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Troy Balderson, Danny O’Connor make final pitches to rally 12th District voters

August 6, 2018

Troy Balderson, Danny O’Connor make final pitches to rally 12th District voters

COLUMBUS, Ohio—As Election Day nears in what’s expected to be the closest congressional race Ohio has seen in years, both major-party candidates for the 12th Congressional District agree the outcome will depend on one thing: turnout.

With turnout for Tuesday’s special election expected to be low, the race between Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O’Connor isn’t hanging on which candidate can win the most swing voters. Rather, it’s a contest to see who can get their party’s faithful to show up.

The 12th District, which runs from Mansfield down to north Columbus and east to Zanesville, has been won by a Democrat exactly once since 1940. It covers some of the most Republican areas of the entire state.

Democrat Danny O’Connor (right) talks to a supporter outside the Franklin County Board of Elections on Friday. O’Connor needs a landslide win in Franklin County to win the Aug. 7 special election for Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. (Jeremy Pelzer, cleveland.com)

But when Republican Pat Tiberi stepped down in January, Democrats suddenly had at least a chance of flipping the district blue. While President Donald Trump won the district by 11 percentage points in 2016, a recent poll shows more voters there now disapprove of his job performance than approve of it. 

To win, O’Connor needs at least some of those Republicans to support him. While campaigning door-to-door in New Albany for O’Connor on Wednesday, campaign volunteer Jessica von Zastrow (accompanied by a cleveland.com reporter) found at least a couple of Republicans who are planning to do just that.

“We’ll most likely all vote for him,” said David Curren, an Ohio State University student whose parents were listed as Republicans on von Zastrow’s list. “My dad already said he doesn’t like the other guy [Balderson], because he was going to cut Social Security and Medicare.” (That’s the claim made in anti-Balderson TV ads, though Balderson denies he’ll cut those programs).

However, there are a lot of Republicans in the district who agree with Balderson’s pledges to support Trump’s agenda, including building a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Trump himself came to Delaware County – a key GOP stronghold – to rally support for Balderson, a state senator who lives about 90 minutes away in Zanesville.

“What I need you to do is go there [to Washington] and vote with our president and get that wall built,” said Karen Donnelly of Westerville to Balderson as he campaigned door-to-door on Friday.

But Balderson told a reporter who tagged along that he’s “definitely not” a supporter of Trump’s plan to provide emergency government aid to U.S. farmers hurt by a growing trade war that Trump started. 

Though the race -- as the final special election before the November midterms -- has garnered national attention, O’Connor hasn’t had as much star power come in to the district on his behalf. The highest-profile politicians to visit have been 2016 presidential candidate Martin O’Malley and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

But talking to voters outside the Franklin County Board of Elections early-voting site late Friday afternoon, O’Connor – the Franklin County recorder – said the thing that’s surprised him the most is how nice people in the district are.

“If I knock on a door and it’s a Republican door, there’s an open-mindedness that you wouldn’t expect when you turn on the news,” he said.

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