Special Election in Ohio Foreshadows Midterm Battle for Control of the House

Troy Balderson, Danny O'Connor
Campaign Handouts

The final special election before the November midterms in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District on August 7 foreshadows the anticipated hard fought battle for the control of the U.S. House of Representatives this fall.

The battle between Democrat Danny O’Connor and Republican Troy Balderson for the seat vacated by Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) will be held in one of the 61 Republican-held Congressional seats the GOP must hold this fall in order to maintain a majority in that chamber.

“Although a Republican has represented Ohio’s 12th Congressional District since 1983, Democrats are looking to the timing of the special election and increased turnout in the Columbus suburbs to potentially flip the seat in the race between Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor (D) and state Sen. Troy Balderson (R),” Ballotpedia reported:

O’Connor is running as a bipartisan, calling for a change in congressional leadership from both House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and pledging to work with Republicans and President Donald Trump to fix infrastructure.

Balderson backs the policies of Trump—who won the district by a margin of 11 points—and supports the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and an Obamacare replacement that requires health insurance to cover pre-existing conditions. He named the 2012 Ohio Senate Bill 315, which regulated the fracking industry, as one of his proudest legislative accomplishments.

Both candidates support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and review of the North American Free Trade Agreement but diverge on gun policy. O’Connor supports a red flag law that would allow guns to be taken away from licensed carriers deemed a threat, which Balderson opposes.

With a battleground seat in play, both national parties are engaged in the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added the district to its list of midterm targets, while the National Republican Congressional Committee spent $1 million on advertising for Balderson.

But this week, Democrat O’Connor reversed course on Pelosi, telling MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that he now supports the far left San Francisco Democrat for Speaker, as the Columbus Dispatch reported:

After saying for months he would not back Nancy Pelosi as the Democrats’ leader in the House, congressional candidate Danny O’Connor told a national television audience Tuesday night he would back whichever candidate the Democrats put forth.

Questioned repeatedly by MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews if he would support Pelosi if a Democratic speakership depended on his vote, he finally said: “I would support whoever the Democrat Party put foward.”

Previously, O’Connor several times gave the answer he has rendered on the campaign trail and in TV ads: Both parties in the House need new leadership, and “the old ways aren’t working.”

You can watch the video of Matthews’ persistently questioning O’Connor until he admits, in the end, that he would vote for Pelosi as Speaker:

“In the lead-up to a special election that will decide who represents Columbus’s northern suburbs and the surrounding counties in Congress, the two candidates running for the open seat have taken vastly different approaches, the Columbus Dispatch reported on Thursday:

On one hand, Democrat Danny O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder, has spoken to so many media outlets, it is hard to keep track of his appearances. Meanwhile, Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson of Zanesville has stayed relatively quiet, turning down interview requests from The New York Times, The Guardian and even local outlet WOSU, though Balderson has made himself available to The Dispatch.

Balderson and O’Connor’s contrasting styles in dealing with the media underscore the growing partisan divide regarding the public’s view of the media — and how these relatively inexperienced candidates run their campaigns.

Paul Beck, Ohio State political science professor emeritus, said O’Connor has to make the media appearances and subject himself to some extra risk because he is the unknown candidate in a district that has been held by a Republican for 36 years — most recently Pat Tiberi, who resigned earlier this year.

“O’Connor clearly is a challenger there,” said Beck, who lives in the 12th Congressional District. “He is challenging a district that would not ordinarily vote for a Democrat. He has to make inroads into people who are not necessarily loyal Democrats.”

In the most recent poll conducted by O’Connor’s polling firm, GPA Strategies, Balderson has a five point lead over O’Connor, as cleveland.com reported:

The survey, conducted between July 10 and July 13, shows Balderson, a state senator from Zanesville, with 48 percent support among probable voters in the Aug. 7 special election. O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder, polled 43-percent support. The remaining 5 percent of those surveyed favored Green Party nominee Joe Manchik.

A previous poll taken by O’Connor’s campaign in June showed Balderson with a 7-point lead, 48 percent to 41 percent.

O’Connor’s campaign, in a memo, trumpeted the polling as evidence that he is gaining ground on Balderson despite a flurry of attack ads from Balderson and allied Republican groups.

“Both of O’Connor’s polls were conducted by GPA Strategies. The July poll was taken among 600 likely voters via land and cell phone lines; it has a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points. The June 9-12 poll involved 500 likely voters and had a +/- 4.4 percent margin of error,” cleveland.com reported:

Notably, GPA Strategies did not include a top line summary of the poll results, including the demographics and party affiliation of the poll respondents, nor did it include cross tabs.