Tuesday night ended with Troy Balderson narrowly ahead in the closely watched special election for a congressional seat in Ohio, and Republicans — including President Donald Trump — declaring victory.
But the photo finish — Balderson is ahead by 1,754 votes, with thousands of absentee and provisional ballots left to tally — in what has been a solid-GOP district shouldn’t provide much comfort for the party as it clings to an increasingly fragile House majority.
It’s likely Balderson is coming to Congress next month, and, if he does, his apparent victory over O’Connor will give him a leg up in the general election rematch, making it more difficult for Democrats to flip the district in 13 weeks.
There were also primaries in four states Tuesday — Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington — that will shape the midterm landscape. The vote count in Kansas extended well into Wednesday morning, with the GOP primary for governor still teetering on a knife’s edge when all the votes were finally tallied just before 8 a.m. Central Time.
Here are POLITICO’s five takeaways from Tuesday’s elections:
1. The Republican cavalry came for Troy Balderson. But, come November, the weak will be left on the battlefield.
The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $1.3 million. Congressional Leadership Fund, the top House GOP super PAC, spent $3.2 million.
It was likely enough to vault Balderson over the top. But Republicans running in competitive districts against well-funded Democrats shouldn’t expect the same level of support.
That was the message Tuesday night from Corry Bliss, the executive director of CLF. Bliss touted CLF’s work in the district, saying the group implemented “an aggressive turnout operation … ultimately knocking on over 500,000 doors across the district.”
But that’s going to be harder to replicate in every competitive district in November. And Bliss suggested that candidates who don’t help themselves won’t get CLF’s assistance.
“While we won tonight, this remains a very tough political environment and moving forward, we cannot expect to win tough races when our candidate is being outraised,” Bliss wrote. “Any Republican running for Congress getting vastly outraised by an opponent needs to start raising more money.”
As POLITICO’s Elena Schneider reported last month, 56 House GOP incumbents were outraised by their Democratic opponents in the second quarter of this year, and another two dozen Republicans running for open seats were outraised, too.
2. Republicans’ big suburban problem continues.
President Donald Trump did more poorly in the suburbs in 2016 than any Republican presidential candidate in recent memory — but he still won thanks to unprecedented strength in rural areas. But in key elections since then, many candidates in Trump’s GOP are running worse even in the suburbs than he did, from Ed Gillespie in Virginia to Balderson in Ohio’s special election.
Balderson still managed to finish Tuesday night’s vote count on top of O’Connor thanks to Trump-like vote shares in the rural counties, but that’s a marked shift from how Republicans have always won that district. Even while Trump got under 40 percent of the vote in the Franklin County portion of the 12th District in 2016 — the innermost Columbus suburbs — and 56 percent in Delaware County, then-Rep. Pat Tiberi got 57 percent in Franklin and a whopping 72 percent in Delaware.
But Balderson plunged below both Tiberi and Trump on Tuesday, taking 35 percent in Franklin County and 54 percent in Delaware County. It was still enough for victory, but only barely, in a district that had elected Republicans by double digits for decades. Balderson’s rural numbers will hearten some GOP members ahead of the midterms. But Republican incumbents running in suburbs from Northern Virginia to Orange County, California, to Detroit to Minneapolis — all places where Democrats have shown more latent strength in recent years — will have to hope their personal reputations can break the GOP’s rapid deterioration in the suburbs under Trump.
3. A bad night for the far left
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and New York Democratic House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tried to play liberal kingmakers on Tuesday, six weeks after the latter shocked the political world by unseating a 10-term incumbent and member of House Democratic leadership. They parachuted into Michigan over the closing weeks to boost physician Abdul El-Sayed for governor, but El-Sayed finished nearly 20 points behind former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, despite the national attention his prominent surrogates brought to the race. Source Link: