A hotly-contested Ohio special congressional election is going down to the wire, with Democrat Danny O’Connor and Republican Troy Balderson locked in a tight race. With most of the votes counted, the two candidates traded a lead of just a few hundred votes.
The campaign to fill the 12th district seat, vacated when GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi resigned earlier this year, has taken on outsized importance for clues as to how big of a blue wave could be forming to help Democrats take back the House come November.
The suburban Columbus district has been in Republican hands for almost four decades and voted for President Trump by 11 points in 2016, so by all accounts the race shouldn’t even be close. But Democrats — buoyed by enthusiasm ever since the 2016 presidential election — have consistently overperformed in other special elections, and notched upset victories in a Pennsylvania House race in March and in the Alabama Senate race last year.
Outside Republican groups heavily outspent Democrats in the race by a more than five to one margin, hoping to blunt any momentum O’Connor had. Early vote results heavily favored O’Connor, but Republicans had hoped that a vigorous ground game could make up the difference on Election Day.
President Trump campaigned for Balderson, a 56-year-old state senator, this past weekend in an effort to energize the GOP base, but some Republicans worried that the president’s appearance could have had an adverse effect by motivating voters who don’t like Trump to come out for O’Connor.
A win by O’Connor would show that some of the GOP’s most familiar attack lines may not prove salient any longer come November. Republicans had tried to tie the 31-year-old Franklin County recorder to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, falling back on a tried and true strategy of scaring wayward Republicans and independents about a return of Speaker Pelosi. O’Connor had said he wouldn’t vote for Pelosi as leader, but Republicans tried to link the two anyway.
The 12th district has many of the hallmarks of areas that could be weak spots for Republicans this cycle — well-educated, relatively affluent suburbs that may have soured on Trump and are looking to register their frustration through their midterm vote.
Democrats need to win 23 seats to take back control of the House, and that path doesn’t even run specifically through districts like Ohio’s 12th. In fact, there are 69 Republican-held districts that Trump carried in 2016 by less than the margin in this area, or that Hillary Clinton carried outright. So, as Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich — a vocal critic of Trump — pointed out prior to Election Day, the sheer fact that the race is so close should strike fear in the hearts of GOP operatives.
Trump was asked by reporters about the Ohio race at a dinner with business leaders at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., and simply replied, “We’ll see what happens.”
Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington also held their regularly scheduled primaries on Tuesday, and the president endorsed candidates in several GOP races across those states.
His favored candidate for Michigan governor, state Attorney General Bill Schuette, defeated Lt. Gov. Brian Calley to claim the GOP nomination.. Trump had weighed in on Schuette’s behalf — the attorney general had been a loyal supporter of the president’s, but during the presidential election Calley had withdrawn his support for Trump in October 2016 following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder had backed Calley, but Trump is more popular there with the GOP base in the state.