On paper, Ohio is the archetypal swing state. Bill Clinton won it twice, then George W. Bush won it twice, then Barack Obama and then Donald Trump. But a look below the surface shows a growing conservative state, with overwhelming Republican dominance (12-4) in its U.S. House delegation and a huge advantage in the state legislature: 25-8 in the Senate and 64-35 in the House.
Still, as Republican as the state has become, it’s nonetheless one of the best chances for a Democratic Senate pickup in November.
The main event in today’s primaries is the Republican contest for the Senate seat Rob Portman (R) is giving up after two terms. For the longest time, the story was the lengths the candidates would go through to win Donald Trump’s endorsement. Between commercials touting themselves as Trump loyalists to visits to Mar-a-Lago, the candidates — former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, former state GOP chair Jane Timken and businessman Mike Gibbons — spent much of the campaign wooing the former president, trying to out-Trump the other. The big, potentially crucial turning point in the race came two weeks ago when Trump endorsed Vance, despite his well-publicized history (thanks to Club for Growth commercials) of being a rabid anti-Trumper in 2016. Now this guy, who said back then that he was so disgusted with Trump he could see himself voting for Hillary Clinton, has done a 180, and finds himself heralded by Donald Trump Jr. and Tucker Carlson and accompanied on the stump with rightwing heroes Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Mandel had been the nominal frontrunner until the endorsement, but his candidacy took a hit earlier when he and Gibbons nearly came to blows in a debate. Once upon a time, Timken was thought to have the edge for Trump’s backing, but her candidacy never took off (despite winning the endorsement of the outgoing Portman), and Trump didn’t want to associate himself with a sure loser.
One candidate not mentioned in the above paragraph is state Sen. Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians (former Indians) baseball team. He is the only Republican in the race who eschews talking about Trump, did not seek the endorsement, and doesn’t buy into the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. He actually (gasp!) went as far as saying Joe Biden won the election. There is some indication that Dolan is picking up momentum with voters who think the party should move beyond All Things Trump and focus on defeating Biden and the Democrats.
In the race for governor, GOP incumbent Mike DeWine is thought to have a comfortable lead over primary rivals Jim Renacci, who gave up his House seat in 2018 to run against Sen. Sherrod Brown (a race he lost by six points); and Joe Blystone, a cattle farmer. Two former mayors are battling it out for the Democratic nomination: Nan Whaley of Dayton and John Cranley of Cincinnati.
House races of interest (Ohio loses one seat):
OH 07: This is one example where Trump’s endorsement made a huge difference. Anxious to defeat Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, he went all out early on behalf of Max Miller, a former White House aide. That, and death threats, pushed Gonzalez out of the race. In addition, Rep. Bob Gibbs announced his retirement as well, frustrated with the GOP-controlled redistricting process that eliminated his seat and threw him into the 7th. The likely Democratic candidate for the seat expected to be won by the Republicans is podcast host Matthew Diemer.
OH 09: Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D), first elected in 1982, is the longest serving woman in House history. She’s unaccustomed to having to fight to get re-elected. But the state legislature redrew her northern Ohio district to exclude Democratic areas and add rural, more conservative territory. And while she’s safe in today’s primary, she’s expected to have a battle on her hands to win a 21st term in November. Republicans seeking the nomination include state Rep. Craig Riedel, state Sen. Theresa Gavarone and Air Force veteran J.R. Majewski.
OH 11: When Shontel Brown won the primary last year against progressive activist Nina Turner — a special election to succeed Marcia Fudge, who joined the Biden Cabinet as HUD secretary — it was seen as a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton, Jim Clyburn and the party establishment were backing Brown, while Bernie Sanders, AOC and the progressive left wanted Turner. Brown won primary by about six percentage points. Turner is back for a rematch, but the urgency and attention are no longer there, and Turner doesn’t have nearly the amount of money she had in the special. The winner of the primary is all but assured of victory in November.
OH 13: The incumbent, Tim Ryan (D), is running for the Senate. The likely nominees are former state Rep. Emilia Sykes (D) and political commentator Madison Gesiotto Gilbert (R), a former Miss Ohio USA who (naturally) has been endorsed by Trump. The race for November is seen as a toss-up.