STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Here's the real lesson of the Ohio special election

Politics is about wins and losses. By that measure, Republicans appear to have had a good night on Tuesday, ...

Posted: Aug 8, 2018 10:00 PM
Updated: Aug 8, 2018 10:00 PM

Politics is about wins and losses. By that measure, Republicans appear to have had a good night on Tuesday, with state Sen. Troy Balderson (R) leading Franklin County Recorder Danny O'Connor (D) by just under 2,000 votes with 99% of precincts reporting in the special election in Ohio's 12th District.

But keeping score in politics -- especially in special elections by simply tallying up wins and losses -- can miss the point. And this is one of those moments.

Continents and regions

Donald Trump

Elections and campaigns

Government and public administration

Government organizations - US

Midwestern United States

North America

Ohio

Political Figures - US

Political organizations

Politics

The Americas

Troy Balderson

United States

US Congress

US Democratic Party

US House of Representatives

US political parties

US Republican Party

Yes, Balderson appears to have won. Which means he will likely hold the seat for the handful of months that remain in this Congress. But the underlying dynamics of the district and the race should concern every smart Republican looking at the November playing field and assessing the GOP's chances of holding onto its 23-seat House majority.

Consider that the 12th district is not, by any traditional measure, a toss-up district. Taking in the northern and eastern suburbs of Columbus -- and stretching to more rural areas further east -- it has been held by a Republican member of Congress continuously for the past three decades. In 2012, even while losing the state to President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney won the 12th by 10 points. Four years later, Donald Trump carried it by 11 points.

Based on those numbers, this is not a seat that should be at all competitive -- even in a special election -- if the national playing field was flat-ish. Of course, we know it's not -- based on lots and lots of other results this year. The playing field -- as it so often is in a midterm election with one party in control of all the levers of power in Washington -- is clearly tilted toward Democrats, and will be this November. The question that needs to come into better focus is how tilted.

And that's where the result in Ohio can be instructive -- in judging the size of the coming Democratic wave. According to the Cook Political Report's House editor David Wasserman, there are 68 Republican-held seats that perform less well for the GOP at the presidential level than the 12th. That tells you a lot about where things stand -- and why Balderson's apparent eking out of a victory isn't any reason to celebrate for Republicans.

There's another reason, too: Outside conservative groups dumped millions of dollars into this seat to save Balderson, a spending plan they simply won't be able to repeat around the country.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which spent upwards of $3 million on ads to get Balderson across the line, was blunt about this financial math in a statement on Tuesday night. "While we won tonight, this remains a very tough political environment and moving forward, we cannot expect to win tough races when our candidate is being outraised," the statement read. "Any Republican running for Congress getting vastly outraised by an opponent needs to start raising more money."

And here's a very scary reality for House Republicans: In the second fundraising quarter of 2018, 55(!) Democratic challengers outraised their Republican incumbent opponents, according to CNN calculations. There's no way the Congressional Leadership Fund -- or any other outside group -- can spend $3+ million on all 55 of those incumbents to save them in November.

The worst thing for Republican chances in the midterms is to breathe any sort of sigh of relief following Balderson's apparent victory. To do so would be to mistake winning a battle for winning the war. And if anything, the chances of Republicans holding onto their majority went down slightly on Tuesday night, as Balderson's extremely narrow margin suggests that the Democratic wave is coming -- and it's not a small one.

Consider this: If even half of the 68 Republicans who represent a district less friendly than Ohio's 12th lose this November, Democrats retake the House -- with 11 seats to spare. If only 1 in 3 lose, Democrats stand at a net gain of 22 seats -- needing just one more to retake the majority they lost in the 2010 election.

To be clear: Winning is the goal in politics. Winning is always better than losing. And Danny O'Connor and Democrats didn't spend all that money to come close. They spent it to win.

But Balderson's victory needs to be understood in the context of the broader race for House control. If Republicans believe the lesson of Tuesday night is that the Democratic wave is dying out before it ever gets close to shore, it could make the party's reckoning in November that much worse.

The reality is that history, base enthusiasm and Trump's unpopularity are all working for Democrats and against Republicans. If past is prologue, the question isn't whether 2018 will be a good election for House Democrats but rather how good an election it will be. What Tuesday night showed us is that even in places where Trump (and Romney) won comfortably, Democrats can be very, very competitive.

That fact has to concern any smart Republican looking toward the fall campaign.

West Lafayette
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 76°
Kokomo
Partly Cloudy
75° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 75°
Rensselaer
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 78°
Fowler
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 76°
Williamsport
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 79°
Crawfordsville
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 73°
Frankfort
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 73°
Delphi
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 74°
Monticello
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 74°
Logansport
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 78°
Warming up with plenty of sunshine!
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 947918

Reported Deaths: 15377
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1291181990
Lake635721103
Allen53899761
Hamilton44082449
St. Joseph42122590
Elkhart33803491
Vanderburgh30574449
Tippecanoe26915251
Johnson23727418
Hendricks22410342
Porter21832347
Clark17562231
Madison17492385
Vigo16302285
Monroe14545191
LaPorte14389239
Delaware14183222
Howard13971273
Kosciusko11498135
Hancock10935166
Warrick10737178
Bartholomew10635170
Floyd10514208
Wayne10077226
Grant9213204
Morgan8928160
Boone8463111
Dubois7791123
Dearborn769490
Henry7691133
Noble7466101
Marshall7409128
Cass7219118
Lawrence7026153
Shelby6647111
Jackson661386
Gibson6190107
Harrison609386
Huntington604495
Montgomery5853105
DeKalb581091
Knox5535104
Miami548888
Putnam543268
Clinton537465
Whitley529354
Steuben501768
Wabash488692
Jasper483861
Jefferson474492
Ripley457777
Adams446068
Daviess4231108
Scott409165
Clay394957
White393858
Greene393392
Wells389884
Decatur388797
Fayette378578
Posey362341
Jennings356056
Washington334747
LaGrange325175
Spencer321136
Fountain318455
Randolph317190
Sullivan309449
Owen287064
Starke282864
Fulton280454
Orange277859
Jay257038
Perry254152
Carroll245229
Franklin242838
Rush237030
Vermillion235050
Parke221420
Tipton212055
Pike211740
Blackford170534
Pulaski168551
Crawford147318
Newton145845
Benton143916
Brown135846
Martin130217
Switzerland126910
Warren115616
Union98511
Ohio80511
Unassigned0482

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events