Ohio special election: Donald Trump narrowly escapes humiliation as Republicans claim victory in race officials say too close to call

Contest seen as referendum on president

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Wednesday 08 August 2018 00:15
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Donald Trump gets Ohio victory figure wrong, and talks about 'space force'

Republican Troy Balderson has claimed victory in the Ohio special election, before the race was officially called but where he held a narrow lead over Democrat Danny O’Connor.

With all the precincts in, but with some votes still to be a collated, Mr Balderson held a 50.3 – 49.3 lead over his Democratic rival. While this was not enough for election officials and the US media to call the race, Mr Balderson spoke to supporters and thanked them for what he said was a victory.

“I’d like to thank President Trump, Mr President coming to town,” he said.

As it was, Mr Trump had beaten him to, tweeting just moments earlier, that it was his involvement in the race that had tipped it in favour of their party.

“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,” he said.

He added: “Congratulations to Troy Balderson on a great win in Ohio. A very special and important race.”

Republican Troy Balderson thanks President Trump following Ohio special election win

The Associated Press, which is considered the gold standard for calling elections in the US, said the race was too close to name a winner. It pointed out that with election officials having finished counting the race in Ohio’s 12th congressional district, Mr Balderson had a slight lead over his Democratic rival.

It added: “But there are at least 3,367 provisional ballots left to be reviewed. That’s enough for O’Connor to potentially pick up enough votes to force a mandatory recount. Under Ohio law, the threshold in a congressional race for a mandatory recount is 0.5 per centage points.

“The Associated Press does not declare winners in races that go to an automatic recount.”

Democrat Danny O'Connor vows to fight on after Ohio special election defeat

In some respects, the actual result did not matter that much in the short term. Because the contest was a special election, caused by the decision of Republican congressman Pat Tiberi to resign in order to run an Ohio business group, Mr Balderson and Mr O’Connor will have to face off against each other again in November.

Yet, Mr O’Connor will go into that race with real momentum. Mr Tiberi had been reelected to the seat in 2016 by 37 percentage points and Mr Trump won the district by 11 percentage points in the White House race in 2016. Mr O’Connor was able to turn the contest into a virtual tie.

Democrats across the country will take heart from Mr O’Connor’s performance, especially in the suburban areas of the city of Columbus where he appeared to be able to tap into discontent with the president.

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The 31-year-old was not among those ready to concede victory to Mr Balderson.

“We are fighting for a better America. We went door-to-door, we went house to house. We made our case for change. We will make that case tomorrow,” he told supporters, having told them they were in a tied race.

“We’re not stopping now. Tomorrow, we rest and then we keep fighting through to November. Let’s go out there, let’s get it.”

The result, in fact, may not be known for weeks according to the Ohio secretary of state’s office, which says state law does not permit election officials to begin counting provisional and outstanding absentee ballots until the 11th day after the election, on 18 August.

There are 3,435 provisional ballots and 5,048 outstanding absentee ballots.

Republicans had been desperate not to lose the race, which would have been a huge psychological blow to the party as it prepared for the midterms. In addition to visits from Mr Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Mr Balderson was helped by Republicans outspending Democratic groups by more than 4 to 1 and running ads linking Mr O’Connor to liberal House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Mr O’Connor, a local county official, tried to project a moderate image, saying he would support new Democratic leadership in Congress and work with Republicans but also criticising the Trump tax cut.

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