- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2018

President Trump’s political reputation is on the line in a special congressional election in Ohio, where the White House is trying to pull Republican Troy Balderson over the finish line Tuesday.

The race, likely the last election for Congress before November, will give the winner a chance to claim momentum headed into the midterm elections for control of the House and Senate.

Democrats are enthused about the chances for Danny J. O’Connor, who is expected to perform well in a district that went overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump in 2016 and has voted for Republicans since the 1980s.

“This is not just about Democrats being energized, but independent, swing voters and more moderate Republicans just not reacting well to Donald Trump,” said David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democrats. “It is a really gerrymandered district that is very close. We feel good right now by that fact alone. The Republicans have had to pull out all the stops.”

The biggest of those stops was President Trump, who campaigned with Mr. Balderson over the weekend, casting the race as a referendum on his 18 months in the White House and saying he has delivered on his promises to bolster the economy and strengthen the nation’s borders.

“We are going to have a tremendous victory for Troy,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s really tough. He’s really smart. He never stops working … He is never going to let you down.”

Reprising a familiar GOP attack, Mr. Trump warned that Mr. O’Connor would be a stooge for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, glossing over how the Democrat has called for new leadership in the party.

The president’s rally came on the heels of recent visits from Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

It also followed a barrage of outside pro-Balderson spending from GOP-aligned groups, including the National Republican Campaign Committee, the Republican National Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is airing a television ad in which Gov. John Kasich urges voters to pull the lever for his fellow Republican.

The sense of urgency about the contest has led some to draw comparisons with the March special election in southeastern Pennsylvania, where Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence rallied support behind Rick Saccone only to see the Republican lose to Democrat Conor Lamb in a House district that Mr. Trump won by 20 points and the GOP had held for more than a decade.

Blaine Kelly, spokesman for the Ohio GOP, said there “is no legitimate comparison” between the two special elections.

“Not only are the circumstances of the election completely different, so are the candidates,” Mr. Kelly said. “Troy Balderson is a common-sense conservative endorsed by both President Trump and Gov. John Kasich, and Danny O’Connor is a dishonest liberal disguised as a moderate.”

Jenna Knepper, a Balderson campaign spokeswoman, said the Republican has done what it takes to win.

Troy Balderson has united Republicans, raised the resources to share his message, and has a strong record of accomplishments he’s running on, including balancing the budget, cutting taxes and working to attract over half a million jobs to the state of Ohio,” Ms. Knepper said.

The House seat in the 12th Congressional District opened in January after GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi announced he was stepping down to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable.

Mr. Tiberi won the seat in the 2000 election and defended it eight times, aided by the GOP-drawn congressional map put into place in 2011.

He won re-election in 2016 by 36 points, while Mr. Trump carried the district by 11 points over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

But as voters prepare to go to the polls, the Balderson-O’Connor race is a coin flip.

A Monmouth University survey released last week showed Mr. O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder, has nearly erased the 10-point lead that Mr. Balderson, a state senator, had last month. The polling also found Democrats and liberals are more interested in the race than Republicans and conservatives.

In addition, Mr. O’Connor has closed out the race with stronger fundraising than Mr. Balderson, collecting nearly $470,000 more in the latest campaign finance filings, which generated some grumbling in the GOP ranks about Mr. Balderson.

Mr. Pepper said the tight race bodes well for Democrats in November.

“The Republicans have been able to focus on this in a way they won’t be able to in November,” Mr. Pepper said. “So the fact that is a struggle here, and you project that out, there are many more districts across the country that are far more winnable for Democrats than this one.”

At Saturday’s rally, Mr. Trump was more optimistic about the GOP’s prospects in November.

“They’re talking about this blue wave. I don’t think so,” Mr. Trump said. “I think it could be a red wave.”

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