Both Sides Upbeat in Too-Close-To-Call Special Election in Ohio

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By Adora Namigadde and Nick Evans, WOSU

The widely-watched special election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District is too close to call.  

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted released the information after Republican Troy Balderson ended Tuesday with a razor-thin lead of about 1,800 votes over Democrat Danny O'Connor.

O’Connor’s campaign is pinning its hopes on absentee and provisional ballots. With at least 8,000 votes remaining to be counted, there’s still an outside chance for him to close the gap. If, when election officials hold the official canvass later this month, the gap between Balderson and O’Connor is half a percentage point or less, it will trigger an automatic recount.

The Nation Watches

The race for a coveted open U.S. House seat is viewed as a barometer of voter sentiment heading into November's high-stakes general election. 

Balderson fans roared as the Republican state senator ascended the stage late Tuesday night. He faced O’Connor in a special election to finish the term of Representative Pat Tiberi, who resigned in January.

Both President Trump and Vice President Pence visited Central Ohio to promote Balderson in the weeks leading up to the election.

“I’d like to thank President Trump cheers I’d also like to take the time to thank Vice President Pence for coming into town,” Balderson said.

The 12th congressional district seat has been held by a Republican for 77 of the last 80 years. But strong Democratic turnout transformed the race into a nail-biter. As of midnight Tuesday, the race hadn’t been called. But President Trump, and other Republicans, declared victory on Balderson’s behalf.

Democrats Remain Energized for November Rematch

Before Democrat Danny O’Connor took the stage at a Westerville union hall Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, a Democrat from Columbus, stepped in to rev up the crowd.

“I only have one speech for tonight and it’s a speech of victory,” Beatty said. “Tonight, tonight we put Ohio on the map again because Danny O’Connor did the impossible.”

O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder, certainly did make a strong impression.

In all seven of the district’s counties, O’Connor secured a higher percentage of votes than Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 presidential election.

That fits with his underlying strategy to make inroads with suburban Republican voters turned off the by the president’s bluster while driving turnout in deep blue Franklin county. O’Connor may not have secured a victory on election night, but he didn’t concede either.

“I tell you what, I tell you what can you believe how close this is? We are in a tied ball game, and you made this possible,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor closed the night shouting himself hoarse, putting the focus exactly where Balderson did — on the next, and perhaps more consequential contest, in November.

“We went door to door, we went house to house we made our case for change, we’re going to make that case tomorrow," O'Connor said. "We’re not stopping now. Tomorrow we rest, and then we keep fighting through to November.

Come November, Ohio’s 12th congressional district will likely once again be a toss-up, but with every house seat in the country on the ballot it may not attract the same national attention.

Copyright WOSU, 2018; The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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