Trump claims win in US House race, but Democrat surge looms

Trump declares win for Republican candidate in Ohio race too tight to call

WASHINGTON : The weaknesses of the US Republican Party heading into November's midterm elections were laid bare on Wednesday as a special House election featuring a candidate endorsed by President Donald Trump remained unresolved - a contest that also underscored Democratic momentum.

Mr Trump proclaimed victory for Republican state senator Troy Balderson in Tuesday's race in Ohio for a seat in the House of Representatives, despite it being too close to call.

Even if Mr Balderson is eventually declared the winner in Ohio's 12th district, the fact that Democrats were competitive in the solidly red region was the latest example of amped up grassroots energy in the opposition camp.

And it further exposed Republican peril three months before the elections that will determine whether the GOP can maintain control of Congress.

Mr Trump, who made an eleventh-hour campaign stop for Mr Balderson, looked to past victories to boost his argument that Republicans were not in trouble.

"The Republicans have now won 8 out of 9 House seats" in special elections since his inauguration in January last year , the President tweeted. "Yet if you listen to the Fake News Media, you would think we are being clobbered."

The signs are nevertheless ominous for the GOP. In many of the races mentioned by Mr Trump, the Republicans underperformed, only narrowly winning elections that should not have been remotely close.

Mr Balderson was ahead of Democrat Danny O'Connor by just 1,754 votes, with thousands of provisional and absentee ballots outstanding.

The margin, less than 1 per cent, comes in an affluent district that is 88 per cent white, and which Republicans have held for 35 years. Mr Trump beat Mrs Hillary Clinton there by 11 points in 2016.

But with the midterm races being seen as a referendum on the President, opposition momentum in Trump country is becoming undeniable.

"Democrats' morale was the big winner last night," tweeted congressman Keith Ellison, the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Several key Republicans have agreed with that sentiment, including Ohio Governor John Kasich, who said it was "shocking" that the special election was so close.

"It is clear the energy and intensity is on the Democratic side" nationally, said moderate former Republican congressman Charlie Dent.

The Ohio race also laid bare a critical dimension that could have dramatic implications in November: Turnout in the district's fast-growing suburbs was an impressive 42 per cent, while in the more rural, lightly populated counties - the base of Mr Trump's support - turnout ranged from 27 per cent to 32 per cent.

Another danger sign for Mr Trump: There are more than 60 Republican-held congressional districts that are rated as more competitive than the 12th in Ohio.

Democrats need to flip 23 seats nationally to reclaim the 435-seat House, and they are looking for a "blue wave" to get them over the top.

Mr Trump is worried that losing the House, and potentially the Senate, could hurt his ability to advance his agenda - and expose him to Democratic efforts to oust him from power.

But he remained insistent that candidates benefit from his endorsement. He has made several campaign appearances seeking to boost his picks ahead of state primaries.

Back in Ohio, Mr O'Connor, who has not conceded and stressed he will run again in November regardless of the outcome, scoffed at Mr Trump's claim to have had an outsize impact on his race.

"I don't think he knows what he is talking about," Mr O'Connor told CNN.- AFP