3 Takeaways from the Ohio Special Election for the Midterms

Anti-Trump energy remains high, and Republicans aren’t giving up on Pelosi attacks

Republican Troy Balderson, above, is leading Democrat Danny O’Connor in the special election for Ohio’s 12th District. (Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

The special election in Ohio’s 12th District remained too close to call Wednesday, with Republican Troy Balderson narrowly leading Democrat Danny O’Connor.

But the competitiveness of the race in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s contest and the tighter-than-expected margin offered several takeaways for the next three months.


1. Anti-Trump energy remains high

Republicans had to spend a lot of money to barely hold a seat that President Donald Trump won by 11 points and former Rep. Pat Tiberi last won by nearly 40 points. That means the Democratic enthusiasm we’ve been hearing so much about since Trump’s election is alive and well heading into the November midterms.

What We Learned From the Last Special Election Before November

But it’s not just about Democratic voters feeling energized; the closeness of Tuesday’s race in such a GOP district is also symptomatic of the dislike Republican and independent voters, especially in suburban areas, have for the president, who campaigned for Balderson late in the race.

It’s true that special elections, especially those held in the dead of summer, are special when it comes to turnout and resources, but even if the November rematch between Balderson, a state representative, and O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder, isn’t as competitive, there are still enough districts where Trump earned a smaller percentage of the vote than he did in Ohio’s 12th District that Democrats could flip those seats and win the majority, and then some. 

2. Republicans are nervous

Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC that spent the most boosting Balderson (more than $3.3 million), congratulated Balderson Tuesday night, but its executive director also had a stern warning for other GOP candidates: step up the fundraising.

CLF has had to prop up Republican nominees in nearly every special House election since Trump’s election, but that’s not something the super PAC can do for an entire House battlefield in November.

“While we won tonight, this remains a very tough political environment and moving forward, we cannot expect to win tough races when our candidate is being outraised,” CLF executive director Corry Bliss said in a statement.

“Any Republican running for Congress getting vastly outraised by an opponent needs to start raising more money,” he added.

3. Get ready to hear more about Pelosi

If you were already tired of the cookie-cutter ads tying Democratic House candidates to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, you should probably unplug your TV for the next three months.

Because they’re coming, and quite possibly to a district near you (if they haven’t already).

Republicans ran this playbook against O’Connor. He blunted those attacks at first, saying over and over again that he wouldn’t be backing Pelosi for speaker. But a fumbled MSNBC interview, in which O’Connor admitted he’d back whomever Democrats put up for speaker, breathed new life into those GOP attacks and the party clearly thinks they worked.

Tuesday night also saw a steady stream of statements from the National Republican Congressional Committee and CLF attacking Democratic primary winners in competitive races for being likely Pelosi allies in Congress. That means Democrats are probably going to spend even more time talking about how they’re not voting for her.

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