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After 12th District Special Election, No Clear Advantage For November

Troy Balderson

Voters from around the state and around the nation were keeping a close eye on Tuesday’s special election for the 12th congressional District seat in Central Ohio – not only to see who would replace longtime Rep. Pat Tiberi, but to gauge where voters fall in the current political climate.

So what do the results mean for the upcoming November election? It depends on who you ask.

The most glaring statistic from the 12th Congressional District’s special election is that it was the closest race this area has seen in a long time. Unofficial results show a difference of just 1,500 votes between Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson and Democratic Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor.

While it appears Balderson will ultimately win, Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper says the tight race signals good things for his slate of candidates.

“If we can just repeat and mirror the Democratic energy that we saw yesterday, where our turnout was above theirs and the moderate, independent, and in some cases, Republican voters giving good candidates like Danny O’Connor a chance, you project that out all over the state and it’s obviously a big year for us,” Pepper says.

Pepper says those races will be boosted by bigger names at the top of the ticket: Richard Cordray running for governor, and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown running for re-election.

Brown said O’Connor’s performance also proves that voters are in favor of the general Democratic message of protecting health care and social security.

Of course, the Ohio Republican Party sees it a different way.

“The results on Tuesday tell us that the people of Ohio, the people of the 12th congressional district certainly, are happy with the direction President Trump and Republican leadership are taking us and they want to keep it that way,” says spokesperson Blaine Kelly.

He argues it would be inaccurate to read too closely into the results since it was a special election.

“Special elections are special for a reason,” Kelly says. “Turnout is lower. In the presidential election we had a turnout of 377,000 people in the district. There were 200,000 people who showed up on Tuesday, so it’s hard to make that point stick, you know, ‘You gotta vote in August, not November.’ People are getting back from vacation, they’re getting their kids ready to go back to school.”

The one factor political strategists will take into account nationwide is that of President Trump. As the November midterms approach, Trump is picking out different candidates to stump for, including Balderson. Trump campaigned for him the Saturday before the election in Delaware County.

“President Trump made all the difference really in those final days, really, what we saw a big surge in both Delaware and in Licking counties where Vice President Pence had come as well, they really helped us bring Troy across the finish line in addition to our incredible ground game,” Kelly says.

Trump tweeted out a statement saying his campaign stop marked a big turnaround for Balderson’s run. He also alluded to the challenge of getting voters to come out in a special election.

But Pepper says the fact that this race was close at all does not reflect well on Trump.

“If he feels good about the performance yesterday and thinks that going around the country and having places he campaigns underperform by 25 points is somehow a good sign for him, you know, all power to him,” Pepper says.

More than $8 million was poured into this race by the candidates and groups on both sides. It’s possible this tight race might signal to national Democratic groups that O’Connor could have the momentum, leading to more money flowing into Ohio.

Kelly countered that, saying O’Connor already spent a lot of money on this race and still came up short. As for Pepper, he’s optimistic about what this could mean for November but he says there’s still a lot of work to do.

“As a Democrat in Ohio, you’re always running from 20 points down,” Pepper says. “So no one is sitting around looking at those numbers and thinking, ‘Aw you know, hey, we got this.’” 

Both parties are also taking a close look at the numbers to see how this might impact the Ohio House races that are happening within the seven counties in the 12th district.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.