SUDDES: Ohio House races reveal the real Republican-Democratic divide

Ohio Democrats have suggested that the party’s big thinkers in Washington haven’t exactly flooded the Senate campaign of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, of suburban Warren, with donations from the party’s national cache.

Ryan, a 20-year House member, is vying with Cincinnati Republican J.D Vance for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring suburban Cincinnati Republican Rob Portman. The conventional wisdom is that the Ryan-Vance race is exceedingly close, and so it may be, assuming polled Ohioans aren’t playing games with pollsters.

But then there’s this: Henry J. Gomez, senior national political reporter at NBC News, reported last week that “Ryan … has been a more prolific fundraiser [than Vance]. But because national Democratic groups have provided comparatively little help on the airwaves, Ryan has had to spend cash as comes in just to keep up with the GOP onslaught.”

It’d be easier to sympathize with the grievances of Ohio Democrats if they’d demonstrated a winning track record over the last 20-odd years.

Leaving aside the three victories of Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, in 2006, 2012 and 2018, and the capture of three Ohio Supreme Court seats, it appears that the last time Democrats won major statewide elected executive offices was in 2006. And in the last two presidential elections, Ohio voters backed Donald Trump.

True, Democrats are running a full slate of statewide elected executives this year, led by former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who’s challenging the re-election of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, of Cedarville. Likewise, Democrats are running a full Supreme Court slate.

But as governors and Supreme Court justices well know, those two branches of Ohio’s government can’t do all that much without the increasingly pushy legislative branch’s say-so.

Besides the governorship, the Senate and congressional seats, and three state Supreme Court seats, the ballot asks Ohioans to fill 17 state Senate seats and 99 Ohio House seats.

That’s the theory. But of the 17 Senate seats voters will fill, four Republican-held seats are uncontested by Democrats, while Republicans left only one Democrat-held seat uncontested. Among the unopposed Republicans: Sen. Stephen Huffman, of Tipp City, chair of the Senate Health Committee, and Sen. Kirk Schuring, of Canton, the Senate’s No. 3 Republican. (The lone unopposed Democrat is Sen. Hearcel Craig, of Columbus.)

It’s in the Ohio House contests where the real Republican-Democratic difference jumps out. Back of the envelope: Republicans failed to field a candidate in nine Ohio House districts (about one in ten). But Democrats failed to field a candidate in 19 districts (about one in five).

That is, Democrats are leaving one-fifth of the Ohio House’s 99 seats uncontested. And that means (a) no demands on the GOP campaign kitty by insecure GOP candidates, (b) fewer bet-covering distractions at Republican headquarters and, (c) no callouts by Democrats about the Statehouse’s Republican super-majorities. In short, Democrats are doing Republicans a big favor by not filing in so many districts.

At least through Dec. 31, Republicans hold 25 of the state Senate’s 33 seats, 64 of the Ohio House’s 99 seats. If Democrats peeled four Senate seats away from Senate Republicans, those Republicans could no longer add an emergency clause to bills, shielding measures from a statewide referendum by Ohioans.

And if Democrats peeled away five seats from House Republicans, those Republicans could no longer override gubernatorial vetoes – which matter more and more given that on some days and some issues DeWine seems positively moderate compared to GOP legislators.

But those gains would require Democrats, for the first time in a generation, to stop playing defense in the General Assembly.

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

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