SUDDES: History favors Republicans in Ohio elections this year

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at tsuddes@gmail.com.

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Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at tsuddes@gmail.com.

Leaving aside, for now, possible Election Day consequences if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, or further damning revelations in the House Bill 6-FirstEnergy scandal, Ohio Republicans are sitting pretty as the state slogs into Campaign ‘22.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and Democrat Nan Whaley, once Dayton’s mayor, are vying for the governorship. And Republican J.D. Vance, a Middletown native, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a suburban Warren Democrat, are competing to succeed Republican Sen. Rob Portman, of suburban Cincinnati’s Terrace Park. There are facts that separately favor Republicans in each contest:

Fact 1, as to DeWine-Whaley: The last time Ohioans retired a Republican governor was in 1958. But voters have since retired three Democratic governors — Michael V. DiSalle in 1962, John J. Gilligan in 1974, and Ted Strickland in 2010.

Fact 2, as to the Vance-Ryan contest: Since Ohioans began to directly elect senators in 1914 — by sending Republican Warren G. Harding to the Senate — there have been 10 Senate races, like this year’s, in which neither Ohio nominee was the incumbent. Republicans won nine of those contests. (The exception: 1974, when Democrat John Glenn beat the GOP’s Ralph Perk, then Cleveland’s mayor.)

True, in Ohio elections, as in all things, history isn’t necessarily destiny. As the great historian Gordon Wood wrote, “If history teaches anything, it teaches humility.” So, at this stage of their campaigns, Whaley and Ryan stand every chance of besting DeWine and Vance, respectively. But to the extent the past can suggest patterns, they’re each going to have to campaign extra hard, and extra widely, in Ohio.

Meanwhile, in the struggle for the Ohio General Assembly, Republicans are well-positioned — again, absent further seamy revelations about the House Bill 6-FirstEnergy affair.

Even if newly drawn General Assembly districts weren’t biased in favor of the GOP – and they are – Republicans running for Ohio’s House and state Senate hold a huge fund-raising edge over Democrats.

That’s long been true at the Statehouse: Once a General Assembly caucus is in the minority (as state Senate Democrats have been since January 1985, Ohio House Democrats, since January 2011), its members basically become legislative spectators, not bill-passers. The people who fund campaigns, though, are usually looking for bill-passers, not bystanders.

Beyond DeWine-Whaley and Ryan-Vance, this year’s pivotal contests will likely be the race for three Ohio Supreme Court seats.

To recap: Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who sided with Democrats in this year’s fight over legislative districts, is retiring. Competing to succeed O’Connor: Democratic Justice Jennifer Brunner and Republican Justice Sharon Kennedy.

Seeking re-election are Republican Justices R. Patrick (Pat) DeWine, the governor’s son (challenged by Democratic Court of Appeals Judge Marilyn Zayas, of Cincinnati) and Patrick Fischer (challenged by Democratic Court of Appeals Judge Terri Jamison, of Columbus).

Ohio Supreme Court contests have become even more critical for both parties: Because of Ohio’s redistricting mess, which drew state Senate and Ohio House seats for 2022 only, this year’s wrestling match over drawing General Assembly district lines will play out again in 2023 and 2024 in front of the high court’s seven members.

Whether Brunner or Kennedy is elected chief justice, Mike DeWine would appoint a Republican to the remainder of either justice’s term as an associate. That’d leave the court 4-3 Republican. But if Democrats unseated Pat DeWine or Fischer, that’d make the high court 4-3 Democratic – and utilities, insurance companies and the General Assembly’s GOP caucuses very unhappy. They like things the way they are. But do ratepayers and policyholders?

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at tsuddes@gmail.com.

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