Data for Progress (@DataProgress) uses data to illuminate the most important stories in the country. To that end, we’re working with Robert Wheel (@BobbyBigWheel) to provide comprehensive coverage of the 2018 election cycle in our series, "data for politics." - Sean
By Robert Wheel (@BobbyBigWheel)
How To Watch The Ohio Special Election
After a somnambulant July, House races roar back into gear on Tuesday, headlined by the Ohio 12th District special election. It’s an R+7 seat so the fact that Democrat Danny O’Connor is running only slightly behind Republican Troy Balderson is a pretty good sign overall, and the difference between him getting 48 percent of the vote and 51 percent of the vote isn’t very meaningful.
The 12th is heavily gerrymandered so it’s hard to draw any blanket conclusions about its populace. It contains heavily Democratic portions of Columbus, well-educated historically Republican suburbs in Delaware County, Republican outlying rural areas and some small cities like Mansfield and Zanesville that were historically Democratic or swingy but went heavily for Trump. So when analyzing the results it’s important to drill down at the local level if you want to extrapolate the results nationwide.
To me the most interesting results will come from Delaware County. It’s the most educated county in Ohio - more than half of people over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree. But it’s also heavily Republican - the last Democrat it backed for president was Woodrow Wilson. However, while Mitt Romney won 61 percent of the vote here, Trump only got 55 percent. If O’Connor can run close to even with Balderson here not only does it mean that he’ll have a good shot at winning, but that the educated middle class areas that broke toward Democrats in 2016 are not reverting to their pre-Trump form.
In other words, Conor Lamb’s win in March was proof that Democrats can win back their former voters who have trended toward Republicans. If Danny O’Connor does well in Delaware County it means that they can also win over disaffected historically Republican voters.
Of course, the OH-12 special isn’t the only House election of note on Tuesday. Michigan, Kansas, Washington and Missouri all have primaries to keep an eye on.
The 1st, which contains the Upper Peninsula and the northern tier of the Lower Peninsula, is an historically blue collar area that trended sharply toward Trump after supporting Obama in ‘08 and only narrowly going Republican in 2012. Democrat Matt Morgan is running on a populist platform, backing Medicare for All and getting the endorsement of Justice Democrats. But he’s got a little problem; he’s not actually on the ballot. When filing his ballot petitions he posted a PO Box instead of a physical address for his residence, and in Michigan that’s not allowed. Thankfully there are no other candidates on the Democratic primary ballot so he just needs to make sure he gets more write-in votes than anyone else. If he wins the primary, he’ll appear on the general election ballot. And if you think this snafu dooms his candidacy, Charlie Wilson (not the cool one) was able to overcome a similar problem to make it to the House in 2006.
In the southwest corner of the state Democrats think Fred Upton (Kate’s uncle) may be vulnerable after three decades in the House in a district that went for Romney in 2012 but only by one point. Four Democrats are running but former Kellogg lobbyist George Franklin and YMCA national health officer Matt Longjohn appear to be the frontrunners. Franklin is running toward the center (his stance on healthcare is to bring back Obamacare unchanged), his work as a lobbyist runs counter to the Democratic message of decreasing corporate control of politics and his 2014 book about working on Capitol Hill contains some problematic passages (though perhaps less harmful than other candidate literary works this cycle). In any event Longjohn is the superior choice; not only is he running to Franklin’s left but he’s endorsed statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. It’s always good to support candidates who aren’t afraid to exercise political power.
In the Detroit suburbs-based 9th District Andy Levin is running to replace his father Sander in the House. For those who don’t want politics to be a peerage, former state representative Ellen Lipton is an excellent alternative, and the pair seem pretty close ideologically. Unfortunately a pair of primary polls have put Levin well ahead of her. House primary polls aren’t as accurate as those for statewide races because the races are lower profile and the electorates are harder to model, but two polls from different pollsters showing Levin with sizeable and similar leads mean he’s likely the favorite.
As I’ve noted before a personal connection to the 11th District race means I’d rather not opine on it in the interest of fairness, but where polling has shown a race that’s truly up for grabs.
Sean: I’ll take this one! The major candidates here are Haley Stevens, Tim Greimel, Suneel Gupta and Fayrouz Saad. Clinton recently endorsed Stevens, whose time working on the auto bailouts might give her a leg up. However, recent polling puts Greimel (a former state Representative) slightly ahead. Given the high number of undecided voters and the over-performance we’ve seen among women candidates, I wouldn’t put him as the favorite (it’s a toss-up), though the leading Republican (Lena Epstein) is running ads against him. Suneel Gupta has been a fundraising titan and has been stumping against free trade deals. Fayrouz Saad, a former Obama staffer endorsed Medicare for All early and would be the first Muslim woman in Congress. - Sean
And finally we come to the 13th District, another safe Democratic seat where the primary features a race where descriptive representation looms larger than ideological difference. This is the seat that John Conyers represented for more than five decades and at 56 percent African-American it is likely to send another black representative to Congress. But while City Council President Brenda Jones has much of the institutional and labor support here, State Senators Ian Conyers (a relative of John’s) and Coleman Young II could peel votes away from Jones in the primary, allowing State Representative Rashida Tlaib (who would be the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress) and Westland mayor Bill Wild (who is white) to run about even with Jones in the polls to date. Ideally either Jones or Tlaib can stop Wild, who has touted his closeness to lead poisoning proponent Rick Snyder.
