Battle for the Statehouse 2020: A guide for the primaries

By: - December 20, 2019 1:00 am

A photo of the Ohio Statehouse from Wikimedia Commons.

It won’t be a full, 99-seat strategy for the Ohio Democrats in 2020.

But the party will put up a challenger in 83 House seats next year as it tries to wrest away Republican supermajorities in both chambers — a 61-38 edge in the House and 24-9 in the Senate. 

The GOP plans to keep the pressure on and will field candidates in 94 of the 99 seats. Both parties will contest each of the 16 state senate seats up for election in 2020. 

“All Republican incumbent members filed for reelection, another office or are term-limited,” Taylor Jach, a spokesperson for the House Republican Campaign Committee, said in a statement Wednesday after the filing deadline. “HRCC is committed to vigorously defending all Republican incumbent members and increasing our majority in the House.”

Ohio House Democratic Leader Emilia Sykes spoke about breaking the Republican supermajority in a statement.

“We are fortunate to have so many strong, passionate and experienced candidates running for the Ohio House in 2020,” she said, “and we are confident we will pick up seats and break the supermajority to deliver on the Ohio promise of better jobs, better lives and brighter futures.”

The Ohio House

Democrats picked up five seats in the 2018 election. Fully overcoming the Republican lead in the House for control of the chamber would take, even under the rosiest projections, several more election cycles for the Democrats. So their goal of breaking the 60-member supermajority threshold in 2020 means picking up a net of at least two seats.

Here are some Democratic primaries to watch:

District 16: Joe Romano and Monique Smith are campaigning to unseat Republican incumbent Dave Greenspan in the Cleveland suburbs of western Cuyahoga County (Westlake, North Olmstead, Rocky River). Greenspan won in 2018 by a margin of 54 to 46 percent.

District 36: Anthony Harris and Matt Shaughnessy are campaigning for a seat left open by term-limited Republican incumbent Anthony DeVitis in the suburbs of Akron (Cuyahoga Falls, Tallmadge, Green). DeVitis won in 2018 with a 55 to 44 percent margin (about 5,000 votes).

District 59: Chuckie Denison III and Chris Stanley are campaigning to unseat Republican incumbent Don Manning in the Mahoning Valley (Boardman, Canfield, Poland). Denison is a former General Motors employee at Lordstown, while Stanley is a school teacher in Youngstown. Manning narrowly won election in 2018 by about 400 votes. 

A few Republican House primaries to watch:

District 43: Incumbent Republican J. Todd Smith faces a primary challenge by Rodney Creech in the suburbs west of Dayton (Trotwood, New Lebanon, Eaton). Smith was appointed to the seat in mid-2018 and won a full term that November by about 450 votes. Creech is a Preble County Commissioner.

District 53: Four Republicans have filed for a seat left open by term-limited incumbent Candice Keller, who is now campaigning for the Ohio Senate. This includes Thomas Hall, Diane Mullins, Brett Guido and Jeff Wellbaum, who will face Democrat Michelle Novak in November. The district features an area between Cincinnati and Dayton (Trenton, Middletown, Oxford).

District 65: This is another busy GOP primary left open by term-limited incumbent John Becker. Republican candidates include John Kirby, Joe Dills, Dillon Blevins and former U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt. The winner will face Democrat Alan Darnowsky in a district just east of Cincinnati (Owensville, Milford, Goshen).

The Ohio Senate

The Democrats need to make up more ground here than in the House to overcome the Republican supermajority. The party will need to pick up five seats in a reversal of fortune compared to two and four years ago.

In 2016 election, buoyed by President Donald Trump’s 8-point win over Hillary Clinton on the presidential ballot, the GOP won 11 of 13 contested seats. (Republicans had three other wins with no Democratic challenger.)

The Senate’s districts are entrenched. Only one of those 13 contested races was decided within 10,000 votes: in the 30th District, where Frank Hoagland unseated incumbent Lou Gentile by a 9,300-vote margin.

In 2018, the GOP won 10 of 17 contested races. 

Here are a handful of Senate primaries for both parties to watch for:

District 4: The Republican primary will feature a three-way race, with two being current state representatives trying to jump to the other chamber. They are Candice Keller and George Lang, who are also challenged by Lee Wong, an area township trustee. The seat is left open by term-limited Republican Bill Coley’s departure, with the district including most of Butler County (Hamilton, Middletown, Trenton, Oxford). Coley won with nearly double the vote of his Democratic opponent in 2016. The Democratic candidate in 2020 is Kathy Wyenandt. (Correction: an earlier version of this story mistakenly said the two Republican state representatives running for the seat were term-limited. They are not. We regret the error.)

District 6: This should prove to be an important primary for both parties in a district encompassing much of the Dayton suburban area (Miamisburg, Centerville, Huber Heights). There are three Republicans vying for the seat: State Rep. Niraj Antani, Greg Robinson and Rachel Selby. Mark Fogel and Albert Griggs are the two Democrats who have filed. The seat is left open by term-limited Republican incumbent Peggy Lehner’s departure. Lehner was a big winner by 32 percent in 2016.

District 16: This is another suburban target for Democrats, with four candidates filing to take on Republican incumbent Stephanie Kunze in the western portion of Franklin County (Dublin, Hilliard, Grove City). The Democratic candidates are Troy Doucet, Crystal Lett, Mark Bailey, Justin Adkins and Eric Connelly. Kunze won election in 2016 by an 18-point margin.

District 22: A handful of Republicans are battling for a seat left open by Senate President Larry Obhof, who is term-limited from running again. The candidates include Mark Romanchuk (a term-limited state representative), Brunswick Mayor Ron Falconi, Timothy Hoven, Cory Branham and Michael Reynolds. The district encompasses Mansfield, Medina and Ashland in north-central Ohio. Obhof won by a wide margin over his Democratic challenger in 2016.

District 26: Republicans Melissa Ackison and Bill Reineke are campaigning for a seat left open by term-limited Republican incumbent Dave Burke in a large district in north-central Ohio (Fremont, Tiffin, Marion). Ackison previously campaigned for the U.S. Senate in a Republican primary won by Jim Renacci in 2018. Reineke is a state representative, and though not term limited, is campaigning to switch chambers. Burke was uncontested in 2016.

District 32: This district’s General Election could be an O’Brien vs. O’Brien match-up. Republicans Sandra O’Brien and Ken Polke will campaign to take on Democratic incumbent Sean O’Brien in this Mahoning Valley district (Warren, Ashtabula, Lordstown). Sandra O’Brien is a former candidate for Ohio Treasurer. Sean O’Brien was one of the two winning Democrats in 2016; he won with a 56 percent to 44 percent margin.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.