Ohio special election, a referendum on Trump, is too close to call

Laina Yost

A special election for an open U.S. House seat in Ohio that was viewed as a referendum on President Trump remains too close to call. 

With 100 percent of early and Election Day ballots counted, Republican Tony Balderson led Democrat Danny O’Connor by 1,766 votes, or 0.9 percent, but provisional ballots had yet to be counted. Green Party candidate Joe Manchik received 1,120 votes. If the race is within 0.5 percent, Ohio requires an automatic recount of the votes.

Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O’Connor (Photos: Balderson campaign, Tim Reid/Reuters)

Though news organizations held off from making a call in the race, Trump wasted little time in declaring Balderson the winner and took his share of the credit.

Balderson also portrayed the results as an unambiguous victory.

“America is on the right path and we’re going to keep it going that way. It’s time to get to work,” Balderson told his jubilant supporters. “Over the next three months, I’m going to do everything I can to keep America great again so that when we come back here in November, I have earned your vote for a second time. Danny O’Connor ran a hard race and I look forward to campaigning against him again in November.”

Because the winner of Tuesday’s election will serve out the rest of retiring GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi’s term, the elected candidate will have to defend his seat in November.

O’Connor, meanwhile, spoke at his election viewing party and said the results showed a “tight ball game.”

“We made our case for change, we’re making that case tomorrow,” O’Connor told a cheering crowd. “We’re not stopping now. Tomorrow we rest, and then we keep fighting through to November.”

Minutes later, O’Connor released a statement to the media that sounded more resigned about Tuesday’s results.

“We always knew this was going to be a close race, and while we don’t know the results quite yet, I know that this campaign left it on the field,” O’Connor’s statement read.

Like Trump, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), also portrayed the race as over.

“Congratulations to Congressman-elect Balderson on his hard-fought victory tonight,” Stivers said in a statement. “The NRCC mobilized quickly, holding Danny O’Connor accountable for his hypocrisy on Nancy Pelosi and promoting Troy’s record of accomplishment.”

The 12th District has been held by a Republican for over 30 years and was expected to be an easy win for Balderson, but late polling showed the race to be a virtual tie, forcing the party to spend millions to try to avoid defeat.

The unexpectedly competitive race has fueled speculation of a coming blue wave for Democrats in November, but Republican super-PACs and the president have stepped up their support for their flagging candidate. In the final stages of the campaign, Trump tweeted his support for Balderson eight times, including on Tuesday morning.

“Ohio, vote today for Troy Balderson for Congress,” the president wrote. “His opponent, controlled by Nancy Pelosi, is weak on Crime, the Border, Military, Vets, your 2nd Amendment – and will end your Tax Cuts. Troy will be a great Congressman. #MAGA

The 12th Congressional District Republican candidate Troy Balderson, left, reaches for President Donald Trump as he speaks at a rally at Olentangy Orange High School in Lewis Center, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (Photo:Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Trump also held a rally for the Republican on Saturday to try to motivate voters to go to the polls in a district that he easily won in 2016.

Balderson tried to walk a line between moderate factions of the party and the conservative side. He won the endorsement of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a vocal opponent of the president.

O’Connor remained mostly silent about Trump during the campaign, instead speaking on local issues like health care and the opioid crisis. Former Vice President Joe Biden recorded a robocall on the eve of the election, as a last-second pitch for O’Connor.

Kasich, who once represented the 12th District, told ABC News on Sunday that the race should have been a “slam dunk” for Republicans. Outside money poured into the race, mostly from the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee.


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