Ohio 12th Congressional District
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Ohio 12 special election was as close as experts predicted. As this is written, it is not clear whether Democrat Danny O’Connor can pick up enough votes in the provisional and absentee ballots (still to be counted) to make up the 1,700 or so vote difference to pull past the Republican and take the seat.

The point, of course, is that it should never have been this close. This is a R+11 district, that had elected a Dem to Congress for all but two years since 1930 or so. Romney won this district; Trump won this district.

AND – Ohio 12 was gerrymandered by the state Republicans to make it even MORE reliably red. (Look at the map above; perfect example of the insanity of gerrymandering.) For the Dem to get within a point of winning (or maybe even actually winning) is just nuts.

SO — what lessons can we take away from this race?

  • Healthcare is a big win for Dems. O’Connor defended the Affordable Care Act, especially the protections for people with pre-existing conditions. He called out Republicans for trying to take away people’s health care. And, he personalized it by talking about actual stories of real people – like his mother, who is a breast cancer survivor. Instead of running from Obamacare, he embraced it.

  • Corruption is also a winning topic, though not as a first-thing-you-mention item. O’Connor refused to take money from corporate PACs, and attacked his opponent for contributions from Big Pharma, Big Insurance, and Big Oil.

  • It is possible to fund a campaign through small donations — but don’t think every campaign can do as well as O’Connor. Since this was an isolated race in August, with national attention, he was able to raise large amounts of money from across the country. Dems in November are going to have to be blunt with their supports: Give and give and give, even if it is small amounts, then turn around and give again. Otherwise, the wealthy are going to flood the field with money.

  • Republicans are going to go after Dems on immigration and Nancy Pelosi. Dems have to figure out how to fight back. 
  • One strategy that works is to ask if your opponent is in favor of ripping children away from their parents. This Trump immigration strategy is almost universally reviled, and turns the immigration argument around.

  • Democratic energy continues to be massive. And the turnout and voting patterns should scare Republicans. In the past, Republicans have been able to win both the rural non-college vote AND the suburban college-educated vote. It appears, based on turnout, that they are losing some of the college-educated surburbanites to the Dems.

As noted in the New York Times,

In both Franklin County, which includes Columbus, and Delaware County, the fast-growing suburb just north of Ohio’s capital, 42 percent of voters turned out. But in the five more lightly populated counties that round out the district, turnout ranged from 27 to 32 percent.

This is an ominous sign for Republicans: The highest-income and best-educated elements of the electorate — those deeply uneasy with President Trump — are showing the most interest in voting. Defending a few dozen districts that are either more heavily urban or feature a similar demographic mix as Ohio’s 12th District, Republicans will need to find a way to win back suburbanites or better galvanize rural voters. If they do not, their House majority will slip away.

And finally,

  • Republicans are in deep doo-doo. Not only should this Ohio 12 race have never been competitive – there are 60+ seats that are LESS red than this one that are held by Republicans. Dems only need to take 23 of them to take back the House.

Ninety-something days to the election. If Dems can keep the energy up and get enough boots on the ground, this could be a wave election bigger than 2010 – but the other way.


Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. He has been President, Vice-President, and Treasurer of the Metro Democratic Club, and has served on the Democratic Party Executive Committee in Louisville. He began blogging in 2004, and currently operates two personal blogs (BruceMaples.com and brucewriter.com). He founded Forward Kentucky in the wake of the state elections in 2015, and expanded it in the summer of 2016. He has lived in Louisville since 1992 with his wife and two sons.