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Races To Watch In The Indiana And Ohio Primaries

Today, the midterm election season kicks off in earnest, with Indiana and Ohio holding their 2022 primaries. From now until July, there will be a primary every single week except one.

These races may not get as much attention as the general election, but they are no less important, especially given that most states and districts will not be competitive in November. In many cases, the primaries will effectively decide who governs in 2023 and beyond. Even though the candidates in these races belong to the same party, there are often significant differences between them. 

For instance, is the future of the Democratic Party on the left or in the center of the political spectrum? It will depend on whether progressives or moderates win more primaries. Similarly, will Republicans follow former President Donald Trump down a path of illiberalism, or will they return to their traditional conservative roots? It will depend on whether norm-breaking or norm-respecting candidates emerge victorious in GOP primaries.

As we do every year, we at FiveThirtyEight will be covering these primaries with election-night live blogs and articles that preview the noteworthy races — articles like this one. We already previewed Ohio’s high-profile U.S. Senate race in an article on Monday, but that still leaves several less heralded but still important races to familiarize yourself with before polls close this evening. 

Indiana

Races to watch: 1st and 9th congressional districts
Polls close: 6 p.m. Eastern in most of the state, 7 p.m. Eastern in the northwest and southwest corners

Polls close so early in Indiana that we’ll start getting results from the 9th District before most of us have even sat down to dinner. Nine Republicans are squaring off for the right to succeed retiring Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, and the winner is all but assured of becoming the dark-red district’s next representative. Unlike many GOP primaries this year, though, the race hasn’t really been a referendum on Trumpism: The former president hasn’t endorsed in the race, and according to our research, the candidates have all avoided taking a firm position on Trump’s “Big Lie” (the idea the 2020 election was stolen).

Instead, the main question is whether Republicans will take the opportunity to increase gender diversity in the party. E-PAC and the Susan B. Anthony List, two organizations that attempt to elect more GOP women, have both endorsed former state Sen. Erin Houchin, who is one of the race’s top fundraisers. But two other male candidates also look serious. Former Rep. Mike Sodrel, who ran for this seat in five consecutive elections between 2002 and 2010, is seeking a political comeback at age 76. The wealthy business owner has loaned his own campaign $725,000 (a big sum for this race), but he has only one win to show for those five campaigns, and that was 18 years ago. Meanwhile, Army veteran Stu Barnes-Israel has also raised a significant amount of money and has the endorsements of Sen. Tom Cotton and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who are both considered potential 2024 presidential candidates.

At 7 p.m. Eastern, we’ll start getting results from the GOP primary in the 1st District, located in the suburbs of Chicago. Although seven Republicans are on the ballot, only two have reported raising any money: Air Force reservist Jennifer-Ruth Green ($304,521) and former LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo ($225,085). Green would be the only Black Republican woman in the House if she wins,1 while Milo would also add another woman to the GOP’s ranks. 

Trumpism has played more of a role in this race. Green, for instance, has aired negative ads against Milo for being “never Trump” in 2016, while Milo has attacked Green for voting in the Democratic primary in 2018. That could provide an opening for a third candidate, who may actually have the most name recognition in the field: perennial candidate Mark Leyva, who was the GOP nominee for this seat in 2014, 2018 and 2020. That would probably be good news for the 1st District’s incumbent, Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan, who could be vulnerable in November if Republicans nominate a strong candidate (the district is only 7 percentage points bluer than the nation as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric2). That’s probably not Leyva, who lost all three of those campaigns and also underperformed Trump in the district in 2020.

Ohio

Races to watch: U.S. Senate; 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th congressional districts; governor; secretary of state
Polls close: 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Tuesday’s marquee race is, of course, Ohio’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate. With the retirement of establishment-aligned Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio’s junior senator is likely about to get a whole lot Trumpier, but there’s no clear front-runner in this race; read my preview from yesterday for the full lowdown.

The other big statewide race is for governor. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is fairly popular in the state, but he did anger some conservatives during his first term, first by imposing strong protective measures against the coronavirus (at least at first) and then by acknowledging the legitimacy of the 2020 election (at least at first). That prompted Trump himself to tweet in November 2020, “Who will be running for Governor of the Great State of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!” 

But ultimately Trump hasn’t put his full weight behind ousting DeWine — he didn’t endorse any of the governor’s challengers — so the incumbent should benefit from a divided opposition. There are two significant challengers to keep an eye on, though: former Rep. Jim Renacci, who has ties to Trump’s inner circle and has self-funded almost $5 million, and farmer Joe Blystone, who has garnered a surprising amount of support with his extreme stances on COVID-19 (he supports treating it with ivermectin), abortion (he wants a total ban) and race and sex education (he’s called it indoctrination). 

DeWine hasn’t taken his renomination for granted, governing more from the right since 2020 and spending millions of dollars on TV ads. It seems to have paid off, too, as a Fox News poll from April 20-24 gave him a wide lead with 43 percent, with Renacci (24 percent) and Blystone (19 percent) duking it out for second place.

