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President Trump's tariffs are introducing a new, wildly unpredictable issue into the midterm elections, thanks to their heavy impact on states with critical Senate races as well as their likely role in House races across the country.

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Note: Dollar amounts reference total value of goods in 2017. Cartogram: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Why it matters: This puts GOP candidates in a weird position: Speaking out against trade policy that's hurting their state or district could turn off voters who would view that as criticizing Trump. But Democrats aren't exactly free traders, and they're not piling on the president's tariffs the way they attack his other policies.

The big picture: Politically speaking, "If the Chinese blink and back down, it's a victory for Trump and a plus for Republicans," said Chris Wilson, a GOP pollster who worked on Sen. Ted Cruz's 2016 campaign. "But the risk if we get into a prolonged trade war is there will be local and potentially national impacts."

What they're saying: Republican Senate candidates trying to defeat Democrats in red states that Trump won aren't going to jump at the opportunity to undermine their support of the president, despite the party's traditional free-trade ideology.

  • In North Dakota — one of the GOP's best pickup opportunities this cycle — Rep. Kevin Cramer has issued carefully worded statements on Trump's tariffs, emphasizing the need to protect farmers while stopping short of criticizing the president. He also accused Democrats of stoking "hysteria" over the tariffs.
  • Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat who holds the seat now, has said the tariffs would cause a "devastating blow" to the state's agriculture sector and accused Cramer of belittling his constituents.
  • A similar dynamic has played out in the race for Tennessee's open Senate seat, where Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn has called the tariffs "part of a negotiation and a process," while former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen has criticized the tariffs in a TV ad.

The other side: Democrats, however, aren't all universally opposed to the tariffs. Some have always been skeptical of free trade and support the tariffs, while others say they wish Trump had executed them better.

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the caucus's campaign chair, said each member will act based on how their state is impacted. "The bottom line here is each member’s job is to defend the interests of the people in their states," he said.
  • "I support the president’s tariffs. I wish that they would be done better," said Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who said he's been concerned about trade policy long before Trump became president.
  • Others are more skeptical. “It’s already taking us down a road that’s going to have some real negative impact, particularly on agriculture and construction," said Sen. John Tester of Montana. "If I thought there was an end game here that he could actually achieve, I’d be a little less concerned."
  • "I do think we need to be aggressive with China, but do it in a manner that’s strategic and not in a way that’s impulsive or lacking in a calculated outcome to help our workers and our economy," said Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. "Sometimes I don’t know if the president’s able to do that.”

It's not just Senate races that could be affected by the tariffs. One GOP operative said that in House seats in the Midwest, where the tariffs are starting to hit soybeans and dairy farmers, "it could be a real issue."

  • The operative said it could be a problem in places like Iowa's third district and Minnesota's first, which are both rated as toss-up districts by the Cook Political Report.

Go deeper

Scoop: 50,000 migrants released; few report to ICE

A law enforcement officer walks to meet migrants crossed the Rio Grande River illegally last month. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

About 50,000 migrants who crossed the southern border illegally have now been released in the United States without a court date. Although they are told to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office instead, just 13% have showed up so far, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The sizable numbers are a sign of just how overwhelmed some sectors of the U.S.-Mexico border continue to be: A single stretch covering the Rio Grande Valley had 20,000 apprehensions in a week. The figures also show the shortcomings of recent emergency decisions to release migrants.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Israel launches maximum pressure campaign against Ben & Jerry's

A Ben & Jerry's store in Yavne, Israel. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty

The Israeli government has formed a special task force to pressure Ben & Jerry's ice cream and its parent company Unilever to reverse their decision to boycott Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The Israeli government is concerned the move by Ben & Jerry's will encourage other international companies to take similar steps to differentiate between Israel and the West Bank settlements. A classified Foreign Ministry cable, seen by Axios, makes clear the government wants to send a message.

Video game developers at Activision Blizzard say they'll walk out Wednesday

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Employees at Activision Blizzard will hold a walkout Wednesday in protest of widespread harassment allegations across the company, a spokesperson on behalf of the group told Axios.

Why it matters: Walkouts are a drastic measure for developers in a largely non-unionized field, a testament to just how angry employees currently are.