Democrats very nearly won an Ohio House special election they had no business winning, so they are, you might say, winners and losers all at once in the August 7 elections.
The Ohio 12th Congressional District had been red for 35 years, but Democrat Danny O’Connor almost won it Tuesday over Republican Troy Balderson, who appeared to have eked out a 1-point win when almost all the votes were counted on Tuesday night.
Elsewhere, progressives came up short in the Michigan Democratic primary election, and a black woman from Detroit was elected to replace a now-resigned lawmaker who was accused of sexual misconduct.
The O’Connor showing in the Ohio 12th can still give Democrats hope that the “blue wave” could be real. This is a district that, on its surface, should not be competitive. It’s gerrymandered to protect against it, in fact. Donald Trump won it by 10 points.
If Democrats can (almost) win here, they can win in a lot of places. They need 24 seats to take the House, and they could win some of them in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Kansas.
Winner (and loser): centrist Democrats
Danny O’Connor very nearly won in his bid to repeat Conor Lamb’s Pennsylvania performance earlier this year — and election watchers weren’t quite ready to call the race with provisional and absentee ballots still needing to be counted. But as of press time, it looked like O’Connor was behind.
His campaign was pretty explicitly modeled on Lamb’s. O’Connor distanced himself from Washington Democrats, hit Balderson for Republicans proposal to cut Medicare and Social Security, and campaigned on defending Obamacare. He also, like Lamb, said he would not back Nancy Pelosi for speaker.
Who knows how much of O’Connor’s performance is him versus the anti-Trump atmosphere — I talked to voters in the district who seemed more focused on electing someone to oppose the president — but this is still a moral win for the people like O’Connor arguing that the Democratic Party can still be a big tent that spans from centrists like him to democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is all but assured to win her heavily Democratic district this fall.
For now, a lot of Democratic activists and voters don’t want to worry about the ideological divisions within their party; they just want to win. The challenge will come if Democrats win the House in November and actually need to advance an agenda.
But that is a problem I think most Democrats would be happy to have.
Loser: the left
The left has had a good 2018, don’t get me wrong. But Abdul El-Sayed’s second-place finish in the Michigan Democratic governor’s primary — even after a highly publicized appearance days before the election with superstar Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders — wasn’t its best moment.
Meanwhile, down south in Ohio, a moderate Democrat who explicitly rejects lefty priorities like Medicare-for-all, “Abolish ICE,” and tuition-free college, very nearly won a House district Republicans have held for 35 years. Progressives have made gains this year, compared to the past, but the moderate message still seems to have a place in certain areas.
To pour salt in the wound, a Green Party candidate actually got more votes than the margin between O’Connor and Balderson.
Right now, it’s easy to imagine a House Freedom Caucus-size lefty caucus if things break right for Democrats. But that kind of support for the democratic socialist policies can have only so much effect, unless progressives start breaking through in more primaries.
Winner: Donald Trump
Trump flew out to Ohio to campaign for Balderson at the last minute and tweeted his support several times. Given the narrow margin of victory, the president can (and quickly did) call it a win for him — though it was closer than it should have been, and that was also probably thanks to him.
And as Vox’s Tara Golshan reported, part of Balderson’s win might be credited to Republicans’ running of their last-minute playbook based on their tax bill — Trump’s signature policy accomplishment, if his only substantive one.
Winner: Michigan Democratic women
Gretchen Whitmer beat two male candidates in the Michigan Democratic governor’s primary. Women also prevailed in Michigan Seventh, Eighth, and 11th Democratic primaries, including, in the latter race, Haley Stevens, who got a last-minute endorsement from Hillary Clinton in the 11th District’s crowded primary.
And after longtime Rep. John Conyers was forced to resign over sexual misconduct allegations, Barbara Jones, the Detroit City Council president, won the Michigan 13th’s special and regular primary elections to replace him on Tuesday.
Jones beat Ian Conyers, a state senator and the outgoing Conyers’s great-nephew (so by proxy, the Conyers family loses). It’s another win for a woman in a Democratic primary election where her main rival was a man.
There were technically two primary elections on Tuesday: one to finish Conyers’s term through January and the other for the 2019 term. Jones won both of them, so she’ll be in Congress for a while, along with what could be a record number of women.