The modern-day Tea Party rebellion is fueling much of the political combat on the primary election ballot Tuesday for Ohio’s Statehouse and congressional seats — including several here in northwest Ohio.
After fielding no candidates in 2012, the statewide Tea Party group Ohio Citizens PAC says it is taking the direct route to political power after seeing what it contends is a drift toward big-government spending by the current Ohio GOP.
“For five years, we carried their water. The Tea Party elected [Republican Gov.] John Kasich. Well, they forgot that real quick. When are they going to wake up and realize they need to work for us?” asked Tom Zawistowski, president of the group, which is based in Portage County in the Akron area. He feels the conservative Republican voters are taken for granted.
The Tea Party tried unsuccessfully last year to take over the chairmanship of the Republican Party out of outrage over Governor Kasich’s embrace of expanding Medicaid in Ohio, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act.
“Last December we kind of like said, ‘What the heck do we try to do next?’ We came to the conclusion that we’re never going to get the governance we seek until we put people who believe as we do in the chairs voting,” Mr. Zawistowski said.
The PAC raised only $11,000 for this outburst of electoral activity — against what it says is a $4 million budget from the Ohio Republican Party. Ohio Citizens PAC has endorsed 68 candidates around the state, including in House and Senate districts in this part of the state.
However, the Ohio Republican Party doesn’t expect any of its endorsed candidates to fall to Tea Party-backed candidates.
“We expect to win all of the races,” said a confident Ohio GOP spokesman Chris Schrimpf. “Our incumbents have very strong conservative records. They have the support of the party. We’re confident we’re going to win these races.”
He said it boggles his mind that the Tea Party would try to defeat Republicans in a GOP-dominated legislature that has “turned an $8 billion deficit into a $1.5 billion surplus, has cut taxes by $3 billion — the largest tax cut in the nation last year — [that] has passed significant pro-life provisions, and [that] has helped create the environment in which nearly a quarter-million jobs have been created.”
“I don’t know why any conservative would not be proud of that record,” Mr. Schrimpf said.
The election on Tuesday is serving a variety of electoral purposes: to nominate party candidates for the fall ballot; to elect county central and state central committee members for the parties; to let voters decide a statewide question about beginning a 10-year borrowing program for capital improvements; to let school districts, cities, and villages ask voters to approve new property tax levies for schools, police, pools, and recreation programs, and to elect a councilman to a vacant Toledo City Council seat.
Unlike the fierce politicking on the GOP side, Democrats are engaged in relatively few primary battles at the Statehouse level — 17 Democratic primaries compared with 35 Republican primaries. But they do have the only statewide primary contest.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, is opposed by Larry Ellis Ealy of Trotwood, near Dayton.
Governor Kasich has no opposition for the GOP nomination. In addition, the Libertarian Party was unable to get a candidate on the primary ballot, which likely will benefit Mr. Kasich.
Though it has proven to be an exercise in frustration for the past three decades, Republicans have two candidates vying to go up against U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) in the fall general election.
Richard May, 53, of Cleveland, a retired-on-disability warehouse manager, is backed by the Tea Party organization, as well as by the Lucas and Cuyahoga county Republican parties.
Mr. May said he would champion repealing the Affordable Care Act, “bringing back the cities of the 9th District,” reducing the national debt, and not raising taxes.
And he contends his opponent, who is in an open homosexual relationship, has a lifestyle that will be rejected by Republican voters.
“That’s a pretty core issue when you’re talking about core issues and the traditional values of the Republican Party,” Mr. May said.
Robert Horrocks, Jr., 40, an industrial bearings salesman, said he is a “mainstream conservative” more in touch with the views of 9th District voters than is Mr. May, and better positioned to appeal to independent voters.
“We need to focus in Washington on jobs and economic growth, lowering taxes for working families, and protecting our natural resources and our great Lake Erie,” Mr. Horrocks said.
He said voters are not interested in his sexuality. “They’re concerned about how I can bring jobs to the 9th District,” Mr. Horrocks said.
Both candidates have been in Toledo to campaign, which they are doing on a shoestring. Neither one has raised the $5,000 required to prompt the filing of a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission.
Miss Kaptur, who has no primary opposition, has a war chest of $354,833, according to her FEC report.
