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Polls Show Close Race In Key Ohio Special Election


President Trump was in Ohio last night to make a final pitch for Troy Balderson. He's the Republican running in a special congressional election on Tuesday against Democrat Danny O'Connor. Ohio's 12th district has voted overwhelmingly red for much of the past 30 years, but recent polls show the race nearly tied. Many GOP officials have expressed fear a blue wave could be washing over the district. We're joined now by former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges.

Matt, thanks for being here.


GONYEA: So this has long been a safe Republican district, but polls show it could be very close. Are you worried about what may happen on Tuesday?

BORGES: It's not uncommon for the party of the president in their first midterm election to struggle in congressional and midterm elections. That happened in 1982, when the former congressman from Ohio's 12th congressional district that's up for the special election on Tuesday, John Kasich, was the only Republican in the country to unseat a Democrat in around Reagan's first midterm election. Flash forward to 1994, when Republicans led the Republican Revolution behind Newt Gingrich and took back both the House and Senate. Happened again in 2010 to Barack Obama. And here we are, two years into the president's first term, and, not surprisingly, the historical trend seems to be continuing. So the question is, can the Democrats actually win some of these special elections - not just keep them close?

GONYEA: They won a big one in Southwest Pennsylvania with Conor Lamb. They're hoping for the same thing here. You already sound a little philosophical about it all.

BORGES: Well, I mean, I think it's important to keep all of these things in perspective and also to keep in perspective that, of all of those special elections - and you referenced the one in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district - that's the only one the Democrats actually won, and they won it by 300 votes. So I think, from the Republican perspective, we want Troy Balderson to win this election on Tuesday - even if it's a close race, a win's a win - and do what we can to hang onto the Republican majority in Congress.

GONYEA: You and I had a conversation early this year about what the president may mean in the midterms, and you said a potential negative is his ability to distract everybody by something he says that takes the conversation away from the thing that the candidates actually want to talk about.

BORGES: I don't think any of us wants to be having a conversation a handful of hours prior to the polls opening about the president tweeting about LeBron James. But yet, we are. And that's the risk, right? That's the gamble. One could argue that he does these things for a reason. But, at the end of the day, what we're trying to do is get voters out to the polls to vote for, in our case, our candidate, Troy Balderson, because we think he's going to be a better congressman and not have to do the juggling act just a matter of hours prior to the polls opening about something the president said or something the president tweeted. So there's definitely - there's pluses and minuses to the strategy that's being employed.

GONYEA: Does it feel sometimes you're watching television - and your mailbox is probably filling up with direct mail pieces as well - does it feel like it's Donald Trump versus Nancy Pelosi in this district at times?

BORGES: In many ways, sure. Whenever we're voting, this is an opportunity for people at the local level to vote in a national election someone who's going to go to Congress and represent them at the federal level. And so those issues do become important.

GONYEA: I know this is a race for Congress and for federal office, but are any of the issues near and dear to people who live in the district, local issues, finding their way into the debate?

BORGES: You'd think that they would, and they should. I think that we have seen Troy Balderson come out and disagree with the president, separate himself from the president, on separating families at the border. That's an issue that people, I think, get passionate about no matter where you live.

GONYEA: And I guess tariffs would be an important issue there as well. The president's position has been counter to long-held Republican policy on that issue.

BORGES: For certain. And just look at the - again, the previous holder of that office, John Kasich, has come out very strongly against those positions - the trade war, so to speak, the tariffs, the foreign policy decisions. And, yeah, those are all very important issues to people in this district.

GONYEA: Matt Borges is Ohio's former Republican Party chairman.

Matt, thanks for being here.

BORGES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.