It’s down to the wire in a crucial Ohio special election

Tuesday’s vote is seen as bellwether of the blue wave

By Jillian S. Ambroz
Published August 7, 2018 7:30AM (EDT)
Voters wait in line outside a polling place in Cincinnati   (AP/John Minchillo)
Voters wait in line outside a polling place in Cincinnati (AP/John Minchillo)

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The GOP has suddenly gotten spooked about Ohio. In a congressional race that is said to be a bellwether of the might of the Blue Wave, Republicans have done everything possible to try to push their candidate over the finish line in Ohio’s 12th district — Columbus suburbs — special election on Tuesday. At least they can console themselves with that, should they come up short.

They sent in the big guns: Trump held a rally Saturday night where he mentioned the candidate, state Sen. Troy Balderson (R), for a few minutes in a long-winded ramble that was mostly a tirade against the media and the Trump-Kremlin conspiracy investigation and praise of his election win in 2016, where he carried the district by 11 percentage points. Helpful? Hard to say.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made a recent trip to the Buckeye State to campaign for Balderson, as has Vice President Mike Pence.

And then there’s the cash that has been pouring in on his behalf. Some $6 million in outside spending has been spent on ads against his opponent, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor (D-Ohio) and for him, including an ad Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) made in support of his candidacy. Balderson himself has sponsored only 566 ad spots while the Congressional Leadership Fund, a pro-GOP super PAC, has put out more than 2,400 ads on his behalf, according to a recent report by the Wesleyan Media Project.

By comparison, Danny O’Connor has aired more than 1,900 ads, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee adding another 380 spots to the mix.

So, no matter how you look at it, this is a hot race and the GOP is sweating it.

A month ago, polls showed O’Connor trailing Balderson by 11 points in a Republican district that has had a Republican congressional representative for 36 years—including Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), who resigned in January (Kasich held the seat in the 1990s). Now, that same poll, by Monmouth University, conducted the last week of July, had O’Connor at 45% to Balderson’s 46.7%–a statistical dead heat.

The closing of the gap is likened to Rep. Conor Lamb’s (D-Pa.) campaign in March and the presence of a third-party candidate in both special elections. Ohio’s 12th Congressional District has Green Party candidate Jonathan Alan Veley (L) on the ballot, which seems to be pulling from both O’Connor’s and Balderson’s votes. In the end, that could work in O’Connor’s favor. The second factor is Trump’s disapproval rating among Democrats.

As the nation watches this special election so close to the midterms, there are big stakes involved. Ohio could go Democrat, from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D)’s re-election to the gubernatorial race. But more importantly, as a recent report by CNN noted, if Balderson loses, it may signal the Democrats have a real seize on the House control, which could cause some Republican donors to reconsider donations as we get closer to November. Now, that should really spook the GOP.

Primary Preview: Kansas, Missouri, Michigan

Three states hold primaries on Tuesday. Here are the hot races to watch in each state.

Kansas — There are two Congressional battleground races to watch, the 2nd Congressional District and the 3rdCongressional District.

In the 2nd Congressional District, seven candidates are vying for the open seat that Incumbent Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) is vacating. The problem is, nothing really distinguishes the candidates from each other and none is a real heavyweight. Some political trackers have even moved this race from the “likely-Republican” category into “toss-up” territory. Democratic candidate Paul Davis (D) has a healthy war chest of $1.5 million, almost triple the size of the Republican frontrunner, Steve Watkins.

The 3rd Congressional District race has gained national attention as six Democratic hopefuls try to unseat Incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder (R). The district voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election by a margin of 1% and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has put it on its target list for 2018. Labor lawyer Brent Welder (D) has received endorsements from Our Revolution and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, as well as from Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), winner of a high-profile primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District. Lawyer, economic adviser and former mixed martial arts competitor Sharice Davids (D) has the backing of EMILY’s List and would be the first Native American woman in Congress if elected. Meanwhile, Trump tweeted his support of Rep. Yoder and Vice President Pence attended a fundraiser for him.

Michigan – The Republican Senate primary is a heated affair between Sandy Pensler and John James as both look to unseat incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D), who is running uncontested. Army veteran James has the party support and endorsements from Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), as well as Reps. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.) and Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.). He also has the backing of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which spent more than $60,000 on his campaign. But venture capitalist Sandy Pensler has plenty of capital and invested more than $5 million of his own money through the second quarter. Meanwhile, Stabenow has raised more than $15 million to date, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

11th Congressional District — This race is interesting for a few reasons. The seat is open because Trump-critic Rep. Dave Trott (R) called it quits. The district straddles two counties that voted for Hillary Clinton in a state that voted for Trump in 2016. And the Chairman of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel lives in the district. So, there’s a lot of attention and outside funding flooding in. There are five candidates on each side. Business owner and co-chair of Trump’s 2016 Michigan campaign Lena Epstein (R) leads the pack for the GOP contenders with $1.6 million raised. And entrepreneur Suneel Gupta (D), the brother of CNN medical specialist, Sanjay Gupta, is the frontrunner for the Democrats.

13th Congressional District — Special Election to replace seat held by longtime Congressman Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), who left amid sexual harassment allegations. No Republicans are running in the race; just six Democrats. The frontrunner is Detroit state representative Rashida Tlaib, who has raised more than $1 million, followed by Ian Conyers, John Conyers’ great-nephew and a first-term state senator.

Missouri — The races to watch here are the primaries for U.S. Senate. Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) will surely win her primary easily. But Republicans think her seat could be up for grabs in November. The frontrunner for the GOP is Josh Hawley, Missouri Attorney General. He’s got the support from the Republican Party, including Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Before he even declared his candidacy, the PAC Club for Growth reportedly raised $10 million to support his run, according to an article by Politico.

In June, the Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with McConnell, announced it was reserving $10.5 million in ad dollars to boost Hawley, according to an article by The Hill. That same article has Democrats running ads claiming Hawley took money from a campaign donor, then looked the other way when the donor was slapped with an ethics violation.

Hawley also took money from employees, individuals and PACs affiliated with the Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., which has owned local assets of Ride the Ducks operation and is named in a $100 million federal lawsuit over the terrible accident on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Herschend donated $10,800 to Joh Hawley’s Senate Campaign. As Attorney General, Hawley has opened a criminal investigation into the recent Duck Boat accident. And Sen. McCaskill has introduced legislation seeking safety improvements for the Duck Boats following the July accident that killed 17 passengers. Should Hawley win the primary, as he surely will, it could make for some heated debates before the general election.

Additional reporting by Sarah Okeson.

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2018 Blue Wave Dc Report Ohio Special Elections