Could U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot lose his seat representing part of Cincinnati and its suburbs in Ohio's 1st congressional district? Seasoned election watchers say the needle is moving away from an easy win for the Republican, who has served in the seat since 1995 (save for a one-term interruption).
Leading election tracker Sabato's Crystal Ball has moved the race between Chabot and Democrat challenger Aftab Pureval from "Leans Republican" to "Toss Up." That's significant because, just a few months ago, Chabot's seat was seen as relatively safe. The district, which was redrawn in 2013 to include staunchly-conservative Warren County, voted for Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by a 51 percent to 45 percent margin in 2016. As recently as February, the district was rated "Likely Republican" by Sabato's, but has slipped since.
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou waved off past slips in the rating this spring, saying that the party is taking the race seriously and that Chabot has plenty of support. Triantafilou told WVXU that Chabot's long tenure in the district will help him against Pureval, a relative newcomer there.
"He moved into the 1st district and changed his voting address the morning he announced he was running,'' Triantafilou said then. "Steve's spent his life in that district."
But there are signs that Pureval is a force to be reckoned with. He pulled out an unlikely victory to become Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in 2016, winning over Hamilton County's often-conservative suburbs and besting long-established Republican Tracy Winkler for the spot.
Part of that was fueled by the continued progress Democrats have made in the county — in the same election, Democrats won a majority on the Hamilton County Commission for only the second time in the past four decades, and Clinton won the county by a emphatic 52.5 percent margin in 2016.
But Pureval is also stacking lots of cash for his run. His campaign raised $660,000 in the first quarter of 2018 and another $680,000 in the second quarter. Chabot's campaign meanwhile reported $171,000 raised in the first quarter and $339,000 in the second.
"Pureval raised more than double what Chabot raised last quarter and is approaching the long-time incumbent’s cash-on-hand total," Sabato Managing Editor Kyle Kondik wrote about the race.
That, Kondik writes, is part of a larger trend as Democrats raise big money in U.S. House races. Democratic partisans hope that's a sign of a blue wave caused by a reaction against President Donald Trump. Generally, parties who have elected the president have a harder time of it in the subsequent mid-term elections, and with Trump's polarizing nature, that could be especially true this year. But nothing is for certain, of course.
"Put it all together, and the Democrats now look like soft favorites to win a House majority with a little more than 100 days to go," Kondik writes. "The usual caveats apply: There is time for things to change, and the Democrats capturing the majority is not a slam dunk."
Sabato's moved another Ohio congressional race to "toss up" from "leans Republican" — a special election between Democrat Danny O'Connor and Republican Troy Balderson in Ohio's 12th Congressional District near Columbus to replace retiring Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi. The district hasn't elected a Democratic representative in nearly four decades.