It may be the doldrums of August, but there’s a special election tonight in Ohio that could have major ramifications in the battle for the House majority this fall.
The race is in Ohio’s 12th District, where state Sen. Troy Balderson, a Republican, is taking on Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor. On its face, the district should favor Republicans; Donald Trump and Mitt Romney won it in 2016 and 2012, and Republicans have held it for more than three decades.
But all the data suggests this race is really close — and according to data over the past month, Balderson is holding steady while O’Connor is trending upward.
One House race can’t tell us everything the entire country is thinking — obviously. (Charlie Cook makes that point here.) But it will tell us something about how both parties’ messages are working and how base enthusiasm is playing out on both sides.
Below, four things to watch in tonight’s voting:
1. Nancy Pelosi: The House minority leader has been at the center of Republican attacks in the final days of the race as outside conservative groups seek to link O’Connor with the unpopular California Democrat. O’Connor has fumbled somewhat on the question, struggling to get distance from the minority leader. The GOP’s Pelosi strategy worked like a charm in 2014 and 2010. But has its moment passed?
2. The Trump effect: President Trump visited the district on Saturday in an attempt to rally support for Balderson. Trump did the same in the Pennsylvania special election earlier this year but couldn’t save Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone. But Trump has shown an ability to deliver Republican votes in GOP primaries. Can he do the same for Balderson in a general, special election format?
3. Suburbs: This is a suburban district, taking in the affluent suburbs of Columbus. (The median income districtwide is more than $66,000.) In 2016, Trump won suburban areas — which made up 49% of the overall vote — by 4 points. That’s in keeping with the suburbs as the central battleground between the two parties. An O’Connor win tonight would suggest the suburbs might be swinging to Democrats.
4. Tax cuts cut who? In the wake of the passage of the Trump tax plan last year, congressional Republicans insisted they would be running hard in the midterms on putting more money in people’s pockets. But it’s Democrats who have seized the tax issue in this race — arguing that Balderson’s support for the Trump tax cut would contribute to hollowing out Social Security and Medicare. If it works, expect to hear a lot more about the tax cut issue — from Democrats! — in November.
The Point: This race isn’t the end for the Republican majority if Balderson loses. But it’s a step in the wrong direction.
Sign up to get future editions of The Point newsletter delivered to your inbox.