President Trump is coming to Central Ohio this weekend to campaign for Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson before the upcoming August 7 special election.
The race between Balderson and Democratic Franklin County Recorder Danny O'Connor to represent the 12th Congressional District has been neck-and-neck, despite the fact that the seat has been a Republican stronghold for decades.
Balderson attributes the close race to timing.
"I think the special election is one of the biggest reasons, having an election August 7. It's now an open seat. And I think that this has energized both parties," Balderson says. "Our main focus is getting the vote out because people are doing things in the summer."
The results of next Tuesday's election will determine who finishes the term of Rep. Pat Tiberi, who resigned in January. But the two candidates will face off again in the November general election to see who represents the Central Ohio district for the next two years.
Though he is gaining the president's in-person endorsement this weekend—and enjoyed the presence of Vice President Mike Pence at a rally on Monday—Balderson says he doesn't support all of the president's trade policies. Balderson points out his agricultural background and calls farmers one of his top priorities.
"I have farming in my past. I mean, that's what we did as a family," Balderson says. "I know the impact it's having on farmers right now, I don't support that."
Like O'Connor, Balderson says he's not interested in talking about his potential vote for Speaker of the House. Ohio's Rep. Jim Jordan announced he'll mount a conservative challenge for the position, but he's been dogged by allegations that he ignored abuse while at Ohio State. Balderson has declined to say if he'd support Jordan's bid.
A Monmouth University poll of potential voters out Wednesday shows Balderson with only the slightest of leads over O'Connor, 44-43 percent, a gap that's closed quickly over the last few weeks. Joe Manchik is also running in the special election as the Green Party candidate, but the poll pegs him at 2 percent.
Balderson talked to WOSU's Clare Roth about his views on trade policies, reforming Social Security and Medicare, and on the Speaker race. (WOSU interiewed O'Connor on July 30.)
Clare Roth: Troy Balderon, thanks so much for talking with me.
Troy Balderson: Thank you for having me, Clare, it's a pleasure.
Clare Roth: You're running for a seat that's considered bedrock Republican turf. It has not elected a Democrat since the 1980s—before that, the 1930s. But most polls still say that this race is a toss-up. Why do you think that is?
Troy Balderson: I think the special election is one of the biggest reasons. Having an election in August 7, it's now an open seat. And I think that this has energized both parties. So, you know, our main focus is getting the vote out because people are doing things in the summer. There are some fairs going on in the district in the next week, there's vacations that are ending, a couple of school districts are starting. So I think the timing of this has, you know, put some barriers on it that people aren't aware of it.
Clare Roth: You criticize Danny O'Connor for waffling on whether he would support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. Would you vote for Rep. Jim Jordan for speaker?
Troy Balderson: I am not in this—my number one focus for this race is to win August 7 and to win again in November. I'm not even thinking about a Speaker's race right now. You know, that comes in December. I've got to win first. My number one focus is to win August 7 and then to win in November.
Clare Roth: Sure, but you criticized your opponent for not being sure of who he wanted. So who do you want for Speaker?
Troy Balderson: I'm not going make that decision because I'm running to win August 7. Danny O'Connor brought Nancy Pelosi up first. I didn't. Danny O'Connor announced at the very beginning his campaign that he was not going to support Nancy Pelosi. I've never brought it—I've done this before in House races. My focus is not on the Speaker's race. My focus is on Troy Balderson's August 7 race first, and that's my number one priority.
Clare Roth: What type of qualities do you want in your Speaker? Who do you want leading your party in the House of Representatives if you win?
Troy Balderson: Again, I'm not even thinking about what—I want, I'm going to focus on August 7. This is not about a Speaker's race right now or who I'm going to choose for Speaker. This is about me winning an election in August and then doing it again in November.
Clare Roth: Turning to policy for a moment, retaliatory tariffs from President Trump's trade policy have hit Ohio farmers hard. At the same time, steel manufacturers in the States stand to gain from that policy. Do you support it?
Troy Balderson: Support the whole tariff issue?
Clare Roth: Support President Trump's trade policy.
Troy Balderson: You know, I don't support all of it, no. I'm a farmer. I have farming in my past. I mean, that's what we did as a family. So I understand. I can go getting in that combine with the farmer. That's the beauty of what I can do in this district and have that conversation. I know the impact that it's having on farmers right now. I don't support that.
And you know, it's important that they reach out to me and have that communication with me and the issues that they're concerned with. I mean, pork producers are very concerned about the tariff issue right now also. So those are the people. What matters is the 12th Congressional District. That's my number one focus on the tariffs, and if it's going to affect the 12th Congressional District, then it's gonna affect me and concern me.
Clare Roth: Do you think they're doing poorly for the 12th Congressional District, then?
Troy Balderson: I don't know the whole impact yet. I think some segments of it are, obviously the ag is being impacted right now greatly. But as far as having all issues, I'm not aware, but farming is very big. It's the number one industry in the state of Ohio. And we forget that sometimes. So, right now, understanding ag issues, having grown up with ag issues, that's what I'm standing with right now and that's my number one priority.
Clare Roth: You've faced criticism over your stance on Medicare and Social Security. Would you support cuts to those programs or raising the age for Medicare eligibility?
Troy Balderson: I want to reform. We have to reform Social Security and Medicare. It has to be done. It will be insolvent in 2026. My parents rely and live on Social Security. I'm going to protect that. But I also want to protect my son's future. My son also wants Social Security and Medicare and I want that to be available to him. So we must reform this system with Social Security and Medicare.
And that's what I want to focus on, because I want it to be solvent. It has to be solvent. For something that's going to be insolvent in 2026, that's not that far away. We got to get to work on it.
Clare Roth: What does that reformation entail. Does that entail cuts? Does it entail raising the age?
Troy Balderson: You know, I've got to look at the whole picture, and I've not got in—I know what we've done here in the state of Ohio. My record is there. We had an $8 billion deficit in the state of Ohio in 2010 when Gov. Kasich was elected governor. I served on the House Finance Committee. I rolled my sleeves up and I got to work. So I'll know what to do when I get to D.C. to address that issue.
Clare Roth: We've heard a lot about what some experts predict will be a "blue wave" this fall. Those same experts say this election, the special election, could be the start of that. Does that put any pressure on you to build momentum for the Republican Party going into November's election?
Troy Balderson: No pressure. The pressure is on the 12th Congressional District and me myself, but I'm representing the 12th Congressional District. This is not a nationalized race. This is about the people that live and work in the 12th Congressional District, and that's where I'm going to make it.
Clare Roth: If you lose, what will change about your strategy going into November's election?
Troy Balderson: I'll focus on that after the election of August 7.
Clare Roth: Fair. Troy Balderson, thank you so much for your time.
Troy Balderson: Thank you, Clare.