Trump stumps for GOP candidate in special election in Central Ohio

In a rally inside a sweltering high school gym, President Donald Trump attacked Democrats, rehashed his 2016 election win, boasted about the economy and rallied the vote for Republican Troy Balderson, who is in a razor close race in Ohio’s 12th Congressional district.

“Troy Balderson. He is the guy. He is the guy that’s gonna do things,” said Trump of Balderson, a state senator from Zanesville who is in a tough battle against Democrat Danny O’Connor.

The special election on Tuesday, which is getting national attention and money, is being framed as referendum on Trump and an indicator of how the November midterm elections may break.

Related: Stakes high in special congressional race in central Ohio

State and national GOP leaders are pulling out all the stops for Balderson in a district that has been held by Republicans for all but one term since 1939. Trump’s appearance comes just days after Vice President Mike Pence held a rally and Ohio Gov. John Kasich appeared in a television campaign commercial for Balderson.

While repeatedly telling supporters to vote Balderson, Trump spent much of his 70-minute speech talking about crimes committed by illegal aliens and the need for border security; supporting veterans and active duty military service members; the need to impose tariffs; and attacking media outlets he doesn’t like as dishonest, corrupt and disgusting.

“America is winning again because we are finally putting America First. It’s about time. Our economy is booming. Jobs are pouring back into our country. We are bringing them back. Those companies that left, they want to come back, this is where that action is,” he said.

He also made veiled references to the absence of U.S. Sen. John McCain, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer.

“The fact is we need more Republicans. People say we have a majority. We don’t really have the majority in the Senate. Fifty-one, we have one person not voting. You know, not around to vote. I don’t know. He’s not voting so we have 50,” he said.

The 12th district special election race is razor close. A recent poll released by Monmouth University shows it’s too close to call.

“This is still a Republican leaning district with many metrics that continue to favor Balderson, but growing Democratic enthusiasm has made this race surprisingly competitive. O’Connor’s chances hinge on generating a larger than usual share of the vote from the suburbs north of Columbus,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Related: Local congressional race now a toss-up

Outside the high school, Trump supporters stood in long security lines in the hot sun while protesters and counter protesters shouted insults at one another: “You’re an idiot!” “You lost the popular vote. The blue wave is coming. You better learn to swim.”

“They’re mad that kids are in cages but it’s okay to abort kids. I don’t get that,” said Mark Hoffman, who drives a pick up truck with “Trump” emblazoned on the front bumper.

John Price of Blacklick said he is confronting Trump supporters attending the rally. “It’s essentially a call out to them to be on the right side of history,” he said.

The rally also drew Ohio’s Republican leaders: House Speaker Ryan Smith, Senate President Larry Obhof, Attorney General Mike DeWine, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken and others.

Trump called Jordan up on stage with him as the crowd chanted “Speaker of the House!” Jordan praised Trump in brief remarks.

The rally drew Trump fans from across Ohio. “They’re huge Trump fans and they wanted to come,” said Dawn McKeel, who drove two hours from Akron with her teenage daughters and nieces and waited more than two hours in line.

Renacci, who is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown, said Ohioans are concerned about jobs and the economy, which he said is heading in the right direction. Renacci, who embraces Trump, said “Look around. These people love Donald Trump. There are Democrats and Republicans here, I can guarantee you.”