In a normal political year, the kind that was once routine in America, a Republican president would not feel compelled to parachute into a heavily Republican congressional district to help drag a Republican candidate across the finish line. A Republican vice president would feel no need to stump there. The National Republican Congressional Committee would feel no need to advertise there. The Congressional Leadership Fund, an arm of the Republican House speaker, would feel no need to send canvassers there.
Yet on the eve of a special House election, the GOP is frantically performing emergency triage in an Ohio district that normally would be in the bloom of health. The party is justifiably terrified of suffering another electoral humiliation—a nail-biting win, or an upset loss that mirrors what happened in a red Pennsylvania district five months ago—because bad news on Tuesday night would fuel Republican fears of a blue wave in the November midterms. It’s already a symbolic triumph for the Democrats that the GOP is spending so much political capital on a region that has been red since 1983.
Donald Trump is slated to stump Saturday for the Republican candidate Troy Balderson—in a Thursday tweet, Trump mistakenly lauded the “fantastic” candidate Steve Stivers, a different Ohioan who’s already in Congress. It’s a potentially high-risk move because unlike in 2016, when Trump won Ohio’s 12th congressional district by 11 percentage points, he’s toting baggage. His local approval rating has sagged to 46 percent (with 49 percent dissenting) in a district where Republican registrants outnumber Democrats by roughly two to one. Indeed, Trump’s presence could further stoke turnout for the Democrat Danny O’Connor, who has raised more money than Balderson and is virtually tied in the polls, having surged from 10 points behind over the past month. The demographics suggest that Balderson should prevail, but a tight win would bring Republicans no relief. If this seat is so imperiled, what does that portend for the swing districts elsewhere in the fall?