Three big takeaways about Trump, Democrats from Ohio, Kansas and more in Tuesday's primaries

Ohio Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson claimed victory over Democrat Danny O’Connor in a special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District near Columbus Tuesday, but the race remained too close to call and will be decided after provisional and absentee ballots are counted. Balderson was helped in no small measure by a weekend campaign rally featuring President Trump.

The president, who enjoys very high approval ratings among Republicans, was said by many to be a potential drag on Balderson’s campaign. The district, which is largely suburban, highly educated, and economically well-off, is considered by many analysts to be exactly the kind of place to give the president and his party fits in the Nov. 6 general election.

Some Republicans who make places like Ohio’s 12th District home are said – even by some nominal conservatives among the chattering class – to abhor President Trump’s conduct, his manner, and the brusque statements emanating frequently from his Twitter account.

Polls showed the race tightening over the last few weeks. With all precincts reporting, Balderson led Franklin County Recorder of Deeds O’Connor by just 1,754 votes. The margin was just under 1 percent – compared to an 11 percent victory margin for Trump in the district in the 2016 presidential election. Republicans have held the congressional seat since 1983.

The victor in the race remained undetermined because at least 3,425 provisional ballots and 5,048 absentee ballots must be reviewed. Those votes won’t be looked at until Aug. 18, and if the margin of victory for either candidate turns out to be less than one-half of 1 percent a recount would be mandatory under state law. 

Whatever the outcome of the special election, Balderson and O’Connor will face each other again in the Nov. 6 for election a full two-year term for the congressional seat.

President Trump’s appearance at a campaign rally Saturday may have made all the difference in helping Balderson.

Like most of the special elections for congressional seats held since the president was elected, the results in Ohio’s 12th District were closer than expected and perhaps closer than they should have been.

Republican Pat Tiberi, who gave up the congressional seat to take a job as head of an Ohio business group, got 67 percent of the vote in 2016. That works out to just over 250,000 votes more than were cast for either candidate in Tuesday’s special election.

The battle over the Ohio congressional seat was fought with every weapon either party had at its disposal. It was supposed to foreshadow how the national election would go in the fall.

A win for the Democrats there Tuesday was predicted by some cable TV commentators, mainstream political reporters, and even some GOP politicians. They said the district was not “Trump country” – something the president no doubt grew tired of hearing. Instead, it looks like the energy he injected into the race may, for the GOP, have given Balderson a needed boost.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was not shy about making the connection between Trump and Balderson coming out ahead before the counting of all absentee and provisional ballots.

In a statement McDaniel claimed victory for Balderson and praised the district’s voters for having elected “a true conservative committed to pro-growth policies that have already brought new jobs and economic confidence to the state under President Trump’s leadership.”

If all that wasn’t bad enough for the pundits who predict an outcome of gloom and doom for everything Trump touches, the president saw other statewide candidates carrying his endorsement breeze to victory.

In primaries on Tuesday there were these results:

Michigan

Michigan Republicans chose Trump-endorsed GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette as their candidate for governor over Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who had the backing of term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder.

If there’s a downside for the GOP in Michigan it is that the primary vote hints at a slight intensity advantage for the Democrats. Both parties had competitive gubernatorial contests, with about 130,000 more Democrats voting in their primary.

On the Democratic side, former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer defeated Abdul El-Sayed, who made a late surge thanks to backing from Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in what some described as a proxy for the fight over the control of the national 

Democratic Party and its nominating process.

In the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate to take on Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in November, Trump-endorsed candidate John James – a businessman and combat veteran seeking to become the second African-American Republican in the Senate – defeated self-funding businessman Sandy Pensler.

Most analysts think Michigan will be tough for the GOP in the fall and competition is expected to be will be fierce.

Kansas

The Republican primary for governor in Kansas remained too close to call Wednesday morning.

President Trump’s endorsed candidate for governor, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, held a statewide lead of just 191 votes over GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer. Colyer took office earlier this year when Republican Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to take a post at the U.S. State Department.

Provisional ballots still had to be reviewed and mail-in ballots were not all counted in the tight race. Because of the closeness of the contest there could be a recount.

Stylistically, many party professionals would prefer to see Colyer emerge as the nominee. He’d have an easier time in the general election against Democrat Laura Kelly and independent Greg Orman, the 2014 U.S. Senate candidate who nearly beat Republican Pat Roberts and who filed petitions this week to run for governor as an independent.

Kobach is an immigration hardliner believed to be the ultimate source behind several presidential comments about foreign nationals voting in the 2016 election. The secretary of state is considered toxic by the establishment types who’ve dominated the state GOP for years.

Orman’s entry into the race gives disaffected GOP moderates in places like Johnson County somewhere to park their vote without helping the Democrats.

But to get across the finish line, Kobach – if he’s the nominee – will likely need additional help from President Trump.

Missouri

In Missouri, veteran Democrat Lacy Clay easily beat back a challenge from a Bernie Sanders-style progressive to win renomination in the 1st Congressional District.

But this contest between left and far-left was of little help to two-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Up until now McCaskill’s had all the breaks, but her streak may be coming to an end. Her opponent in the fall will be Republican State Attorney General Josh Hawley, who won 59 percent of the vote Tuesday against four primary opponents in a race in which almost 664,000 votes were cast.

Hawley is unlikely to flame out like the last candidate to run against McCaskill. He’s considered thoughtful, steady, and one of the best GOP recruits this cycle, having led the statewide ticket in 2016.

McCaskill won her primary for another term with an impressive 83 percent of the close to 605,000 votes cast.

Hawley, even without a Trump endorsement, goes into the general election with an intensity advantage over his two-term opponent.

Washington state

Washington state holds nonpartisan primaries where the top two finishers – even if both are from the same party – advance to face off in the Nov. 6 election.

In the race for the U.S. Senate, Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell came out on top with over 50 percent of the vote in a crowded 28-candidate field. She will face Republican Susan Hutchinson in November.

GOP stalwart Dino Rossi, a former candidate for governor and the U.S. Senate, was the top vote-getter in the 8th Congressional District primary to pick a successor to retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert and is favored to keep the seat in Republican hands. Democrat Kim Schrier came in second and will face Reichert in November.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the No. 4 Republican in the House leadership, managed to come out on top in her primary in the 5th Congressional District and will face Democrat Lisa Brown in November.

Based on what happened Tuesday, several things seem clear.

First, the big blue wave Democrats have talked about for months continues to fail to materialize.

Second, President Trump can still get the vote out and his endorsement in GOP primaries does make a difference.

And third,  the civil war in the Democratic Party between the left and the far left is real, is getting closer and closer to the boiling point, and is very much going to be a factor in determining who controls Congress come January.

Washington-based commentator Peter Roff is former senior political writer for United Press International and former contributing editor for opinion at U.S. News and World Report. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterRoff