A contest for the soul of the Republican Party is taking place right here in the 9th Congressional District.
Robert Horrocks, Jr., a gay man who is advocating for new trade rules to protect American workers, is vying with Richard May of Cleveland, a Tea Party candidate who is running primarily to keep an openly gay man off the GOP ticket.
The winner of the May 6 GOP primary election will go on to face the Democratic nominee, incumbent U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, on Nov. 4. She’s unopposed in her party’s primary.
Mr. Horrocks, 40, of Lakewood, an industrial bearings salesman, said he is one of only three openly gay GOP candidates running for Congress this year, and he said his presence on the ballot is already attracting some national attention.
While he supports same-sex marriage, the most important issue to him, Mr. Horrocks said, is the stalled job market in the 9th District for the people who would be his constituents.
“I think it’s fair to say there will be some minor points of disagreement,” Mr. Horrocks told The Blade recently. “I consider myself to be a common-sense conservative.”
Mr. Horrocks said he would renegotiate all American international trade agreements to require foreign manufacturers to use American workers to make products they sell in the United States.
“[Free-trade agreements] facilitated the off-shoring of jobs from America and Ohio to places that don’t benefit American citizens. If you want to sell in America, use American production,” Mr. Horrocks said, expressing an idea that is more in common with Ohio Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown than Ohio Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
Republicans say protectionism would result in retaliatory trade barriers against the United States and hinder American participation in global trade.
And he said he would eliminate most corporate tax breaks except those “that go above and beyond in hiring American labor.”
“I agree with many of the ideals of the Tea Party,” Mr. Horrocks insisted, but he said that doesn’t include the Tea Party’s enthusiasm for the October, 2013, government shutdown.
“Shutting down the government, that was wrong-minded,” Mr. Horrocks said.
He said U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who is loved by the Tea Party, must “take responsibility” for his part in the incident in which Republicans forced the closure of many government agencies in a failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“If Democrats and Republicans pull a stunt like that again the people should be able to take a tax holiday,” Mr. Horrocks said.
He said he’s for extending unemployment insurance to those whose benefits have already expired, which again puts him at odds with the majority of Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate, who want the government to make equivalent cuts to pay for extended benefits.
One issue on which he coincides with the Republican Party is abortion rights. “I’m pro-life,” Mr. Horrocks said.
“Personally I think abortion should not be legal except to save the life of the mother or [in cases of] rape or incest. I believe children should be born.”
Mr. Horrocks grew up in New Carlisle, near Springfield, in a Republican household. He attended the University of Dayton, left, and then returned to finish his degree in 2007.
Mr. Horrocks served seven years on the New Carlisle City Council, until he and two other councilmen were recalled from office by voters.
According to news reports, the recall centered on the councilmen’s continued support of an unpopular city manager.
Mr. Horrocks married in 2002 and had three children with his wife, but they divorced. His ex-wife moved to Cuyahoga County and, to be closer to his children, he moved north a few years later, losing their home to foreclosure in the process.
He says he lives in Lakewood with his partner, Scott.
“That’s not something I’m hiding,” said Mr. Horrocks, whose Facebook page features an article titled, “Why It’s OK To Be a Gay Republican.”
He said Mr. May called him to a meeting before the Feb. 5 filing deadline where Mr. May confronted him about his Facebook page, which had links and “likes” that Mr. May felt were inappropriate in a Republican congressional candidate.
Mr. Horrocks said he removed a few of the “likes” from his page but said they would have been of little harm anyway.
And he said if the links had been to magazines that featured pictures of female models there’d be no problem.
Tea Party values
Mr. May, 53, of Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood said he has long played a behind-the-scenes role in Cleveland Republican politics, and now heads both a local Tea Party group and the GOP ward organization in West Cleveland.
A bachelor who recently became engaged to the woman he has been dating for eight years, Mr. May has worked in a variety of fields, including as a writer and circulation director for a couple of alternative weekly newspapers.
His main occupation has been as a warehouse manager, but he has a debilitating case of phlebitis and is now on disability.
He graduated from Lakewood High School and was raised in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood.
He attended Ohio State University but didn’t graduate.
A conservative Republican who wants to see the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, repealed, Mr. May receives government-funded health care because of his reduced income.
Mr. May said he is making his first run for public office to give Republican voters a more traditional Republican choice to represent the party — because Mr. Horrocks’ openly gay stance and support of gay marriage is at odds with the Republican electorate, he said.
“We oppose gay marriage. That is our position. I am not hostile in a personal way to Mr. Horrocks. I am not a hater. The Republican Party is the party of traditional values,” Mr. May said, later adding lower taxes, national security, and gun rights to the list of core values. “He’s too moderate.”
He said Mr. Horrocks had links on his Facebook page to a magazine that had revealing but not explicit pictures of male models.
“It’s like Maxim for gay men — not explicit, but something that makes people of a Christian persuasion uncomfortable,” Mr. May said.
“There [were] two links to pictures of naked men on his Facebook page, which is untoward for any public person.
“The core of the Republican Party is for traditional marriages,” Mr. May said.
“I’m running for the sake of the party. The Republican Party will not accept a gay candidate. If I did lose the primary to Robert Horrocks, within the Republican Party, that’s not going to be good.”
He said Republicans turned off by Mr. Horrocks in the November election also would abandon other Republicans on the ballot.
At the same time, Mr. May said, “If he gets the nomination, I vote for him. I am a loyal Republican.”
Mr. May said his major election issue is the national debt, which he said is “an outright evil” that is being visited on the next generation.
About the government shutdown, he said, “I was fine with that.”
Republican leaders in Cuyahoga and Lucas counties and at the state level declined to take sides in the intraparty battle.
Both men are seeking the Cuyahoga County party’s endorsement at the party convention on March 25, according to chairman Rob Frost.
State GOP spokesman Chris Schrimpf said, “We have not endorsed anyone in the race and don’t know the candidates.”
Lucas County GOP Chairman Jon Stainbrook said he has met Mr. May. He said he was “a very nice man, a true patriot, a good Republican.”
Mr. Stainbrook said he has not met Mr. Horrocks.
“I will work with any candidate who supports core Republican values and who wants to make the 9th District a better place,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Either Mr. Horrocks or Mr. May will face a high hurdle with the built-in electoral advantage Democrats have in the 9th District.
In 2012, Miss Kaptur defeated Republican Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher with 73 percent of the vote.
Steve Katich, Miss Kaptur’s chief of staff, said the congressman “looks forward to the primary on the Republican side taking its course.”
“Miss Kaptur will look forward to meeting whoever the victor is in that matchup in the fall,” Mr. Katich said.