The tea leaf reading game in politics and political analysis these days is predicting the direction of congressional midterms this coming November.
Will there be “a blue wave,” in which Democrats take the majority of one or both houses of Congress? Or will the Republicans retain control of one or both houses?
It’s a fool’s game, in one way. Why not wait for the election? The nation will decide when it decides.
But the game is heavy with meaning for Trump lovers and Trump haters alike because midterm elections are usually seem as referendums on the sitting president.
Will the voters rein in the president or seek to balance him with more Democrats? To a large degree that is how the system is designed and that is what voters in the United States tend to do in midterms — humble the president.
They did it, in a big way, to Barack Obama in 2010. They even did it to Dwight Eisenhower — in a big way in 1958.
The party of the sitting president usually loses seats in midterm elections.
In any case, the outcome of the 12th Congressional District special election in central Ohio Tuesday (to fill an open seat until January 2019, so there will be another election in November) was supposed to be a harbinger of what is to come — a blue wave, a red standing pat, or a wash.
But the result, seemingly, was something of a wash — Republican Troy Balderson, an Ohio state senator from Zanesville, appears to have eked out a victory over Democrat Danny O’Connor, the Franklin County recorder.
The Republican “won” in a Republican district by less than one percent. The race is officially too close to call because there are enough uncounted provisional and absentee ballots to make Mr. O’Connor the winner, if they break significantly enough for him.
In any case, the Democrats can claim a moral victory in that, normally, a Republican would win in a walk in the 12th, which is suburban Columbus (Westerville) and smaller towns like Delaware, Zanesville, Newark, and Mansfield at its northern face. The GOP and the President can say: Nevertheless we won and another big win has eluded the forces of blue.
Maybe the election showed that Democrats are energized but Republicans aren’t to be counted out.
If not all politics is local, most congressional races are highly influenced by local factors and the candidates running, as we saw earlier this year in the 18th U.S House district race between Rick Saccone and Conor Lamb.
Mr. Balderson and Mr. O’Connor both ran competent if undistinguished campaigns. Both committed one major gaffe. Both were partisan cookie cutters. Gone are the independent spirits who used to get elected to Congress in Ohio — like Robert T. Secrest, and John Ashbrook, and Wayne L. Hayes.
Mavericks don’t get congressional nominations these days.
In Mr. O’Connor’s case, the gaffe was that he’d vote for Nancy Pelosi to be Democratic leader of the House if that’s who his fellow Democrats in Congress wanted. His gaffe was being honest.
Mr. Balderson’s gaffe was equally goofy and irrelevant. Seeking to boost voter enthusiasm in Muskingum County, he said, “We don’t want someone from Franklin County representing us.”
Columbus is in Franklin County and the implication, possibly, was that it is a den of liberal iniquity.
But part of the 12th District is in Franklin County and the last congressman, Pat Tibiri, was from Franklin County.
Gov. John Kasich also once represented a version of the district, and he, too, is from Franklin County.
President Trump has taken credit for making it possible for Mr. Balderson to win. He held a rally in the district 10 days before the election and that probably ginned up GOP turnout. But he also deserves credit for motivating Democrats and helping to make the race close in what one year ago was strong Trump country.
The tea leaf has two sides.
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