Good news and bad news for the Donald — mostly bad — in a congressional election widely seen as a first rehearsal for the midterms coming up in three months. Ohio’s twelfth district sits right in the middle of the state, and runs in a boomerang shape from the eastern side of Columbus — I’ve been to Columbus six times, please god, never again — out to the exurbs, and back around a swathe of farm country and small auto-parts towns (were auto-parts towns, now Big Meth has the franchise).
The place has been Republican since the end of World War II, aside from one two year period; it’s governor and #neverTrump pinup John Kasich’s old district (other previous incumbents include Joe Pugsley and DeWitt C. Badger). This year’s race (which ended only hours ago) was neck-and-neck, a fact that had been terrifying to Republicans. In the end, the Democrats haven’t succeed in taking the seat, though they ran it to a photo-finish, with Republican Troy Balderson beating Democrat Danny O’Connor 101,000 to 98,000 votes. In 2016, the seat went Republican, 250,000 votes to 112,000, and has been rated anything from +12 to +25 leaning Republican until recently.
That result is significant because Democrats usually do better in congressional elections during presidential election years. Midterms are for older, whiter, middle-classier people, special elections especially so. Furthermore Balderson was likely got over the line by a Trump rally held late in the day, to turn out the base. He won’t be able to do that the day before polling in the 60 or so seats that Democrats now believe could be genuinely competitive (they need to win 23 to flip the House, currently in Republican control). The Republican’s one hope is that Democrats will chose the wrong candidate as they may have done here — a personable Ray Romano-lookalike who ran as an “anti-establishment moderate”, trying to scarf up populist anger and capture enough independents to get over the line.
Could he have turned out another 5000 votes, with a genuinely populist left economic line? The argument from the left is that there are so many more votes out there to get, rather than flip, that running such centrist candidates is more about the Democrat machine retaining party power, than winning elections. Republicans may well be hoping that such party political survival instincts hold to November, in which case they will retain the House. Still, to run it even in the 12th — home of Zanesville, a town so often used in journalistic portrayals of self-defeating white working class Republican voters it should get its own agent — maybe the hapless Dems can finally dewit ze badger.