Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, senior national political reporter and Buckeye State native Henry Gomez breaks down what to watch for as the results come in tonight in the Ohio Senate Republican primary. Plus, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki explains why a decline in split-ticket voting spells trouble for Democrats’ chances to maintain Senate control.

3 things to watch for in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary

By Henry J. Gomez

Ohio’s volatile Republican Senate primary offers clear lines of division between the new GOP establishment, led by Donald Trump, and the old establishment Trump has been slaying since 2016. 

Trump, who twice won Ohio by 8 points, helped elevate JD Vance to the Senate in 2022. He is trying to do the same this year with Bernie Moreno, a former car dealer. 

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Nevertheless, the old guard persists. Gov. Mike DeWine, former Sen. Rob Portman and key allies of former Gov. John Kasich are backing state Sen. Matt Dolan, a more traditional conservative who has kept Trump at a distance. 

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, meanwhile, is polling in third place. The winner will face Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in what’s expected to be a grueling and expensive general election. Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s primary results:

Is the Trump magic still real in Ohio? Many expected that a Trump endorsement would effectively clinch the nomination — and it still might. But the former president and Moreno both have had to work hard in the final days to close the deal. 

Despite a deluge of Moreno ads touting Trump’s support, voters clearly were open to what they were hearing from Dolan, a wealthy candidate who has spent millions of his own money on TV to make sure they kept hearing it.

Moreno’s allies weren’t panicking in the final hours.

“If you recall our race, it was the Matt Dolan surge against the Trump-endorsed candidate,” Vance, noting Dolan’s third-place finish in the 2022 GOP Senate primary, told NBC News at a Moreno campaign stop Monday. “Of course, the Trump-endorsed candidate cleaned up at the end. I think it’s going to happen with Bernie tomorrow.”

Where will Dolan run strong? Dolan’s surge at the end of the 2022 race was real, even if it was too little, too late. 

But a look at his performance then shows where his greatest opportunities are Tuesday. He won three counties — Franklin, Geauga and his home base, Cuyahoga — by sizable margins and finished close behind Vance in Hamilton and Lake counties. 

Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Franklin (Columbus) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) cover the state’s three most populous cities. Moreno also lives in Cuyahoga and won endorsements from the county GOP organizations there and in Franklin.

Lake County, which encompasses Cleveland’s eastern exurbs, is particularly swingy territory filled with voters important to Dolan’s coalition. He spent nearly an hour there on Sunday, pouring pints of Guinness for St. Patrick’s Day revelers at a Willoughby bar.

How far does LaRose fall? On paper, LaRose entered the race as the front-runner. He has been elected to statewide office twice, has a shimmering résumé (Eagle Scout, Green Beret) and, until this race, was known primarily for his centrist and pragmatic politics. 

But the former No Labels enthusiast attempted to repackage himself as a conservative crusader. He thrust himself into Ohio’s debate on abortion last year, championing a ballot measure that would have made it tougher to pass a proposed amendment to enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution. The push failed. LaRose then led the charge against the amendment. It passed decisively. 

A loss Tuesday would give LaRose an 0-3 record in less than a year.

Polls close in Ohio at 7:30 pm ET. Follow along with the results here.

Democrats’ Senate challenge: Split-ticket voting is on the decline

Analysis by Steve Kornacki

Democrats have made it clear that they want Moreno to win tonight, calculating that he will be the least difficult GOP candidate for Brown to defeat.

But even if they get their way, Democrats will still face an imposing obstacle as they try to protect both Brown’s seat and their tenuous Senate majority this November: the dramatic collapse of split-ticket voting that has marked the Trump era.

It was once routine for Senate candidates to win elections even as their states voted for presidential candidates from the opposite party. As recently as the 1984 and 1988 elections, this happened in essentially half of all Senate contests.

Back then, each party had far less ideological definition than today, and the stark demographic, geographic and cultural divisions that now separate the Democratic and Republican coalitions had yet to emerge. But as those divisions took shape in 1990s, this kind of split-ticket voting began a long, steady decline, one that — like so many other political trends — accelerated when Trump came on the scene:

As you can see, in 2016 and 2020 combined, there was just one state that split its partisan loyalties between the presidential and Senate contests. That state was Maine, which voted for Joe Biden by 9 points while simultaneously re-electing Republican Sen. Susan Collins by the same margin in 2020. The winner of every other Senate race in the past two presidential elections came from the same party as the candidate who won that state’s presidential vote. 

To win Ohio this fall, Democrats will likely need to defy this trend. With Trump as the GOP standard-bearer, the state has moved to the right. And Trump is expected to carry Ohio again this year, meaning that Brown will need to persuade a critical chunk of Trump voters to break with the GOP in the Senate race and back him instead. 

In his three previous Senate victories, Brown has never faced this challenge. He was elected in the blue wave midterm year of 2006, re-elected in 2012 as Barack Obama carried Ohio, and re-elected again in 2018, another blue wave midterm.

And even if Brown does succeed in November, it won’t be enough by itself for Democrats to keep the Senate, where they now hold a 51-49 edge. That’s because two other Democratic-held seats in Trump states are also up this year. To have any shot of retaining their majority, Democrats will need to hold one of them, and since they’ve largely abandoned West Virginia (where Sen. Joe Manchin is retiring), that means they’re relying on Sen. Jon Tester in Montana, a state that backed Trump by 16 points four years ago.

In other words, to save their Senate majority, Democrats are going to need an awful lot of help from Trump voters.

🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • 🚫 No to No Labels: At least a dozen potential candidates have turned down overtures from No Labels as it tries to put together a third-party presidential ticket. The group has secured ballot access in 17 states so far. Read more →
  • 🗺️ All over the map: An NBC News examination found that Trump’s views on Social Security and Medicare have zigzagged over the years — and his campaign isn’t clarifying his current stance. Read more →
  • ➡️ Pressure from the right: It’s not just Kevin McCarthy: GOP House leaders in at least three states — Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin — are facing open rebellion on their right flanks. Read more →
  • ⚖️ Border clash: The Supreme Court allowed Texas to enforce a contentious new law that gives local police the power to arrest migrants. The Biden administration had sued to block the law. Read more →
  • 🕰️ Doing time: Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro began serving his four-month sentence in a Miami prison after he was convicted of contempt of Congress last year. Read more →
  • ⬅️ Going in a different direction: Bloomberg reports that Vivek Ramaswamy is no longer on Trump’s VP shortlist. Read more →
  • 💸 Trump’s cash crunch : CNBC explores some of the root causes of Trump’s fundraising issues, like small-donor fatigue and hesitation among major donors about whether their cash will go to the former president’s legal fees or helping Republicans win elections. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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