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Trump faces big test in Tuesday’s Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas votes

Author: W. James Antle III, Washington Examiner - August 7, 2018 - Updated: August 23, 2018

President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Ohio 12th Congressional District Republican candidate Troy Balderson, left, during a rally on Aug. 4, 2018, in Lewis Center, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

President Donald Trump isn’t on the ballot Tuesday, but his sway with Republican voters will be put to the test in a series of votes with major implications for the midterm elections.

The main event is a special congressional election in Ohio’s 12th District, where Democrats are trying to flip a seat that has belonged to Republicans for decades.

On paper, GOP nominee Troy Balderson should have the advantage. He has the support of both Trump, who carried both the district and the state in 2016, and Gov. John Kasich, the increasingly centrist Republican who held the seat himself for nine terms.

Except the public polling shows Balderson locked in a dead heat with Democrat Danny O’Connor as the more affluent and suburban parts of the district swing against Trump, as Kasich himself has.

That makes Trump’s decision to host a rally for Balderson risky, with the White House and GOP politicos betting it necessary to counter Democratic voter enthusiasm.

In a typical freewheeling speech that touched on other subjects more than the special election, Trump lit into “Danny boy” as someone who blindly follows House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“A vote for Danny boy and the Democrats is a vote to let criminals and drugs pour into our country,” Trump said. “And to let (international criminal gang) MS-13 run wild in our communities. And you know what they do once they’re there.”

Anti-Pelosi messaging has also been a big part of the campaign, as Republicans believe running against the once and perhaps future speaker helped them avert defeat in a similar congressional district in Georgia last year.

One of O’Connor’s few missteps was when he appeared to equivocate on his opposition to Pelosi regaining the gavel, causing the Congressional Leadership Fund — the super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — to cut an ad branding him a liar.

Democrats are hoping Ohio’s 12th District will continue a suburban uprising against Trump, expanding their reach into a number of Republican-leaning districts as they try to win back the House.

They also want to demoralize Republicans ahead of November while keeping their own base enthused at the prospect of checking Trump.

Missouri: Trump backs Hawley

There are also a number of primaries taking place Tuesday where Trump could have an impact.

Several Republicans are vying to challenge vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., but the president has sided with the party’s governing class and endorsed Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.

“We need Josh badly,” Trump said at a joint appearance in Kansas City late last month. Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have held fundraisers for Hawley.
But he does face primary opponents, including the libertarian Austin Petersen, a businessman known for viral politically incorrect statements in Courtland Sykes, and the Sarah Palin-endorsed Tony Monetti.

Michigan: Trump underwater

Trump’s pick in the Michigan Republican Senate primary is John James, an African-American business executive and Iraq war pilot.

James is facing Sandy Pesner for the right to take on Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in the fall. The race has generated little national attention since Kid Rock teased a Senate bid in a short-lived publicity stunt.

Michigan, like Missouri and Ohio, is a state Trump won in 2016. But his margin of victory was small even then and his job approval rating is underwater there in most recent polling. This has prevented Trump from casting the kind of shadow over Stabenow that he does with McCaskill or Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Trump is also endorsing Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for governor over Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and others vying for the Republican nomination. “I am bringing back your jobs and Bill will help,” Trump tweeted.

The Democratic nomination for governor will also be decided Tuesday.

Kansas: Trump favors immigration hardliner

In Kansas, Gov. Jeff Colyer is running for a full term after ascending to the top job when former Gov. Sam Brownback was tapped by Trump as ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

But even though Colyer owes Trump his job, the president doesn’t want him to keep it. Trump has endorsed Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach is a nationally known immigration hardliner — some restrictionists had hoped he would be nominated to run the Department of Homeland Security — and a former vice chairman of the White House’s disbanded voter fraud commission.

Trump praised Kobach on Twitter as “a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country,” also noting his preferred candidate was “a strong and early supporter of mine.”

Now Trump is trying to return the favor. Republican primary voters haven’t always heeded the president’s advice — just ask appointed former Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala. — but his recent track record has been good, coming off successful endorsements in key races in Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama as well as an “anti-endorsement” of West Virginia Senate candidate Don Blankenship.

Rounding out Tuesday’s races is a nonpartisan “jungle primary” in Washington state, pitting incumbent Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell against a crowded field.

W. James Antle III, Washington Examiner