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Pollster sees dead heat in Ohio special election

Days before President Trump heads to Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, a new Monmouth University poll suggests that the Aug. 7 special election has become a toss-up.

According to the pollsters, Republican Troy Balderson now holds a statistically insignificant lead of 44 percent to 43 percent over Democrat Danny O’Connor. That represents a surge for O’Connor since Monmouth’s last poll, six weeks ago, when Balderson led by 10 points.

“This race has definitely tightened in the past month,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement accompanying the numbers. “This is similar to the trend we saw in our polling of the Pennsylvania special election earlier this year.”

O’Connor’s own polling, which the campaign has released to the media each week, has found a similar trend, with the Democrat gaining ground on Balderson but the Republican holding onto a lead.

That polling also showed a Green Party candidate pulling equally from both candidates; an important factor, after a Libertarian Party candidate’s presence on the ballot helped Democrat Conor Lamb win the March 13 special election in Pennsylvania that became a lab test for Democratic campaigns this year.

Republicans, who have easily held the district and its predecessors since 1983, have rung louder and louder alarms about the chance of a Democratic upset. Early and absentee voting, which began last month, has found Democrats requesting ballots at a higher rate than they did ahead of the 2016 election.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, 54 percent of early absentee applications in Delaware County, where Trump will campaign on Saturday, have come from Democrats. In the 2016 election, Democratic ballot requests accounted for just 30 percent of the early vote, and Trump went on to win the suburban Columbus county by 16 points.

Monmouth’s polling has found far more enthusiasm for voting from Democrats; one of the pollster’s models suggested that O’Connor would lead by one point if the party pulled off a “turnout surge.”

Trump is just one part of the GOP’s strategy to prevent that. Vice President Pence has made two stops in the district, in conservative strongholds. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who waited until last week to endorse Balderson, now appears in an ad sponsored by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

Kasich, who won the district in a landslide in his 2014 reelection, may appeal more to swing voters than the president. Monmouth found the president’s approval rating in the district slipping to 46 percent; he had won 53 percent of the vote there in 2016. While voters approved of the GOP’s 2017 tax cut bill by a 12-point margin, they opposed the president’s current trade and tariff polices by the same margin — with just 34 percent of voters expecting them to help the rural and suburban district.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.