COLUMBUS, Ohio (CBS NEWS) — The race is extremely close in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, where Democrat Danny O’Connor is facing off against Republican state Senator Troy Balderson. The winner will take over the term of Pat Tiberi, who resigned to work for a business group earlier this year.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Balderson has 50.1 percent of the vote, to O’Connor’s 49.3 percent. The vote may come down to counting provisional ballots — but that could take days. County boards of elections reported that 3,435 provisional ballots were cast and there were 5,048 outstanding absentee ballots. State law dictates election officials cannot begin counting these ballots until the 11th day after the election, which would be Aug. 18.
The NRCC claimed victory for Balderson, although no major news outlet has called the race, and President Trump also took credit for Balderson’s edge.
When I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting 64 to 36. That was not good. After my speech on Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better. Now Troy wins a great victory during a very tough time of the year for voting. He will win BIG in Nov.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2018
If the vote margin is ultimately within half a point, an automatic recount would be triggered.
Speaking to supporters late Tuesday night, O’Connor thanked his family and those who came out to vote for him. He did not concede.
“Tomorrow we rest and then we keep fighting through to November,” O’Connor told supporters.
Balderson appeared to claim victory.
“America is on the right path and we are going to keep going that way. It’s time to get to work,” he said.
Whatever the outcome of tonight’s special election race, the two could be running against each other again in just a few months. Both Balderson and O’Connor are the candidates for the November election as well.
This central Ohio district isn’t a place where Democrats should be competitive, CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe points out. Mr. Trump won the 12th District by 11 points in 2016. Now, 31-year-old O’Connor tightened the race for an open House seat that the GOP has held since the early 1980s.
President Trump stumped in Ohio last week before heading to New Jersey for a working vacation, where he told the state’s supporters that they’re the “real elite.”
To date, O’Connor has raised more money than Balderson this election cycle, CBS News’ Caitlin Conant points out. The Congressional Leadership Fund has spent $2.6 million in the race and the NRCC and DCCC have both invested money as well, with the NRCC spending almost $600,000 so far.
Salvanto: No “bellwether” out of special election
CBS News’ Elections and Surveys Director Anthony Salvanto reports that no single district on Tuesday is considered a “bellwether” – whatever ultimately happens on election night will not foretell November.
He adds that there’s already been a string of special elections in which Democrats have over-performed. Ohio’s 12th district shares a lot of the characteristics of places that are competitive in November, so it will be widely and correctly seen as a test case if it is close, or if the Democrat manages to pull an upset win.
Balderson insults part of his district
At a campaign event in Zanesville on Monday evening, Balderson attempted to gin up support in his hometown by disparaging Franklin County.
“My opponent is from Franklin County, and Franklin County has been challenging. We don’t want somebody from Franklin County representing us,” Balderson said. Franklin County encompasses a relatively small portion of the district, on the outskirts of Columbus. It is one of the most populous areas of the district, and less Republican than the other, rural counties. Around a third of the vote is expected to come from Franklin County on Tuesday.
O’Connor quickly seized upon Balderson’s comments. “Our district deserves someone who is going to represent all of us,” O’Connor wrote on Twitter, adding that Balderson “just made it crystal clear that’s not him.”
Chair of Ohio Democratic Party says there’s a lot of energy
David Pepper, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, said there’s a lot of energy on the Democratic side Tuesday night, evidenced by how close the race is in a traditionally red district.
“This district is gerrymandered for an easy win, no competition … this is Republican Ohio,” Pepper told CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe.
Pepper said there are a number of races Democrats in Ohio are looking forward to. They key, he said, is to bring in great candidates and talk about issues that matter to to swing voters.
Pepper said Balderson’s comment disparaging Franklin County will “haunt” him for the next 90 days.