With voting looming in the special election to represent Ohio’s 12th Congressional District in Washington, Republican Troy Balderson made a campaign stop in Zanesville, Ohio, on Monday evening. His goal was to gin up enthusiasm in his hometown — to offset where his opponent, Danny O’Connor, was expected to do well.
“I got to have 85 percent,” Balderson said, referring to the amount of support he needs. “Eighty-five percent from Muskingum County this time; not 80 but 85. My opponent is from Franklin County, and Franklin County has been challenging. We don’t want somebody from Franklin County representing us. It’s really important that we move that needle tomorrow.”
That comment raised eyebrows, for understandable reasons. O’Connor quickly tweeted out video of the comment.
“Our district deserves someone who is going to represent all of us,” he wrote. Balderson “just made it crystal clear that’s not him.”
If you look at a map of the 12th District, it seems as if Balderson wasn’t risking much by disparaging Franklin County, home to Columbus, the state capital. Franklin is only a tiny portion of the district.
But most of the district is heavily rural. You can see Columbus, the light-colored blotch just south of the district in Franklin County below. Most of the region, though, is dark red: heavily rural.
(The lighter-colored patch in Muskingum County, at far right, is Zanesville.)
The result is that, while little of the district is in Franklin County, a lot of the population is. A bit less than a third of the vote in the special election is expected to come from Franklin County in Tuesday’s election.
It’s fair to ask, though — as many have — what exactly Balderson meant by “Franklin County has been challenging.”
From a political standpoint, the county is much more heavily Democratic than other counties in the 12th District, including the spike of the district that dips down deeper into the county, covering much of the heavily Democratic area just east of Ohio State University.
There’s a big political divide between a more rural county like Muskingum and Franklin County. The split between urban and rural areas overlaps neatly with the split in partisan politics and policy preferences. Balderson may have been referring to the priorities of the nearest large city or, more broadly, the priorities of the state capital over outlying counties. He may also have been more generally noting the liberal politics of the county, driven in part by Ohio State’s prominent presence.
Franklin County is also much more heavily black than the counties around it. While the part of the 12th District that overlaps the county isn’t heavily black, Columbus and the county surrounding it are. (In the 12th District, the most heavily black area is further north, in Mansfield.)
Balderson hasn’t answered questions about what exactly he was intending with his comment. It’s worth noting, though, that his comments, made at a campaign stop aimed at boosting turnout in his home county, may have had the indirect effect of boosting turnout precisely where he doesn’t want it: Franklin County.