Ohio's 12th congressional district, which is hosting a closely watched special election today, is in the middle of the Buckeye State, and includes suburban and rural areas. The latter tend to be more politically conservative, while the former tend to be competitive.
With this in mind, Republican Troy Balderson hosted a rally last night and took an unexpected shot at part of the district he intends to represent. The NBC affiliate in Columbus reported overnight:
Balderson spoke to a crowd at American Pride in Zanesville Monday, WHIZ reported. Balderson said he wanted his hometown base fired up to vote."I gotta have 85%. Eighty-five percent from Muskingum County this time, not 80, but 85," said Balderson. "My opponent is from Franklin County, and Franklin County has been challenging. We don't want somebody from Franklin County representing us."
It was too late to be turned into a television ad, but the comments were captured on video, and it's a safe bet the clip was aired on local news stations this morning.
To contextualize the remarks, what we saw was the GOP candidate telling a rural audience not to elect someone from the Columbus suburbs.
The 12th congressional district doesn't include all of Franklin County, but it represents a slice that includes nearly a third of the district's voting population. Indeed, for nearly two decades, the district was represented by Republican Pat Tiberi, who was from ... wait for it ... Franklin County.
Why in the world would a candidate take a risk like this the night before voters head to the polls? There probably isn't a good reason, but the fact remains that Balderson's misstep is emblematic of a larger shift in Republican politics.
The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein noted last night that Balderson's comments were "a revealing message for the Trump-era GOP." Brownstein added, "The party is now consciously trading suburbs for small towns: the country club for the country. It's the famous Kinsley gaffe of saying what you really mean: we don't consider those voters who we are anymore."
To oversimplify matters quite a bit, most political insiders believe urban areas are going to vote Democratic, rural areas are going to vote Republican, and suburban areas are likely to be competitive. It's why Democratic officials have made no secret of the fact that they're focusing on suburban districts as one of the keys to their strategy for the 2018 midterms.
Balderson's comments suggest some Republicans believe they can simply run up the score in rural areas, and not worry too much about the rest.
Asked for a response to the controversy last night, the Republican campaign issued a statement that said the Democratic nominee, Danny O'Connor "will be a vote for Nancy Pelosi, a vote to repeal middle class tax cuts, and a vote against the policies turning our economy around. We don't want Danny O'Connor representing us."
To the extent that the facts matter, O'Connor has said from the outset of his campaign that he would not support Pelosi and the middle class didn't benefit much at all from the Republican tax plan. Regardless, Balderson's statement also sidestepped the mess the candidate made.