Primary elections in Ohio, Washington, Michigan, Kansas and Missouri on Tuesday will help gauge whether President Trump is the kiss of death for the GOP. In particular, the special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District will go a long way toward giving us an answer to the critical political question: Does Trump hurt Republicans more than he helps?
Just like in Georgia’s 6th District and Pennsylvania’s 18th District, Democrats in Ohio’s 12th District picked as their nominee a fresh-faced 30-something: Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor. And just like in Georgia and Pennsylvania, Republicans chose a 50-something veteran of state politics: state Sen. Troy Balderson.
Moreover, Trump has embraced Balderson, stumping for him at a raucous rally. Balderson in turn has embraced much of the Trump agenda, including repeal of Obamacare. “As a member of Congress, I would vote to repeal and replace Obamacare once and for all and bring true market reforms to the health care industry that increase competition and drive down the cost of premiums for consumers,” he told the Columbus Dispatch. That’s an odd position in a state that successfully extended Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to about 700,000 Ohioans. He has also adopted the standard National Rifle Association stance on guns: “I do not believe that banning or regulating guns from law-abiding citizens will do anything to end gun violence.” He likewise backs Trump’s wall. Asked about support for “dreamers,” he deflects the question to stress his strong-on-borders bona fides.
In normal political times none of this would be problematic. “Ohio’s 12th District is traditionally Republican. According to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric, it is 14 percentage points more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole,” according to FiveThirtyEight. A classic country-club Republican district in the suburbs of Columbus, this was Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s district for years. Kasich, usually the embodiment of the #NeverTrump movement, nevertheless endorsed Balderson; Trump’s appearance with Balderson, however, underscores that today’s Republicans are captives of the president and his hard-right message. (The Post’s Amber Phillips reports, “Presidents always cast a large shadow in the first congressional election of their tenure. But Trump so completely dominates the political conversation — he even goes out of his way at rallies such as the one he held Saturday in Ohio to make it about himself — that it’s fair to say this race is a referendum on Trump.”)
Often compared to Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who won a Trump district in a special election, O’Connor is running as a moderate on bread-and-butter economic issues, especially health care, and a message deploring Washington gridlock and lack of bipartisanship. He opposes Trump’s wall but doesn’t want to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He favors tax cuts for the middle class but says the tax plan was a give-away to corporations. His response to the Columbus Dispatch on guns was reflective of his I’m-not-a-crazy-lefty approach:
The gun issue, O’Connor said, “cries out for common sense.” He noted his roots growing up in rural western Ohio, where there was hunting and shooting cans on Friday nights.
“None of that is done with assault rifles,” said O’Connor, who now lives in Clintonville. ”‘Red flag’ laws, why don’t we have them? If someone who commits domestic violence wants a gun, they should be denied. Why don’t we have a ban on people on the no-fly list from owning firearms?”
Red flag laws, including one proposed in the Ohio legislature, would allow guns to be temporarily taken from a person until a court decides whether he is a danger to himself or others. Balderson, of Zanesville, opposes the proposal.
“I would not take anybody’s guns,” he said, including those who, after obtaining a gun, are found to have a mental health issue. “If they’re licensed and lawfully allowed to have a gun, we can’t go confiscate it.”
Democrats are prepared to announce victory either way. If they win a district this Republican, they’re looking at a landslide in November. If O’Connor comes close, Democrats will quickly remind us that five dozen seats are less Republican than the Ohio 12th. Navin Nayak, the executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, argues in a memo: “There are 60 districts held by Republicans that are more favorable to Democrats than OH-12 (R+6 or lower). But a closer look at those districts reveals that, with three months to go, Democrats have already succeeded in making all but 4 of those 60 seats competitive.” He continues:
These 56 races provide Democrats with ample opportunity to pick up the 23 seats they need to flip control of the House. Of course, there are roughly another two-dozen seats that are rated as competitive or potentially competitive that are equally or more Republican than OH-12 (R+7 or higher). . . . It is also worth remembering that the OH-12 race was rated Likely R back in March and has consistently trended toward Democrats.
In short, most pollsters and analysts (and some honest Republicans) recognize the Democrats have a very good shot at recapturing the House majority. Tuesday’s results will tell us how big that victory might be and whether a blue wave — able also to sweep out Republican U.S. senators, governors and state lawmakers — is cresting.