By Jim Ellis
Aug. 3, 2021 — Though the two Ohio special congressional elections won’t officially be decided until the Nov. 2 general election, today’s nomination contest in both the vacant 11th and 15th congressional districts will unofficially choose the succeeding representatives in the respective Democratic and Republican primary elections.
District 11, the vacated Cleveland-Akron seat because former Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Cleveland) resigned to accept her appointment as Housing & Urban Development Secretary, is a solidly Democratic seat (Biden ’20: 80-19 percent; Clinton ’16: 80-17 percent). Though yielding a Democratic primary of 13 candidates, the race is boiling down to a two-way contest between former state senator and 2020 Bernie Sanders for president national co-chair Nina Turner and Cuyahoga County councilwoman and local Democratic Party chair Shontel Brown.
The 15th District lies in southern Ohio and contains some of the south Columbus suburbs of Franklin County along with 11 largely rural counties southwest, south, and southeast of the state’s capital city. The former incumbent here, Steve Stivers (R-Columbus), resigned his office in May to accept a position as president/CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. This, after testing the waters for a US Senate run. OH-15 is a reliable Republican district (Trump ’20: 56-42 percent; Trump ’16: 55-40 percent) that has grown more conservative over time.
Originally, it appeared that former Sen. Turner was a lock in the 11th District. She had big leads in polling and fundraising, but in the past six weeks, Brown has made major strides. While the latest polling still projects her trailing just outside the polling margin of error, the prevailing political trend is definitively moving in the local official’s direction.
This race is also shaping up as a battle between the two major factions within today’s Democratic Party: the Democratic socialists, led by Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and the political action committee known as the Justice Democrats, opposite the national party establishment featuring such individuals as House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the Congressional Black Caucus leadership, and Hillary Clinton.
While keeping her ads positive, some of Brown’s outside supporters, namely the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC, have highlighted public comments Turner previously made about President Biden, Vice President Harris, all before they were elected to their present positions, and the Democratic Party in general. Conversely, Brown’s campaign ads highlight her strong support for President Biden and his stated policy agenda.
The Turner campaign responded with late ads saying Councilwoman Brown supported lucrative contracts for her ex-fiancé’s road paving company (the council action awarding the contract was unanimous, however) and voted herself a $7,000 pay raise.
The 15th District GOP primary will attract national attention because former President Donald Trump is again on the line with an endorsement, in this case ex-Ohio Coal Association chairman Mike Carey, but state Sen. Bob Peterson (R-Sabina), state Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Canal Winchester), and former state Rep. Ron Hood all are viable contenders within the field of 11 total Republican candidates. Any one of the named individuals winning tonight should not be considered a major surprise.
With Trump last week seeing his endorsed candidate fail in the TX-6 special election (the late Rep. Ron Wright’s widow, Kathy Wright), the Trump resources devoted to helping bring Carey over the finish line have increased. The national media will turn a Carey loss into a Trump loss, and then double-down on last week’s Texas results to cast the former president as losing his grip on the Republican Party faithful.
Each of the other candidates have assets of their own, too. Sen. Peterson leads all contenders in fundraising, Rep. LaRe is the beneficiary of former Congressman Stivers’ endorsement and non-connected advertising spending from some of his remaining federal funds, while Hood is getting strong backing from the Club for Growth organization, also in the form of a substantial independent expenditure.
The outcomes in both races should be tight, and as is almost always the case in lower turnout special elections, the team best delivering their votes to the polls will prove victorious. Early voting began on July 7 but won’t really tell us much because these campaigns are not divided over partisanship and most of the candidates have similar geographic bases.
Since it is unlikely that the minority party in either of these districts will have a competitive opportunity in the November special general, tonight’s winners will be coming to Washington late this year.