Welcome to the Hot Seats, Slate’s weekly guide to the seven midterms races that everyone is talking about now.
We’re finally in August, an interminable final stretch of primaries and other weird nonsense that rises to national attention when people are bored in the late summer. The last big special election of the cycle will finally take place on Tuesday. It’s tight. Meanwhile, some governors’ races are settling into perspective, and a Democratic Senate candidate in a red state is openly saying that Democrats won’t take the majority. Also, Bigfoot’s penis.
Ohio’s 12th District
A dead heat in the final special election of the year.
Republicans have been banking on two late breaks to seal their victory in this Columbus-area special election between Democrat Danny O’Connor and Republican Troy Balderson. The first was a Balderson endorsement from the state’s popular governor, John Kasich, in an ad that is being widely broadcast. The second was O’Connor’s cable-news concession that he might, under certain circumstances, if there were truly no other choice, and there were a gun to his head, support Nancy Pelosi. These may still prove the difference, but they’re not registering sharply in polling in the solid-red district. A Monmouth University poll released this week, conducted in the final days of July, showed Balderson leading O’Connor by one percentage point, 44 to 43. Trump will descend on the district Saturday to juice GOP turnout. It could be a late Tuesday night.
In which a Senate Democratic candidate downplays the possibility of a Democratic majority.
The Tennessee Senate race is now set after Democrat Phil Bredesen, the state’s centrist former two-term governor, and GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a MAGA-as-hell conservative, won their primaries Thursday night. Winning this race is critical to Democrats’ long-shot efforts to take the Senate—and Tennessee Republicans are spreading that data point widely. That’s put Bredesen in the unusual situation of having to allay Tennessee voters’ fears of would-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “I expect to be in the minority,” Bredesen told Bloomberg in a story this week. “The number of things that’ve got to fall into place perfectly to get a majority this time around—it seems to me pretty unlikely. I just don’t see it happening.” Vote Democrat: It’s not like he’ll have power!
Why can’t Ted Cruz put this to bed?
For a race that’s supposed to be comfortably Republican, we keep seeing polling that suggests Sen. Ted Cruz is going to have to grind this one out against his well-funded Democratic challenger, Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Earlier this week, a poll from the nonprofit Texas Lyceum showed Cruz leading by only two percentage points, 41 to 39 percent. A couple of hours later, a Quinnipiac survey came out showing Cruz ahead by six percentage points, stomping out some—some—of the alarmist headlines. It’s still incredible how much work O’Rourke, after nearly 18 months as a candidate, has to just introduce himself (or be introduced, unfavorably, by Cruz): In Quinnipiac, 43 percent of voters still haven’t heard enough to formulate an opinion of O’Rourke. As you might expect, people have no problem formulating an opinion of Ted Cruz. The new polling figures have at least caught Schumer’s attention.
North Dakota Senate
Candidates have an odd new choice: Stand with Trump or the Kochs.
North Dakota Senate candidate Kevin Cramer, who last week praised the Trump administration for bailing out farmers hurt in the president’s ongoing trade war, is getting the cold shoulder from Republicans’ biggest benefactors: The Koch network. Americans for Prosperity, the network’s political arm, announced this week that it wouldn’t back Cramer, as CNN reports, “for his support of a $1.3 trillion spending measure earlier this year and his reluctance to take on the White House on trade and tariffs.” This is not a choice that Republican candidates are used to: showing blanket fealty to the Republican president versus getting those Koch bucks.
A shameless Trump kiss-ass gets rewarded. Sigh.
It’s all so vulgar. Florida gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ron DeSantis, a conservative Freedom Caucus member, releases an ad in which he instructs his toddler to “build the wall” with toy blocks. Trump returns the favor with a Tampa rally. “I wanted to be here to formally endorse Ron,” Trump said. “He is going to be an incredible governor,” Trump said, adding that he doesn’t “do these endorsements easily.” Trump is cautious, but when you offer video evidence of indoctrinating your children early on into his personality cult, he has no choice, as a statesman, but to wade in. Adam Putnam, DeSantis’ main rival for the nomination, can only watch in despair.
Leading Democrats are hesitant to support their leftist nominee.
Don’t be confused by Maryland’s status as a “solid blue” state. For one, consider that the current governor, Larry Hogan, is a popular moderate Republican. Maryland’s Democratic majorities have traditionally rested on federal workers in the Washington suburbs and black Americans in Baltimore; ideological leftists don’t usually make it very far. This year, though, one has: Ben Jealous, the former NAACP president and ardent Bernie Sanders supporter in 2016, won the gubernatorial primary. He’s finding that it’s difficult to get the state’s centrist Democratic establishment to rally around him. The state Senate president, Mike Miller—who’s essentially ruled the state for decades—has only offered “tepid” support for Jealous, as the Washington Post reports, while offering kind words for Hogan. And the county executive of Montgomery County—the wealthy D.C. suburbs—so far won’t endorse Jealous over concerns that Jealous would soak his residents to fund his agenda.
Virginia’s 5th District
Bigfoot erotica. Bigfoot erotica? Bigfoot erotica.
I don’t know if it’s fair, or what it means, or what’s even going on in this country anymore, but Democrat Leslie Cockburn, at the end of the week, has successfully labeled her Republican opponent Denver Riggleman “the Bigfoot erotica guy” now and forevermore. These are the sorts of breaks—or smears, we can call them—that Democrats need to pick up an unlikely lean-Republican district or two in November. Prediction: Five to 10 district-specific stories will surface in the next three months that are weirder and dumber than this.