Columbus, OH (The Blade) — What would in any other year be expected to be another routine win for Republicans, today’s special election for a central Ohio congressional district has garnered national attention for potential signs of what might be coming in November.
The 12th District has been in GOP hands for 35 years, was held for 18 of those years by Gov. John Kasich, and went for President Trump by 11 points in 2016. The seat’s last occupant, former U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, won re-election two years ago with 67 percent of the vote.
Both sides have poured millions into the race as Democrats hope to repeat the extremely narrow win of moderate Democrat Conor Lamb earlier this year in a Pittsburgh-area special election in a heavily Republican district also won by Mr. Trump.
Democrats hoped to turn the 12th, the last special election ahead of the Nov. 6 mid-terms, into a referendum on Mr. Trump, while Republicans sought to link Danny O’Connor, Franklin County’s 31-year-old recorder, to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Mr. O’Connor insisted he would not support her return to the role of speaker if Democrats regain control of the House.
Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) have all traveled to the district in support of state Sen. Troy Balderson (R., Zanesville) to ensure it stays in the Republican fold.
“Ohio, vote today for Troy Balderson for Congress,” Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday. “His opponent, controlled by Nancy Pelosi, is weak on Crime, the Border, Military, Vets, your 2nd Amendment — and will end your Tax Cuts. Troy will be a great Congressman. #MAGA.”
Despite the 12th District’s consistent support of Republicans over the years, late polls had the candidates in a dead heat going into Tuesday, and Mr. O’Connor appeared to benefit from a stronger early-vote turnout among Democrats.
“I don’t need to tell you how momentous it would be to flip this seat from red to blue,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray wrote Monday in a fund-raising e-mail. “A win would send a message that we are sick and tired of the divisive, nasty politics of the last 18 months — the kind of politics that prioritizes insults and anger over solutions.”
Mr. Kasich and Mr. Tiberi have featured in ads supporting Mr. Balderson, 56. But then Mr. Kasich, Mr. Trump’s last standing foe in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, suggested on ABC’s This Week on Sunday that Mr. Trump’s Saturday appearance in Delaware County may have hurt the candidate more than it helped.
The special election was triggered by Mr. Tiberi’s resignation as of Jan. 15 after 17 years in Congress to head the Ohio Business Roundtable. The winner will complete the four and a half months left in Mr. Tiberi’s term, and both candidates will run again on Nov. 6 for a complete two-year term.
The district stretches from the heavily populated, voter-rich, northern suburbs of Columbus, where Mr. O’Connor lives, and includes fast-growing, prosperous Delaware County. It pushes north from Columbus through rural Ohio to Mansfield and southeast to Zanesville, encompassing all or part of seven counties.
The Zanesville area has sent Mr. Balderson to Columbus for nearly seven years as state senator and two years in the Ohio House before that, but that portion of Muskingum County is the only overlap between his current Senate district and the congressional district.
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