Dems tap Merris for House race

The Montgomery County Democratic party chose West Carrollton Councilman Patrick Merris as its candidate for the Ohio House 42nd district seat in a Wednesday vote..

Merris, 62, will face Republican Niraj Antani, 23, of Miamisburg in the race for the seat of the late Rep. Terry Blair, R-Washington Twp., who died in June. The district includes Miamisburg, Moraine, West Carrollton, Germantown and German, Miami and Washington townships.

County Party Chairman Mark Owens said Merris will be “an aggressive vote-getter” and is a good fit for the district. Five of the 13 precinct captains from the district attended the meeting and voted for Merris.

“I want to work on economic development,” Merris said. “I want to work for the district in Columbus.”

Merris is a Vietnam-era Navy veteran and also served in the U.S. Army. He is in his first year on West Carrollton Council, taking office in January, and has also served on the parks and recreation and zoning appeals boards. Merris has an associates degree in paralegal studies from Sinclair Community College and has worked as a maintenance technician at various companies.

“It looks like the Democratic Party found a qualified candidate,” said Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer, who chairs the county Republican Party.

County Republicans last month selected Antani, a University of Dayton law student, to replace Blair on the ballot.

“I look forward to engaging on the issues with Mr. Merris, as I seek to be a fighter for the middle class in the Dayton area,” Antani said. “I believe my ideas will create jobs and opportunity for all in our community and I’m excited for the campaign ahead.”

Democrat Leonard D. Johnson, 67, of West Carrollton had been the party’s candidate but dropped out of the race, giving the party a chance to choose another candidate to run for the seat representing the Republican-leaning district.

Two-time congressional candidate Jane Mitakides considered running.

“It’s an intriguing race,” said Mitakides, of Washington Twp. “It’s typically a seat where a Democrat wouldn’t have a lot of hope.”

Whether Democrats can take the seat “depends on if the party decides to make a concerted effort to get behind the candidate they choose,” she said.

Chris Schrimpf, communications director for the state GOP, said he anticipates the party will support Antani.

“We believe he will represent his district well in Columbus and continue to support policies that will grow Ohio and the region,” Schrimpf said.

Aaron Fisher, executive director of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus, said it is too early to know if they will invest in the race, but he said Merris provides a “clear contrast” to Antani because Merris has experience on the city council and knows the district.

“We are certainly interested in this seat and we are all talking about it now, where we were not even talking about it a month ago,” he said.

There are 39 Democrats in the 99-seat Ohio House.

“I think the goal has always been to break the Republican super majority that they have enjoyed for the past two years,” Fisher said. “That just requires picking up one seat. That is a very reasonable goal for the House and the party.”