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What Mattered Most In Ohio, Kansas And Tuesday’s Other Elections

We had two very, very close races in Tuesday’s night elections.

The closest was the Republican gubernatorial primary in Kansas between incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a figure nationally known for his work on both President Trump’s controversial voting commission and for helping author anti-immigration legislation. Trump endorsed Kobach on the eve of the primary, which was expected to boost him to victory. But there doesn’t seem to have been much of a Trump bump in Kansas. Kobach leads 40.6 percent to 40.5 percent (less than 200 votes!).

If Kobach hangs on to win as provisional ballots are counted (and through a recount, if there is one) — yes, this could take a while — the general election in Kansas will suddenly be a lot more interesting. Kobach has had a pretty bad year, and he’s a polarizing enough figure to give state Sen. Laura Kelly, who won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday, a real chance. One recent poll suggested that Kobach, who a high percentage of voters view unfavorably thanks to his largely failed crusade against voter fraud, would make the general election a toss-up, while Colyer would win by double digits.

Meanwhile, in the much-watched U.S. House special election in Ohio’s 12th District (located in the Columbus area), Republican Troy Balderson appears to have edged out Democrat Danny O’Connor 50.2 percent to 49.3 percent. Although there are still thousands provisional and absentee ballots left to count — perhaps more than 8,400 — several prominent election analysts have called the race (although the Associated Press, the traditional gold standard for these things, has not made a call). While the loss will doubtlessly disappoint Democrats, it was still just a 1 percentage-point Republican win in a district with an R+14 partisan lean. That’s a Democratic overperformance of 13 points — not too far off the average Democratic overperformance (16 points) in federal special elections going into this week.

How Democrats have performed in special elections

U.S. House and Senate special elections this cycle, by the seat’s partisan lean and final vote margin

Year Date Seat Partisan Lean Vote Margin Dem. Swing
2017 April 4 California 34th* D+69 D+87 +18
April 11 Kansas 4th R+29 R+6 +23
May 25 Montana at large R+21 R+6 +16
June 20 Georgia 6th R+9 R+4 +6
June 20 South Carolina 5th R+19 R+3 +16
Nov. 7 Utah 3rd R+35 R+32 +3
Dec. 12 Alabama Senate R+29 D+2 +31
2018 March 13 Pennsylvania 18th R+21 D+0.3 +22
April 24 Arizona 8th R+25 R+5 +20
June 30 Texas 27th* R+26 R+21 +5
Aug. 7 Ohio 12th† R+14 R+1 +13

Partisan lean is the average difference between how the constituency voted and how the country voted overall in the last two presidential elections, with 2016 weighted 75 percent and 2012 weighted 25 percent.

* Results are from either an all-party primary or an all-party general election, both of which include multiple candidates of the same party; vote margin is the total vote share of all Democratic candidates combined minus the total vote share of all Republican candidates combined.

† Unofficial results.

Sources: Daily Kos Elections, secretaries of state

Whoever wins, Balderson and O’Connor are likely to face off again in November, as Tuesday’s special election was simply to choose someone to fill out the remainder of this term. So Democrats’ biggest disappointment in this race (assuming Balderson hangs on) may simply be that they missed a chance to gain a bit of incumbency advantage — although it’s unclear how much incumbency advantage there is to be gained from 90-odd days in office.

Here are some other big results from Tuesday:

  • In Missouri, voters decisively (67.5 percent voted no) rejected Proposition A, which would have made Missouri the nation’s 28th right-to-work state. It was a big victory for organized labor, which raised $16 million for the “No on A” campaign. Right-to-work threatened to cut off a big source of union funding — the dues of non-members who are nonetheless covered by a collective-bargaining agreement — which would have damaged their ability to engage in political advocacy.
  • The Michigan governor’s race will be between Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Bill Schuette. Whitmer defeated the Bernie Sanders-endorsed Abdul El-Sayed 52 percent to 32 percent, while the Trump-endorsed Schuette defeated Lt. Gov. Brian Calley 51 percent to 25 percent. Both parties got their strongest candidates here; the race starts out a toss-up.
  • The GOP got some scary early numbers1 out of Washington state, whose top-two primary (in which Democrats and Republicans all run on the same ballot) is basically like a giant poll of November, in that its results are predictive of the general election. In Washington’s 3rd District, which was supposed to be a “Likely” if not “Solid” Republican district, Democratic candidates are currently winning more total votes than Republican candidates, 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. The GOP-held 5th District looks competitive too — Republicans have won an aggregate 51 percent vs. 47 percent for Democrats. And Democrats appear to have an edge in the 8th District, expected to be a pure toss-up: Democratic candidates are pulling 50 percent of the vote there, compared with Republicans’ 47 percent.
  • Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who compared herself to progressive sensation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, won the Democratic primary in Michigan’s heavily-Democratic 13th District. She is very likely to become the first Muslim woman in Congress.2
  • And finally, Black Lives Matter activists and other groups pushing for reforms of criminal policies got a big victory in St. Louis County. Longtime Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch, who was criticized for his handling of the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, lost to Wesley Bell, who pledged to install a special independent prosecutor to investigate incidents of alleged police misconduct, not push for the death penalty against defendants and eliminate cash bail.

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2018 midterms.


  1. Many ballots have yet to be counted.

  2. Although the incoming class of Representatives may wind up including several Muslim women, including Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud of Massachusetts and Deedra Abboud of Arizona. Their primary fates have yet to be determined.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.