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Ohio's Special Congressional Election Still Too Close To Call


Ohio's special election yesterday to fill a congressional seat offers a textbook example of a razor-thin margin. Republican Troy Balderson holds a lead of less than 1 percent in a reliable GOP district. Last night, though, he claimed victory.


TROY BALDERSON: Over the next three months, I'm going to do everything I can to keep America great again.

SHAPIRO: A reminder there that we are just three months from Election Day. And even though President Trump is saying the close result in Ohio is a great victory, it's making plenty of Republicans anxious about what's to come in November. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to talk about what we can learn from that race and all of yesterday's primaries. Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with the special election in Ohio, the 12th Congressional District officially too close to call. Is there something more important to say about this race, though, than who might end up a few votes ahead or behind in something that they're going to have to run in a few months again anyway?

LIASSON: Right. The results mean nothing for the balance of power in the House. But there are signs of what might happen in November. And we've seen the same thing over and over again - again last night, overperformance among Democrats, higher turnout among Democrats than in 2016.

Again, Republicans had a lot more money and resources to devote to this race, including a presidential visit. But it's unclear whether they can replicate that in the fall in other districts because there are close to 70 Republican House districts where Trump won by less than he did in the Ohio 12th or that Hillary Clinton won. And that is the House battleground. So if Democrats came this close in this district which is heavily Republican and they overperform the same way everywhere else, they should win the House.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about another race that is too close to call - Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a controversial figure, ally of President Trump running for governor against the sitting governor. And Kobach leads Governor Jeff Colyer by a slight margin. If Kobach does end up winning, what does this mean for the general election in the fall?

LIASSON: Well, what's interesting about this race is Donald Trump endorsed Kobach over the incumbent Republican governor, which presidents don't usually do and local Republican parties usually do not like. But Kris Kobach is a Trump ally. He ran his short-lived voter fraud commission. And Kansas is a rare case where Democrats were thrilled with Trump's endorsement because they think Kobach is the candidate that's easier to beat because of his hard-line rhetoric on immigration and voting rights. And they think that's going to help them win. They have a female candidate named Laura Kelly.

And what we saw is that the president has had a very big effect in primaries. He can make or break a Republican candidate. But his endorsement has been much less powerful in general elections. His candidates lost in Alabama, in the 18th District in Pennsylvania and in the Virginia governor's race. So this race in the fall if Kobach wins is going to be a test of the power of Trump's endorsement.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about what we learned about the Democratic Party from last night's results. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a big splash in June when she took down a Democratic leader in a New York primary. She is young, a democratic socialist. She and Bernie Sanders endorsed a number of candidates on the ballot yesterday. How did they do?

LIASSON: Not great. There is no doubt a lot of energy in the Democratic Party moving left, and Bernie Sanders has led the way on a lot of things now accepted broadly by Democrats like Medicare for all and the minimum wage raise. But in primaries, Sanders can't seem to get his candidates over the finish line or even close. In two cases last night, his candidates lost by really big margins.

And as for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she is a meteoric figure on the left. She gets people to stand in line to see her. She can generate tremendous press coverage for her, the candidates that she endorses. But they didn't win last night with one exception, a Detroit House race to replace John Conyers. It's a heavily Democratic district just like Cortez's is in New York City where there is no Republican opponent in the fall.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, Mara, let's talk about Missouri, where there was an interesting vote last night about unions.

LIASSON: Yes. The labor movement which has been on the losing end of almost everything for a generation beat a right-to-work law in a referendum, the first time a right-to-work law was overturned by popular vote. It was defeated about 2 to 1 - tells you something about grass-roots energy on the left, could be another good sign for Democrats in the fall.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.