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The big nail-biter of a congressional election Tuesday in the 12th District of Ohio bore possibly instructive resemblance to the big congressional race threatening to percolate in the 2nd District of Arkansas in November.

But there are major differences approximately as interesting as the resemblance.

The point is that a heavily confirmed Republican congressional district became unexpectedly and intensely competitive in Ohio, and something like that conceivably could happen by dynamics both similar and different in Central Arkansas.

First the resemblance: The Ohio 12th District branches from the outskirts of a state capital and urban center, Columbus. The Arkansas 2nd District branches from a state capital and urban center, Little Rock.

The Ohio 12th moves outward to a large suburban county and then to smaller rural blue-collar counties. The Arkansas 2nd moves outward to a couple of growing suburban counties, Saline and Faulkner, and then to smaller rural blue-collar counties like Conway, Van Buren and Perry.

In the Ohio 12th, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 11 points, 54-43. In the Arkansas 2nd, Trump defeated Clinton by 10 points, 52-42.

In the Ohio 12th, a Republican incumbent, Pat Tiberi, won re-election a mere 21 months ago by 37 points. In the Arkansas 2nd, a Republican incumbent, French Hill, won re-election a mere 21 months ago by 21 points.

The Ohio 12th is scored by the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index as plus-seven for Republicans, meaning it has voted in recent elections for Republicans at a 7 percent higher rate than the national average. And what might be the Arkansas 2nd's Partisan Voter Index in the Cook Political Report? It's also Republican plus-seven.

But now to the differences: The Ohio 12th does not actually include the city of Columbus, but only its immediate outskirts, and the white-black ratio district-wide is 87-5.

It is, in fact, a district gerrymandered for Republican protection. It's as if Arkansas Republicans redrew districts to put the city limits of Little Rock in the heavily Republican 4th District and start the 2nd at the city border. And I apologize for giving them the idea, though they surely had it already.

For now, the Arkansas 2nd encompasses all of the urban center, Little Rock, and the white-black ratio district-wide is 76-19.

Pulaski County casts about half the 2nd District votes, while Franklin County, where Columbus is located, casts about a third of the 12th District vote in Ohio.

But, as if to offset that, the biggest suburban county in the Ohio 12th is Delaware, which is the wealthiest in the state and where some moderate Republicans seem from the returns Tuesday to have grown aghast at Trump's behavior.

In the Ohio 12th on Tuesday, the Democratic candidate got 46 percent in Delaware County.

In the Arkansas 2nd, the biggest suburban county, Saline, is more blue-collar than rarefied, and probably will vote more like the Ohio 12th's outlying rural counties, meaning strongly for Trump, than its largest suburban one.

All signals are that Trump remains overwhelmingly popular in Saline County. Nothing indicates that Democrat Clarke Tucker could battle to 46 percent there. Saline County has tended in recent elections to give 70 percent or more to Republican congressional candidates.

The most relevant 2nd District race for Hill-Tucker analysis probably would be Hill's victory over North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays in 2014.

Hays carried Pulaski County by 54 percent and by 16,000 votes. That lead got wiped out by Saline County alone. When all was said and done, Hill had doubled Hays in the non-Pulaski counties, 70,000-34,000, and won by 51-43.

Tucker can't rely as much as the Ohio Democrat on suburban Republicans softening on Trump. That means his best hope is to tap Democratic anti-Trump fervor to rout Hill in Pulaski by a much wider margin than Hays' 16,000-vote edge in 2014.

This would be a good time to mention that Hill is from Little Rock, too.

Here is how the Ohio dynamic might most apply: When the Republican candidate slipped behind in polls a couple of weeks ago, outside Republican groups began to scorch the Central Ohio earth with millions of dollars in attack ads against the Democrat, some of them saying that a vote for the local Democrat was a vote for Nancy Pelosi.

Let us prepare ourselves.

Hill is clearly stronger than the Republican candidate in Ohio on Tuesday, and Tucker is clearly stronger than the Democratic challenger.

Pulaski County gives Tucker a greater opportunity than the Ohioan's to run up a big urban lead. But Tucker doesn't have a moderate upscale suburban county as existed in Ohio to bedevil the Republican with Trumpian erosion.

Polling will dictate how much money outside Republicans groups will pour into our local economy.

It might even determine whether Trump flies in to fill Barton Coliseum in late October, assault the media, hurl random petty insults and fire up the base while French Hill stands by grinning.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 08/09/2018

Print Headline: A lesson in Ohio

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