Trump-backed candidates in Ohio and Kansas locked in tight races

CNN/ Newswire | 8/8/2018, 11:44 a.m.
Two candidates endorsed by President Donald Trump are locked in tight races, with votes from Tuesday's elections still left to ...
President Donald Trump has injected himself into two high-stakes contests taking place on Tuesday, turning both into new tests of Trump's tactics and sway with Republican voters.

By Eric Bradner, CNN

(CNN) -- Two candidates endorsed by President Donald Trump are locked in tight races, with votes from Tuesday's elections still left to count.

The special election in a deep-red Ohio congressional district was too close to call Tuesday night, with Republican Troy Balderson holding a narrow lead over Democrat Danny O'Connor.

In the Republican primary in the Kansas governor's race, meanwhile, Trump-backed Secretary of State Kris Kobach and incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer were waiting on results from the highly populated Johnson County, in the Kansas City area.

The best barometer for November's midterm elections came in Ohio, where the contest in a congressional district near Columbus that Republicans have held for three decades was too close to call.

Balderson led by 0.9 percentage points with all early and election day votes counted. However, the Ohio secretary of state reported there are 8,483 outstanding absentee and provisional ballots left to count -- much more than Balderson's 1,754-vote lead.

Balderson and Republicans claimed victory Tuesday night, but O'Connor did not concede the race. "We are in a tie ballgame," he told supporters at his election night party.

The close race was another ominous sign for the GOP fewer than three months from the midterm elections. It was also a sign that the party's strategy for the race -- fully embracing Trump and his bombastic message in hopes of motivating Republican voters, rather than trying to soothe moderates' worries about the President -- could backfire in similar districts in November's midterm elections.

Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the House, and Republicans are currently defending dozens of districts that are more favorable to Democrats than Ohio's 12th District, which Trump in 2016 and Mitt Romney in 2012 both won by 11 percentage points.

The race matched consistent trends in special elections and statewide contests since Trump took office: Turnout sagged in rural, heavily Republican areas; surged in suburban areas; and swung in Democrats' favor in those suburbs when compared to the 2016 election results.

For Republicans, it was costly: The Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP's campaign arm, poured a combined total of more than $5 million into the race, compared to just $1 million from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Winning, though, would provide a psychological boost to the GOP after the party suffered a stunning loss in a March special election for a House district outside Pittsburgh.

In Balderson's Columbus-area race, the GOP groups' Trump-like message in television advertisements focused overwhelmingly on latching O'Connor to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and accusing him of being weak on issues such as immigration.

Trump echoed that message on Saturday, when he visited Delaware County for a pro-Balderson rally.

Balderson also got a boost from second-term Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who endorsed him late in the race, even as he sounded an alarm over the Trump-driven tactics, warning that they had alienated suburban women, in particular.