Democrats are crowing about forcing the GOP to again defend solidly red territory — this time, Ohio’s 12th congressional district. It’s a sign, they say, of a sure blue wave that hands the left control of the House of Representatives in November.
But they will have to do more than just make those contests competitive, Republican operatives say; they would have to start winning them.
“If the Democrats threw everything at us, including the kitchen sink, and they still can’t quite get a victory, that portends good things for us,” said former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges. “We avoided a horrible narrative coming out of last night’s elections. We won, and now we have the opportunity to go do it again in November.”
The Ohio election still had not been called Wednesday, as absentee and provisional ballots were still being counted and Democrat Danny O’Connor had yet to concede. But in the likely event that Republican Troy Balderson hangs on, it will mark the GOP’s eighth victory in the 10 special House elections that have occurred since President Donald Trump took office. (Republicans also lost a Senate special election in Alabama last year.)
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While many Republicans remain clear-eyed about the tough national environment and the difficulty of holding control of the House this midterm year, some think Democrats are overestimating their strength 90 days out from the elections.
“A win is a win. It’s no small feat,” said Chris Wilson, a Republican strategist working on several House and Senate races. “When we’re able to have a strong organization, we can overcome winds that are blowing against us.”
Even though all of those wins have come in GOP-heavy districts, Republicans believe they show Democrats are not as well-positioned as they are letting on. They’ve also provided the GOP with greater confidence in the power of their political apparatus. While O’Connor raised more money for his campaign, Balderson was boosted by $5 million in spending from the Congressional Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee, as well as endorsements from Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Democrats eagerly embraced the argument Wednesday that forcing a close race in Ohio offered proof of strength headed into November. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee noted that there are 72 GOP-held House districts that are equally or less Republican than Ohio’s 12th. Democrats need to win a net of 23 seats to take control of the House.
“I have never been more confident that we will take back the House and elect an incredible group of Democrats in November,” said DCCC chairman Ben Ray Luján.
And Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez added during an appearance on CNN, “This gives me optimism, not only about this seat but about other House seats, the U.S. Senate and governors’ races.”
Republicans are taking other lessons from the race in Ohio. Among them: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues to be an anchor for Democrats.
During the campaign, O’Connor said would not vote for Pelosi for Speaker if Democrats take back the House. But pressed on that position during an interview on MSNBC two weeks before the election, O’Connor said he would support whoever the party put forward, a moment the GOP quickly jumped on in TV ads.
Republicans are confident they will be able to effectively tie Democrats, including those such as O’Connor who have distanced themselves from her, to Pelosi in races across the country.
“Last night’s results are the latest example that Nancy Pelosi is the most unpopular, polarizing politician in American politics. Period. End of discussion,” said Corry Bliss, the executive director of CLF.
GOP pollster Wes Anderson, a who is involved with numerous midterm campaigns, said the special election victory also shows that voters are increasingly giving credit to Trump for the strong economy.
“At this time last year, I certainly wouldn’t have put a bet on us keeping the House,” Anderson said. “Fast forward a year, and our odds have improved steadily.”
While Republicans were able to take some good news away from Tuesday night’s results, they hope their candidates in tight races will still realize how little margin for error that have over the next three months.
“It’s never too late to work harder and raise more money,” Bliss said. “If you’re not awake by now, I don’t know what to tell you.”