By making a 23-year-old Indian-American their candidate for state representative, Republicans in the 42nd Ohio House District are seeking to expand the party with more diverse, younger voters.
Democrats, meanwhile, are looking at the choice as a chance to help them make inroads in a GOP stronghold and will pursue state party help in an attempt to win the seat in November, a local party leader said Friday.
Three-term state Rep. Terry Blair died in office in June, and the GOP this week selected Niraj Antani, a second-year law student at the University of Dayton to replace him on the ballot. Antani outlasted four other candidates Thursday night to become the party’s choice.
He said younger, more diverse voters are among those whom the GOP has had trouble attracting.
“The Republican Party has obviously struggled with diversity in the past and we’ve struggled with youth in the party,” Antani, a Miami Twp. resident, said. “And I want to change that.”
Antani’s selection addresses issues both major parties are dealing with, Democrats less so in recent years, said John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
“All political parties are always looking for new faces and new talent,” he said. “In particular the Republicans have had an interest in young people because of President Obama’s success with young voters.”
Obama’s success has not trickled down to the 42nd District, which includes Washington Twp., Germantown, German Twp., Miamisburg, Miami Twp., Moraine and West Carrollton. Republican Mitt Romney carried the district in the 2012 presidential race with 58 percent of the vote, according to the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
Democrats see this election as an opportunity to change that. In November voters will choose between Antani and the Democratic candidate, Leonard D. Johnson, 67, of West Carrollton. Democrats have until Aug. 12 to put a new candidate on the ballot if they choose to in light of Blair’s death, according to the board of elections.
That will be Johnson’s choice, said Montgomery County Democratic Chairman Mark Owens. Owens said he plans to talk with state party leaders in the next few weeks about making the campaign a higher priority and fueling it with more funds.
“This gives us a unique opportunity we haven’t had in a long time,” he said. “The dynamics of this particular race have changed.”
While Blair was well known and well respected across the district and beyond, Antani “is an unknown to the district. He starts at ground zero,” Owens said.
“We don’t know much about him,” he said.
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