Republican Troy Balderson has declared victory in the special election for Ohio’s 12th congressional district, with unofficial results showing a thin margin of victory in the normally solid-red territory.
Balderson held onto a narrow lead of 1,754 votes, a margin of less than 1 percent over Democratic candidate Danny O'Connor. President Trump declared a "great victory" for Balderson, though as of early Wednesday, the Associated Press had yet to officially call the race.
"I am honored for the opportunity to represent Ohio's 12th Congressional District," Balderson said in a statement just after midnight on Wednesday. "I will work relentlessly for everyone in this district."
Unofficial totals from the Ohio Secretary of State's Office show Balderson with 101,574 votes, compared to 99,820 votes for O'Connor. Green Party candidate Joe Manchik garnered 1,127 votes.
However, county board of elections reported thousands of ballots have yet to be counted, including 3,435 provisional ballots and 5,048 absentee ballots. Counties have 10 days to calculate those votes. An automatic recount is triggered if the final margin sinks under 0.5 percent.
At his election night party late Tuesday, O'Connor refused to concede the race, calling it a "tie ballgame." He says his campaign will request a recount.
"We always knew this was going to be a close race, and while we don't know the results quite yet, I know that this campaign left it all on the field," said O'Connor in a statement. "No matter what happens next, I'm proud to stand beside the thousands of volunteers who have made this campaign possible."
When I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting 64 to 36. That was not good. After my speech on Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better. Now Troy wins a great victory during a very tough time of the year for voting. He will win BIG in Nov.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2018
If the results hold, the 57-year-old state representative will finish out the term of former Rep. Pat Tiberi, who stepped down in January.
Balderson held off a strong challenge from the Franklin County Recorder, who made impressive headway into a district that’s been a Republican stronghold for almost four decades. The 12th District was represented by Gov. John Kasich for 18 years, and for another 18 years after that by Tiberi. In 2016, the district went for Trump by 11 points.
But Tiberi’s early resignation left an open seat and a surprisingly competitive contest. The 12th District’s relatively affluent and educated populace made it a target for Democratic attempts at reclaiming Congress.
Tuesday's election saw a voter turnout of 37 percent, surprisingly high for a special election in August with no other items on the ballot.
Balderson won every district but Franklin County, where O'Connor garnered 65 percent of the vote. That's a few points better than Hillary Clinton performed in 2016.
Ultimately, Balderson had Delaware County to thank for his victory. In the district's second-most-populous county, he received 54 percent of the vote to O'Connor's 46. Still, that ended up being a drop from Trump's 16-point victory in 2016.
Balderson campaigned with the full force of local and national Republicans behind him. His challenge was to toe a line between conservative Republicans, who remain committed to Trump, and centrist Republicans, who still support Kasich, a frequent Trump critic.
Over the past few weeks, Balderson held campaign events with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, and aired TV spots featuring Kasich. His ads highlighted Republican tax cuts, boasted plans to “build the darn wall” and declared he would end sanctuary cities.
O’Connor, in contrast, campaigned on “kitchen table issues” like health care and Social Security. He stayed away from directly attacking either Trump or Kasich, and attempted to distance himself from national Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
In an election day tweet, Trump urged Ohioans to “vote today for Troy Balderson for Congress. His opponent, controlled by Nancy Pelosi, is weak on Crime, the Border, Military, Vets, your 2nd Amendment – and will end your Tax Cuts.”
Though O’Connor outraised Balderson and outspent him on local airwaves – investing $2.25 million on advertising compared to Balderson’s $507,000 – national Republican groups dropped an additional $4 million into the race. The late push paid off.
Balderson and O’Connor will face off again in November’s general election. Whoever wins that race will represent the district for the following two years.