Ohio will again be one of the most important states with regard to the upcoming congressional elections.
There may be a record number of Ohio re-runs in 2012. Ex-Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-OH-6), who was defeated 45-50 percent by freshman Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH-6), has filed a congressional exploratory committee for the purposes of seeking a re-match. The race will occur in the newly created far eastern Ohio 6th District, which is less Democratic than the seat that Mr. Wilson held for two terms, but is still very competitive, particularly in a presidential election year.
Under the new Ohio map that has two fewer seats than in the previous decade, there is a logjam of defeated Democratic representatives looking to run again. In addition to Wilson, former eastern Ohio representatives John Boccieri (D-OH-16) and Zack Space (D-OH-18) are at least considering running in 2012. Also, don’t forget gadfly former Rep. Jim Traficant (D/I-OH-17), either. Traficant represented the Youngstown seat for nine terms before being expelled and forced to serve a seven-year prison sentence for accepting bribes and related crimes. He has also not ruled out running next year but, even if he does, it will be as a minor Independent candidate. Add current representatives Betty Sutton (D-OH-13) and Tim Ryan (D-OH-17) to the equation and you have five strong candidates forced to vie for only four seats.
Boccieri could be the swing man in this scenario and will likely face a major Democratic primary wherever he might decide to run. His old 16th District touches the new 6th, 7th, 13th, and 16th CDs. If he wants a shot at the man who defeated him last year (41-52 percent), freshman GOP Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH-16), he will likely have to wrest the Democratic nomination away from Rep. Sutton, whose current district is now also spread among several new seats. The most logical place for her to run is in District 16, against Renacci. A tough, divisive Democratic primary between Boccieri and Sutton, however, would certainly give the Republican a huge advantage in the general election, an edge that in and of itself might be enough to make the ultimate difference.
Boccieri could also run in District 6 against Rep. Johnson, but now he’ll have to oppose Mr. Wilson in the primary. He could also dip to the south and challenge freshman Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH-18) in the new 7th District, but there he would likely draw former Rep. Space, who lost 40-54 percent to Gibbs. Lastly, he could theoretically challenge incumbent Rep. Ryan in the new 13th District, but such a move is highly unlikely to occur.
But Ms. Sutton is the area’s sitting incumbent with major problems. With downtown Akron now in the new Cleveland-dominated 11th District, she could conceivably challenge fellow Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11) but, another elected official, state Sen. Nina Turner, is already in that race. Under the theory that the two African-American candidates could split the majority demographic voter base, Rep. Sutton’s entry in the race could allow her to construct an alternative Democratic coalition and take advantage of the split between the two candidates. Ms. Sutton is unlikely to choose this option, however.
Most of the Akron congresswoman’s current 13th CD is in the new 16th, meaning taking the aforementioned general election incumbent pairing with Renacci, or hopping over into the Youngstown seat to challenge Rep. Ryan in the party primary. Finally, her last option would be to move south and seek a confrontation with Gibbs, but there she would likely have to face Space first.
Though the Ohio Democratic candidate pool appears deep for 2012, the inevitable intra-party fights will weaken their standing in several of these central-east Buckeye State seats.