Ohio Republican congressional candidate Troy Balderson leads by a hair in Tuesday’s special election for the 12th District, but improved Democratic performance may signal trouble for the GOP in November. In the battle to fill out the term of retired Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi, Balderson holds an edge of fewer than 2,000 votes over Democrat Danny O’Connor, with thousands of provisional and absentee ballots still to be counted.
President Donald Trump flew to Ohio and held a rally for Balderson just days before the election. Despite the unfinished ballot counting, Trump declared victory Tuesday, tweeting, “After my speech on Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better. Now Troy wins a great victory during a very tough time of the year for voting.”
The 12th District, though, has been represented by a Republican for all but two of the last 80 years. In 2016, Trump won the district by 11 percentage points and Tiberi captured two-thirds of the vote. The fact that O’Connor still has an outside chance to win the race has worried the GOP and energized Democrats.
“This gives me optimism, not only about this seat but about other House seats, the U.S. Senate and governor's races,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told CNN.
Turnout has become a major problem for Republicans. In 2016, Tiberi received more than 250,000 votes, while in the special election, Balderson received only a little more than 100,000 votes. Such a drop could prove disastrous for the GOP in the midterm elections if the entire country follows that pattern. Even if Balderson wins this special election to finish the current term, he still has to face O’Connor again in the November general election for the next term.
“There is no doubt Democrats are as energized and as enthusiastic as I have seen them,” said Steve Mitchell, a Republican pollster in Michigan, according to the Detroit Free Press. “That's because of the strong anti-Trump dislike in the Democratic Party.”
Republicans will have to consider ways to drum up turnout, or else the “blue wave” Democrats have predicted may sweep them out of office. —Kyle Ziemnick