Election 2024: Dems hope to flip area Senate seat: Here are the primary candidates

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Three well-known public officials are competing this March for the Democratic Party nod in a critical Ohio Senate primary race that could give the Miami Valley its first Democratic state senator in over a decade.

When the state redrew its legislative maps last year, Senate District 6 — now encompassing the entirety of Dayton and most of its eastern, western and southern suburbs — gained a competitive edge for Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, told this news organization that the district could potentially be the first time Democrats have picked up a Senate seat since the 1980s. Though it’s no guarantee, Antonio said this would give Senate Democrats more leverage.

Candidates in the race are state Rep. Willis Blackshear, Jr., D-Dayton; Dayton Board of Education member Jocelyn Rhynard; and Kettering City Councilwoman Jyl Hall.

Neither the state nor county Democratic parties plan to endorse a candidate.

March 19′s victor will go on to face Republican Ohio Board of Education member Charlotte McGuire this November. McGuire was the county GOP’s top pick to defend its hold on the district after incumbent one-term Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, opted to forego reelection and run for Congress instead.

State senators serve a four-year term and are paid $63,007 a year, plus extra for certain leadership roles.

Rep. Willis Blackshear, Jr.

Blackshear has represented Dayton in the Ohio House since 2020. Before that, Blackshear worked in communications for the Montgomery County Board of Elections and the county auditor’s office.

His late father Willis Blackshear, Sr. was a popular Democratic activist and longtime Montgomery County recorder.

Blackshear Jr. could have run for a third term in his safely Democratic Ohio House district but opted for a Senate bid after encouragement from the community, he said. He called it a chance to provide a stronger voice for Montgomery County’s working families.

“Whether you live in Dayton, Kettering, Centerville, or anywhere else in this district — we all want the same thing: A strong, safe community where you can raise a family,” Blackshear said to this news organization, touting his hopes to restore the American dream in Montgomery County. “It’s time we had a State Senator who got that.”

His priorities, if elected, include bolstering the area’s economy and workforce readiness with investments in job trainings; keeping up the fight for abortion rights in Ohio after a decisive Issue 1 win; and bringing millions of dollars of investments back to the community, when he can.

On education, Blackshear called for the state to make public education its number one priority again in a time when lawmakers are increasingly turning to (and investing in) private schools and charter schools to fix Ohio’s lagging education system.

Blackshear also promised continued action on gun control — a subject that Ohio Democrats have made very few inroads on in the past few years. He supports enhanced red flag laws and background checks, along with a full-out ban on guns that can shoot more than 31 rounds without reloading.

“This is personal for people in Dayton. We all remember where we were when we learned about the Oregon District shooting,” Blackshear said. “Every Ohioan, regardless of where you live, should feel safe in their communities.”

Rhynard and Hall both also called for increased gun control measures.

Blackshear told this news organization that he’d work in the Senate to give more power to local communities to fight rising rates of homelessness, hunger, and poverty, which he said are consequences of ineffective Republican policies.

“Self-serving politicians have undermined local attempts to address these issues. As someone who represents an urban state House district, I’ve seen this disinvestment first hand. It’s time we worked with innovative local leaders to give them the tools and resources they need to tackle these challenges in every corner of Ohio,” Blackshear said.

Jocelyn Rhynard

Credit: Provided

Credit: Provided

Rhynard, a member of the Dayton Board of Education since 2018 and a member of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio board, has kept her campaign largely focused on abortion rights.

Rhynard distinguishes herself as the “only pro choice woman on the ballot.” The phrase is a subtle dig at Blackshear, a man, and Hall, a Democrat who has been endorsed in the past by Democrats For Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group that aims to restrict abortion access, among other things.

Rhynard’s pitch, shared by Blackshear, is that abortion rights are not a given just because they’re now enshrined in the Ohio Constitution; it’s critical to have someone in the Senate willing to fight tooth-and-nail against any legislative movement to undermine or remove those rights.

“It’s not enough to just vote for any Democrat in this primary; that is the bare minimum. We need leaders who are fighters, who are champions for women’s rights, who will work hard every single day to get legislation passed and protect our rights in the statehouse,” Rhynard told this news organization. “I will be an advocate for our shared values on every major issue that comes before the state Senate.”

Rhynard’s other priorities as state senator would be to fight political extremism, bolster public education, supporting businesses in Montgomery County and keeping rivers, lakes and public lands clean.

On education, Rhynard said she’d work to ensure that every child in Montgomery County has the ability to access quality schools.

“As a school board member, I have seen firsthand the effects of the nationwide teacher shortage as well as how dedicated and hardworking our teachers are. The biggest barrier to fully funding our schools is the use of billions of public tax dollars being funneled into non-public schools that are not subject to the same metrics and financial oversight as our public schools are.”

Rhynard, who has a transgender son, also castigated Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly for passing a bill that would block gender affirming hormone treatments and surgeries for minors. She said the measure “erodes parental rights” and called it harmful and discriminatory toward a group of people already marginalized by society.

“Our government should be protecting, not discriminating, and legislation that legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ+ people not only harms us all, but will continue to drive young people and families out of the state,” Rhynard said.

Jyl Hall

Credit: Provided

Credit: Provided

Hall has served on Kettering City Council since 2022. She holds a PhD from Asbury University’s Theological Seminary school in Kentucky through a dissertation focused on Dayton poverty, and works for a nonprofit that supports foster children.

Hall follows in the footsteps of her father, former local congressman and U.S. ambassador Tony Hall who represented the Ohio Senate 6th District in the 1970s.

Jyl Hall has had to put more energy than she’d have liked into defending her record on abortion. Despite her previous endorsement from Democrats for Life, she’s assured that, if elected, she’d take the sworn oath to uphold the Ohio Constitution — and that means protecting the right to an abortion, too.

“As a Kettering city councilwoman, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to people talk about what matters most to them, and what they want for their families,” she said. “People have real concerns, and they deserve a state senator who understands those concerns and works every day to address them.”

Hall believes sticking to those issues — which she calls “kitchen table” issues — is the best way to beat a Republican in the general election; the best way to reach across the aisle in Columbus; and ultimately the best way to enact change as an outnumbered Democrat in the Ohio Senate.

“You can represent the issues that really matter to people, and I believe those issues to be the things that families talk about at the kitchen table,” Hall told this news organization in November, shortly after she announced her candidacy. “I’m not somebody who really gets into a lot of the hot-button topics that are designed to divide and conquer; I’m interested in bread and butter issues.”

Hall’s priorities would be to improve education and children’s services, reduce healthcare costs, address Black maternal and infant mortality healthcare disparities, bring more funds to mental health and addiction services, and bolster the district’s housing stock by promoting strategic rezoning.

Hall said it’s critical to increase Dayton’s graduation rates — not only as a way to improve residents’ individual quality of life but as a way to save taxpayers money. She said data shows high school dropouts tend to rely more on government programs like welfare, Medicare and Medicaid, and views high graduation rates and a prepared workforce as incentives for businesses to move to the district.

In Hall’s view, fully funding public schools, raising teacher pay and supporting teacher’s unions are fundamental.

Follow DDN statehouse reporter Avery Kreemer on X or reach out to him at Avery.Kreemer@coxinc.com or at 614-981-1422.

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