US candidates locked in close race in marquee Ohio election
O'Connor and Balderson exchanged leads as the votes rolled in, with the Republican ahead by about 700 votes with 95 percent of precincts counted in the fight for a U.S. House of Representative seat.
Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O'Connor were locked in a hotly contested Ohio special election on Tuesday that became a referendum on U.S. President Donald Trump's leadership and a test of Democratic strength ahead of November's midterm elections.
Trump visited the reliably Republican 12th Congressional District in Ohio at the weekend to try to head off an upset in the race after polls showed a tightening battle.
The Ohio election was the marquee contest on a day of voting that featured primaries in four other states. Other key contests included a Democratic battle for governor in Michigan, where a more mainstream candidate defeated a progressive challenger and a high-profile conservative challenge to the incumbent Republican governor in Kansas.
The 12th district, split between suburban Columbus, Ohio, and rural areas, has been represented by a Republican since the early 1980s. Trump carried it by 11 percentage points in the 2016 presidential race.
O'Connor has wiped out most or all of Balderson's lead in opinion polls. A Democratic win would set off alarm bells for Republicans already worried by a series of strong performances by Democrats in special elections in the Trump era.
"A month ago this race was flying under the radar, but it has become nationalized and become more of a referendum on Trump, which really generates Democratic enthusiasm," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey.
A Monmouth poll last week showed the race was essentially a dead heat, down from a double-digit advantage for Balderson a month ago. In addition to more Democrats expressing high interest in the race, Murray said the shift was driven by independents unhappy with the status quo under Trump.
Trump again pushed Balderson in an early morning tweet before voting began.
Democrats must pick up 23 seats in the House and two seats in the U.S. Senate in November to gain control of those chambers and put a brake on Trump's agenda. All 435 House seats, 35 of 100 Senate seats and 36 of 50 governors' offices are up for grabs in the Nov. 6 contests.
Other well-known Republicans trekked to Ohio, including Vice President Mike Pence. A Republican advocacy group aired an ad featuring praise for Balderson, a state lawmaker, from Ohio Governor John Kasich, a frequent critic of Trump.
Republicans have tried to paint O'Connor, a local county official, as a liberal who would follow House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. However, O'Connor has walked a more moderate line, saying he wants new party leadership in Congress and would work with Republicans, while also criticizing the Trump tax cut.
Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Washington also hold primaries on Tuesday, setting the stage for a number of competitive congressional and governor's races in November.
The Democratic race for governor in Michigan offered the next test of the electoral power of the party's progressive wing. Former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed lost his bid to become the country's first Muslim governor against a more moderate Democrat, former state Senate leader Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer will face Republican Bill Schuette, who was endorsed by Trump, in November.
In Kansas, Kris Kobach, a conservative leader in the movement to restrict illegal immigration and pass more restrictive voting laws, was running slightly ahead of Governor Jeff Colyer with about 30 percent of the votes counted for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Trump endorsed Kobach, Kansas' secretary of state, on Monday. Kobach was an immigration adviser to Trump's campaign in 2016 and vice chairman of Trump's commission to investigate voting fraud before the panel collapsed.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)