President Donald Trump and Republicans spent Tuesday night lauding a congressional election victory for Troy Balderson in Ohio, but there more than a hint of desperation about the speed of the congratulations in a race that was too close to call.
The special election in the state’s 12th district was always going to be closely watched for signs of what it might mean for the crucial midterm elections in November – where Republicans will be defending majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Ohio’s 12th has been ruby-red for decades, with Mitt Romney in 2012 and Mr Trump in 2016 both winning the district by 11 points. However, Mr Balderson held a 0.9 per cent lead – or around 1,700 votes – over Democrat Danny O’Connor after the count, but with more than 8,000 absentee and provisional ballots to count.
The result will have set off alarm bells, in private, for many Republicans and there are two things that could point to further danger for the party in November.
The first is that urban, heavily populated, areas are turning out in higher numbers – which is good news for Democrats and bad news for Republicans whose support base tends to be in more rural areas.
In both Franklin County, which includes Columbus, and Delaware County, the fast-growing suburb just north of Ohio’s capital, 42 per cent of voters turned out. But in the five more lightly populated counties that round out the district, turnout ranged from 27 to 32 per cent.
Republicans will be defending dozens of districts with similar make-ups, and Democrats only need a 23-seat swing in the House, which means they need to find a way to get out the vote against Democrat supporters who appear motivated for change after 18 months of Donald Trump’s leadership.
While Mr Trump will always tweet that he has helped to elect whoever he endorses, as he did with Mr Balderson, and he made clear that his visit to support the Republican candidate in the final days of the election helped swing the vote in Mr Balderson’s favour. But Mr Trump’s ability to get out the vote is still unclear, given he won the district so handily in 2016.
But the bigger issue is money. Republican Party money, and money from outside interest groups, accounted for millions of dollars worth of spending in order to help secure a GOP victory in the Ohio 12th. With the result being so close, some strategists are warning that there will not be enough money to keep bankrolling Republicans in close districts. Candidates will need to raise more of their own money.
So, while Democrats have the issue of having to convert such vote share gains they saw in Ohio into actual wins, it is the Republican Party that will be feeling the heat over the latest special election
Related Video: Narrow Win in Ohio Sign of Midterms in Fall