Most Republican congressional seats in Ohio safe, but Dems see opportunities

Congressman Steve Chabot and his Democratic challenger Aftab Pureval are fighting for the 1st congressional district, considered the tightest race in the state this year.
Congressman Steve Chabot and his Democratic challenger Aftab Pureval are fighting for the 1st congressional district, considered the tightest race in the state this year.

Democrats need to turn 23 seats to regain control of the House.

For Democrats, the magic number is 23. That’s the number of U.S. House seats they need to win to regain the majority for the first time since 2010.

“It won’t be easy,” concedes Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Ben Ray Lujan. “We’re going to have to fight for every inch.

For his part Rep. Steve Stivers of Upper Arlington, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, said hanging onto the GOP majority “isn’t Vegas. I don’t need to cover the spread. I just need to win those races.”

In Ohio, six Democratic challengers outraised Republican incumbents last quarter, indicating enthusiasm for those candidates, but Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics warned against reading too much into the fundraising totals.

Congressional districts in Ohio, he said, are drawn fairly safe for incumbents.

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“The Ohio House map is designed to elect 12 Republicans and four Democrats,” he said. “And that’s probably what you should expect at this stage.”

Still, at least two races appear to be close: the 1st district around Cincinnati where Republican Rep. Steve Chabot is opposed by Democrat Aftab Pureval; and the 12th district in central Ohio, where Republican Rep. Troy Balderson eked out a win over Democrat Danny O’Connor in August. The same two candidates are vying for a full two-year term on Nov. 6.

Though Democrats see better pickup opportunities in states such as Minnesota, New York, Iowa and New Mexico, Ohio is seen as a testing ground on whether there will be a blue wave this November.

“If Democrats can get a net gain of one out of Ohio, they would be in pretty good shape,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections. “If they’re netting two or three out of Ohio, I think they’ve got the majority in their hands. If they don’t get any in Ohio, there might be a real fight for the House.”

A handful of factors have conspired to make this election interesting. First of all, it’s a midterm election, and with very few exceptions, the party of the president typically loses seats during his first midterm. Second, there are a ton of vacancies: As of Oct. 2, 50 Republicans and 23 Democrats have either left or are leaving the House after this term.

It’s generally easier to win an open seat than to topple an incumbent.

Gonzales said Democrats can reasonably be expected to win half the races they need in the states of California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey alone.

In other states, the most likely switches come in Republican-held districts where Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 2016, or in districts narrowly won by President Donald Trump. Also targeted: affluent, suburban districts with a higher-than-average level of college degree attainment, according to Kondik.

While Ohio remains challenging territory for Democrats, the energy is indisputable.

Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, was unopposed in 2014 and won in 2016 with 64 percent of the vote. The 7th Ohio Congressional district leans very decidedly red, yet Democrat Ken Harbaugh has outraised Gibbs $2.52 million to $1.01 million this election.

Democrat Betsy Rader, who is challenging Republican Rep. David Joyce in northeast Ohio’s 14th congressional district, also outraised the incumbent last quarter. The same is true for Theresa Gasper, a Democrat challenging Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, in the Dayton-area 10th District.

Congressman Mike Turner and his Democratic opponent Theresa Gasper.
Congressman Mike Turner and his Democratic opponent Theresa Gasper.

Both Joyce and Turner, however, have war chests built up over years of raising money without much significant competition.

Stivers said Turner, the former Dayton mayor, “is well-liked and always sort of does very well in the city of Dayton, which helps offset what would be a closer index.”

He also said he isn’t worried about Rader upending Joyce or Harbaugh beating Gibbs.

Harbaugh in particular will have a tough road, he joked, noting that he has the same last name as the University of Michigan football coach.

“Nobody named Harbaugh is going to win anything in Ohio in November,” Stivers said.

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