LEWIS CENTER, Ohio—President Donald Trump hosted a rally to help pull Republican candidate Troy Balderson across the finish line in the special election for Ohio’s 12th congressional district.
Recently, tightening polls in what has been a safe Republican seat have given this election national prominence, as Democrats hope—and Republicans fear—that the seat may flip into Democratic hands. Such a result would be taken as a harbinger of a wave election that Democrats hope will deliver them control of the House of Representatives.
Before a boisterous and very enthusiastic crowd filling the gym at Olentangy Orange High School, Trump introduced Balderson as an intelligent, hard worker, who would “fight for Ohio.”
Balderson leveled a series of verbal blows against the opponent he dubbed “Dishonest Danny O’Connor,” referring to a recent gaffe O’Connor made regarding whether he supports House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.
“Dishonest Danny O’Connor supports open borders and sanctuary cities,” he said, adding that O’Connor “will fight against the policies that are turning our country around.”
The election for this congressional seat will be held on Aug. 7 because incumbent Pat Tiberi resigned in order to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable. Whoever wins will have to face his opponent again in the general election on Nov. 6.
The 12th district would seem to be the definition of a safe Republican district. A Democrat has not won here since 1980, and in 2016, Tiberi won reelection in a landslide, carrying 66 percent of the vote.
The race has been lightly polled. Two polls in June showed Balderson with a 10-point lead over O’Connor, but a poll by Monmouth University released on Aug. 1 showed that that lead had shrunk to one point, 44–43.
No matter who wins the special election, the vote in Delaware County will be key.
In rural and blue-collar areas of the district, Trump won 70 percent of the vote in 2016. But he didn’t do as well in the suburban and exurban areas, such as Delaware County.
This county has voted Republican consistently since 1916, but the recent trend has seen the vote for Republicans diminishing, as the area has become more suburban.
Both candidates hold elective office in the district. Balderson represents the state Senate’s 20th district, which overlaps the 12th congressional district; O’Connor is the recorder for Franklin County. Balderson grew up in the 12th District’s Zanesville; O’Connor identifies himself as from rural Ohio.
Turnout will be key. At a July 30 rally for Balderson, Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly told the audience the date of the special election and asked the crowd to repeat it back to him.
The Democratic base will not need to be reminded of the date. Democrat fervor to vote in this election cycle has helped the Party show surprising strength in other special elections this year.
Kim Bood, Morrow County clerk of courts, has campaigned for Balderson and sized up his chances: “He’s got a tough fight, but we think he can do it. And we are going to help all the way.”
With reporting by Charlotte Cuthbertson.