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It shouldn't be surprising that Tuesday's OH-12 special election is close

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Vice President Mike Pence waves to the crowd with 12th Congressional District Republican candidate Troy Balderson during a rally Monday in Newark, Ohio.
Vice President Mike Pence waves to the crowd with 12th Congressional District Republican candidate Troy Balderson during a rally Monday in Newark, Ohio.Brooke LaValley / The Columbus Dispatch via AP

WASHINGTON — Yesterday’s Monmouth poll showing that the special congressional election in OH-12 being essentially tied shouldn’t be a surprise, given the outcome of the major elections of 2017-2018, where Democrats have overperformed from the 2016 Trump-Clinton margin by an average of 12 to 13 points.

And in 2016, Trump won the OH-12 district by 11 points.

So no matter who ultimately wins Tuesday’s special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by former Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio – either Republican Troy Balderson or Democrat Danny O’Connor – we’re likely to see Democrats overperform from 2016.

But if O’Connor wins — and remember that he’s trailed in most of the polls — then that lowers Dems’ magic number of the net seats they need to pick up to take control of the House: from 23 to 22.

By the way, President Trump will be holding a rally in the district on Saturday to help boost GOP turnout.

Here’s a breakdown of the major contests of 2017-2018:

KS-4 in 2016: Mike Pompeo 61%, Daniel Giroux 30% (R+31)

KS-4 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 60%, Clinton 33% (R+27)

KS-4 in 2017: Ron Estes 53%, James Thompson 46% (R+7)


GA-6 in 2016: Tom Price 62%, Rodney Stooksbury 38% (R+24)

GA-6 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 48%, Clinton 47% (R+1)

GA-6 in 2017 (initial round): Jon Ossoff 48%, Karen Handel 20%, Bob Gray 11%, Dan Moody 9%, Judson Hill 9%.

GA-6 in 2017 (runoff): Handel 52%, Ossoff 48% (R+4)


MT-AL in 2016: Ryan Zinke 56%, Denise Juneau 40% (R+16)

MT in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 36% (R+21)

MT-AL in 2017: Greg Gianforte 50%, Rob Quist 44% (R+6)


SC-5 in 2016: Mick Mulvaney 59%, Fran Person 39% (R+20)

SC-5 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 39% (R+18)

SC-5 in 2017: Ralph Norman 51%, Archie Parnell 48% (R+3)


NJ GOV in 2013: Chris Christie 60%, Barbara Buono 38% (R+22)

NJ in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 55%, Trump 41% (D+14)

NJ GOV in 2017: Phil Murphy 56%, Kim Guadagno 42% (D+14)


VA GOV in 2013: Terry McAuliffe 48%, Ken Cuccinelli 45% (D+3)

VA in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 50%, Trump 44% (D+6)

VA GOV in 2017: Ralph Northam 54%, Ed Gillespie 45% (D+9)


AL SEN in 2016: Shelby 64%, Crumpton 36% (R+28)

AL in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 62%, Clinton 34% (R+28)

AL SEN in 2017: Doug Jones 50%, Roy Moore 48% (D+2)


PA-18 in 2016: Tim Murphy (R) unopposed

PA-18 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 58%, Clinton 38% (R+20)

PA-18 in 2018: Conor Lamb 49.9%, Rick Saccone 49.5% (D+0.4)


AZ-8 in 2016: Trent Franks 69%, Mark Salazar 31% (R+38)

AZ-8 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 36% (R+21)

AZ-8 in 2018: Debbie Lesko 53%, Hiral Tipirneni 47% (R+6)


OH-12 in 2016: Pat Tiberi 67%, Ed Albertson 30% (R+37)

OH-12 in 2016: Trump 52%, Clinton 41% (R+11)

OH-12 in 2018: ?????

