Republican Balderson declares victory in tight race in Ohio special congressional election

Democrats see large gains in traditionally Republican district setting stage for November.

Troy Balderson won a narrow victory Tuesday defeating Democrat Danny O’Connor in a crucial special congressional election that is traditionally an easy win for Republicans.

With 100 percent of the vote in from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, Balderson led with 50.15 percent of the vote compared to 49.9 percent for O’Connor.

The vote was 101,574 to 99,820.

The two get to do it all over again in November when they run against each other again for a full two-year term.

O’Connor has strong ties to Dayton community

O’Connor has strong ties to the Dayton region. He grew up in Sidney and graduated from Wright State University. he graduated with a bachelor’s in political science and was president of the WSU College Democrats. He later graduated from law school at Syracuse.

Balderson is from Zanesville and graduated from Ohio State University and Muskingum University.

What does it mean?

But Balderson’s narrow victory in a district that the Republicans have held since 1983 shows a sign of unhappiness among Central Ohio voters with President Donald Trump.

Republicans threw everything at the race, with the National Republican Congressional Committee and a super PAC affiliated with House Speaker Paul Ryan investing nearly $5 million in the race and deploying surrogates that included President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy into the district to campaign.

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said the district should have been an easier win for Balderson. The district, he said, "contains some of the most bedrock Republican turf in the state and this basically could have went either way."

"The GOP likely keeps the seat but the result is very much in line with what we’ve seen all over the country in special elections this cycle: Democrats often running well ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance," he said, adding, "I don't think this was a particularly impressive showing for Republicans."

The winner between O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder, and Balderson, a state senator from Muskingum, will fill the seat that has been vacant since last January when Rep. Pat Tiberi, a Republican from suburban Columbus, retired. Tiberi, who held the seat since 2001, won re-election in 2016 with 67 percent of the vote.

Trump won the district by 11 points in 2016 against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and carried heavily Republican Delaware County – which includes the wealthy suburbs north of Columbus – by nearly 16 points.

But Tuesday, Balderson was carrying Delaware County by less than 4,000 votes, a sign that moderate Republicans and Republican women are disillusioned with Trump’s abrasive style.

That the GOP vote slipped so precariously in that county verified what some political analysts have long argued - that Trump's suburban support had eroded, portending bad omens for Republicans in November.

Even more alarming for Republicans is Balderson narrowly won the race at a time when the economy is booming and unemployment has plunged to levels not seen since the late 1960s.

Balderson saved his campaign with strong performances in Marion and Muskingum counties, rural areas where Trump is extremely popular.

Throughout the day, Republicans were privately relieved to hear reports of high turnout throughout the district, reasoning that because the district is traditionally solidly Republican, that meant Republicans were showing up.

They were particularly focused on Delaware County, which holds roughly 20 percent of the district's registered voters.

Balderson irritated Republicans and delighted Democrats Monday night during the final hours of the campaign, when he urged voters in his native Muskingum County to back him because "we don't want somebody from Franklin County to represent us."

Democrats leaped on the comment, circulating video on social media and airing last-minute Facebook ads in Franklin County aimed at motivating Democrats to turn out.

Balderson has been forced to contend with a feud between Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who as a Republican congressman held the same seat from 1983 through the end of 2000. Both have endorsed Balderson, who somehow has to persuade Trump supporters and Kasich backers to vote for him.

“You are going to need both Kasich and Trump voters to win,” said Alex Conant, a Republican consultant in Washington. “You can’t win with just one or the other in a district like that.”

About the Authors