(WASHINGTON) — Politically minded eyes were on Ohio and Indiana Tuesday night, as the Republican and Democratic parties faced renewed identity crises, pulled between election denialism and anti-Trump factions on the right and progressives and pro-Biden centrists on the left.
From questions of Trump’s influence to the growing threat of winnowed abortion access, here’s how Tuesday night’s midterm election primaries in Ohio and Indiana shaped the state of politics and set new goalposts for both parties as they vie for majority power in Washington and across the country come November:
Democratic establishment lives on
Progressives suffered dual crushing losses in Ohio, with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan sailing to an easy victory in the Senate primary quickly after polls closed Tuesday evening. Ryan defeated a more left-leaning primary challenger, Morgan Harper. Harper embraced the Green New Deal, eliminating the Senate filibuster and expanding the size of the Supreme Court, and her wide-margin loss can be seen as a referendum on such progressive politics — even if they play well in Washington and trend popular with younger voters.
In Ohio’s closely watched 11th district, President Joe Biden-endorsed Rep. Shontel Brown delivered a devastating blow to Bernie Sanders-tied challenger Nina Turner. Ryan and Brown’s win could also mean a sigh of relief for Democrats who worry about centrist liberalism — and its champion, Biden, as some version of the Democratic establishment remains popular among this group of key voters in a state that voted for former President Donald Trump by eight percentage points in 2020.
According to ABC News’ Senior Washington Reporter Devin Dwyer, who spoke to Ryan throughout election night, the 10-term congressman campaigned regularly in conservative areas and made a point to visit all 88 Ohio counties.
As the electorate trends Republican, thanks, in part, to this year’s redistricting process, Democrats who play well in red states may be the left’s key to maintaining what slim majority they now have.
Abortion access hangs in balance
It’s not entirely surprising that in the waning hours of Ohio’s Senate primary, Republican victor J.D. Vance, who will continue on to the general election, was quick to praise the prospect of Roe v. Wade being overturned as the unprecedented leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion sent shockwaves through the race — and the country — overnight.
“I do think Roe was a big mistake. And I think if the Supreme Court overturns it, it will be a big success for the pro-life movement,” Vance told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott.
And it may be even less surprising that an establishment Democrat like Tim Ryan, who is expected to go on to face Vance in the general election, said abortion access is an issue of “freedom.”
“I think in many ways to abortion is, in some sense, an economic issue as well … This is a freedom issue, really, for me, and I think it’s a freedom issue for a lot of these women,” said Ryan, who once opposed abortion but changed his mind come 2015.
But an inter-party spar on abortion became critical in the race to cinch Ohio’s Democrat gubernatorial spot, where former Dayton mayor Nan Whaley found a path to victory in part by slamming her challenger John Cranley’s record on reproductive rights. During the campaign, Whaley underscored that she has always been a proponent of abortion rights whereas Cranley reversed his position before the campaign season. A majority of Americans wish to uphold Roe v. Wade, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, and that message clearly resonates even in a state as red as Ohio.
Trump avoids slump
Ohio’s gubernatorial and senatorial primary results suggest that Trump’s so-called golden touch may in fact be rusty, but not completely out of magic.
Incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine, who rose in popularity after imposing more aggressive coronavirus restrictions in his state, won the Republican bid for reelection and defeated Trump-affiliated candidate Jim Renacci (who was endorsed by Trump in 2018, when Renacci ran and lost a Senate bid). DeWine’s win means a slight loss for the former president, who suggested DeWine needed to be primaried for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Even though Trump steered clear of a formal endorsement, his apparent disdain for the incumbent governor is no secret and his opponents differed little from Trump in campaign talking points, which calls into question the lasting power of Trump’s influence.
DeWine’s race is just one of a handful of governors’ races where anti-Trump Republicans are looking to send a clear signal to MAGA-world with incumbent wins.
Enter the counter-narrative: J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy author and Trump critic turned endorsee and ally, notched a major victory for himself and for MAGA-ism. Trump tapped Vance from a pack of higher-performing rivals. Vance’s victory is a notch in Trump’s victory belt, proving that despite attacks from other Republicans showcasing the apparent hypocrisy of transforming from critic to champion, his word holds some outsized weight with the base.
And in his reelection bid, Greg Pence, the older brother of former Vice President Mike Pence, is the projected winner of the Republican nomination for House in Indiana’s 6th Congressional District after gaining the “complete and total endorsement” of former President Donald Trump.
The question remains: Can Trump pull out wins in upcoming primaries where his picks are more controversial, or take on more established GOP veterans?
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