- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2018

Republicans, desperate to hold onto seats of retiring lawmakers, will learn Tuesday who their candidates will be in a handful of critical races across the country that will go a long way toward determining whether the GOP holds on to the House this November.

In Ohio, a massive field of Republicans is vying to replace Rep. Pat Tiberi in a contest that pits the more moderate and conservative wings of the party against one another.

Races in Indiana and North Carolina will also show which side of the GOP is ascendant — whether the party will tack to the middle in order to stave off Democrats or continue a Trump-ward lurch that some insiders worry could alienate general election voters.

The four states with primaries Tuesday all backed President Trump in 2016 and sent GOP-heavy congressional delegations to Washington. This year, following upset Democratic victories in Alabama and Pennsylvania, the states could play a key role deciding whether a much-hyped blue wave materializes in the fall.

Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the race in Ohio for Mr. Tiberi’s old seat in the suburbs north and east of Columbus, could be the main event in this round “because it will feature a special election in August and, particularly on the Republican side, there is a primary that exemplifies the now-familiar insider-outsider split in the GOP.”

Mr. Tiberi and the Republican Main Street Partnership are supporting state Sen. Troy Balderson, while Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and the political arm of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus has thrown its lot behind insurgent Melanie Leneghan, a Liberty Township trustee who bills herself as a “Trump conservative.”

“She is the one who will come in and take on the swamp — no doubt about it, and frankly I think she is the one best positioned to win in August,” Mr. Jordan told The Washington Times. “The establishment wants to say the conservative will lose, but that is baloney.”

A recent barrage of negative attacks between the Balderson and Leneghan camps has led some to speculate the infighting could boost others in the race, including Kevin Bacon, Carol O’Brien and Tim Kane.

“Jordan and Tiberi are angling to have their preferred candidate win, but with this many candidates anything can happen,” said Mark Weaver, a GOP strategist advising Mr. Bacon, a member of the state Senate. “These multiple candidate races are difficult because as soon as people start going negative you have no idea whose numbers move. It is a bit of whack-a-mole problem.”

On the Democratic side, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor is leading the money chase and has endorsements from former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, as well as Reps Tim Ryan and Joyce Beatty. Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott, John Russell and Ed Albertson also are running.

The primary winners will face off in an August special election and, barring a surprise, once again in November.

Paul A. Beck, political science professor at The Ohio State University, said the district — traditionally safely Republican — could flip to a Democrat in the right circumstances.

“Democrats are praying that [Mrs. Leneghan] emerges as the nominee,” Mr. Beck said.

The race in Ohio’s 12th is the one Tuesday contest the Cook Political Report rates as a “toss-up.”

The nonpartisan election tracker, however, has ranked some other GOP incumbents as vulnerable — including Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio and Reps. Robert Pittenger and Ted Budd in North Carolina.

Mr. Chabot and Mr. Budd are favored to win their nomination races. Mr. Pittenger, meanwhile, faces a primary challenge from Rev. Mark Harris in a rematch of the race they ran two years ago when the incumbent eked out a 134-vote win.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, is targeting the three GOP seats as part of its “Red to Blue” program

The DCCC is backing Hamilton County Clerk of the Courts Aftab Pureval’s quest to topple Mr. Chabot’s in Ohio’s 1st Congressional District.

In North Carolina, the DCCC is backing philanthropist Kathy Manning to unseat Mr. Budd in the 13th Congressional District, and Marine veteran Dan McCready in the 9th Congressional District, which is now represented by Mr. Pittenger.

Other political observers on Tuesday will be keeping tabs on whether North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones, a 12-term congressman, can survive primary challenges from Scott Dacey, a county commissioner, and Phil Law, a Marine veteran, in the 3rd Congressional District.

Greg Pence, the older brother of Vice President Mike Pence, is running for the seat in Indiana’s 6th Congressional District, which his brother once held and that opened up after Rep. Luke Messer announced he was running for the U.S. Senate.


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