Primary Day; Ohio on Hold

By Jim Ellis

Ohio’s Congressional Districts

March 17, 2020 — Today is a defining day for the Democratic presidential primary but it looks like former vice president Joe Biden will easily march toward the party nomination without participation from Ohio.

Originally, the Buckeye State primary was planned for March 10, but then re-scheduled for today, March 17. Yesterday, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) requested a judge stay the primary election in response to the COVID-19 virus but was turned down. Then, in a statement late last night, the state health director stepped in to halt the primary voting process under a statewide emergency order. The governor and secretary of state are working on ways to increase mail and absentee voting, but how and when people are supposed to vote remains uncertain.

This means only Arizona, Florida, and Illinois voters are casting their ballots today. State officials in each of those places are moving forward with voting as planned. Of this group, only Illinois, like Ohio, is scheduled to hold its state primary.

Regardless of Ohio not being in the mix, at the end of voting this day, Biden will effectively become the Democratic presidential nominee, but not yet officially. Perhaps more importantly, at least as it pertains to Ohio, is what happens to the candidates running for the down-ballot offices.

There is no US Senate race in Ohio this year, but all 16 congressional seats are on the ballot as well as 115 electoral contests for the state legislature (16 state Senate seats; all 99 state House seats), and a large number of local offices.

The confusion surrounding the primary could well become the foundation for eventual lawsuits from some of the candidates who may eventually lose close votes. Therefore, the decision to postpone could result in a very long primary, and post-primary cycle.

On the ballot in the congressional races are all 16 incumbents seeking re-election. Of this number, a total of 10, seven of whom are Republican, face primary challenges. The only relatively competitive battle, however, lies on the Democratic side in the state’s Columbus-anchored 3rd District. There, former Consumer Protection Financial Board official Morgan Harper is challenging four-term Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus). It would be surprising if this contest ended in a close result, however, as the congresswoman remains a heavy favorite for re-nomination.

The other place with a state primary, and this one will occur in full, is Illinois. Sen. Dick Durbin (D) seeks a fifth term and has no opposition today. He will also glide through the general election.

There is one open seat in the delegation, that of retiring Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville). Four Republicans are vying for the party nomination in one of the few safe Illinois GOP districts. Surprisingly, the field features no state legislators, an unusual situation for a seat that has not opened in 24 years. Vermilion County Treasurer Darren Duncan and Altamont School Board member Kerry Wolff are the two elected officials. The winner of tonight’s primary becomes the prohibitive favorite for the November election.

Though seven incumbents have primary challenges, only one is serious. In the 3rd District, media consultant Marie Newman, backed with close to $2 million, returns for a rematch with Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs/Chicago Suburbs). Two years ago, Rep. Lipinski was re-nominated with only 51 percent of the vote. This has been a tough campaign, and is different this time because of a third candidate, community activist Rush Darwish. The emergence of Darwish could actually help Rep. Lipinski because the anti-incumbent vote could be split to a degree.

A seven-way Republican primary will be settled in the 14th District for the right to challenge freshman Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Naperville) in what was a reliable GOP district.

A rematch will occur in the 13th District as Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan returns to challenge Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville). In 2018, this contest was decided in a 50.3 – 49.6 percent split.

Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) is the only member of the delegation running unopposed in both the primary and general election.

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