Voters from around the state and nation were keeping a close eye on Tuesday’s special election for the 12th Congressional District seat in central Ohio, not only to see who would replace longtime U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, who resigned in January, but to gauge where voters fall in the current political climate. So what do Tuesday’s results mean for the upcoming November election? It depends on who you ask.
The most glaring statistic from the 12th Congressional District’s special election is that it was the closest race this area has seen in a long time. While it appears Republican State Sen. Troy Balderson will ultimately win, Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper said the tight race is signaling good things for his slate of candidates come November.
“If we can just repeat and mirror the Democratic energy that we saw yesterday, where our turnout was above theirs, and the moderate, Independent, and in some cases, Republican voters giving good candidates like Danny O’Connor a chance," he said. "You project that out all over the state, and it’s obviously a big year for us.”
Pepper added that those races will be bolstered by bigger names at the top of the ticket: Rich Cordray running for governor, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown running for re-election. Brown has said O’Connor’s performance also proves that voters are in favor of the general Democratic message of protecting health care and social security.
However, the Ohio Republican Party and spokesman Blaine Kelly see it a different way.
“The results on Tuesday tell us that the people of Ohio, the people of the 12th Congressional District certainly, are happy with the direction President Trump and Republican leadership are taking us, and they want to keep it that way,” Kelly said.
He argued it would be inaccurate to read too closely into the results since it was a special election.
“Special elections are special for a reason. Turnout is lower," Kelly said. "In the presidential election we had a turnout of 377,000 people in the district. There were 200,000 people who showed up on Tuesday so it’s hard to make that point stick. 'You gotta vote in August, not November.’ People are getting back from vacation, they’re getting their kids ready to go back to school."
The one factor political strategists will take into account nationwide is that of President Donald Trump. As the November midterms approach, Trump is picking out different candidates to stump for. Troy Balderson was one of those candidates. Trump campaigned for him the Saturday before the election in Delaware County.
“President Trump made all the difference really in those final days," Kelly said. "We saw a big surge in both Delaware and in Licking counties, where Vice President Pence had come as well. They really helped us bring Troy (Balderson) across the finish line in addition to our incredible ground game.”
Trump tweeted a statement saying his campaign stop marked a big turnaround for Balderson’s run. He also alluded to the challenge of getting voters to come out in a special election.
But Pepper, with the Democrats, said the fact that this race was close at all does not reflect well on Trump.
“If he feels good about the performance yesterday and thinks that going around the country and having places he campaigns underperform by 25 points is somehow a good sign for him, all power to him,” he said.
Candidates and groups on both sides poured more than $8 million into this race. It’s possible this tight race might signal to national Democratic groups that O’Connor could have the momentum, leading to more money flowing into Ohio. Kelly countered that by saying O’Connor already spent a lot of money on this race and still came up short.
As for Pepper, he’s optimistic about what this could mean for November, but he said there’s still a lot of work to do.
“As a Democrat in Ohio, you’re always running from 20 points down. So no one is sitting around looking at those numbers and thinking, ‘Hey, we got this,”' he said.
Both parties are also taking a close look at the numbers to see how this might impact the Ohio House races that are happening within the seven counties in the 12th District.