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Ohio special election too close to call, but Republican Troy Balderson holds slim lead

He’s just barely leading Democrat Danny O’Connor in this red district.

Ohio Republican congressional candidate Troy Balderson makes a campaign stop at the Licking County Hartford Fair on August 6, 2018 in Hartford, Ohio
Troy Balderson appears to have won the Ohio 12th special election on August 7.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Republican Troy Balderson appears to be just barely eking out a win in a special House election for a solidly red Ohio House district, which would avert yet another special election disaster for the GOP in 2018.

Balderson, a state legislator, is beating the Democratic candidate, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor, by a single point, according to the latest tallies. Election watchers are waiting to call the race until all provisional and absentee ballots have been counted.

That narrow margin came in a district that has elected a Republican to Congress for the past 35 years and voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by 10 points in 2016.

The GOP candidate got the full-court press from national Republicans, with donors spending a lot of money to support Balderson, and top party leaders — including President Trump — coming to campaign for him.

He just managed this 1 percent victory. Ex-Rep. Pat Tiberi, who endorsed Balderson as his successor, won with about two-thirds of the vote in his last reelection race.

Balderson will serve the rest of Tiberi’s term. He will face O’Connor again in November to represent the Ohio 12th in 2019.

O’Connor’s (apparent) narrow loss is still a bit of a moral victory for Democrats, who have proven again that they can compete in deep-red places all over the map. The party is betting that candidates like O’Connor — centrist and inoffensive — can compete in historically Republican districts like the 12th.

For now, though, it wasn’t enough. Some election forecasters do think the fall environment could be even better for Democrats than the current trends, which could give O’Connor a fighting chance in November.