Finally, we've arrived at the most anticipated day on the national political calendar before November's mid-term elections.
The special election match-up between Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O'Connor in the GOP-dominated 12th Congressional District is regarded as a possible harbinger of which party will control Congress, as well as a virtual referendum on President Donald Trump — especially after he campaigned in the district Saturday.
But with polls showing a very close race, will we know who won even after Tuesday's ballots are counted?
No one knows quite what to expect, in large part because a competitive August congressional election is unprecedented in recent Ohio history.
“Typically in the August special elections, nobody turns out, but with all the hoopla, who knows?” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials.
While odds are that the outcome will be known Tuesday night, Ockerman said, "If it’s super close you probably won’t see either person concede."
After meeting Monday, Franklin County elections officials are predicting that turnout could top 30 percent — a huge showing for a special election that would exceed the countywide percentage for the May primary.
The high-stakes campaign brought national news crews to central Ohio on Monday to follow Balderson — who was knocking on doors and visiting the Hartford Fair — and O'Connor — who was stumping in Licking County and lighting candles at St. Patrick Catholic Church in downtown Columbus.
Balderson was boosted by a last-minute recorded phone message to district voters Monday from Trump reminding them to get to the polls while bashing O'Connor: "If you care about Social Security and Medicare, Danny O'Connor is your worst nightmare." The two-minute message mentioned O'Connor as many times as Balderson.
O'Connor got aid from a variety of Democrats across Ohio, including gubernatorial candidate Rich Cordray, whose fund-raising request said, "I don’t need to tell you how momentous it would be to flip this seat from red to blue. A win would send a message that we are sick and tired of the divisive, nasty politics of the last 18 months—the kind of politics that prioritizes insults and anger over solutions."
O'Connor, Franklin County recorder, also was bolstered by final early voting totals. His home county may have given him a 5,000-plus vote lead in early voting, which Democrats dominated 60 percent to 21 percent for the GOP and 19 percent from unaffiliated voters — who despite making up a larger percentage than either Republicans or Democrats, have displayed little interest throughout the period.
O'Connor also was getting substantial support in early votes from more-Republican counties in the district, meaning Balderson must make up the difference Election Day if he is to continue the GOP streak of representing the district, begun by John Kasich in 1983. The special election decides who finishes the four months remaining in the term of Republican Pat Tiberi, who quit in January. Balderson and O'Connor will compete again in November for a full two-year term starting in January.
If the election remains too close to call after Election Day, no new results will be announced while officials wait 10 days for provisional ballots; ballots from overseas and military voters; and absentee ballots postmarked by Monday that arrive by the end of the period. (You can also return your absentee ballot in person to your county board of elections before the polls close Tuesday.)
If the winning margin is less that 0.5 percentage points once that count is completed, a recount is mandatory.
About a third of Franklin County's precincts are open, elections board spokesman Aaron Sellers said. With many voters confused about which of the county's three congressional districts they live in, the board sent posters to be displayed at polling places outside the 12th district to let those residents know there is nothing for them to vote on Tuesday.
Dispatch reporter Owen Daugherty contributed to this story