Ohio’s 12th District Special Election Explained

Today’s special election in OH-12 will be the last time voters will go to the polls in a Congressional election before the crucial midterm elections this fall. With its mix of Democratic-leaning suburbia and rural working-class communities, Ohio’s 12th Congressional District is the kind of district that Republicans will need to win if they are to maintain control of the House. If Republicans can hold on here, it will put a damper on Democrats’ hopes for a mid-term wave. But, a Democratic victory tonight in OH-12 might not spell doom, but it will give the GOP much to worry about.

Tightening Race

OH-12 Race Tightens (SOURCE: Monmouth University Poll, July 26-31, 2018)

The race between Republican State Senator Troy Balderson and Democratic Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor has tightened substantially since last month. According to a recent Monmouth University poll, Balderson, the Republican, garners 44% of all potential voters versus 43% for O’Connor, the Democrat. It’s a substantially closer race than it was a month ago when Balderson led 43% to 33% in Monmouth’s poll. But, a relatively large number of potential voters (11%) remain undecided.

The central Ohio district, which Trump won by 10% in 2016, includes affluent, heavily Democratic suburbs north and east of Columbus, as well as deep red rural, working-class counties. It is a district that has traditionally been represented by business-friendly moderate Republicans including Governor John Kasich and, most recently, Rep. Pat Tiberi, who vacated the seat to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable.

The Trump Factor

President Trump will likely be a significant factor in who voters support in today’s election. Monmouth’s poll found that 79% of potential voters said that they felt it was important to cast a vote on support of (or opposition to) President Trump. That was especially true for Democrats, 93% of whom said that their opinion of Trump would be important versus 81% of Republicans. Trump’s approval rating in the district was 46%, according to the poll. That is a little better than Trump’s approval nationwide, but still lower than the 49% of OH-12 voters that disapproved of the job Trump is doing as President.

But, weighing in Baldrich’s favor, the Trump/GOP tax cuts are relatively popular in the District, with 47% approving of the plan versus 35% disapproving, according to Monmouth. Potential voters also slightly prefer Republican control of Congress (41%) over Democratic control (36%). A fifth of potential voters (21%) said it didn’t matter either way.

However, President Trump’s trade wars could prove a drag on Balderson’s support in OH-12. Trump performed strongly in the district’s rural counties, which have been hit hard by tariffs on agricultural exports levied in response to Trump’s trade policies. A plurality of potential voters in the district (46%) think Trump’s trade policies are hurting the local economy, while just 34% say they are helping.

Turnout Key

Who will win depends heavily on turn out. Monmouth’s poll gives the advantage to Balderson 49% to 44% if turnout is low, but O’Connor narrowly outpolls Balderson (46% to 45%) if there is a surge in Democratic voters similar to that seen in other recent special elections. If the voters who turn up look like a conventional mid-term electorate, Balderson gets has 46% versus 45% for O’Connor.

OH-12 Turnout Scenarios (Source: Monmouth Univ. Poll, Jul. 26-31)

Still, none of these scenarios are comfortably outside the poll’s +/- 4.3% margin of error, making this race a classic toss-up.

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