Ohio House Races: 2014

As Obama was winning the state in 2012, Ohio sent 12 Republicans to Congress and only 4 Democrats.  Having been in charge of the redistricting process, Republicans squeezed the most liberal parts of the state into long and winding districts from Toledo to Cleveland (Kaptur), Cleveland to Akron (Fudge), and Akron to Youngstown (Tim Ryan), and then gave the Democrats the inner parts of Columbus (Beatty).  Each of these Democrats won with 70-80%  of the vote.  Republicans made up the rest, most of whom won with about 55-65% of the vote.

Republicans do not seem to have any primary opponents with the exception of John Boehner.  If there was only one challenger, this district might be worth a good look.  Democrats might give this district a good fight, but this is an extremely conservative part of the rural southwest.  In the primary this May, however, there will be THREE challengers to Boehner which will guarantee a Boehner victory.  Ohio needs to change to a runoff system like Texas to eliminate spoiler candidates and force the leader to take on a challenger one-on-one.  As it is, Boehner simply needs to win a plurality which he is certain to do.

The Democrats may have an interesting primary with a young Isaac Quinones II taking on the long-serving Kaptur.  Kaptur’s district stretches far away from her base in Toledo, and Democrats in Lorain and Cuyahoga counties may choose the young gun over the dean of the Ohio delegation.

Looking towards November’s general election, Renacci and Gibbs, who otherwise may have been moderately vulnerable, do not currently have Democrat challengers.  The two seats most likely to flip to the Democrats seem to be those of David Joyce and Bill Johnson, both in northeast Ohio.  Joyce had taken over the seat of Steve LaTourette, a GOP moderate if ever there was one.  Joyce has not done anything of note in his first term, and the Democrats are hoping to make this a competitive race.

Bill Johnson represents the eastern Ohio river region which have historically been the most purple counties in Ohio.  If Democrats could swing these counties, then they would likely win a statewide race.  This wasn’t true in 2008 and 2012 though, as Obama’s margins in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton were so wide that he could afford to lose these voters to the Republican.  His challenger will be an experienced state representative so this might be a race to watch.

In the end though, I don’t foresee any change coming in this election.  These four northeast Ohio Republicans (Gibbs, Renacci, Joyce, and Johnson) have the seats that are most likely to flip if there is a strong Democrat surge in the next decade.

Weak or Vulnerable GOP Congressmen

It’s nice to receive validation, especially from folks at the Madison Project who I believe cross over into RealClearPolitics and RedState.  The Madison Project has scored the last Congress on conservative votes, and then compared that to the conservativeness of their respective district.  In looking at their “Hall of Shame,” we can see which Representatives should be voting more conservatively than they currently are.  Many of the greatest offenders come from weaker Republicans in strong GOP districts in the South, although there are many strong GOP districts across the country.  (“Hall of Fame” kudos to Jim Jordan, and also to Steve Chabot who didn’t make the cut but is fighting the good fight.)

Most of Ohio’s Republican districts would be considered leaning or swing, and they include the four who I’ve previously tagged as weak or vulnerable.  Both Steve Stivers (OH-15) and Pat Tiberi (OH-12) were redistricted away from central Columbus into areas which should be more Republican.  These two are ripe for GOP primaries.  (The Madison Project has Tiberi in a D+1 district, but I think that is the old district and not the new one.)  These two do NOT show up in Cook’s current Race Ratings and any Republican should be a winner, so why not challenge these two and get somebody in Congress more conservative?

The other two might be a little more tricky.  David Joyce (OH-14) (replacing Steve LaTourette, and who seems to have a similar temperament although we’ll wait for more data) and Jim Renacci (OH-16) are in districts that are slightly more Democrat-leaning than the 2002 map.  LaTourette had earned respect from his district and Republican challenges weren’t done and Democrat challenges fell flat.  If Joyce were to lose a primary to a more conservative candidate, the national Democrats will throw everything at this district because it is certainly winnable for them.  Ashtabula County has always leaned Democrat, and this district now includes more parts of Summit County which is certainly more Democrat.

Renacci’s district now includes the southwestern parts of Cuyahoga as well as parts of Medina County which are swing areas.  His district may be a bit more conservative than Joyce’s, but Democrats are pretty active and will likely have a high-profile candidate run on their side.  A primary generally hurts the incumbent, and it would be a struggle for either Renacci or the challenger to follow up with a November win.  It doesn’t mean somebody won’t try, and maybe Cook sees something that I don’t.  Like Stivers and Tiberi, Renacci is NOT listed as a vulnerable seat.