The 9th District stretches along the Lake Erie coastline from Toledo through Port Clinton, Sandusky, Lorain, and Lakewood to Parma and West Cleveland.
Mainstream and Tea Party Republicans also are battling it out in the 47th House District, which includes Ottawa Hills and Sylvania; the Lucas County townships of Harding, Monclova, Providence, Richfield, Spencer, Sylvania, Swanton, and Waterville, and most of Fulton County.
Scott Allegrini is seeking to unseat three-term incumbent Barbara Sears of Monclova Township. No Democrat filed to run in the district.
Mr. Allegrini, 40, of Sylvania, a Walmart manager, said he got into the race because of Ms. Sears’ support of Governor Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid and provide government health care for an estimated 275,000 more Ohio residents.
Mr. Allegrini contends the move extends government control over people’s lives and promotes government dependency.
Ms. Sears, 53, vice president of Roemer Insurance, says the move makes fiscal sense for Ohio, gets health care to people who otherwise can’t afford it, and helps promote a healthy state population, considered critical to attracting employers to the state.
She was a 10-year member of the Sylvania City Council before her appointment to the state legislature in 2008, followed by election later that year.
The Tea Party is also battling against another incumbent in northwest Ohio — state Sen. Cliff Hite (R., Findlay).
Church minister Corey Shankleton, 35, of Kunkle has attacked Mr. Hite, 59, as not being conservative enough on abortion, gay rights, and education policy. Also seeking the GOP nomination is Milo Schaffner of Van Wert.
A Tea Party-backed candidate is running in the 88th House District race covering Sandusky County and most of Seneca County — but that’s not the main event.
Incumbent state Rep. Rex Damschroder, 64, (R., Fremont) is trying to retain his seat through a write-in campaign for his wife, Rhonda Damschroder, 62.
A mistake on his candidate petition in February prevented Mr. Damschroder from getting his name on the primary ballot. As a fall-back strategy, Mrs. Damschroder is running as a “place-holder.”
If she wins the GOP nomination, Mrs. Damschroder’s intent is to resign as the party’s nominee, allowing party leaders to appoint her husband in her place to run in November. The Sandusky County Board of Elections upheld the legality of the unusual political tactic.
Mr. Damschroder’s mistake prompted three other candidates to get in the race, though they, too, had to file as write-ins because they missed the filing deadline to get their names on the ballot.
Mounting an aggressive campaign to defeat Mrs. Damschroder is Tiffin businessman Bill Reineke, 59, with $59,000 raised as of April 24, compared with only $300 raised by Mrs. Damschroder.
Mrs. Damschroder has refused to make any statements or to speak at candidate events, and Mr. Reineke has refused to accept any candidate forum invitations at which Mr. Damschroder is allowed to speak for his wife.
Also filing as a write-in for the GOP nomination is Ballville Township Trustee Richard Geyer, who is endorsed by the Ohio Citizens PAC. Retired teacher Bill Young of Green Springs is the write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination.
The Tea Party is not endorsing in three other primary Statehouse races in northwest Ohio:
● 81st House District: Republicans Robert McColley of Napoleon and Jason Rockey of Montpelier are competing for the Republican nomination. The unopposed Democrat is John P. Lymanstall of Napoleon. The winner will succeed state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), who is term-limited. The district includes Williams, Putnam, and Henry counties, and part of Fulton County.
● 82nd House District: Incumbent state Rep. Tony Burkley (R., Payne) is opposed by Republican Brett Eley of Wapakoneta. The district is made up of Defiance, Paulding, and Van Wert counties, and part of Auglaize County.
● 4th House District: Republicans Kurt Neeper and Bob Cupp, both of Lima, are aiming to win the Republican nomination to replace state Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. The only Democratic candidate is Robert “Bo” Huenke of Elida. The district is Allen County.
The Ohio Citizens PAC Tea Party group is also trying to win seats on the Republican State Central Committee, which elects the party chairman.
The group is backing Bill Delaney and Diana Skaff in Senate District 11 against incumbents Jon Stainbrook and Meghan Gallagher, who are endorsed by the state Republican Party. The Ohio Citizens PAC is also supporting Ron LeRoux and Maureen Alexander in state central committee District 2 against Mark Wagoner and Dee Talmage, who are endorsed by the Republican Party.