Ohio faces a mixed bag of political races this year, with contests ranging from governor all the way down to local judgeships and leadership of the Lucas County Republican Party.
With 2017 election results barely cold and the new year hardly begun, already both Republican and Democratic voters are challenged to support candidates in the May 8 primary.
Nationally, Democrats are trying to convert the low approval ratings of President Trump into success in the off-year congressional elections, officials said.
Melissa Miller, a political science professor at Bowling Green State University, cited the well-respected Cook Political Report as saying that Ohio’s 4th and 5th congressional districts — held by U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan of Urbana and Bob Latta of Bowling Green, respectively — are considered solid Republican seats in 2018.
“Having said that, it would be unwise for any Republican incumbent to get too comfortable on Capitol Hill in the next 10 months,” Ms. Miller said.
She said the President’s low approval ratings will encourage Democrats to paint their Republican opponents as a mirror image of President Trump, “deservedly or not.”
David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron, said he believes 2018 will be a “tsunami” election in favor of Democrats in many other states, but will be less dramatic in Ohio, where the starkly pro-Republican redistricting of 2011 has made it difficult to mount a serious challenge against any of Ohio’s 12 Republican congressmen. The same is true of Ohio’s four Democratic congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
“You have to have candidates that are legitimate candidates that can raise money, that the party establishment is willing to get behind. It helps if they have some prior political experience and aren’t total amateurs. That’s hard in a place like Ohio because people are unwilling to run knowing the deck is stacked against them,” Mr. Cohen said.
But just because the deck is stacked against them, that doesn’t mean Democrats are going to concede re-election to Mr. Latta and Mr. Jordan.
Mr. Jordan’s likely Democratic opponent, retired Oberlin teacher Janet Garrett, ran and lost against Mr. Jordan in 2014 and 2016, and is already running hard on social media.
Maumee resident and investment fund manager Michael Galbraith has been campaigning to take on Mr. Latta as the Democratic nominee. Mr. Galbraith said he expects to raise more money than Mr. Latta’s two previous opponents, at least. He said he’s raised about $50,000 so far.
James Neu, the Democratic candidate in 2016, reported no money raised or spent, while Robert Fry in 2014 reported fund-raising of $59,444. Mr. Latta’s 2012 opponent, Angela Zimmann, spent $471,028. In each of those races, Mr. Latta spent more than $712,000, with money left over.
Asked how he would do better than Ms. Zimmann, Mr. Galbraith said he believes circumstances have changed.
“She ran a very, very hard campaign and I think we have to look at the circumstances for the time, from 2008 onward there was a turn to the more conservative side in the district and now we’re seeing a turn in the opposite direction,” Mr. Galbraith said.
Mr. Latta also has two Republican opponents to defeat in the May 8 primary.
A spokesman for Mr. Latta said the seven-term congressman is representing the district in line with the wishes of his constituents.
“Congressman Latta has represented the values of Ohio’s 5th District in Washington by helping pass the largest tax-cut package in a generation, supporting the National Defense Authorization Act which gave our nation’s troops the largest pay increase in years, and voting to repeal the individual mandate which has penalized working families that can’t afford Obamacare’s skyrocketing premiums,” said campaign spokesman Drew Griffin. “His focus is on continuing to advocate for conservative solutions, providing exceptional constituent service, and ensuring Ohio’s voice is heard in Congress.”
Ohio politics were jolted on Friday when state Treasurer Josh Mandel announced that he would not seek the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, citing his wife’s illness.
Mr. Mandel’s departure left Republicans scrambling to decide whether to line up behind unknown Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons, who has been campaigning for the Republican nomination for months, or consider a challenge from GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Jim Renacci, a three-term congressman from the Akron area, or Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
Locally, former state senator and representative Mark Wagoner has stepped up his outreach to Republicans for support in the contest for Lucas County Republican Party chairman.
In a post on Facebook last week, Mr. Wagoner didn’t mention his opponent, Jon Stainbrook, who has been elected party chairman five times during an often-contentious tenure.
The battle will be fought in the precincts of Lucas County, as partisans of both Mr. Wagoner and Mr. Stainbrook file to run for 312 precinct seats on the county Republican Party Central Committee. The central committee elects the chairman at a reorganization meeting that will be held in June.
In the past, Mr. Stainbrook has ensured his election by being able to recruit more candidates for the obscure precinct posts. Those candidates run in the May 8 primary. The filing deadline is Feb. 7.
Mr. Wagoner said he and his backers, who call themselves Republicans for a New Lucas County, are confident they will already have enough precinct candidates lined up.
“We have wide array of people in our coalition who are excited to revitalize the Lucas County Republican Party,” said Mr. Wagoner, a lawyer and former state representative and senator.
Mr. Stainbrook said he will make his announcement about whether he’ll run for chairman after the Feb. 7 filing deadline. If successful, it would be his sixth term.
He said the party has done its job by helping presidential nominee Donald Trump in 2016 and endorsed Republican Toledo mayoral candidate Tom Waniewiski in 2017.
“We’ve done a good job of electing candidates and of giving the grass-roots support these candidates need to get elected, and we’re actually building a foundation that’s been used by candidates all the way from municipal court to governor and to president,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
He also insisted that the election coming up at the organization meeting is not about him, but about the party’s central committee chairmanship, now held by Stainbrook ally Meghan Gallagher.
“In most counties the central committee person is the most powerful. I’m actually an afterthought. Wagoner’s running against Meghan. He’s not running people against me,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Also locally, Republicans have high hopes of winning two local judgeships, with Municipal Judge Joshua Lanzinger planning to run for the Lucas County Common Pleas Court seat held by age-limited Democratic Judge James Bates. Five Democrats have lined up to seek the Democratic nomination for that seat in the May 8 primary, and then face off against Judge Lanzinger in November.
Republican Common Pleas Court Judge Gene Zmuda has declared his intent to run for the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals seat held by Republican Judge James Jensen, who is also barred by age restrictions from seeking re-election. Bowling Green attorney Joel Kuhlman is seeking the endorsement for the multicounty appeals court seat.
So far, Republicans are still looking for candidates for a series of seats that will be on the ballot in Lucas County and which are traditionally held by Democrats, including Lucas County commissioner; Lucas County auditor; state representative for Districts 44, 45, and 46, and state Senate District 11.
Much of the focus of 2018 will be on Ohio’s governor race, with multiple candidates in both parties vying for the nomination to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Some see former Ohio treasurer and attorney general Richard Cordray as the Democrats’ best hope to recapture the governor’s office, though he faces competition from Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former Cincinnati-area Rep. Connie Pillich, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Barberton, and state Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill.
On the Republican side, state Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted recently moved to claim the front-runner label when they merged their campaigns with Mr. DeWine seeking the governorship and Mr. Husted the post of lieutenant governor. They face Ms. Taylor and Mr. Renacci in the May 8 primary, assuming both of them are still in the race by then.
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