Moving to the Cook Report, there are two other seats that he has as “likely Republican.”  Bob Gibbs has a completely new district and people in the rural north are generally more Democrat than the rural central.  Bill Johnson’s district travels the southeast edge of the state bordering Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  The Appalachian areas are becoming more Republican and I think Gibbs is the more vulnerable of the two.

The big race in 2014 in Ohio will be for Governor.  Active Tea Party members are upset at the Medicaid expansion proposed by Kasich, and may consider a challenge in a primary.  I would be very concerned if they choose to challenge in the general, however, as a third party.  Kasich barely won in the big year of 2010, and if he loses just 5% to a third party then that might get a Democrat back in the statehouse.

Next year’s summer and fall should be all about getting out the conservative vote, but the winter and spring better be about getting a conservative candidate.  I hope conservatives are considering challenges at least to Stivers and Tiberi (and throw in Boehner), and we can push the next House even further to the right.  Gowdy, Amash, Chaffez, Brindenside, Gohmert, and Jim Jordan need all the help they can get.

Ohio Election Night: What to Watch and What Else to Watch

At the last weekend of the campaign, my confidence is not as high as I’d like it.  Four years ago, I was sure that Barack Obama would win but I also saw a path for McCain.  Then at 8:15 when they called Pennsylvania, I knew it was over.  Today they are many different iterations for a Romney win, but the bottom line RCP electoral map suggests that Obama is ahead and has an easier path to victory.  The current no-toss up map has Obama winning 290-248 which means Romney must win… as was true three months ago… Ohio plus one.

Before I talk about what to watch in Ohio on election night, I’ve been looking at a Romney path that does not include Ohio.  Ohio has lost population over the last number of years and the population that remains may include more Democrats.  Obama voters who see the impact of a struggling economy, and who otherwise would be ripe for a switch on Election Night, have been barraged with anti-Romney information.  Some don’t like the Bain Capital narrative and others are worried about the social conservative agenda.  Whatever the case, I think there have been very few undecided voters in Ohio and it will all depend on turnout.

So without Ohio, Pennsylvania plus one becomes the mantra.  Pennsylvania is very similar to Ohio where Philadelphia is the Cleveland / Northeast Ohio, the Pittsburgh area is the region from Youngstown and to the south, and the middle of PA is the middle and west of OH.  So if Romney wins Pennsylvania, he just needs New Hampshire or Iowa or Colorado.  Easy enough… if he wins Pennsylvania.

Another problem though might be Virginia.  I was thinking about which regions of the country would Obama’s enthusiasm level be greater now than in 2008, and I wonder about the DC area and the Virginia coast.  So it is somewhat unlikely, but Virginia has been a target of negative ads just like Ohio and Obama could win both states.  So now, Romney needs these “new battleground” states of Pennsylvania plus two if they include Wisconsin or Michigan.  It would be Pennsylvania plus three if you need NH, IA, and CO.  That could be doable, but much more challenging.

**Update.  A couple hours after I posted this, I saw an iteration chart from the New York Times.  It looks at each of the 512 iterations of the 9 swing states and finds that Obama has 431 different ways to win while Romney only has 76.  This contains the standard list of swing states which includes NC and does not include PA.  Still, a nice interactive website to visit.

Back to Ohio, I’ll be looking at different county numbers because (as any follower of Ohio elections knows) Cuyahoga is a big county, heavily Democratic, and notoriously late in producing its results.  Expect Romney to take an early lead, but only time will tell who the eventual winner will be.  For those looking toward a 2010 turnout, that election saw five House seats switch from Democrat to Republican.  (New York also saw five Democrats lose their seats, and four Democrats lost their seats in Florida, Illinois, and… Pennsylvania.)  But in this big Republican year, Ohio elected John Kasich as Governor in a very tight race at 49-47.  Here is that county map.

Ohio County Map for Kasich 2010As is typical, Democrats do very well in the north then the map stretches down the southeast edge.  What keeps this map from showing a Governor Strickland victory are the narrow Kasich victories in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and Montgomery County (Dayton) and the decisive Kasich victories in the surrounding ones.  President Obama, who won Ohio 51-47, took these two larger counties in 2008.

