The weaknesses of the US Republican Party heading into November's midterm elections were laid bare Wednesday as a special House election featuring a candidate endorsed by President Donald Trump remained unresolved -- a contest that also underscored Democratic momentum.
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 remaining too close to call.
Even if 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 -- already on broad display -- just three months before the elections that will determine whether the GOP can maintain control of Congress.
The Ohio race carries powerful implications, as it is the final direct face-off between Republicans and Democrats before the midterms.
Trump, who made an 11th-hour campaign stop for 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 2017, 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 Trump, the Republicans underperformed, only narrowly winning elections that should not have been remotely close.
In Tuesday's contest, 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 one percent, comes in an affluent district that is 88 percent white, and which Republicans have held for 35 years. Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by some 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's clear the energy and intensity is on the Democratic side" nationally, said moderate former Republican congressman Charlie Dent.