Ohio’s 12th District Special Election: What You Need To Know

Aug 7, 2018

Tuesday is election day, but there's really only one contest to watch: Ohio's 12th congressional district.

Democrat Danny O’Connor faces Republican Troy Balderson in a closer-than-expected race, in a district that’s been reliably red for almost 40 years. Tuesday’s special election, the last contest before November’s national midterms, has drawn national attention and investment as Democrats push for a “blue wave” to retake the U.S. House.

Here’s what you need to know about today’s election, whether you’re voting or watching from afar.

How To Vote

Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. WOSU will offer live election results once polls close.

Find your polling location here, through the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. Before you go, make sure that you’re still registered to vote.

When you leave for the polls, remember to bring a form of acceptable identification. You can bring an up-to-date Ohio driver’s license or state ID, military or government ID, an original or physical copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or other government document – as long as they have your name and current address. Find the full list of acceptable ID here.

If you forgot or don’t have access to those IDs, don’t worry! You can still submit a provisional ballot.

Early voting began on July 10 and wrapped up Monday at 2 p.m.

The Candidates

Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor is running on the Democratic side. The 31-year-old, who’s never held a legislative position before, enthusiastically campaigned for “kitchen table issues” like health care and infrastructure. Democrats hope O’Connor can capitalize on voter enthusiasm amid historically low favorability ratings for President Trump. He even won the endorsement of the traditionally-right-leaning Columbus Dispatch.

O’Connor has repeatedly criticized the Republican tax cuts and recent trade policies, which have had a big impact on Ohio. Though O’Connor spoke out against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, calling for “new leadership,” he kept away from attacking either Trump or Gov. John Kasich.

Read WOSU’s full interview with O’Connor here.

State Rep. Troy Balderson is the GOP candidate. The 57-year-old Zanesville native managed to unite conservative and mainstream Republicans under his banner, drawing in-person endorsements from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. He also got the thumbs up from Kasich and former Rep. Pat Tiberi, both of whom previously held the 12th District seat.

Balderson will hope to tap into Trump voter enthusiasm and Kasich's high approval ratings to boost his turnout. He's pushed for reforming Social Security and Medicare, while campaigning on the GOP tax cuts and social issues like immigration. He did criticize the Trump administration’s tariffs, saying they hurt Ohio farmers.

Read WOSU’s full interview with Balderson here.

What’s So Special About The 12th District?

Ohio’s 12th congressional district is a heavily gerrymandered stretch of land, touching the city and suburbs of Columbus, rural areas east to Zanesville and the foothills of Appalachia.

Republicans controlled the seat for almost four decades – it was held by Kasich for 18 years and then by Tiberi for another 18. In 2016, the district voted for Trump 53-42 percent and reelected Tiberi by a large margin.

But Tiberi resigned in frustration in January, leaving the seat wide open. Because of that, O’Connor and Balderson will face off twice: Once on Tuesday to fill Tiberi’s unexpired term, and again in November to fill the next term.

Despite the 12th District’s solidly red status, O’Connor turned the race into a dead heat, with recent polls showing him tied with Balderson. Early voters gave O’Connor a solid lead heading into election day, though that’ll likely disappear, and political analysts at Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the contest a “toss-up.”

That means Tuesday’s election is still anyone’s game.