As voters go to the polls on this Tuesday for Congressional primaries in four states, the main story line tonight will be a special election for a U.S. House seat in the state of Ohio, as Republicans struggle to hold on to a seat which has been easily in the GOP column for years, as a defeat will be seen as a clear rebuke of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party writ large in a key mid-term election year.
"He's really tough. He's really smart. He never stops working," President Donald Trump said at a Saturday night rally for Republican Troy Balderson, a state Senator from Zanesville, in the eastern portion of the 12th District.
"He's never going to let you down," the President added.
Democrats though say their candidate, Danny O'Connor, has been surging in the polls and can pull off an upset.
Here's some of what to watch for tonight:
1. The main event - Ohio's 12th District. Let's just be very up front and honest. There is no reason that Republicans should be in danger in this district. I've been all through this part of Ohio a number of times, from the Y-shaped bridge in Zanesville, to the suburban Republican areas of Westerville, up the roads of Republican-leaning counties to the north of Columbus stretching through Delaware to Mansfield, and the endless string of gorgeous farmland and Americana that runs throughout Ohio 12. Other than the areas of this district which dip into the state capital of Columbus in Franklin County, Donald Trump won this district easily in 2016, by 11 points, larger than his 8 point win statewide over Hillary Clinton. The Republican candidate, Troy Balderson, has gone negative in recent weeks against his Democratic opponent, Danny O'Connor - that should be an indicator of where the GOP thinks this race is right now. It's close. We'll see what happens when the votes roll in.
2. What does a victory mean for November? If you've been along with me for the last 30-plus years on Capitol Hill, you know that both parties are able to issue some of the most amazing political spin possible after special elections - covering the range of possibilities from, 'it doesn't matter,' to 'this is evidence of a giant wave in November.' Think about what we have watched in a series of special elections in Congress since President Trump took office - the main story line has been Democrats getting out and voting in larger numbers. They don't always win, but they certainly have been more motivated in most of those races. Do some Trump voters stay away from the polls on Tuesday in Ohio? Do some more mainstream Republicans pull the lever for a Democrat to send a message? A win is a win is a win for either party. A win for Democrats will have a lot of people wondering if they are surging for November. A win for Republicans will make many wonder whether President Trump can help offset likely mid-term GOP losses.
3. Trump's endorsement also on the line in Kansas. A day before primary voting in the Sunflower State, President Trump endorsed Secretary of State Kris Kobach for Governor - over the sitting Republican, Gov. Jeff Colver. Kobach has been a favorite of Trump's for some time, chairing the now-defunct commission on voter fraud, which found no evidence to support President Trump's claim that 3-5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 elections. To say the least, Kobach is a conservative lightning rod who drives Democrats nuts, as the President is clearly a fan favorite. Democrats actually think they have a better chance to win in November if Kobach is the GOP nominee for Governor. But Kansas remains a very red state, and an uphill fight for Democrats, even with Kobach as the nominee. The President's endorsements have certainly made a difference before - and we'll see what happens in Kansas on Tuesday night.
4. In all, five states are voting on this Tuesday. While it won't get as much attention as the special election in Ohio, voters are also going to the polls Tuesday to vote for Congress in Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Washington State. So far this year, only three sitting members of the House have been defeated in a primary, and looking at the roster of races up in these states, there are very few opportunities for that to increase, as this is mainly about setting up the ballot for November. One race on the radar involves Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO), who has had to work a bit harder than usual in his St. Louis district, fighting a challenger who has been backed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the political newcomer who defeated Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) in a stunning upset in late June. Here's the latest numbers on where we stand with change in the Congress - once again, there will be a lot of new faces arriving on Capitol Hill. Probably more than you think.
5. Where is the 2018 mid-term election heading? I get asked this question all the time by my friends and colleagues. My answer is simple - I don't know. Logically, this should not be a good year for the party that controls the White House. History shows that the party in charge should lose seats in the mid-term elections. In the first mid-term for President Barack Obama, the Democrats lost 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate. In 1994, Republicans won control of Congress in a backlash to President Bill Clinton, taking 54 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate. But Republicans have typically fared better in that first mid-term since World War II than Democratic Presidents. And if there is one lesson from 2016, you should not count out President Trump. He will be very active on the campaign trail this year. In a sense, he is making this election a referendum on himself. And many Democrats want to make it a referendum on him as well. Who wins in that? The trends seem to be in the favor of Democrats, but Election Day is still 13 weeks away.
You can find me on Twitter tonight, @jamiedupree for the latest coverage of the results.