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Balderson, O’Connor locked in House race too close to call

August 8, 2018
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Troy Balderson, Republican candidate for Ohio's 12th Congressional District, greets a crowd of supporters during an election night party Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Newark, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A congressional special election in Ohio on Tuesday was too close to call and could end up sending Democrat Danny O’Connor and Republican Troy Balderson, who was backed by President Donald Trump, into an automatic recount.

Balderson, a two-term state senator, and O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder, were separated by a small margin late Tuesday. Green Party candidate Joe Manchik won only a small number of votes and was far behind.

Trump declared victory on Balderson’s behalf on Twitter, giving credit to his 11th-hour campaign swing through the district he had won by 11 points in the 2016 presidential election.

“After my speech on Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better,” he tweeted. “Now Troy wins a great victory during a very tough time of year for voting.”

But it was unclear whether an automatic recount might be triggered once provisional ballots were counted.

With Ohio election officials done counting, Balderson had only a slight lead over O’Connor in the central Ohio congressional district formerly held by Republican Pat Tiberi. But there were 3,435 provisional ballots and 5,048 absentee ballots left to be reviewed.

That’s enough for O’Connor to potentially pick up enough votes to come within the 0.5 percent that would force a mandatory recount.

Voters in Ohio's 12th Congressional District are deciding between President Trump's preferred candidate and his Democratic opponent in a special election that could provide clues about whether Democrats will retake the U.S. House in November. (Aug. 7)

The Associated Press does not declare winners in races that go to automatic recounts.

The race in suburban Columbus was one of the most-watched contests in Tuesday’s primaries as O’Connor, 31, tried to pick up a seat long held by the GOP. It was viewed as a test of voter sentiment before November’s high-stakes general election.

The close finish in itself marks an accomplishment for O’Connor and the Democrats and a blow to Trump, whose party would normally have been expected to easily win the Republican-heavy district.

“All of us are fighting for our country. We are fighting for a better America,” a visibly emotional O’Connor told supporters on Tuesday. “We went door to door. We went house to house. We made our case for change. We’re going to make that case tomorrow. We’re not stopping now.”

Balderson, 57, also vowed to fight on as the two move from Tuesday’s contest for Tiberi’s unexpired term into a general election for a full two-year term.

“America is on the right path, and we’re going to keep it going that way,” he told supporters. “It’s time to get to work. Over the next three months, I’m going to do everything I can to keep America great again, so that when we come back here in November — get ready, we gotta come back here in November — I have earned your vote for a second time.”

Gov. John Kasich, a Trump detractor who had endorsed Balderson toward the end of the race, congratulated him, but not without urging the GOP to proceed with caution.

“It was a close election, and that should be a warning to Republicans that they should be uniters, not dividers, and end the chaos,” the Republican governor said.

A key issue in the race was the Republican tax cuts, which Balderson embraced in seeking to win the state’s wealthiest district and O’Connor criticized as a threat to Medicare and Social Security.

A win for Balderson would buoy Republicans concerned over how Trump might be playing among voters, especially in political battleground states such as Ohio. A victory for O’Connor in a perennial bellwether state would elate Democrats hoping that a backlash against Trump could cause voters to punish congressional Republicans this fall by cutting into or overturning their congressional majorities.

The seat was left open when Tiberi retired in January. Tiberi, who also backed Balderson, was among a group of establishment Republicans who left office or announced their retirements from Congress under Trump.

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