All eyes are on the Ohio special election, which could signal whether we see a 'blue wave' this fall

  • Democrats on Tuesday hope to prove the strength of their much-discussed “blue wave” by defeating a Republican in a deep red Ohio congressional district.
  • Danny O’Connor, a 31-year-old centrist Democrat, has campaigned on expanding access to healthcare and protecting social services for seniors.
  • Troy Balderson, a GOP state senator, has aligned himself with President Donald Trump and attempted to paint his opponent as a radical liberal.
  • The race – a virtual tie in the polls – is viewed as a harbinger of what’s to come in the midterms this November.

Democrats on Tuesday hope to prove the strength of their much-discussed “blue wave” by defeating a Republican in a deep red Ohio congressional district that President Donald Trump won by 11 points in 2016.

The race is between a 56-year-old GOP state senator and a 31-year-old centrist Democrat. The Republican, Troy Balderson, is a former auto dealer, while the Democrat, Danny O’Connor, is the Franklin County recorder. Recent polling has them virtually neck and neck, with O’Connor picking up significant momentum in the race’s final weeks.

The special election in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, was triggered when the longtime Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi announced in October that he would resign midway through his term to take a lucrative job leading a business-policy group.

A political veteran versus a fresh-faced outsider

Balderson and allies have focused their campaign on attacking O’Connor as a puppet for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and an agent of an open-borders agenda. O’Connor has attempted to target disaffected Republicans, independents, and conservative Democrats with promises to protect Medicare and Social Security, expand access to healthcare, and rid Washington of corporate influence.

Balderson has barely campaigned on Trump’s chief legislative achievement – last year’s tax cuts – but O’Connor repeatedly slammed him for his support for the law and campaigned on his own pledge to not take any corporate PAC money.

O’Connor outraised Balderson, forcing GOP outside groups to pour nearly $US4 million into the race – a remarkable amount for a seat in the deep red district and more than five times the amount of money Democratic groups have contributed.

Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have raced to the district in the race’s final weeks to stump for the Republican candidate in the hopes of activating the GOP’s base, which still supports Trump by wide margins. And the president has tweeted attacks on O’Connor, telling voters the Democrat wants to “raise your taxes, open your borders, and take away your 2nd Amendment.”

Suburban swing

While the district is traditionally conservative – it is 14 points more Republican-leaning than the US overall, according to FiveThirtyEight – it is also better educated, particularly in the wealthy suburbs of Columbus, than the average Republican-swinging district.

Forty per cent of the area’s residents have college degrees – a demographic with which Trump has not performed as well and one that has swung strongly for Democrats in special elections since Trump took office.

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