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Republican Troy Balderson holds a narrow lead in Ohio district Trump won by double digits

The race in Ohio's 12th congressional district was the latest in a string of competitive special elections in Trump country.

Republican congressional candidate Troy Balderson gives his victory speech at his election night party at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on August 7, 2018 in Newark, Ohio. (Photo Credit: Justin Merriman/Getty Images)
Republican congressional candidate Troy Balderson gives his victory speech at his election night party at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on August 7, 2018 in Newark, Ohio. (Photo Credit: Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson ended Tuesday with a slight lead in Ohio’s 12th congressional district special election, just barely edging out his Democratic rival, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor. The election remains too close to call, however, with roughly 8,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted. 

The race to replace Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) was the latest high-profile special election in the Trump era — and bore many similarities to Rep. Conor Lamb’s (D-PA) and Rep. Debbie Lesko’s (R-AZ) tight special election races in districts considered to be Republican strongholds.

Ohio’s 12th district has been held by Republicans for 90 of the last 100 years and has been solidly Republican for the last 30, but Tuesday’s special election came down to a margin of less than one percent of the vote.

Tiberi announced last October that he was leaving the House to take a job as president of the Ohio Business Roundtable. In the months since, the campaign to replace the former congressman became hotly contested, despite the fact that President Trump won the district by double digits — 11.6 points — in 2016.

O’Connor trailed Balderson in almost all polls leading up to election day, but appeared to have closed the gap with just days to go. One poll in the final days before the special election had O’Connor leading Balderson by one point, 47 percent to 46.

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Like the many surprisingly contentious special elections before it, national Republicans poured money into the Ohio race after a string of upset losses, including Lamb’s less-than-one-point victory in Pennsylvania, as well as last December’s Alabama Senate race, in which Democrat Doug Jones prevailed over former judge and credibly accused pedophile Roy Moore. April’s special election in Arizona, too, was much closer than Republicans would have liked.

O’Connor, like Lamb before him, ran a moderate campaign, complimenting Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, and distancing himself from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). (Despite first promising he would not vote for Pelosi, O’Connor later said he would vote for anyone Democrats put forward, which could, of course, include Pelosi.)

Trump endorsed Balderson in the race and cheered him on at a rally in the district over the weekend. He also blasted O’Connor Monday in a tweet, saying the Democrat was “controlled by Nancy Pelosi, is weak on Crime, the Border, Military, Vets, your 2nd Amendment – and will end your Tax Cuts.”

On Tuesday, Trump was quick to take premature and undeserved credit for an apparent victory.

Kasich suggested Sunday that Balderson did not want Trump’s help in the race, telling ABC News, “I said, ‘Troy, why, did you invite Trump in here, the president?’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t.'” 

But, as CBS reported, Balderson later said Trump’s appearance was a “huge help. A lot of enthusiasm.”

Should Balderson hold on after provisional ballots are counted, he would serve in Congress for the rest of the year and will face O’Connor again in November’s general election. The winner will take office in January and serve a full two year term.