Congressional challengers already gearing up for 2024

By: - October 5, 2023 4:40 am

U.S. Capitol (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom.)

There’s an election right around the corner, with big questions about abortion and marijuana for Ohioans to consider. But many politicians are already looking ahead to 2024’s congressional races. A handful of familiar faces are back as candidates for Congress, and several local officials are looking for a promotion.

Toledo rodeo redux

Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur has represented Toledo in Congress since 1983. She’s currently the longest serving woman in congressional history. With a new — and notably still unconstitutional — map, Kaptur faced a more competitive race in 2022. But she wound up beating her Republican challenger J.R. Majewski after an AP report raised doubts about how he portrayed his time in the Air Force.

Majewski, who rose to prominence painting pro-Trump messages into his yard, depicted himself as a combat veteran in Afghanistan. While Majewski received combat pay, he was primarily based in Qatar, loading and unloading aircraft. Earlier this year, the Air Force updated his file to award him a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, which is given to those who served abroad as part of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In May, Majewski announced he was dropping his bid for a rematch citing his mother’s health. Last week he changed course and jumped back into the race.

Former state Rep. Craig Riedel and former Napoleon mayor Steve Lankenau are running for the nomination as well. The latter hasn’t served in elective office since the 1990s, but Riedel served in the Statehouse from 2017 to 2022.

Majewski and Riedel both ran for the nomination last time around. But in a four-way race that included Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, Majewski was able to win as an outsider. Riedel has so far cobbled together an impressive slate of endorsements — including four members of Republican leadership in Congress. Majewski, who picked up former President Donald Trump’s backing after the primary, turned those endorsements against Riedel.

According to financial disclosures filed in May, Majewski doesn’t appear to be employed. He and his wife have at least $165,000 in liabilities between a mortgage, student loans and a home improvement loan.

Riedel meanwhile disclosed no liabilities at all and a substantial stock portfolio. He’s reported no income from those holdings this year, but he brought in more than $50,500 dividends or capital gains last year in addition to his $75,500 state salary.

Freshman challengers

Republicans are also contesting a pair of seats held by first-time representatives. U.S. Reps. Greg Landsman from Cincinnati and Emilia Sykes from Akron, have a long track record with their constituents even if they’re new in Congress. Landsman served on Cincinnati City Council and Sykes represented the Akron area in the Statehouse for eight years.

Landsman’s challenger is GOP central committee member Orlando Sonza. Aside from his role within the party, Sonza hasn’t held elected office previously. But in terms of service, he’s a West Point grad and Army veteran who has worked in the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office. Sonza has picked up several Southwest Ohio endorsements including U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance and nearby Republican state representatives and senators.

Thanks to an extension, Sonza has yet to file his financial disclosure with the U.S. House clerk.

Sykes initially had two Republican challengers. Akron attorney Greg Wheeler finished second in last year’s GOP primary, but decided to bow out when Hudson City Councilmember Chris Banweg joined the race. But Banweg didn’t have the field to himself for long. Kevin Coughlin, who served in the state House and Senate from 1996-2011, announced his bid for the nomination this week.

Coughlin has yet to file his financial disclosures. Banweg’s filing shows he made $250,000 last year at Goodyear, and he and his wife’s retirement accounts are flirting with $1 million. The family also owns two rental properties in Pensacola, FL and stakes in a pair of scalloping companies.

Outsiders

Meanwhile, there are a handful of outsider candidates launching long-shot bids against deeply entrenched incumbents.

Michael Harbaugh is running against Dayton area U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-OH. Harbaugh owns and operates a food truck called Wild Banana according to his disclosure. He’s running as an independent promising ranked choice voting, a $20 minimum wage and an end to dark money, among other policy goals.

In the Columbus district held by U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-OH, Roshan Chandrakumar is launching a primary challenge. Chandrakumar’s approach is grassroots, and his aims are exceptionally ambitious. His campaign website argues for a new U.S. Constitution. Chandrakumar’s financial disclosures show he works for CareSource.

In the Mahoning Valley, Democrat Lou Lyras has filed again to challenge U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH. Lyras is the CEO of an industrial painting business and co-owns Penguin City Beer in Youngstown. He ran unsuccessfully against Johnson in 2022.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.

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