If you’ve followed politics for a while you’ve noticed that the political press is addicted to horse races and to unexpected an novel outcomes. Most political writers are smart but if you watch the way they jump on every snippet of information as heralding some BIG THING you wonder about their intelligence and honesty.
This election the major narrative in the political press is that Trump’s personal approval rating will cause the GOP to lose control of the House of Representatives. Given the realities of how districts are drawn and the absence of a unifying event among a demographic with a high propensity to vote, like ObamaCare, this premise seems to be farfetched. It could happen but you’d have to place the odds at less than 50-50. Yesterday, there was a special election held in Ohio’s Twelfth Congressional District to replace Pat Tiberi who resigned in January 2018.
The election featured GOP state senator Troy Balderson against Democrat apparatchik Danny O’Connor. And naturally the race was HUGELY MEANINGFUL.
Tuesday’s special election in a central Ohio congressional district will provide tangible evidence of where the battle for the House stands three months out from the midterms https://t.co/oYqc8SGiSj
— POLITICO (@politico) August 7, 2018
OH-12 is a R+7 district that Donald Trump won 52-48 and Pat Tiberi won 66-34 in 2016. The GOP primary was messy with Tiberi endorsing Balderson and the Freedom Caucus supporting Melanie Leneghan.
As of this writing, it looks like that Balderson won the race by the skin of his teeth. There are about 3400 provisional ballots outstanding but statistically they should not tip the race:
Troy Balderson Republican 101,574 50.2%
Danny O’Connor Democrat 99,820 49.3
Joe Manchik Green 1,127 0.6
This has the political media in an utter tizzy. I’m not picking on Sean Trende here, I’m just using what I think will be proven to be overwrought and Chicken-Little-esque language:
Start with Ohio. This is a Republican district. Overall it leans Republican by seven points. There are around 60 GOP-held districts that are less Republican than this one. A Democrat has won this area of the state just once since the Great Depression. The last time this seat was open, in 2000, the Republican won by 10 points, and the district has been made substantially more Republican since then. In short, Democrats had no business being competitive here, even with a good candidate in O’Connor (pictured).
What happened here? Two things. First, turnout was down in the rural portions of the district, compared to the urban areas. Franklin County (Columbus) cast around 35 percent of the vote Tuesday, as compared to 32 percent in 2016. That’s not a massive difference, but it is indicative of greater energy on the Democratic side.
Second, the Democrats’ vote share was up in the urban and suburban areas. Balderson ran narrowly behind Rep. Pat Tiberi’s 2016 showing in the rural areas, receiving, for example, 70 percent of the vote in Morrow County to Tiberi’s 80 percent. But that can be ascribed to Tiberi’s lack of a serious opponent, and isn’t that far off of Trump’s 75 percent in that county.
Franklin County, however, was a different story. This portion of the district contains a lot of the older suburbs of Columbus – places people moved to in the 1970s and 1980s, but which are increasingly difficult to distinguish from the city – as well as some “1950s” suburbs and university areas. Tiberi won 59 percent of the vote here; Balderson won 35 percent.
This is how Balderson performed as compared to the past two presidential elections:
Image from https://twitter.com/SteveKornacki/status/1027183369547902983
Overall, Balderson’s vote parallels Trump’s percentage take very closely.
Here are the main takeaways from this election. First, it was a special election held in August with another election right around the corner in November. Even with the all the media attention and the advertising money poured in, there were just over 200K votes cast. In 2016, by contrast, in 2016 there were 377K votes cast and Tiberi, himself, got over 250K. In a district that has been reliably Republican since 1938, there doesn’t seem to be a great sense of urgency. The second point is that this election took place with Democrat anti-Trump enthusiasm at its peak. Yes, the Democrats did turn out votes but this is the best they could do with the DNC focused on this race.
As the old saying goes, “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.” But barring some sort of catastrophe, 2018 looks to be a typical mid-term election. There will be GOP losses but not enough to flip the House. I doubt that Democrat turnout is going to be any greater than it was in any other year.
The OH-12 election looks like a best case Democrat result. High intensity and low turnout let them close a 7 point registration gap. They will not be able to replicate this is a general election.
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