Provided DeWine wins the primary, he’ll probably coast to an easy reelection given his strong approval ratings and Ohio’s Republican lean. But if either Renacci or Blystone pulls off the upset, it could present an opening for the Democratic nominee — either former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley or former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. The two have similar biographies and policy preferences (they were even, until this campaign, close allies), and they have even raised similar amounts of money. We really have no idea who’s favored in this race either: The most recent poll was conducted two months ago, and it gave Whaley 23 percent, Cranley 18 percent and “Undecided” 54 percent.

The Buckeye State also has several consequential House primaries worth keeping an eye on, including in two districts that could send a new Trump loyalist to Congress. In the 7th District, Trump has endorsed his former aide Max Miller, despite allegations that Miller physically abused his ex-girlfriend (Trump’s former press secretary, Stephanie Grisham). For a while, this looked like it would be a major test of Trump’s endorsement power, since Miller was running against incumbent Rep. Bob Gibbs. But in early April, Gibbs abruptly dropped out of the race, saying he planned to retire. This likely paved the way for Miller to prevail in both the primary and, given the district’s red hue, the general election too.

In the GOP primary for Ohio’s 13th District, Trump’s pick also seems likely to emerge victorious. Attorney Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, who has not only Trump’s endorsement but also E-PAC’s, has raised $615,572 for the race, while the next-strongest fundraiser, attorney Greg Wheeler, has pulled in just $173,263. But the general election against state House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, who is unopposed in the Democratic Party, could be competitive: The seat has a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of just R+2.

Trump hasn’t weighed in on the 9th District, but its GOP primary offers one of the starkest contrasts of any of today’s races — and could have implications for which party wins the seat in November. The incumbent here is Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in House history, who faces the toughest race of her career after redistricting turned her seat from a partisan lean of D+16 to R+6. 

That’s made the seat a top GOP pickup opportunity, and their strongest candidate would likely be state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, who is aligned with moderate groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Main Street Partnership. But Gavarone is only in third place in the money race (there are no public polls). The top Republican fundraiser is hardline conservative state Rep. Craig Riedel, whose TV ads refer to Gavarone as a “weak, spineless RINO” (Republican in name only) and are replete with conservative red meat like “protecting the 2nd Amendment” and “ensuring election integrity.” Meanwhile, the second-most prolific fundraiser, Air Force veteran J.R. Majewski, attended the Jan. 6 riot (though he says he didn’t enter the Capitol) and has admitted to hobnobbing with QAnon believers. Although this is a Republican-leaning seat, it’s not overwhelmingly so, meaning a victory by either Majewski or Riedel could give Kaptur a fighting chance to survive.

While most of the action on Tuesday is on the Republican side, the Democratic congressional primary in Ohio’s 11th District is worth watching. Back in August 2021, now-Rep. Shontel Brown defeated former state Sen. Nina Turner 50 percent to 45 percent in a special primary election for this deep-blue seat (which was vacant at the time), but Turner has returned for a rematch in the regularly scheduled primary. The race is about as clear of a fight between the party’s progressive and establishment wings as you can get: Turner is backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and progressive group Our Revolution (which she used to lead), while the more pragmatic Brown boasts an endorsement from President Biden himself — a rare move for a president who doesn’t wade into intraparty fights as much as his predecessor. The rematch hasn’t gotten as much attention as the special election, and no public polls have been released, but considering Brown has already won one primary here, she should be in an even stronger position now as an incumbent.

Finally, don’t sleep on one important race further down the ballot: the Republican primary for secretary of state, which matters because the winner will probably be in charge of administering the state’s 2024 election. Incumbent Frank LaRose has straddled the line between responsible steward of democracy and source of mistrust in it: He was the rare Republican secretary of state to encourage mail voting during the pandemic and acknowledge Biden’s victory after the election, but he has also supported other voting restrictions and said, “President Trump is right to say voter fraud is a serious problem.” On the other hand, his main opponent, former state House Majority Whip John Adams, believes that the election “was clearly not legitimate” and wants to eliminate early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. With a $1.8 million to $25,000 advantage in cash on hand, LaRose is very likely to win the primary, but the share of the vote Adams receives will tell us a lot about how many Republican voters are willing to subvert future elections in service of Trump’s lies.

Clearly, a lot is at stake in Ohio and Indiana today, and if you want to follow the results with us in real time, don’t forgot to join us on our live blog tonight starting at 6 p.m. Eastern. 

Footnotes

  1. Unless another is elected this year, of course.

  2. Partisan lean is the average margin difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. This version of partisan lean, meant to be used for congressional and gubernatorial elections, is calculated as 50 percent the state or district’s lean relative to the nation in the most recent presidential election, 25 percent its relative lean in the second-most-recent presidential election and 25 percent a custom state-legislative lean.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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