Looking at the Presidential elections of 2004 and 2008, we can look at the big three I-71 counties:
Hamilton (Cincinnati) – Kerry 47%, Obama 52%
Franklin (Columbus) – Kerry 54%, Obama 59%
Cuyahoga (Cleveland) – Kerry 66.6%, Obama 68.5%

Other medium-large counties that are slightly Democrat-leaning but otherwise good barometers of the state are:
Montgomery (Dayton): Kerry 50.6%, Obama 51.8%
Stark (Canton): Kerry 50.6%, Obama 50.2%

And finally there are the next two largest Bush-to-Obama counties (Hamilton is the largest):
Lake (east of Cuyahoga): Kerry 48.5%, Obama 49.3%
Wood (south of Toledo): Kerry 46.4%, Obama 52.5%

I will also be watching two House races to gauge any coat-tail strength.  OH-16 pits incumbents Jim Renacci and Betty Sutton.  On paper, the map favors Renacci but Sutton has put up a good fight and this race is currently a toss-up.  Also OH-06 is a 2010 rematch between Tea Party freshman Bill Johnson and the former Blue Dog Charlie Wilson.  This race is fought in those Ohio River counties that supported Obama in 2008 and Ted Strickland in 2010.  Johnson is favored, but if Wilson makes it close then it may also show strength in this region for Barack Obama.

Finally we have a Senate race which has seen the young Treasurer Josh Mandel slowly… slowly… creep up in the polls.  He is a clear underdog.  There have been both positive and negative ads on both sides, but there is simply little Josh Mandel traction.  If he is winning this race, then a Romney victory is practically a sure thing.  Sherrod Brown has built enough strength to survive a Mitt Romney Ohio victory; the same cannot be said of Josh Mandel with an Obama victory.

So there we go.  I expect Ohio to be a frustrating state to watch on election night, but log onto the Secretary of State’s website and look at these county percentages to see where Ohio is going well before it is called.

The “Red to Blue” Opposition Plan

The website header now reflects Ohio’s new 16 districts, down from the previous 18.  The image looks pretty red right now, and maybe I should change the website name to “Keep Ohio Red.”  But this blog was started after the April 15, 2009 Tea Party rally when Ohio had 10 Democrat districts to 8 Republican ones.  With a Republican collapse, the current 11-4-1 layout could see the Democrats holding 8 or 9 seats.  But we won’t let that happen in 2012… right?Renacci vs. Sutton district

The only incumbent vs. incumbent competition for November is the purple OH-16 with three-term Democrat Betty Sutton against freshman Jim Renacci.  While Sutton is familiar to people in the northern part of this district, Renacci is favored to win as he retained much of this original district to the south and west of Akron.  In fact, the Democrat Red to Blue website does not list this district as one which is likely to beat a sitting Republican.  Ohio has three out of the 64 districts where Democrats feel they might have a shot.

The district that might be the most competitive is OH-06 which I’ve called the Appalachia / Ohio River district.  Ted Strickland, former Ohio Congressman and Governor Johnson vs. Wilson districtis from this area and is actively involved with the Obama re-election campaign.  Charlie Wilson replaced Strickland in Congress and joined the “Blue Dog” Democrat Coalition only to be defeated by Tea Party favorite Bill Johnson.  Wilson is up for a rematch and this region will be very important for the presidential campaign as well.  When Democrats take Ohio, they usually have large victories in the Cleveland area and then add support from voters at the eastern edge of the state.

Another district on the Red to Blue list is OH-07 represented byGibbs vs. Healy-Abrams another freshman, Bob Gibbs.  Gibbs saw his district change the most geographically as he moves from rural areas in the south to rural areas in the north.  The swing counties of Stark and Tuscarawus  are included in this district and the Democrats have pinned their hopes on businesswoman Joyce Healy-Abrams.  Her brother is the current mayor of Canton, so the name recognition in the south plus the Democrat leanings of voters in the north might give her an extra edge against the favored incumbent.

Finally, a dark-horse district which may offer a surprise on election night is OH-10 in Dayton.  This district was re-drawn as a Republican incumbent vs. incumbent match between Mike Turner and Steve Austria.  Austria decided not to run for re-election making Mike Turner a clear favorite.   But Montgomery County has consistently voted for the Democrat in presidential elections, and Obama actually one the area in this newly-drawn district.  Sharon Neuhardt ran against Steve Austria in 2008, losing 58-42.  Her second campaign should be more successful than the first, and Mike Turner might have to earn his way to a sixth term.