The special election in a deep-red Ohio congressional district was too close to call Tuesday night, with Republican Troy Balderson holding a narrow lead over Democrat Danny O’Connor.
Balderson led by 0.9 percentage points with all early and election day votes counted in the district in the Columbus suburbs that Republicans have held for three decades.
The Ohio secretary of state reported there are 8,483 outstanding absentee and provisional ballots left to count — much more than Balderson’s 1,754-vote lead.
Balderson and Republicans celebrated Tuesday night, but O’Connor did not concede the race. “We are in a tie ball-game,” he told supporters at his election-night party.
The close race was another ominous sign for the GOP less than three months from November’s midterm elections. It was also a sign that the party’s strategy for the race — fully embracing President Donald Trump and his bombastic message in hopes of motivating Republican voters, rather than trying to soothe moderates’ worries about the President — could backfire in similar districts in November’s midterm elections.
Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the House, and Republicans are currently defending dozens of districts that are more favorable to Democrats than Ohio’s 12th District, which Trump in 2016 and Mitt Romney in 2012 both won by 11 percentage points.
The race matched consistent trends in special elections and statewide contests since Trump took office: Turnout sagged in rural, heavily Republican areas; surged in suburban areas; and swung in Democrats’ favor in those suburbs when compared to the 2016 election results.
For Republicans, it was costly: The Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, poured a combined total of more than $5 million into the race, compared to just $1 million from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Winning, though, would provide a psychological boost to the GOP after the party suffered a stunning loss in a March special election for a House district outside Pittsburgh.
In Balderson’s Columbus-area race, the GOP groups’ Trump-like message in television advertisements focused overwhelmingly on latching O’Connor to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and accusing him of being weak on issues like immigration.
Trump echoed that message on Saturday, when he visited Delaware County for a pro-Balderson rally.
Balderson also got a boost from second-term Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who endorsed him late in the race, even as he sounded an alarm over the Trump-driven tactics, warning that it had alienated suburban women, in particular.
No matter the special election’s outcome, Balderson and O’Connor are set for a rematch in November.
Other key races
Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley will face Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in one of the GOP’s best pick-up opportunities in November.
Trump won the state by 19 percentage points in 2016.
Polls have also closed in Kansas, Michigan and Washington.
In the Republican primary for Kansas governor, Trump on Monday endorsed Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state known for his crusade for restrictive voting laws, over incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer. In doing so, he ignored the pleas of the Republican Governors Association to stay out of the race. Kobach is widely seen as uniquely vulnerable in a general election due to his controversial national profile.
Kobach and Colyer were locked in a tight race as ballots were counted.
Kansas is a deep-red state — Trump won there by 20 percentage points in 2016 — and any Republican would be favored in the gubernatorial election in November.
But Democrats believe momentum from this spring’s protests over education funding against Republicans who control the state government could make the state surprisingly competitive this fall. And Kobach — who publicly backed Trump’s false claim that millions of people voted illegally in 2016 and who advocates a hard-line approach to immigration — could alienate Republican voters in areas like the Kansas City and Wichita suburbs.
The concern extends to Kobach’s potential impact on two potentially competitive congressional races in Kansas, too — including Rep. Kevin Yoder’s re-election bid in the 3rd District, a top Democratic target.
A test for the left
After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory in New York against Rep. Joe Crowley, progressives hope to demonstrate that their policies can win over voters in the middle of the country.
Tuesday’s elections could provide a window into the direction of the Democratic Party as the 2020 presidential nominating contest gets underway and party leaders debate whether to embrace a more liberal platform in hopes of turning out voters who sat out the 2016 election or make a centrist turn to court moderates and Republicans who are alienated by Trump.
Progressive outsider Abdul El-Sayed’s bid for governor in Michigan fell short tonight, CNN projects, as the establishment favorite, former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, nabbed the Democratic nomination and a November date with Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who defeated Hillary Clinton in the state back in 2016, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lined up to back El-Sayed, who ran on an innovative “Medicare for all” plan and proposals for public broadband and tuition-free college.
But Whitmer, a respected liberal legislator who painted El-Sayed’s platform as unrealistic in the purple state, kept the race close in areas El-Sayed needed to win big and ran up the score everywhere else.
In Kansas’ 3rd District, Bernie Sanders-backed labor lawyer Brent Welder is running in a six-way primary to take on Yoder. Other top candidates include Sharice Davids, an EMILY’s List-endorsed former MMA fighter attempting to become the first Native American lesbian in Congress, and Tom Niermann, a teacher running a more moderate campaign with a long list of local officials’ endorsements.
And in Missouri’s 1st District, Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay faces a challenge from the left from Cori Bush, a nurse and activist who has campaigned with Ocasio-Cortez.