’t seem worried about Kobach’s prospects.

“He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country – he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military,” the president tweeted on the eve of the election. “VOTE TUESDAY!”

Republicans are hoping for Democratic discord in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, a suburban Kansas City region where several candidates are fighting for the chance to take on Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in November.

The five-way Democratic primary features labor lawyer Brent Welder, who campaigned recently with self-described democratic socialists Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and ascending political star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York congressional candidate.

Also in the race: Native American attorney Sharice Davids and former school teacher Tom Niermann.

Voters in suburban Detroit will also weigh in on the direction of the Democratic Party. Three mainstream Democrats are viewed as leaders to vie for retiring Republican Rep. Dave Trott’s seat in November. The field includes Fayrouz Saad, who would be the first Muslim woman in Congress.

And in suburban Seattle, three Democrats are vying in a jungle primary for the seat held by another retiring Republican, Rep. Dave Reichert.

Senate contests in Missouri and Michigan will come into focus as two vulnerable Senate Democrats, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Minnesota’s Debbie Stabenow, are expected to easily claim their party’s nominations.

Missouri Secretary of State Josh Hawley is expected to take on McCaskill, while in Michigan, military veteran and business executive John James is vying for the chance to knock off Stabenow. He’d join Sen. Tim Scott as the only black Republican senators if he did.

Hours before polls opened, Trump again weighed in on Twitter, casting James as “a potential Republican star.”

“If he becomes the Republican candidate, he will beat the Open Borders, weak on Crime, Democrat, Debbie Stabenow,” Trump wrote. “Vote for John James and Make America Great Again!”

___

Peoples reported from New York. Associated Press writer John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.

_______________________________________________________

Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved