New polls show Democrat Danny O'Connor gaining significantly in the past month in an Aug. 7 special election outside of Columbus, Ohio.
In the past month, Democratic congressional candidate Danny O'Connor has rapidly gained support in an Ohio district that hasn't elected a Democrat since 1980.
Troy Balderson, the Republican nominee in a district Trump won by 11 points, has seen his 10-point lead from last month dissolve into a virtual tie, according to a new poll from Monmouth University.
Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, compared the results of this poll to the special congressional election in Pennsylvania in March 2018 — which was one of the Democratic Party's biggest electoral upsets in the Trump era.
In that race, Conor Lamb won in a district more conservative than Ohio's 12th District, which is just outside of Columbus. O'Connor and Balderson are competing in a special election in the 12th District to replace retired Congressman Pat Tiberi.
"A month ago, Monmouth's polling suggested that O'Connor may have challenges with both voter persuasion and motivating his base," Murray said. "It seems he has had some success on both fronts."
Another poll from Public Policy Polling (PPP) also shows a tight race, with Balderson leading, but within the margin of error. Among voters who say they are certain to vote, however, O’Connor leads Balderson by one point.
Democrats are already outperforming previous elections in early voting, and election day is Tuesday, Aug. 7.
The enthusiasm for O'Connor seems to be driven by independent voters. In the month between the last Monmouth poll and this one, many independents went from being undecided to backing O'Connor.
The current poll shows 48 percent of independents backing O'Connor, while Balderson garners only 32 percent of support. The remaining 17 percent are still undecided.
One woman feared Balderson would be a "rubber stamp" for Trump, and told Reuters she doesn't want a rubber stamp representing her in Congress.
Balderson's devotion to Trump even caused one Republican who ran against Balderson in the primary to publicly announce his support for O'Connor.
O'Connor has focused his campaign on local issues and health care. The son of a breast cancer survivor, O'Connor promises to "expand access to health care so that no family has to decide between going bankrupt and getting the care they need."
In an emotional ad, health care activist Ady Barkan, a young father who is dying of ALS, implored Ohio voters to support O'Connor.
Balderson, meanwhile, brags about his attempts to stymie the popular Affordable Care Act during his time as a state senator. During his tenure in the state legislature, Balderson voted to take health care away from 500,000 Ohioans. He has pledged to continue those harmful policies in Congress, where he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Balderson does accept campaign cash from corporate special interests, yet still trails. Balderson is relying on trips to the district from people like Mike Pence and Trump, as well as funding from outside groups, to boost his flagging numbers.
The Columbus Dispatch recently criticized some ads from groups supporting Balderson as "creepy" and "dystopian."
The Dispatch, a conservative-leaning newspaper, previously endorsed O'Connor as the candidate who has "a reasonable, thoughtful approach to addressing the important issues facing Congress and our country."
If polls are any indication, it seems that voters agree with the Dispatch, and are looking to break the 36-year streak of Republican control of this seat.