President Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate appeared to eke out a win in an extremely tight central Ohio race in Ohio Tuesday – but it should have never been this close.
Trump’s name wasn’t on the ballot in the reliably Republican district, but his brand was. Trump repeatedly endorsed Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson over Democrat Danny O’Connor, a county elected official, to fill the remaining months of former U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi’s term.
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More: Ohio 12th special election: How Donald Trump turned this safe Republican seat into a toss-up
Trump flew to Ohio Saturday to campaign for Balderson in a crowded, overheated high school gymnasium. “(Balderson)’s really tough. He’s really smart. He never stops working,” Trump said of Balderson, a former Ironman race competitor. “It’s Ohio’s 12th district, and he’s going to hopefully be here a long time.”
The message was clear: a vote for Balderson was a vote for Trump.
And it seemed to work, according to unofficial results. With 100 percent of the vote in, Balderson led O’Connor 50.2 percent to 49.3 percent. The margin was just 1,754 votes.
Sam Wegner, 10, and Camden McGovern, 11, watch from the floor in front of a live feed of results during an election night event held by Troy Balderson. The two young Balderson supporters got to meet with Balderson earlier in the evening while he was waiting for results. Tuesday night’s special election for Ohio’s 12th congressional district was a tight race with Balderson leading O’Connor 50.2 percent to 49.3 percent, a margin of just 1,754 votes. (Photo: Sara C. Tobias/The Advocate)
Trump immediately took credit for the victory, tweeting “after my speech on Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better.”
Balderson thanked the president during his brief victory speech. “America is on the right path, and we’re going to keep it going that way,” he said.
When I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting 64 to 36. That was not good. 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. He will win BIG in Nov.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2018
The race had not been officially called by any news organizations, and O’Connor had not conceded as of late Tuesday. “We are in a tie ballgame, and you made this possible,” he told supporters Tuesday night.
Thousands of voters remain to be counted: 3,435 provisional ballots and 5,048 outstanding absentee ballots, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. Local boards will start counting these ballots on Aug. 18 and must finish by Aug. 24.
If the marign is within 0.5 percent at that point, an automatic recount is triggered.
— NRCC (@NRCC) August 8, 2018
With such a close race, the “blue wave” wasn’t crushed – but it might be dampened. Republicans proved they could hold on to a reliably GOP seat in the face of Democratic enthusiasm. It’s an encouraging sign for GOP candidates headed into November elections where control of the U.S. House of Representatives – and the Republican agenda – will be in play.
But Tuesday night was more of a sigh of relief than a victory cry.
The district – which runs from Columbus’ northern suburbs to affluent Delaware County and east to the foothills of Appalachia – has been represented by Republicans for decades. Before Tiberi, Gov. John Kasich held the seat, which has been redrawn to assure GOP dominance. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1.
Mike Nyerges (Photo: Mike Nyerges/The Enquirer)
Despite this, O’Connor kept the race close.
Balderson relied on votes in Licking and Delaware counties to offset O’Connor’s dominance in Franklin County’s northern suburbs. In those areas, it might have been an endorsement from Gov. John Kasich, rather than Trump, that made the difference.
Balderson’s largest margins of victory came from rural parts of the district, including his home county of Muskingum.
Across the district, President Trump loomed over the race and weighed heavily in some voters’ decision Tuesdays.
Troy Balderson supporter Pat Davies (center) refreshes results as Dixie Shinaberry, Todd Emoff and Lhynne Tuzon watch early election results coming in showing the Republican candidate Balderson ahead of Democratic candidate Danny O’Connor. Tuesday night’s special election for Ohio’s 12th congressional district was a tight race with Balderson leading O’Connor 50.2 percent to 49.3 percent, a margin of just 1,754 votes. (Photo: Sara C. Tobias/The Advocate)
Patricia Hughes, 61, of Newark, said she voted for O’Connor, in part, to stave off Trump.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I wouldn’t invite (Trump) to my home for dinner.”
George Collmer, 72, of Marion, voted for Balderson to keep Trump’s agenda intact.
“I think the country’s going a better way right now,” Collmer said.
Danny O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder, speaks during an election night watch party at the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Westerville, Ohio. O’Connor ran against Republican Troy Balderson in a special election race for Ohio’s 12th District after the retirement of Pat Tiberi who served as the U.S. Representative from 2001-2018 in the reliably Republican district. (Photo: John Minchillo, AP)
After the nail-biter, O’Connor and Balderson will be back on the campaign trail tomorrow. They will face off again in November for the next two-year term. The electorate will be much easier to predict, and that bodes well for Balderson.
Kent Mallett and Sarah Volpenhein contributed reporting.
cincinnati.com · by Jessie Balmert