The Hot Seats: A Trump Ally Hangs By a Thread, and a Democrat Curses Socialism

Your weekly guide to the midterms most talked about races.

Photo illustration of Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach.
Kris Kobach Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images.

Welcome to the Hot Seats, Slate’s weekly guide to the seven midterms races that everyone is talking about now.

1. Kansas Governor

If Democrats can’t finish this one off…
This week’s No. 1 remains too close to call, three days after Tuesday’s primary, but Secretary of State Kris Kobach is still ever-so-slightly ahead of current Gov. Jeff Colyer in the Republican primary. Kobach is a notorious anti-immigration loon whose twins “victories” these last two years include service on President Trump’s collapsed, scammy “election integrity” commission and a loss in court so severe that the judge ordered Kobach to take more legal education classes. Trump, against the establishment’s hopes, endorsed Kobach anyway. If Kobach’s margin holds, he’ll face Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, who, by God, should just beat this loser once and for all. One problem: The independent candidate Greg Orman is running again, whom Democrats backed in a 2014 Senate campaign, and this time he could play the spoiler.

2. Ohio’s 12th District

Democrats appeal to fall short but are happy?
Though there are still some provisional and absentee ballots left to count in this one too, it looks like Democrat Danny O’Connor came up just short to Republican Troy Balderson in the last special election of the cycle. Both sides are arguing that they have plenty to be happy about and—they’re both sort of correct? Republicans can be happy that they, uh, won, and that they successfully were able to grind out a win in what had become a toss-up. Getting over the top matters, even if it’s in a seat they’ve held for 100 billion years. And for Democrats: You came within 1 percentage point in a seat that Republicans have held 100 billion years! There are 60-some districts that will be easier to win that this one, and the dramatic swing toward Democrats in Columbus’ suburbs augur well for all of the metropolitan-area seats they’re targeting. Everyone wins! Although in this specific case, more the Republicans.

3. Washingtons 5th District

A toss-up?
The top-ranking House Republican woman, Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is in for a real race. One of the main election handicappers, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, moved the race in this Spokane-area, eastern Washington district to “toss-up” status following her less than impressive top-two primary performance Tuesday night. Rodgers is only edging out her Democratic rival, former state Senate Minority Leader Lisa Brown, by 1 percentage point; the total spread between all Democratic and Republican votes cast—with plenty of mail ballots left to count—is 52 to 47. This race has gone under the radar, but it would be the biggest-profile pickup for Democrats if Brown can pull it off.

4. New York’s 27th District

Chris Collins won’t let one lousy indictment stop him.
I’d say I’ll miss the dangerously chatty New York Rep. Chris Collins, who along with his son, was indicted on comically straightforward insider trading charges this week, except that it’s not clear he’s going anywhere. I mean, except for jail, but that would take some time. But it’s really not clear that this indictment mortally threatens his re-election chances. Collins is a close Trump ally in New York’s Trumpiest district, outside Buffalo in western New York. An R+11 district, Collins won with 67 percent of the vote in 2016 while Trump carried it by 24 percentage points. The indictment did lead the Cook Political Report to move the race in Democrats’ direction—but only from “safe” to “likely” Republican.

5. Maryland Governor

Someone said a curse word!
You’ve got to watch this video. At a press conference earlier in the week, Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous, a former NAACP president and top Bernie Sanders surrogate, was asked to respond to Republican attacks about whether he’s a “socialist.” Jealous, who faces a daunting task in trying to unseat popular GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, has been trying to moderate since winning the Democratic primary, and delivered a roughly 90-second spiel about how he’s actually a “venture capitalist.” (Is that … good?) When a Washington Post reporter tried to clarify, then, whether he identified with the term “socialist,” Jealous said, “Are you fucking kidding me?” As the reporter has made clear, he was snapping at the GOP talking point and not at the reporter. That, of course, is not being reflected in the Fox News coverage of this profane radical commie.

6. Florida Senate

What’s going on with Bill Nelson?
Some unusual moves from Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who’s facing a stiff challenge from the state’s wealthy goblin of a governor, Rick Scott. Nelson on Wednesday said that the Russians have already “penetrated” the voter registration systems of certain Florida counties and “they now have free rein to move about.” Uh-oh. He went on: “We were requested by the chairman and vice chairman of the intelligence committee to let the supervisors of election in Florida know that the Russians are in their records.” It would be nice for him to clear that up. In another episode, Nelson criticized Scott for pushing the EPA to delay a water-quality standard in 2010—without recognizing that he offered similar pushback to the EPA at the time. That led a major Republican super PAC to start making cracks about Nelson’s age, and how he’s “no longer dealing from a full deck.” Nelson is 75, the equivalent of one’s mid-30s in Senate years.

7. West Virginia Senate

Republicans are still losing in the Trumpiest state of them all.
Isn’t it odd that Republicans are having such trouble picking off a Democrat running for federal office in West Virginia? The Republicans, themselves, find it odd. But that’s where things are. Politico reported this week about how Republican operatives are now acknowledging that “it has slipped out of the top tier of Senate contests.” But! They have a secret plan: They will … mention Trump more. “In the interview, [Patrick Morrisey] declined to name a single issue on which he disagreed with the president,” Politico writes. “He’s previously joked he wants the whole Trump family to buy vacation homes in the state and set up shop between now and November.” The longer incumbent Joe Manchin maintains his lead, the more pathetic the worship of Trump will become.