The biggest Democratic House primary outside of Michigan will be in Kansas’s 3rd District, where a crowded field of candidates wants to take on Rep. Kevin Yoder, who represents a seat that Clinton won. Labor lawyer Brent Welder has been the darling of the left, touting endorsements from Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Over the weekend Welder released a poll showing him ahead of attorney/Native American activist/MMA fighter Sharice Davids 36-21. It’s an internal with a pretty small sample size, but I’ve been a Welder skeptic since the start, for a number of reasons.
He’s not from the 3rd. Welder grew up in Iowa, worked on some political campaigns there, and as of the 2016 election was working in St. Louis. He ostensibly moved to the area because his wife’s from there, but there’s been precious little time where he both lived in Kansas and wasn’t running for office from this district. Davids could be tarred as a carpetbagger too after having only recently moved back to Kansas, but she grew up in Kansas and moving back home after doing government work is seen as less opportunistic than moving to a place you never lived that just happens to be home to a swingy House seat.
The Obama Years have been good to this district. The 3rd is one of only eight seats nationwide that never voted for Obama but backed Clinton. For a lot of people here, neoliberalism worked out! It’s the home of corporate headquarters like Sprint, YRC and Garmin. That’s not to say there isn’t suffering here, but this is an electorate that bought into the Clinton 2016 rhetoric. Welder explicitly said he’s going after the voters who went for Obama twice and then Trump. Well, there just aren’t that many of those people here!
There are better candidates. The aforementioned Niermann is being portrayed as a corporate centrist boogeyman, but he’s a teacher who supports free community college. Meanwhile attorney Sharice Davids is an LGBTQ Native woman whose views are mostly similar to Welder’s and actually grew up in the district. Welder might have released a poll showing him up 7 points on Yoder but that poll didn’t test any of the other primary candidates and Yoder sure seems like he’d rather face Welder than any of the other Democrats running here (though in fairness, Republicans probably thought they had a better shot against Bernie in 2016).
I don’t think nominating Welder will necessarily cost Democrats this seat. I buy the poll that he’s up 7 points on Yoder (it was taken before any ads had started airing so he was basically polling as a generic Democrat running in a Clinton district). Welder is not an unskilled politician, he’s garnered some pretty impressive endorsements - not just from Sanders and AOC but from Jason Kander, lots of labor unions and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. But his weaknesses mean that they’ll have to work a lot harder to win it than they would if Davids or Niermann were the nominee, and considering Davids is almost identical to him ideologically and better from a representation standpoint she’s the optimal choice.
You can nitpick Welder’s poll all you want (the n was too low, we didn’t get the full memo, his name recognition seemed unreasonably high, there are issues with internet polling in Kansas) but it’s the only data we have on the race right now and Welder is the favorite heading into tomorrow. So at the very least, we’ll likely see just how far left those Romney-Clinton voters are willing to go in November. I suspect they’d be more willing to go that far left for a better candidate, which is why I’m hoping Davids pulls it out.
On the other side of the US-40 rivalry there’s another contested primary where minister Cori Bush is challenging Rep. Lacy Clay. Both Bush and Clay are African-American and differ little on the issues, but the race is coming down to an insider-outsider battle. Clay was gifted the seat by his father, local legend Bill Clay (not actually Hans Gruber in disguise), when he retired the day before the filing deadline and made it so his son would be the only candidate of note in the 2000 primary to replace him. Since then Clay’s had little trouble winning re-election but he was accused of ignoring the Ferguson protests and only took 63 percent of the vote in his 2016 primary. Political alienation has long been a problem in the St. Louis suburbs - it’s why Ferguson is ⅔ African-American but still has a Republican mayor. So this primary (not just the result but the turnout) will show if Democrats have finally figured out a way to energize this marginalized community.
Moving out to Washington state the most exciting primary is in the 8th District, where Kim Schrier, Shannon Hader and Jason Rittereiser are facing off in a primary where vaccines have played a key role in the race. It all started in a candidate forum where Schrier, a pediatrician, held up a card showing that she did not support compulsory vaccination. She later stated that she thought the language of the question violated AMA standards around parental consent but Hader, a public health official, has pointed out other past inconsistencies. This gives an opening for Rittereiser, who’s positioned himself as the candidate best able to win because of his roots in the conservative part of the district east of the Cascades.
And frankly, I couldn’t be happier. Not just because Rittereiser is to the left of Schrier and Hader on health care, but because I’m glad being an anti-vaxxer is a millstone in Democratic primaries. In June, Carolyn Maloney narrowly won her primary against a flawed candidate, in part because she’d reversed her decades of anti-skepticism right before the election. Most anti-science fearmongering comes from the right, but over the past decade there’s been suspicion of vaccines and GMOs from the left. Thankfully that suspicion seems to be relegated to the fringes of the party.
Notably Washington, like California, has a blanket primary where all candidates run on the same ballot. Republicans only have one viable candidate on the ballot here so a shutout isn’t likely. But the results in the primary tend to track closely with the results in November, so the aggregate party toplines will be instructive in what’s likely a must-win for Democrats: a seat that never voted for McCain or Trump but is now open thanks to a Republican retirement. Polling has shown Republican Dino Rossi (well known from his service in the State Senate and past statewide runs) running close with whoever wins the primary here.