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Ohio's Special House Election Is Getting National Attention


There's a special election today in Ohio that's getting a lot of national attention. The 12th Congressional District represents suburban Columbus, and it has been reliably Republican for more than 30 years. But a longtime incumbent, Pat Tiberi, resigned, and the race to succeed him has become very competitive. Danny O'Connor, a 31-year-old Democrat, is posing a real challenge to the Republican candidate, Troy Balderson, so much so that President Trump traveled to the district last weekend to rally for Balderson.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To continue our incredible success, we must elect more Republicans, and we must elect Troy Balderson. We have to elect Troy.


KING: Henry Gomez is a political reporter for BuzzFeed. He's been covering this race.

Good morning, Henry.

HENRY GOMEZ: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

KING: Happy to have you. Tell us a little bit about O'Connor, the Democrat, and Balderson, the Republican.

GOMEZ: So Danny O'Connor is a young, up-and-coming Democrat from Franklin County, Ohio, which includes the Columbus area. And really, he's the type of Democrat that the party needs to pick off districts like this one, which has been Republican for more than three decades. He's positioned himself as a moderate, a pragmatist. Early on in his campaign, he said that he would not support Nancy Pelosi to be speaker of the House if she came up for a vote in the caucus.

And really, that's been his calling card in this entire race, whereas Troy Balderson is a - sort of a fixture in Ohio Republican politics. He's a state senator. He's conservative but more aligned with the establishment. And he was the candidate that the establishment rallied behind in the earlier primary because they were convinced he was the best type of Republican to win this seat in a special election - not too far to the right that he would alienate some of the more moderate independent voters, but conservative enough to sort of continue on the tradition of Pat Tiberi and of Governor John Kasich, who used to hold the seat.

KING: All right. So an establishment Republican - what does that mean about his relationship to President Trump? How is Mr. Balderson framing that?

GOMEZ: Well, he's had to align himself closer to Trump than he probably would like. I mean, Trump did win this district by 11 points in 2016. But, you know, he had to - they have to rally their base to get out, especially in the rural and Appalachian parts of this district today, and that's why you saw, you know, the president here on Saturday. It was a pretty big ask. There's been some speculation over whether Balderson himself was the one that invited the president or if it was one of the national Republican...

KING: Oh, we don't know that.

GOMEZ: ...Groups that is involved in this race (laughter).

KING: That's interesting. It could have been that Mr. Balderson did not want President Trump there.

GOMEZ: I think he was happy that the president came. At least, that's the signal that his campaign has sent. But it was more likely - you know, there's a lot of national interest in this race. The Republican National Committee's co-chair is an Ohioan, and he's been here helping. The National Republican Congressional Committee is led by Steve Stivers, a congressman from a neighboring district, so he's been very involved in this race. And there's been, like, you know, almost $4 million in national money pouring in...

KING: A lot of money coming in.

GOMEZ: ...On the Republican side.

KING: ...Lot of money coming in on the Republican side. Let me ask you briefly about Danny O'Connor, the Democrat. Are national Democratic groups excited about this guy?

GOMEZ: They are, but they've had to play it a little safer. You know, since he's been campaigning as somebody who wouldn't vote for Nancy Pelosi, you know, it's hard for him to then go and take money from groups that are aligned with Nancy Pelosi. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did start investing a few weeks ago with some TV ads. That has been helpful. The Democrats were excited about that. And really, they need districts like this if they're going take back the House in November. So they are all playing nice together, and really, they're very excited about the opportunity to pick up this seat if it happens.

KING: Henry Gomez is a political reporter for BuzzFeed. He's based in Ohio. Henry, thanks so much.

GOMEZ: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.