Dear Commons Community,
Democrat Danny O’Connor faces Republican State Sen. Troy Balderson, in a special election in Ohio’s 12th District today to fill a seat that Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) vacated in January. Regardless of the outcome, O’Connor and Balderson are due to face off again in November. This makes the concrete stakes of the race relatively low. But as with the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th in March, partisans on both sides are watching the outcome closely for still more evidence of a Democratic midterm wave. As reported by The Huffington Post:
“By all rights, Ohio’s 12th, a vast C-shaped district gerrymandered to include well-off parts of Columbus, its affluent northern suburbs and parts of the industrial towns Mansfield and Zanesville, should be safe GOP territory.
Tiberi was re-elected there by 37 percentage points in 2016; Trump won the district by a more modest 11-point margin.
As a result, the surprising tightness of the race is all the more disquieting for Republicans, who have been forced to spend millions on Balderson’s behalf and deploy their top surrogates to stump for him.
The latest public poll has Balderson up by a single point, a decline from a 10-point lead he held a month ago in the same survey. In the hopes of changing that dynamic, Donald Trump held a rally in the district for Balderson on Saturday night.
“If the GOP were to lose this race, who would they blame or what would they blame? It would have to be a reflection on the Republican brand,” said Herb Asher, a political science professor at the Ohio State University.
Asher, who has donated to O’Connor’s campaign, argued that even a narrow Republican win would be “another indication that Democrats are more competitive in districts that have not been hospitable to them.”
Although he prefers the term “pragmatic,” O’Connor is, by contemporary standards, a moderate. He does not support single-payer health care, emphasizing instead his commitment to protecting the Affordable Care Act. And if elected, he plans to join the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, whose PAC donated $4,000 to his bid.
But while just a few years ago, moderate Democrats often embraced the need for a bipartisan “Grand Bargain” that would combine Social Security and Medicare cuts with tax hikes, O’Connor has made defending the two popular programs from any cuts a key plank of his campaign. He has benefited, in this regard, from Balderson’s explicit openness to raising the eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries.
“Earned benefits are one of the most important things we can take care of,” O’Connor told HuffPost. “We want to encourage people to work, we want to encourage people to be a part of our economy, and when we cut their benefits and we don’t fight for them, we send a message that we don’t value what they do every day.”
And like Conor Lamb, a Democrat who won the March special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th, O’Connor has centered his critique of the tax cuts on their potential effect on social insurance programs.
“Troy Balderson supports a corporate tax giveaway that racks up $2 trillion in debt, forcing massive tax hikes on our kids or deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare,” an O’Connor campaign ad declares.
O’Connor, powered by a surge of small donations ― his campaigns says that more than 97 percent of contributions are under $100 ― has also outraised Balderson, forcing national GOP groups to pump in millions to make up the difference.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent $1.3 million to elect Balderson. And the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has spent nearly $2.5 million to keep the seat in GOP hands.
Outside GOP-affiliated groups initially focused on touting the Republican tax cuts, but they have since pivoted to putting out ads with base-triggering buzzwords about immigration and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whom O’Connor has said he would not support for House speaker.
“The liberal resistance is demanding open borders. They want to eliminate the law enforcement agency that enforces our immigration laws, opening America’s doors to more crime and drugs,” a Congressional Leadership Fund ad against O’Connor declares as black-and-white images of “Abolish ICE” protesters, criminals in hoodies and a heroin needle flash across the screen.
“And they want Danny O’Connor’s help,” the ad continues, featuring a photo of O’Connor between Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Republicans are also seeking to capitalize on a July 25 interview O’Connor did on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” Pressed seven times by Matthews on his support for Pelosi, O’Connor conceded that if the Democratic majority was at stake, he’d back “whoever the Democratic Party puts forward.”
Footage from the interview is featured in a new Congressional Leadership Fund ad against O’Connor ― and in a response ad from O’Connor calling the tape selectively edited.
Terry Casey, a longtime Republican strategist based in Columbus, said the interview might make Matthews “the Republican of the year.”
“It gave Republicans the cement and the glue to show O’Connor was close and tight with Nancy Pelosi,” he said.
All eyes will be on the election results in Ohio’s 12th District tonight!