Campaign Story: Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, 2020

By Kyra O’Connor, for Journalism in a Free Society course at Elon University (2020)

Incumbent Troy Balderson wins reelection in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District

The GOP candidate defeated Democratic Alaina Shearer in what appeared to be a close race until Election Day 

Troy Balderson, Republican incumbent who won reelection in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District (The Ohio Star)

GOP candidate and former state senator Troy Balderson won reelection  to the U.S. House in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. The incumbent was challenged by Democrat Alaina Shearer, a moderate candidate, who received 41.8% of the vote. Balderson received 55.3%, and third party Libertarian candidate John Stewart received 2.9%.

A Zanesville native, Balderson defeated Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor in 2018 in a special election following former Rep. Pat Tiberi’s resignation and then again during the general election, where he won and began his first full two-year term. In his previous term, Balderson served on the Science, Space and Technology and Small Business committees. 

Polling places were open on Tuesday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., although in Ohio nearly 2.2 million Ohioans cast their ballot early, either by mail or at in-person early voting, according to the secretary of state’s office. As reported by the New York Times, 12,956 absentee votes were counted for Balderson while only 8,232 ballots came in for Shearer. Libertarian candidate Stewart received just 598 absentee votes. 

This year there have already been 3.4 million ballots cast in Ohio. There have been nearly 1.3 million ballots cast early in person, as opposed to 661,549 ballots cast early in person in 2016, and 3.7 million absentee ballot applications have been received.

However, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose, 243,023 absentee ballots had not yet been returned as of Oct. 30, meaning more Ohio votes could come in, as the last day to postmark mail-in votes was Monday Nov. 2 and ballots will be counted as long as they arrive by Nov. 13.

Graphic explaining Ohio’s voting in 2020 from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, via Twitter.

Balderson is one of 16 incumbents around the state who secured new two-year terms in what will be the final election using the current boundaries. The map drawn following the 2010 Census has been said to favor Republicans in 12 of the state’s 16 districts, according to an article in the Columbus Dispatch detailing the results of Ohio races

Shearer and another challenger, attorney Joel Newby who ran as the Democratic candidate in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, said the results of the election reflect Ohio’s gerrymandered districts, not the people in them.

“We knew it would be a tough race. We know the odds were so steep and so far against us because of the way this district is gerrymandered, not because of who we are as Ohioans,” Shearer said in a video on her Facebook page following her loss.

The gerrymandering in Ohio was unanimously declared unconstitutional by a panel of three federal judges last year, but the U.S Supreme Court vacated the ruling and the district lines stood.

The state will be using a new process to draw the map guided by the data from the 2020 Census, following the passage of two amendments in 2015 and 2018 that lead to redistricting legislative and congressional lines for 2022.

Rural areas, suburbs and metropolitan areas from parts of Franklin, Marion, Richland and Muskingum counties, as well as all of Delaware, Morrow and Licking counties represent Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. Franklin County, where Shearer captured 58% of the vote, tends to vote Democrat. For the presidential election, 64.8% of votes in Franklin County went to Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate.

However in Delaware, Licking, Marion, Morrow, Muskingum and Richland counties, Balderson captured over 50% of the vote in each one. President Donald Trump also remained ahead in votes in Delaware, Licking, Marion, Morrow, Muskingum and Richland. Ohio’s Republicans in Congress received only 52% of the statewide vote in 2018 yet were represented in 75% of the seats.

Shearer, the Democratic challenger, had not planned to run for Congress. The Delaware native is an award-winning journalist and has spent the last decade in digital communications. Shearer created a national network for women in the digital and tech industry in 2016. Had Shearer won, she would have flipped District 12, which has not happened in the U.S House of Representatives in nine years, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Shearer raised $915,003, while Balderson raised $1,937,558, based on Federal Election Commission data.

Balderson campaigned primarily on COVID-19 relief for small businesses and families, advocating for veterans, and on his campaign website he said he “work with President Trump to secure the border and protect Ohio’s working class from illegal immigration.”

Multimedia reporter Tom Bosco of ABC 6 and Fox 28 caught up with Balderson following his victory. Balderson told Bosco that he will be working on a fourth stimulus package when he returns to work. Balderson told the Delaware Gazette in a previous interview that the focus of that package needs to be whittled down to what can be agreed upon now, however he is not in favor of extending unemployment payments included in the CARES Act.

“As I went to businesses and traveled around the district, which we did every day, the number one thing was business owners saying, ‘I can’t get people back to work,’” Balderson said in the interview. “They were making more money at home than they were going to work. That’s just not how it’s supposed to be.”

Bosco asked Balderson how Trump won Ohio again, to which Balderson initially spoke to Governor Mike DeWine’s actions with coronavirus. He said he was “hyper focused” on his congressional district, and did not “worry too much” about the president.

Balderson has supported President Trump previously, speaking at a Trump rally in Ohio and supporting Trump’s calls to replace the Affordable Care Act as well as his plan to build a wall along the Southern border. Trump endorsed Balderson when he ran against O’Connor in the special election, campaigning for Balderson, as well.

Ohio’s race was called in the early hours of Wednesday by The Associated Press, an independent global news organization founded in 1846. The A.P. tracked the race for the presidency as well as 35 Senate races, 11 gubernatorial races, 435 congressional races and more local or down-ticket races — more than 7,000 races in total. In an article on their website, the A.P. said that the calls made by other organizations will “have no bearing” on when the A.P. declares a winner, and they will not be debating with campaigns or candidates.

Since 1960, the presidential candidate who wins Ohio has also won the presidency. The A.P. called Ohio in favor of incumbent Trump at 12:17 a.m. on Wednesday, which they said in an article they called because with 85% of the expected vote counted, Biden trailed Trump by 4 percentage points, and the remaining votes left would not be enough to overtake the lead. As of deadline, the presidential election had not been called.