Tuesday was a night of extremes. In primaries and special elections in five states — Ohio, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington — socialist-leaning Democrats challenged their party's establishment with mixed results, while President Trump boosted GOP challengers far on the right with mixed results.
And, of course, the big story is in Ohio. Republican Troy Balderson held a narrow lead in a special congressional election that, on paper, Republicans should have won by miles.
Here are the night's winners and losers.
House Democrats (their morale at least): Almost any way you slice the numbers, Ohio's 12th Congressional District in the northern Columbus suburbs wasn't supposed to be competitive for Democrats. And yet their candidate, Danny O'Connor, still has Republicans biting their nails in this special election. With thousands of provisional ballots left to be counted, Balderson is ahead, but O'Connor has not conceded.
Democrats and some independent observers think that the fact that Democrats got this close in such a Republican-leaning district underscores two dynamics trending their way nationally:
- Voters in Republican-leaning suburban districts are souring on Trump.
- Largely because of that, a wave that will sweep Republicans out of power appears to be building.
Female governor nominees: Nowhere is there a stronger gender disparity in U.S. politics than in governor's mansions. Right now there are a grand total of six female governors.
On Tuesday, voters in 2018 set a record for female nominees for governor in either major party, according to data collected by the Center for American Women and Politics. Democratic voters nominated women for the governor's mansion in Michigan and Kansas, bringing the total number of female nominees for governor to 11. Not all these women will win in November, but experts say just having more women run for office can narrow a subtler gender gap: how voters put different expectations on female candidates than they do male candidates.
Labor unions: They claimed a huge victory Tuesday night by overturning a right-to-work law Missouri Republicans signed last year. Labor unions spent millions to get voters to reject the law by ballot initiative, and they did, meaning unions in Missouri can once again collect dues from nonunion members.
Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kan.): It was more of an annoyance than any real electoral threat. But the Kansas Republican had to make sure primary voters knew he was their actual congressman. A challenger, Ron M. Estes, got on the ballot — and earned a few national headlines for it. The congressman ended up being the winning Estes on Tuesday.
Trump's endorsement record: Trump made his riskiest endorsement this week in the Kansas GOP governor's primary. He chose Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a conservative firebrand, over the current governor, Jeff Colyer. Despite Trump's endorsement, the race is so close that with all precincts in, it's still undecided.
Kobach has a very small lead — less than 200 votes. But Trump was not waiting for the official word to start a victory lap on Wednesday morning.
But the reality is that Trump has yet to prove he has clout in general elections. From last fall's Virginia governor's race to a December special election in Alabama for U.S. Senate to a March Pennsylvania special congressional election and, now, to Ohio's special congressional election, his high-profile endorsed candidates have either lost or, in Balderson's case, had a much closer race than they should have.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: These two liberal stars didn't have a great track record Tuesday night either.
In Michigan's Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Detroit health official Abdul El-Sayed lost to establishment pick and Senate Majority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, despite national attention and endorsements from Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement failed to help a progressive unseat a top House Democrat in Missouri, too.
In a Kansas City-area congressional seat, where Democrats have their eyes on unseating GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, Sanders-esque candidate Brent Welder lost a tight race to the more establishment pick, Sharice Davids.
Political heirs: Former congressman John Conyers Jr. wasn't even officially out the door in the wake of sexual harassment accusations last year when he endorsed his son to replace him. That plan fizzled, and then the former congressman's grandnephew, Ian Conyers, lost Tuesday's competitive primary in the Detroit-area Democratic stronghold.
The exception to this came in a nearby Detroit-area congressional district, where Andy Levin won his primary to replace his father, Rep. Sander M. Levin (D), in Congress.