ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's election day again, and the 2018 midterm primaries are in the homestretch. There are key elections in five states today that highlight divides within both parties, and they could set the table for what's to come over the next few months. To walk us through what's important today, NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is here with us again. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So we've got Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Washington state and Ohio.
SHAPIRO: The special election in Ohio has been getting a lot of attention including from the president. Explain why.
MONTANARO: Because this is a pretty Republican place. This is the 12th Congressional District in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. Only one Democrat has won here since 1940, and yet it's a close race between Republican Troy Balderson and the Democrat in the race, Danny O'Connor. Now, Trump's approval ratings here have not been holding up in this suburban district. Balderson, though, has made the gamble that he has to stay really close to President Trump. In fact, Trump was there on Saturday in Ohio campaigning for Balderson. Let's listen to some of what he had to say.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He's just not going to disappoint you. He's really smart, and he's a really hard worker. Troy Balderson, come on up.
SHAPIRO: But, Domenico, as you point out, the president's not very popular in this district. So is there a risk to having him come campaign there?
MONTANARO: It is a risk. You know, and it's one of the theories that's going to be tested tonight. If Balderson loses or the Democrat comes close, it'll be a big sign to other candidates in similar places that Trump might be a big liability. And that would put a lot of other seats in play. Consider this. There are 69 Republican-held seats that Trump won by less than this district or Hillary Clinton won in 2016. That's why millions of dollars have been spent to protect this seat. Like I said, if the Democrat wins or comes close, that would set the limit perhaps for the number of seats that could be vulnerable. And Democrats only need 23 to take back the House. And this could set that limit at 69.
SHAPIRO: Oh, so a real forecast based on what happens tonight. Let's look to some of these other states. Some big names are on the ballot. For example, in the Kansas governor's race, Kris Kobach is a well-known figure. Tell us a little bit about this.
MONTANARO: Well, you know, listeners might know Kobach because of his role in running President Trump's election integrity commission. He was going in search of basically widespread voter fraud that the president claimed was a reason for why he lost the election, which he lost by 3 million popular votes. Kobach's commission really didn't find any evidence, fizzled but still kind of irritated a lot of even Republican governors, Republican attorneys general who said that they didn't see any evidence of this.
He's challenging the sitting governor. Trump has endorsed Kobach because of his role with him. And there's lots of personal loyalty at play. And we've seen the president feel really emboldened by the fact that he's been endorsing a lot of these candidates, and they've been winning.
SHAPIRO: So we said tonight's races show the divide in both parties. You've talked about the Republicans. What about among the Democrats?
MONTANARO: Well, you know, I mean, we talk about Kobach. We talk about Trump, names that have sort of become household names. There's another household name on the left that's started to sink in, and that's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was that candidate who's a Democratic Socialist, won in New York, in November was somebody who was tending bar and wound up defeating a longtime Democratic incumbent, someone who was thought to be potentially a speaker. And...
SHAPIRO: She's become a national figure almost overnight.
MONTANARO: And part of that is because she's putting her name and her brand onto a lot of these candidates, whether it's in Michigan or in Missouri, where she's backed a candidate against longtime Democratic incumbent William Lacy Clay. And if she has success, that'll be a big boost to her movement. But if she doesn't, that could be a real problem for her as well.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Domenico Montanaro covering tonight's primaries - thanks, Domenico.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
SHAPIRO: And with polls now closed in Ohio, Kansas, Missouri and Michigan, stay with us here on your local NPR station and at npr.org. We'll let you know when the results are in. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.