The results in Ohio’s special House election Tuesday night reinforced the electoral trends that have driven American politics since Donald Trump’s election—and underscored the precarious political trade the president is imposing on his party.
The Republican Troy Balderson’s slim advantage over the Democrat Danny O’Connor in a district Republicans have held without much drama since the 1980s reaffirms the core geographic and demographic divides that have defined almost all major elections since Trump’s victory in 2016. Pending the count of absentee and provisional ballots, Balderson maintained huge leads in the 12th district’s blue-collar, small-town, and rural areas, but faced a Democratic surge in the white-collar suburbs, particularly those closest to Columbus. Balderson arrested that surge just enough in the reliably Republican outer suburbs and exurbs of Delaware County to emerge with a 1,754 vote advantage.
Whoever ultimately prevails, the Ohio contest, like last year’s big Democratic wins in Virginia and Alabama, again suggested that the Trump era is producing a “new normal” in American politics defined by greater polarization along almost every possible front.
On balance, these sharpening divisions leave Democrats in a strong, but not guaranteed, position to win back the House by maximizing their gains in well-educated suburbs and picking off even a few Republicans outside of the major metropolitan areas. By the count of David Wasserman, the House race analyst for The Cook Political Report, there are 68 House Republican districts whose voting history leans less reliably toward the GOP than Ohio-12. “We won a district where we can nominate a bag of cement … and we won by [about] 1,000 votes,” says the longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy, a Trump critic. “That means … they are playing 50 seats deep in our infield and almost winning. What does that tell you about our midterms?”