The candidates that emerge Tuesday night from bruising and expensive primary battles in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia will provide answers to key questions about races crucial to determining which parties will control the U.S. House and Senate after November.
Loyalty to the president is a central issue in the Republican primaries, and GOP candidates across all four states are aiming to prove to voters that they are the true Trump ally.
“In these Republican primaries under the current Senate map, loyalty to Trump is the number one cause. It’s the number one issue,” said Leah Askarinam, a reporter, and analyst at Inside Elections, a nonpartisan outlet that analyzes House, Senate, gubernatorial and presidential campaigns, “These candidates have spent the last several months tying themselves as closely as possible to the president. It’s unclear if that will work in a general election. Most of these states did support Trump by more than just a few points.”
The GOP is holding on to a razor-thin 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate and Democrats are defending ten states that voted for Trump in 2016, and both parties are keenly aware that avoiding unforced missteps and nominating quality candidates is the difference between a Senate majority or minority.
Republicans sort out primary messes
Blankenship has made his opposition to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. a centerpiece of the campaign in which he referred to McConnell’s in-laws as his “China family” in a recent campaign ad.
"There is only one candidate in this race - maybe in the history of candidates running for U.S. Senate, who has ever entertained the idea becoming Chinese. His name is ex-convict Don Blankenship,” the statement from SLF spokesman Chris Pack read.
The danger lurking for Republicans in a Blankenship candidacy harkens back to 2012 when two GOP Senate candidates, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, made critical gaffes during the waning days of their campaigns and cost the party a chance at two seats that could have helped them capture a majority.
“Todd Rokita puts on a MAGA hat, he runs around the state, but on the tough votes…he’s against President Trump,” GOP Rep. Luke Messer said of his Republican House colleague Rokita in a debate last month. Rokita in return has called his opponent "Missing Messer" amid reports that he no longer lives in Indiana, and is airing ads saying he is "pro-life, pro-gun and pro-Trump,"
Meanwhile, wealthy businessman Mike Braun has poured over $5 million of his own money to boost himself as the outsider in the race running against two interchangeable career politicians that represent the Washington, D.C. “swamp.”
Messer, Rokita, and Braun are all hoping that they can unseat Donnelly, a red-state Democrat that has tried to carve out a moderate reputation for himself in the Senate, and recently voted to confirm President Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
President Trump endorsed Ohio GOP Congressman Jim Renacci in his Senate bid after convincing him to switch from the governor’s race and appeared with him over the weekend in the state. Renacci is facing a primary challenge from businessman Mike Gibbons but is still expected to win the nomination to take on Sherrod Brown.
Democrats try to make headway in Trump country
Tuesday night will also provide a preview of races that could become critical to control of the U.S. House.
Four Democratic candidates vying for House seat nominations are part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) “Red to Blue” program for candidates the organization deems as “top-tier.”
The most immediate opportunity for Democrats to pick up ground in the House is in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, where the resignation of GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi in January triggered both a GOP primary battle and an August special election that has Republicans nervous about losing another traditionally red seat once held by current Ohio Governor and former GOP presidential candidate John Kasich.
Tiberi has backed state senator Troy Balderson, while House Freedom Caucus co-chair Jim Jordan has thrown his support behind Melanie Leneghan, who has dubbed herself a diehard “Trump Republican.” The Club for Growth Action PAC has also aired an ad bashing Balderson as "not on Trump's side."
“Without an incumbent advantage in a year that seems to be favoring Democrats, that’s a tough dynamic for Republicans,” Askarinam said, “The question is whether Republicans believe that this district is still in the vein of Tiberi and Kasich.”
In North Carolina, Democrats are eyeing two GOP-held seats they believe could be in play come November.
Dan McCready and Kathy Manning, well-funded Democratic challengers in North Carolina’s suburban 9th and 13th Congressional Districts that are part of the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” program. McCready is running in the 9th Congressional District, where incumbent GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger is facing a primary challenge from the same man who fell just 134 votes short of unseating him in the 2016 primary — local pastor Mark Harris.
Both McCready and Manning have out-fundraised their opponents, Pittenger and GOP Rep. Ted Budd, a sign that the party could have a realistic shot with voters in a suburban district President Trump won in 2016, but may have fallen out of favor within the first year and a half of his administration.
In West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District, an open seat race with Jenkins running for Senate, Democratic state senator Richard Ojeda, who was brutally beaten in 2016 ahead of the primary election, has garnered attention for his appeal to voters in deep red Trump country. Trump won the district by almost 50 points in 2016, but the districts ancestrally blue roots and historic support for Manchin may create a competitive race in November.
WATCH LIVE ON TUESDAY: You can watch livestreaming coverage of all the primary action starting at 7 p.m. ET on ABCNews.com or on the ABC News app available on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, Apple TV App Store, and Roku Channel Store.
Don’t forget to sign up for Midterm Elections Alerts to get more coverage of this year’s election season from our powerhouse politics team.