The first ballot tests for the Donald Trump presidency are mere days away, and could give an early indication what kind of political fallout the highs and lows of his first months on the job will produce.
While the implosion of Republicans’ ObamaCare repeal bill last week was seen as a major setback for the White House, Trump is trying to quickly recover with a renewed focus on jobs, tax reform and energy deregulation. Whether voters see progress overall could be reflected at the polls in a string of special elections starting next month.
The biggest tests for the Trump presidency are likely to come in Georgia and Montana, where special elections are being held for House seats vacated by Republican congressmen who moved to the Trump Cabinet – Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, respectively.
Two other House seats that opened up following Trump appointments are in Kansas and South Carolina. Analysts say both, however, are likely safe Republican strongholds. Meanwhile, a vacant California U.S. House seat is considered safe for Democrats.
That leaves the contests for the Georgia and Montana seats holding the most drama. Democrats hope to make the contests a referendum on the Trump presidency, and the results could be a harbinger for the 2018 midterms.
“We have both [races] favored for Republicans,” David Wasserman, House editor for the Cook Political Report, told Fox News. “If Democrats over-perform by, say, 5 points, it won’t say much. If they over perform by 10 points, it says a lot about the president.”
Jesse Hunt, press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Democrats are going down the wrong path in both states.
“Even after their epic collapse in 2016, when you would think the Democrats would reconfigure and move to the middle, they still have far-left progressive candidates,” Hunt said. “Democrats in the last cycle tried to make it a referendum on Trump. … They’ve tried that playbook before and failed.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t respond to inquiries from Fox News, but DCCC spokesman Tyler Law recently told NPR they made a “strategic decision to invest in qualitative research” to help “inform” their message to voters in upcoming races. “In order to learn lessons from last cycle and maximize our gains on an expanded battlefield, we must listen to real people and see what drives them to vote, and these focus groups are an important early step towards achieving that goal,” he said.
As for whether Trump will hit the campaign trail for GOP candidates, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said earlier this month that depends on whether the candidates ask.
“We’ll obviously entertain requests from candidates,” Spicer said. “He’s been very supportive of candidates in the last cycle.”
Georgia’s 6th District
For the Price seat, 11 Republicans, five Democrats and two independents will compete on April 18. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent—a likely scenario—then a runoff between the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, is held June 20.
Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, consisting of Atlanta’s northern suburbs, has been a safe Republican stronghold, once represented by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. However, Trump only beat Democrat Hillary Clinton there by 1.5 percentage points, after former President Barack Obama twice lost the district by double digits.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has rallied to Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former national security aide to Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia. Johnson and Rep. John Lewis also are backing Ossoff.
Top Republican contenders include former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, state Sen. Judson Hill, Johns Creek City Councilman Bob Gray, and former state Sen. Dan Moody.
Montana’s At-Large District
Montana parties choose their nominees at conventions. In this case, Democrats nominated musician Rob Quist, a progressive who backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Republicans nominated Greg Gianforte, a businessman who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2016.
This deep red Trump state is still competitive for Democrats, as evidenced by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steven Bullock. The DCCC isn’t putting resources into the race, but New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker lent some national star power to Quist at a rally in Helena.
The May 25 race also could shed light on Tester’s re-election chances in 2018.
California’s 34th District
This Los Angeles district seat became vacant when Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra resigned to become state attorney general. Similar to Georgia, the top two finishers in the April 4 primary of 23 candidates will face off in the June 6 general election—presuming no one surpasses 50 percent.
State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez has the backing of Becerra, Sen. Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He still has 18 Democrats to contend with and one Republican, William Rodriguez Morrison, who has run for state Senate and mayor. The remaining candidates are from third parties. But Gomez is seen as the old guard in a district that voted for Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary. At any rate, it will likely come down to two Democrats in June.
Kansas’ 4th District
Republican state Treasurer Ron Estes and Democrat Jim Thompson, a civil rights attorney, will face off in the April 11 election for the seat vacated by new CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Thompson has tried to frame the election as a referendum on Trump and unpopular Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Estes is heavily favored, and has the endorsement of the Farm Bureau, an influential organization in the agricultural state.
South Carolina’s 5th District
The election to fill the seat vacated by Mike Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has three Democratic and seven Republican candidates.
This could be a multi-stage race, with primaries starting on May 2. If no candidate in either primary can reach a majority, there will be a runoff on May 15. The general election is June 20.
Two of the leading GOP candidates are state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and former state Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly. Rep. Jeff Duncan has endorsed Connelly for the race. Former Goldman Sachs senior adviser Archie Parnell is among the Democratic candidates.