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Midterms 2018

Trump’s Last-Minute Rally Pushes Republican Balderson to Apparent Ohio Win

Razor-thin GOP victory provides fresh momentum heading into the late-summer intensity of the 2018 midterm congressional campaign

Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson, 56, appeared to eke out a win in Tuesday’s down-to-the-wire special election to fill Ohio’s 12th congressional district after trailing Democrat Danny O’Connor for much of the evening.

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, Balderson led O’Connor with 101,574 votes (50.2 percent) to 99,820 (49.3 percent). It won’t be clear until all of the votes are counted and certified whether O’Connor will be able to demand a recount.

An estimated 8,000 provisional and absentee ballots remain to be counted, which will delay official certification of the results. Absentee ballots tend to favor Republican candidates.

“I thank the thousands and thousands of volunteers who worked in this campaign, and I want to thank President Trump and Vice President Pence and the big shoes without whom I would not have gotten through this process, Congressman Pat Tiberi,” said Balderson (pictured fist-bumping above left).

“I promise you tonight I will work relentlessly for this 12th Congressional District. America is on the right path, and we’re going to keep it going that way. I will do everything I can in the next three months to make America great again,” he said.

Balderson, 56, is a veteran of the state legislature, winning his current seat in 2011 and serving before that in the lower chamber. Trump held a rousing rally Saturday night in a steamy Columbus-area high school in the district, where he reiterated his prior tweeted endorsement of Balderson, who also spoke.

The final votes to be counted come from Delaware County, where the Trump rally was held and traditionally a Republican stronghold. It appears the president’s endorsement and appearance may have made the crucial difference in a race that otherwise could have gone either way.

The president showed no hesitation to claim credit for Balderson’s win, tweeting shortly after Balderson spoke, saying, “When I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting 64 to 36. That was not good. After my speech on Saturday night there was a big turn for the better. Now Troy wins a great victory during a very tough time of the year for voting. He will win BIG in Nov.”

Ohio’s 12th Congressional District hasn’t elected a Democrat to Congress since 1980. Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi had won nine terms in the seat before announcing last year that he was leaving Congress to head an Ohio business lobbying group.

“America is on the right path, and we’re going to keep it going that way.”

Previous occupants of the seat included Ohio’s present governor, John Kasich, who first won it in 1982 and who became chairman of the House Budget Committee as a result of the Republicans’ Contract with America sweep in 1994 that put the GOP in control of both the Senate and House of Representatives for the first time in more than four decades.

Related: At Trump’s Rally, This Pastor Prayed for God to Protect the President from ‘Jungle Journalism’

President Donald Trump carried the district by 11 points against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential contest, but Tiberi’s retirement threw the congressional race wide open. Polls in the final week showed the contest in all but a dead heat.

O’Connor, 31, is Franklin County Recorder and an attorney who backs gay marriage and expansion of the federal government’s role in providing health care for all citizens of the country.

His strong showing against Balderson could provide a big boost for him as one of the Ohio Democratic Party’s emerging new statewide leaders.

The special election fills the seat only for the balance of the current Congress, which means Balderson and O’Connor almost certainly will have a rematch in November for a full term beginning in January 2019.