After a month’s hiatus, primary season has returned, with four states holding primaries last night, and one state (Ohio) holding a Congressional special election. And again, evidence of a surge in Democratic enthusiasm was evident last night in each and every contest.
Ohio CD 12 Special Election
This is the last of the Congressional special elections before November and it occurred in an area that was a mixture of urban, suburban, and rural. While Ohio as a whole moved noticeably towards Trump in 2016 relative to Mitt Romney’s showing, this district didn’t (Trump only carried it 53-42%), as any gains made by Trump in the rural areas were counterbalanced by Democratic gains in the urban and suburban areas. And given the lack of dominance by Trump here, the electoral climate of 2017-2018 meant that Democrats could make this special election a competitive contest.
Which is what happened: the Republican (state senator Troy Balderson) squeaked though with a 50-49% win in a Republican district that once elected John Kasich nine times. And while there are still several thousand provisional and absentee ballots left to count, those ballots are not expected to change the outcome.
One more interesting feature of this contest: turnout was 203,000, which was virtually identical to midterm turnout in November 2014.
Michigan is a state with a split political personality. With the major exception of the 2016 Presidential race (which Donald Trump in an upset win carried the state by 11,000 votes), the state has voted Democratic since 1992 in Presidential elections, while statewide elections go back and forth between the parties, and Republicans have been more securely in control of the Legislature.
(UPDATED 8/8 AM) Last night saw a contested primary on both sides of the partisan aisle at the top of the ballot. And with 99% of the vote in, 53% of Michiganders voted in the Democratic primary. Democratic turnout was up 117% over the 2014 primary, while Republican turnout was up 58%. Republicans should be particularly concerned about last night’s partisan preference of two of Detroit’s suburban counties (Macomb and Oakland). Oakland consists of more affluent white-collar suburbs (with some additional ethnic diversity) and 58% voted in the Democratic primary (Hillary Clinton carried Oakland 51-43%). Next door Macomb is more blue collar and 51% voted in the Democratic primary (Trump carried Macomb 54-42%). Since Trump only carried the state by 11,000 votes, the fact that these two counties voted 55-45% Democratic when Trump only trailed 47-48% here is not a good omen for Republicans in November.
Missouri is also a state with a split personality, and even has two different ways to pronounce the state name (those in urban areas call it “Missuree”, while rural residents say “Mizzourah”). This urban/rural split even extends to its politics, with Kansas City and St Louis providing a Democratic voter base, while the rest of the state is solidly Republican. While in recent years, the state has been trending Republican up and down the ballot (Trump carried the state 56-38%), last night showed some evidence of a “Blue Wave.” Not only did a Republican passed Right-To-Work law get overwhelmingly (67-33%) rejected by the voters, but Democratic turnout was noticeably up as well: 52% voted in the Republican primary (it was 65% in 2010 – there were no statewide races in 2014). Democratic turnout was up 90% over the 2014 primary, while Republican turnout was up 15%. Since this state has a contested Senate race with an embattled Democratic incumbent (Claire McCaskill), last night’s results can be considered somewhat welcome news for her, in addition to the fact that her base voters supported her more strongly than Republican primary voters did with its nominee (83 vs 59% primary victories).
Stereotypically, Kansas is thought of as a Republican state, although it’s also been said to have a “three party” system, with Democrats, moderate Republicans, as well as conservative Republicans. And the moderate/conservative fight always makes for interesting Republican primary contests.
In both 2010 and 2014, 80% of Kansas primary voters voted in the Republican primary. Last night, that figure dropped to 67%, as Democratic turnout increased 132%, while Republican turnout was only up 18% relative to the 2014 primaries. While these numbers don’t indicate that “Kansas would turn blue”, it does indicate that one of its Congressional districts anchored in the Kansas City suburbs may be in play this fall.
Washington and Oregon are similar in that the Democratic stranglehold in its largest urban area (Seattle for Washington, and Portland for Oregon) is always a challenge to overcome, since its suburbs and rural areas aren’t as monolithically Republican as they are elsewhere. Another interesting feature of Washington politics is that it uses a nonpartisan primary like California and Louisiana do, although like California (and unlike Louisiana), the top two contenders proceed to the general election regardless of whether that candidate gets 50% of the vote.
But while Washington leans Democratic, its Democratic leanings are generally concentrated in an around Seattle. Accordingly, its delegation is 6-4 Democratic, and in 2014, Democrats only won the House vote 49-45% in the August primary. Last night’s preliminary results (since Washington only uses mail in balloting, results take weeks to count, and late results tend to skew more Democratic) showed a whopping 60-36% Democratic statewide vote. Additionally, Republicans should be concerned about the fact that only one of its four incumbents showed any strength (Rep. Newhouse received 62% of the primary vote). In the other three Republican held races, the preliminary Republican vote was between 47 and 51%. With any kind of sustained surge in Democratic enthusiasm, these three seats may well flip to the Democrats in November.
Thus far, 35 states have held primaries. The remaining primaries (with the exception of Louisiana) will be held over the next five weeks. Overall, in 23 of the 35 states that have held contested primaries on both sides of the partisan aisle, 58% voted in the Republican primary in 2014, while 48% have thus far this year. Or to put it another way, Democratic turnout has increased 81%, while Republican turnout has increased 20% relative to the 2014 primary season. This is actual partisan voter turnout data that should be considered (and be of concern to Republicans) when evaluating the political temperature of the 2018 midterm elections.