A squeaker in Ohio foretells a blue wave in November

Danny O'Connor, the Franklin County recorder, speaks during an election night watch party at the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Westerville, Ohio. O'Connor ran against Republican Troy Balderson in a special election race for Ohio's 12th District after the retirement of Pat Tiberi who served as the U.S. Representative from 2001-2018 in the reliably Republican district. (John Minchillo/AP Photo)

Danny O'Connor, the Franklin County recorder, speaks during an election night watch party at the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Westerville, Ohio. O'Connor ran against Republican Troy Balderson in a special election race for Ohio's 12th District after the retirement of Pat Tiberi who served as the U.S. Representative from 2001-2018 in the reliably Republican district. (John Minchillo/AP Photo)

As the clock ticked toward midnight in Ohio’s special House election, Donald Trump still had ample time to craft another baldfaced lie. Working his thumbs, he declared that Republican candidate Troy Balderson had scored “a great victory.”

Trump’s dictionary has a more flexible definition of “great” than Webster’s dictionary. I’m going with Webster. When an election is actually too close to call on the morning after, it’s not “a great victory.” When an election requires several weeks to sort things out — the margin is so tight that 3,400 provisional ballots and 5,000 absentee ballots could be crucial; and if the margin tightens further, a total recount may be mandatory — it’s not “a great victory.” And although Trump’s candidate is likely to survive in the end, it’s way too premature to declare victory now.

Indeed, when the vote total for a House Republican candidate is 0.9 percent greater than his Democratic opponent’s, in a GOP-gerrymandered district that has long produced double-digit Republican margins, it’s not “a great victory.” When a House Republican candidate barely cracks 50 percent of the vote, in a heavily red district that in the previous three House elections went red with 63 percent, 68 percent, and 67 percent of the vote, it’s not “a great victory.” When a House Republican candidate is on top by a margin of 0.8 percent (pending the outstanding ballots) in a district that Trump won by 11 percent, and that Mitt Romney won four years earlier by 12 percent, it’s not “a great victory.” And when the national GOP is compelled to pump $6 million into a district where it would normally need to spend zero, just to produce a photo finish, it’s not “a great victory.”

The bottom line: What happened last night in this Ohio congressional district, in the suburban and rural counties north and east of Columbus, confirms the growing threat of a blue wave that could sweep the GOP from power in the U.S. House. According to nonpartisan stat-crunchers, 68 Republicans are currently defending seats in districts that are less Republican than Ohio’s 12th — and the Democrats need to net only 23 seats to capture the House. In fact, 24 vulnerable Republicans are seated in districts that favored Hillary Clinton in 2016.

So you can listen to Trump for the latest fake news, or you can heed election analyst Henry Olsen, a reality-based conservative and senior fellow at the right-leaning Ethics and Public Policy Center. He said the other day that regardless of what might happen in the Ohio race, “it’s not going to be a red wave (in November). We’re not talking about whether or not the Democrats are going to do extremely well. We know Democrats are going to do extremely well.”

The Ohio seat is vacant, thus prompting a special election, because GOP incumbent Pat Tiberi quit to take a job in the business community. Balderson, a state legislator, shouldn’t have needed to break a sweat beating Democrat Danny O’Connor, a locally elected bureaucrat. But the no-brainer turned into a nail-biter for the same reasons that are terrifying Republicans in far more competitive districts: College-educated suburbanites (especially white women) have fled the GOP because they’re repulsed by Trump. So have college-educated independents. What’s most striking about the latest national Gallup poll is that, among all voters with college educations, only 29 percent rate Trump favorably; 66 percent do not.

In other words, Trump’s GOP, thanks to Trump, is increasingly dependent on a narrow slice of the electorate: rural whites (at least until his trade wars screw their earnings), and, more broadly, whites who don’t have college degrees (many of whom would also apparently favor Moscow dominance over a Democratic majority).

That slice may well prove large enough to barely drag Troy Balderson across the finish line in Ohio, but the national map is potentially less kind. Ken Spain, a former top Republican congressional election strategist said last night, “While a win is a win, it is clear the congressional playing field is widening (for the Democrats), not shrinking.” And Corry Bliss, who runs a PAC allied with Paul Ryan, said that 2018 “remains a very tough political environment” — which is obvious, given the fact that, in virtually all elections held since Trump took office, Democrats have outperformed their 2016 margins by double-digit percentages.

Rick Wilson, a veteran Republican strategist who loathes Trump, writes in his new book that the GOP will soon reap the whirlwind: “Everything we Never Trump folks warned you of, including massive, decades-long downstream election losses, is coming. Alienating African Americans and Hispanics beyond redemption? Check. Raising a generation of young voters who are fleeing the GOP in droves? Check … Playing public footsie with white supremacists and neo-Nazis? Check.” As for Trump’s loyal voters, he writes: “Honestly, at this point, it’s almost a moral imperative to slap the stupid out of them.”

That’s probably not doable. But in the 68 House Republican districts more competitive than Ohio-12, it’s conceivable in November that the cultists could be trumped by a blue wave. That would surely meet the dictionary definition of “a great victory.”

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