Thursday, December 8, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Traditionally Red District in Ohio Up for Grabs

In the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, an underdog Democrat has a chance to paint a Republican stronghold blue.

Update: As of 12:36 a.m. CST, the race is too close to call. Balderson leads O'Connor 50.2 percent to 49.3 percent. With provisional and absentee ballots yet to be counted, a winner has yet to be determined.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – In the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, an underdog Democrat has a chance to paint a Republican stronghold blue Tuesday.

Voters in Ohio’s 12th District will elect a representative to fill the seat for the remainder of 2018, a seat vacated by Representative Pat Tiberi in January when he left to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable. The choice is between two relative newcomers: Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor, a Democrat, and State Senator Troy Balderson, a Republican.

Ohio’s 12th District stretches from rural and manufacturing areas to the suburbs of Columbus, a conservative district with pockets of liberalism. The vacant seat has been held by a Republican for the last 35 years, although Democrats have been gaining ground and hope to turn the district on Tuesday.

Feeling the heat, Republicans have gone on the offensive. With O’Connor only one percentage point behind in the latest poll from Monmouth University, President Donald Trump showed up Saturday night for a last-minute rally in Delaware County. Trump called for his supporters to vote for Balderson, claiming a vote for O’Connor is a vote to let the gang MS-13, criminals and drugs run wild in the United States.

At 31 years old, O’Connor has limited experience in government. He grew up in a rural, conservative area, but was drawn to Democratic politics after law school. He worked for Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, a Republican, and then practiced family law in a small firm in Columbus. He is engaged to a Republican who calls herself a “Danny-crat.”

In 2016, O’Connor was elected as Franklin County recorder, where he reduced the time it takes to file documents and enhanced services for veterans. His latest proposals aim to help the homeless and domestic violence victims.

On the other side of the ticket, Balderson, 57, has a bit more experience.  Prior to politics, Balderson owned and ran a farm in southeastern Ohio, and worked for his family’s car dealership. He’s also a tri-athlete and participates in adventure sports.

He was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2008, and accepted an appointment to the state senate in 2011. He held onto the seat in the 2012 and 2016 elections. Balderson currently serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and is also a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Balderson embraces Trump and his politics wholeheartedly, supporting the border wall and strong immigration laws. He also supports the Second Amendment and believes all life should be protected.

O’Connor hopes to bring a new perspective to Congress with his youth. He has refused contributions from corporate political action committees in an effort to stay out from under the thumb of special interests. He believes in strong border security through enforcement, but feels that roads and bridges should be rebuilt rather than Trump’s proposed border wall.

Balderson has garnered the support of not only President Trump, but also Governor John Kasich, who is known to disagree with Trump on a number of issues, although they are both Republicans. Kasich credits Balderson with helping to turn around Ohio’s economy through tax cuts and a balanced budget.

Tuesday’s special election is seen as a clear referendum on Trump’s policies and is considered a bellwether for November’s midterm elections.

No matter what happens on Tuesday, Ohio’s 12th District will get a chance to do it again in November. O’Connor and Balderson will again face each other in the midterms, this time to see who will represent the district for the full two-year term beginning in January.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.