Troy Balderson seems to have barely escaped an upset of epic proportions.
The Republican state senator, backed by both Ohio Gov. John Kasich and President Trump, narrowly led his opponent Democratic candidate Danny O’Connor by 1,754 votes with all precincts counted on Tuesday night. O'Connor, who currently serves as Franklin County recorder, was not ready to concede before the night was over, though.
“We always knew this was going to be a close race, and while we don’t know the results quite yet, I know that this campaign left it all on the field," he said in a statement. “No matter what happens next, I’m proud to stand beside the thousands of volunteers who have made this campaign possible.”
But the margin of potential victory in Ohio’s 12th congressional district—just around one percentage point—is one that will likely cause concern for Republicans. The C-shaped mix of wealthier, highly educated suburbs and rural areas, has not sent a Democrat to Congress since 1939, save for a two-year blip in 1981, and it is, in many ways, a more challenging environment for the Democratic Party than many of the districts that could decide the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in November.
Balderson ended the campaign largely ducking national media which had come to the area knowing that a possibly shocking upset was in the making. He also made a last-minute gaffe, saying at an event in Zanesville, “We don’t want someone from Franklin County representing us,” referring to a county within the 12th district that cast a significant portion of the ballots on Tuesday night.
That ultimately did not appear to cost Balderson the race, but the contest was taken so seriously that Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and other GOP officials came to the district to assist the Republican candidate. More than $4 million was spent by outside Republican groups, largely on efforts to portray O’Connor as a willing follower of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a boogeywoman for the conservative voting base.
While Balderson’s apparent win could help assuage the strongest of Republican nerves ahead of November’s midterms—especially by having avoided a repeat of Democrat Conor Lamb’s upset in western Pennsylvania earlier this year—Democrats and political observers believe that the slim victory margin, in a district Trump won by 11, points to a favorable environment for the party overall.
Beyond that, O’Connor and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were more aggressive in bashing the tax-reform package as a negative policy than Republicans were selling it as a positive—a trend that was especially notable given the substantially suburban makeup of parts of the district.
Balderson and O’Connor will face off again in November for the same exact seat. But the Republican special-election victory could add credence to the president’s belief that his presence in these races is more of a positive than a detriment.
In fact, before the race was even officially called, Trump took credit for helping bring Balderson over the line.
“When I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting 64 to 36,” he tweeted. “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.”
But the president may not be an added benefit for a number of the crucial contests in November.
Gov. Kasich questioned that very notion in a Sunday appearance on ABC’s This Week, telling host George Stephanopoulos: “The chaos that seems to surround Donald Trump has unnerved a lot of people. So suburban women in particular here are the ones that are really turned off. And you add to that the, you know, millennials, you—you have it very close. It’s really kind of shocking because this should be just a slam dunk and it’s not.”
It seemingly wasn’t enough chaos to elect a Democrat this time.