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August Elections Show the Complexity of Our Nation’s Politics

             8/10/2018

Troy Balderson

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

A series of primary and special elections on Tuesday revealed just how complex the political landscape is going into the 2018 midterms. In an Ohio special election for the 12th Congressional District, Trump-endorsed Troy Balderson narrowly beat his Democratic opponent Danny O’Conner. In Kansas, the hard-fought Republican gubernatorial primary is still too close to call. Additionally, in a series of Democratic primaries 4 out of 6 candidates endorsed by Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lost to their establishment opponents. The results of these elections are being touted as signaling the nation’s political pulse approaching the midterms in November.

In Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, where voters were choosing a replacement for Representative Pat Tiberi, Troy Balderson squeaked to victory by fewer than 2,000 votes. President Trump was quick to claim some credit for Balderson’s victory; however, few expected the race in this solidly red district to be as close as it was. While Balderson will likely retain the seat in November due to higher Republican turnout than in the special election, the nationwide implications are not promising. According to David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, there are 68 GOP-held seats less favorable to Republicans than Ohio’s 12th. Democrats will need to retake 23 seats to regain a majority in the House.

Several controversies have arisen in the Kansas gubernatorial primary which is still too close to call. Initially, it was reported that Trump-backed Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach had won the Republican primary by only 191 votes. However, his opponent, incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer refused to concede, citing the thousands of outstanding provisional and mail-in ballots left to count. Coyler’s resolve was strengthened on Thursday when it was reported that the discovery of an error in transmitting votes had cut Kobach’s lead to a mere 91 votes.

An additional controversy has arisen from Kobach’s refusal to recuse himself in the event of a recount saying, “The recount thing is done on a county level, so the secretary of state does not actually participate directly in the recount.” In Kansas, Kobach is very popular with the Trump base however, some Republican strategists fear that his hardline views on immigration and voter ID will be unappealing to general election voters in November. Regardless of the outcome of this race, it is unlikely that the governorship of this deeply red state will go blue, total Republican votes outnumbered total Democratic votes by more than 2-to-1 in the primary.

Libertarian-Republicans were handed a solid defeat in Missouri’s Senate primary, where Austin Petersen placed 3rd in a field of 11 candidates. Petersen left the Libertarian party last year to run in the Republican party on a “Pro-Life. Pro-Constitution.” platform. While Petersen gained a large and devoted social media following due to his staunch defense of libertarian ideals, he garnered only 8.3 % of the vote. Despite this setback, Petersen stated on Fox Business Network’s Kennedy, that he will “stick with the Republican Party, because my people asked me to, and because I believe it's the party of abolitionism and the party of freedom, and I will work to make America free again."

Another result of Tuesday's elections was the defeat of a number of progressive candidates endorsed by media darling, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In Kansas’s 3rd Congressional District, progressive Brent Welder, who was backed by Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, lost the Democratic primary to Sharice Davids. In the Michigan gubernatorial primary, Abdul El-Sayed, who made universal healthcare a central plank of his campaign, fell 22 points behind his opponent Gretchen Whitmer. In Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, Ocasio-Cortez endorsed activist Cori Bush was soundly defeated by longtime incumbent William Lacy Clay. Ocasio-Cortez’s preferred candidate for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District, Fayrouz Saad, was also defeated, finishing in fourth place. Two candidates endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez did win primary victories, James Thompson in Kansas' 4th Congressional District and Rashida Tlaib in Michigan's 13th Congressional District. It is unlikely that the progressive Thompson will win in the general election in conservative Kansas, however, Tlaib, who is running for John Conyers Detroit district, will not face a Republican opponent in November.

While partisans on both sides are pointing to Tuesday’s election results to claim impending victory in the midterms, in truth they reveal the complexity of the current political landscape. Although President Trump has pointed to Troy Balderson’s victory in Ohio’s 12th District as a sign that the “Blue Wave” will not materialize, the narrowness of this victory is troubling for Republicans. Suburban voters appear to have been turned off by the President’s rhetoric, while rural voters failed to vote in the numbers expected. This points to the fact that Republican candidates need to campaign on conservative principles, and the substance of the President’s agenda, rather than get caught up in defending Trump’s rhetoric.

Tuesday’s elections are equally telling for pointing to the current dysfunction on the left. While the leaders of the Democratic Party race to the left, it appears that they are leaving a substantial portion of their base in the center. Midwestern voters appear to be rejecting the radical progressive agenda of Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. Significantly, the social justice mentality of the Democrats progressive wing reinforces a schismatic tendency that threatens to split the party while alienating large portions of the electorate.

It is unlikely that a massive “Blue Wave” will sweep over the nation in the 2018 midterms. It is also unlikely that a “Red Tide” will dominate. Rather, the midterm elections are likely to see a series of close, hard-fought campaigns. While President Trump alienates many voters, media dishonesty and hyper-partisan rhetoric on the left has an equally alienating effect. In many ways, the outcome of the 2018 midterms depends on who angers more voters before November.

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