Republicans’ messiest and most expensive Senate primary is racing to a close Tuesday, as Ohio GOP voters pick a candidate for the open seat.
J.D. Vance ended the campaign as the polling leader, thanks to a big-spending super PAC funded almost singlehandedly by conservative tech billionaire Peter Thiel and a well-timed endorsement from former President Donald Trump. But a large field of candidates and relatively low turnout have made Vance’s victory less than certain, as both former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and state Sen. Matt Dolan have also seen their poll numbers rise in the race’s final days.
Ohio GOP primary voters are also deciding Tuesday whether to renominate Gov. Mike DeWine, who has faced some conservative blowback over his efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, while Democrats are picking their nominee in an uphill race for governor. And both parties are selecting candidates in a number of key congressional districts central to the fight for the House majority.
In neighboring Indiana, Republicans are also set to select nominees for two closely watched congressional races: one to challenge a vulnerable Democratic member in the state’s northwest corner, and the other in a solid-red Southern Indiana district where the GOP primary will likely decide the next member of Congress.
Ohio Republicans choose their Senate nominee
The undisputed headliner of the evening is the Republican primary for the open Senate seat in Ohio, where polls close at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. The race has been a rough-and-tumble fight in which two candidates almost literally came to blows on the debate stage.
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent in the race — but given the crowded field, the winner of the primary likely won’t emerge with more than a narrow plurality of support.
Vance rocketed to the top of public polling after Trump’s endorsement, but he isn’t alone at the top of the field. Mandel, who has also wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s caustic politics, has been Vance’s chief rival. But Dolan — the son of the owner of the Cleveland Guardians, the recently rechristened Major League Baseball franchise — has taken a different tack, shunning the former president and criticizing his hold over the party.
In that, Dolan was alone. The rest of the field — namely investment banker Mike Gibbons and former state GOP chair Jane Timken — also chased the former president’s support.
Whomever emerges from the Senate primary is the likely favorite in November, but Democrats will still contest the seat. Their candidate will likely be Rep. Tim Ryan, who briefly ran for president in 2019. With his House district shredded by the Republican-dominated redistricting process, Ryan took the plunge to run statewide this election.
Ryan has been a strong fundraiser in the race and has emphasized his disagreements with his party in his messaging, including a recent ad where he says “my party also got it wrong on the trade deals that sent your jobs overseas.” Ryan is facing Morgan Harper, a former CFPB staffer who ran for Congress in 2020, in the primary.
Ohio’s governor faces the GOP base
The other big-ticket statewide primary in Ohio is the Republican gubernatorial race, which features DeWine trying to fend off a handful of primary challengers.
The field challenging DeWine includes former Rep. Jim Renacci and Joe Blystone, a farmer. Both tried to run to the right of the longtime Ohio pol, with Renacci chasing Trump’s support and supporters and Blystone trying to ride anti-vaccine mandate fervor. (Blystone recently shared, and then deleted, a photo of himself standing by a sign with a swastika made out of syringes.)
DeWine is expected to win the divided primary. But Democrats will be closely watching to see what share of the vote DeWine hits, to see if there is any weakness among base voters.
Should DeWine win, he is the favorite going into November. But Democrats will still field a credible challenger, with two former mayors squaring off: Cincinnati’s John Cranley and Dayton’s Nan Whaley.
In another statewide contest, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is also facing a GOP primary challenge, from former state Rep. John Adams. LaRose — who co-chaired the National Association of Secretaries of State elections group during the run-up to the 2020 election — has recently pivoted to praising Trump, despite the former president’s continued lies about the 2020 election being stolen from him. LaRose was rewarded with Trump’s endorsement.
House Republicans start marching toward the majority
Republicans will choose their standard bearers to try to flip several battleground House districts in both Ohio and Indiana.
The race to take on Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who found herself in a red-leaning seat after redistricting, has drawn the most attention and morphed into something of a GOP proxy war. State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, backed by establishment forces like the Republican Main Street Partnership and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), is facing state Rep. Craig Riedel, who is endorsed by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and plans to join the House Freedom Caucus.
In an open northeast Ohio district, attorney Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, a former Miss Ohio winner who is backed by Trump, is the frontrunner. Shay Hawkins, a former aide to Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), is also running. Meanwhile, the last-minute retirement of GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs cleared the way in another district for Max Miller, a former Trump aide who was initially recruited to challenge Rep. Anthony Gonzalez after he voted to impeach Trump. Gonzalez later decided to retire.
In Indiana, Air Force reservist Jennifer-Ruth Green is competing with former La Porte Mayor Blair Milo for the GOP nod to take on Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan. His northwest Indiana seat, which Biden carried by 9 points, is a top GOP target. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth’s (R-Ind.) surprise retirement opened up a safe GOP seat in the south of the state. Top contenders there: ex-Rep. Mike Sodrel, who served one term in the early 2000s; former state Sen. Erin Houchin and veteran Stu Barnes-Israel.
Less drama in the Democratic House races
Democrats, meanwhile, have uncontested primaries in their Ohio target districts. Former Cincinnati City Council member Greg Landsman is running unopposed for the nomination to take on GOP Rep. Steve Chabot, whose district became more favorable to Democrats under redistricting. Former state House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes is also unopposed for the Democratic nod in that open northeast Ohio seat, which Biden narrowly carried in 2020. Both of her parents served in the Ohio legislature. She could eventually face Gilbert or Hawkins, who are running on the GOP side.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest Democratic races of 2021 has looked less competitive this year. Democratic Rep. Shontel Brown is facing off against progressive heavyweight Nina Turner again for the second time in as many years. Brown, who is backed by the Congressional Black Caucus’ leaders and now President Joe Biden, came from behind to beat Turner in a special primary election last August. Now, Turner is back for a rematch, but many of the big progressive names declined to go all in this time.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s PAC notably backed Brown, drawing some outrage from its membership. Meanwhile, Brown drew help from Democratic Majority for Israel, AIPAC’s new super PAC and the crypto-funded Protect Our Future PAC.