A look at the advertising in the OH-12 special

Balderson’s own campaign ads include one highlighting his work with John Kasich on tax cuts, job creation, human trafficking and a backlog of rape test kits; a pledge (while appearing beside his elderly mother) to “never do anything to cut Social Security or Medicare;” and a charge that O’Connor will “refuse to fix” the entitlement programs. The NRCC has also hit O’Connor for not being “safe for seniors” — as has the Congressional Leadership Fund, which coupled O’Connor’s clumsy answer to Chris Matthews about voting for Nancy Pelosi with a claim that he’s “lying about Social Security and Medicare.” And of course, Congressional Leadership Fund is also airing an ad in which Kasich endorses Balderson.

On the Democratic side, O’Connor has most recently started airing a direct-to-camera spot in which he calls for “new leadership in both parties” — just a few days after that Pelosi answer. And O’Connor has promised to work with Trump and Republicans as well as Democrats to “send a message not about partisanship, but about pragmatism.” But retirement and entitlements have also loomed large in his ads — as well as health care. The DCCC calls Balderson “more of the same” in its latest ad, repeating claims that he’d cut entitlements.

If it’s Thursday, people are voting in … Tennessee

Today, the Volunteer State holds is 2018 primaries, making it the rare state to hold intraparty contests on a Thursday. There are two notable races we’re watching in Tennessee.

The first is the GOP gubernatorial primary to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. The field includes Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., (who has been tying herself to Trump in advertising, even though she hasn’t won his endorsement), businessman Bill Lee, businessman Randy Boyd and state House Speaker Beth Harwell. The winner will face the Democratic victor between Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

The second is in TN-8, where current GOP Rep. David Kustoff (whom President Trump endorsed via Twitter) is getting a primary challenge from radiologist George Flinn.

In the Senate race, both Republican Marsha Blackburn and Democrat Phil Bredesen face nominal opposition today. And as NBC’s Lauren Egan notes, Blackburn is set to become the first woman in the state’s history to win a Republican nomination for statewide office. (And Black or Harwell would join her, if either wins the GOP gubernatorial primary.)

White House defends Trump’s anti-Mueller tweet

After our publication Wednesday, President Trump fired off his most explicit attack on special counsel Robert Mueller yet: “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the tweet, saying it was Trump’s opinion – not a specific order to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "It’s not an order, it’s the president’s opinion," she said, per NBC’s Jonathan Allen. "And it’s ridiculous that all of the corruption and dishonesty that’s gone on with the launching of the witch hunt. The president has watched this process play out but he also wants to see it come to an end, as he has stated many times, and we look forward to that happening."

But if you assume the worst of Team Trump in the Russia investigation – that they weren’t honest about that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting; that Trump knew about that Trump Tower meeting; that associates like Roger Stone were communicating (wittingly or unwittingly) with Russian intelligence officials, as Mueller’s recent indictment suggests; and that Trump was actively campaigning on the emails that Russia hacked in 2016 – then Trump’s tweet from Wednesday has a different look.

It appears like an effort to IMPEDE a federal investigation, as former assistant U.S. attorney Mimi Rocah said on “MTP Daily” yesterday. “That’s why this tweet looks so incriminating,” she said. “It’s a good piece of evidence of obstruction in plain sight.”

Former Ohio State wrestling coach asked Rep. Jim Jordan’s accusers to recant

NBC’s Corky Siemaszko: “Retired Ohio State wrestling coach Russ Hellickson reached out to two ex-team members and asked them to support their former assistant coach, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a day after they accused the powerful congressman of turning a blind eye to alleged sexual abuse by the team doctor, according to the wrestlers and text messages they shared with NBC News.”

“The former wrestlers said their ex-coach made it clear to them he was under pressure from Jordan to get statements of support from members of the team.”

“Hellickson’s appeal to help Jordan came after the congressman repeatedly said that he had no idea that team doctor Richard Strauss was allegedly molesting the athletes — contradicting three wrestlers who told NBC News that Jordan must have known since the abuse was frequently discussed in the locker room.”

Quinnipiac poll: Cruz leads O’Rourke by 6 points

Finally, a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday shows incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ahead of Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 6 points among registered voters, 49 percent to 43 percent.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott leads Dem challenger Lupe Valdez by 13 points, 51 percent to 38 percent. And President Trump’s job rating in the Lone Star State is 46 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove, per the poll.