Most pundits and journalists are focusing their analysis on the election in Ohio's 12 district. The Atlantic writes:
[E]lection forecasters said this race likely provided the cleanest test yet of whether the Democratic enthusiasm edge in 2018 could carry the party into the House majority this fall. Trump won the district, which spans from Columbus into rural Ohio, by 11 points in 2016. Its previous representative, Pat Tiberi, was a reliable Republican vote who served nine terms and never won by less than nine percentage points—the margin of his first victory in 2000. Voters there have not sent a Democrat to Congress since 1980. And the electorate features plenty of the college-educated, suburban voters likely to be disenchanted with Trump, who Democrats are counting on to support them across the country.
If Democrats could win a GOP district like Ohio’s 12th, in other words, they could easily pick up the 22 other seats they’ll need to win the House. And even if they fell just short, as O’Connor did on Tuesday, a tight margin would portend a difficult path in the fall for Republicans. A memo that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent to reporters before polls closed noted that there were 79 GOP-held seats across the country that the party considered more winnable targets in November.
Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist for CBS News, told the outlet she doesn't believe the results in Ohio indicate the existence of a blue wave.
Sanchez said such a tight race in a reliably red district could be explained by the distaste many establishment Republicans have for President Trump's style. (Mr. Trump held a rally for Balderson ahead of Tuesday's vote.) Regardless, she still expects Republican voters to support down-ballot GOP candidates in November.
"This is not new, that there's a lot of frustration with the unorthodox approach of the president," Sanchez said. "As we get closer to November, many of these Republicans are going to come home. They're going to go back in supporting traditional Republican candidates, because they worry about, who would these Democrats caucus with? Are they in the Nancy Pelosi mold? Where would they fit in, and fundamentally how do they keep a very economic oriented agenda moving?"
Republicans have gone all-in on a race that was a safe red seat for decades. The Republican National Committee opened two new field offices, Politico reported, launched a $500,000-plus get-out-the-vote effort, and deployed Trump's 2016 Ohio campaign chief Bob Paduchik to secure a win. Additionally, outside conservative groups poured at least $3.5 million into TV ads, far more than Democrats.
When you compare this special election to previous races in the district, Tuesday's results are even more alarming. The now-retired Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, won over 66 percent of the vote, defeating his Democratic challenger Ed Albertson by 36 points. In races before 2016, Democrats haven't fared much better.
Given how much money the GOP has paid per vote only to produce such a narrow lead for Balderson should give Republicans pause. Whether it's a blue wave or a lack of Republican enthusiasm, the 2018 midterm elections look daunting for the GOP.
Jesse Hunt, national press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told NPR that special elections are not good indicators of what will happen in general elections.
Hunt rightly noted on Morning Edition that special elections are not replicas of general elections. Outsize attention can be paid to them – and that can mean lots of outside money against underfunded candidates. That won't likely be the case in general elections against better-known incumbents with bigger war chests.
On top of the results of August's elections, pundits note that historically it is harder for parties to hold on to seats without an incumbent.
Perhaps the most significant development from a party perspective is that the GOP is dealing with a tougher map than it should be. That's because of retirements, which have plagued more than one-fifth of all Republican districts — a historically fast onslaught of GOPers calling it a career. And retirements generally make it much more difficult to hold a seat, given that you no longer have an incumbent on the ballot. Of the 10 Republican districts that Cook rates as likely to flip to Democrats, eight are open seats. Another 11 open seats are rated as “toss-up” or “lean Republican,” meaning about half of GOP-held open seats are ripe for the Democratic picking in ways they otherwise might not be.