The public likes to rail against incumbents, but just one sitting legislator — State Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton — was defeated in Tuesday’s Ohio primary, and most of them won big.
“There’s a lot of people who talk about voting the bums out, but the ‘bums’ live in other districts,” said Christopher Devine, assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton. “The anti-establishment narrative is really overstated. If you had this broad anti-incumbency attitude you’d see a greater turnout and you would have seen many of these incumbents bounced.”
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Statewide voter turnout was 20.9 percent, meaning nearly four of every five registered voters stayed home. Nearly 1.7 million people cast ballots in Tuesday’s election, and turnout appeared higher on the Republican side. Although a full tally hasn’t been completed, Republicans cast 147,303 more votes than Democrats in the hotly contested governor’s races.
Blaine Kelly, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, scoffed at the so-called “blue wave” predicted by some this year and said, “We will hold onto our majorities.”
Republicans hold a 66-33 advantage over Democrats in the Ohio House and a 24-9 advantage in the Ohio Senate.
David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said the strategy this year was to “flood the zone” by running a Democrat in every House and Senate race. He thinks that will ultimately result in the defeat of many Republican incumbents on Nov. 6.
“Every few years the combination of one-party rule and pay-to-play comes together in a way that is outright corruption for the whole state to see,” Pepper said, citing the scandal over the now-closed ECOT charter school and Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s resignation in the face of an FBI investigation. “I think it’s a very opportune year for new candidates to say they are going to run to clean up the culture of corruption in Columbus.”
‘Power of incumbency’
Devine tallied up Tuesday’s races for Ohio House and Senate. In all, 66 incumbents — 55 in the House and 11 in the Senate — had contested primaries, and Rutherford was the only incumbent to lose.
“I think you witnessed the power of incumbency,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of Cedarville University’s Center for Political Studies. “They were still able to win pretty handily, whether they were dogged by scandal or got some stiff opposition. Incumbents in general have the value of name recognition and the value of experience and I think that goes a long way.
Political newcomer Sara P. Carruthers won 47 percent of the vote to defeat Retherford and former state lawmaker and county commissioner Greg Jolivette in the race for the Ohio House 51st district seat. She faces Democrat Susan Vaughn of Hamilton in the November election.
RELATED: Political rookie Sara Carruthers beats incumbent Wes Retherford in Statehouse primaryDevine said Retherford's loss was "more about personal behavior than anti-establishment feeling."
Retherford last May pleaded no contest and was found guilty of operating a vehicle while impaired. His conviction came nearly two months after he was found intoxicated and apparently passed out in an idling pickup truck parked in a fast-food drive-thru in Butler County. Authorities found a loaded gun in the vehicle, but a Butler County grand jury declined to indict Retherford on a felony weapons charge.
In an interview after the primary, Retherford attributed his loss to the money Carruthers put into her campaign for ads in the Greater Cincinnati television market.
“It’s hard to compete with $200,000,” said Retherford. “I still have 6½, almost seven more months left and I still have a lot of work to do.”
Smith said the power of incumbency helped State Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, win the GOP primary in the Ohio 73rd House district. Perales beat Jocelyn Smith of Fairborn 80 percent to 20 percent, despite facing allegations by her that he had choked, forcibly kissed and fondled her.
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Perales denied those charges but said the two had a consensual relationship involving sexually explicit texts and that Jocelyn Smith sent him topless photos, which she denies. Perales filed an extortion complaint with Fairborn Police against her in April after she called for him to resign and drop out of the race or she would release documents she said proved her allegations.
Jocelyn Smith faced questions about her credibility. She had earlier been accused of multiple infractions, including showing topless photos of herself to co-workers before being fired as a Clark County Sheriff's deputy in 2008, she faced three telephone harassment charges by an ex-boyfriend in 2014 and had a 2009 temporary civil protection order placed against her after another former boyfriend accused her of harassing him, court records show. She contends the allegations were made up and said the court cases against her ended in dismissals. The telephone harassment charges were dismissed after she completed a diversion program and the protection order was dismissed after a hearing in which the judge warned her against escalating her behavior, court records show.
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“She had her own serious flaws as a candidate,” Mark Caleb Smith said. “Had there been three people in the race I think it would have been a lot closer and Perales would have been in a lot more trouble.”
Year of the woman
Overall, women did well in Tuesday’s election, perhaps justifying the “year of the woman” label given the election in the wake of the #MeToo campaign.
Democrats are fielding 42 women candidates for the Ohio House in the fall, nine for state senate and 10 for Congress, Pepper said. The Democratic lieutenant governor candidate is also a woman: Betty Sutton, as is the party’s secretary of state nominee, State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Garrettsville.
The Republicans have 14 women running for the Ohio House and one for the state senate.
“It seems to be a phenomenon we’re seeing in Ohio and across the country,” Devine said.
Of the women on Tuesday's ballot, area Democrats nominated Ryan Taylor of Butler Twp. in the Ohio House 40th district, Kim McCarthy of Sugarcreek Twp. in the Ohio House 73rd, Anne Gorman of Plain City in the 74th, Amanda Finfrock of New Carlisle in the 79th, Sara Bitter of Loveland in the Ohio Senate 7th, Theresa Gasper of Beavercreek in the U.S. House 10th, Janet Garrett of Oberlin in the U.S. House 4th, and Vanessa Enoch of West Chester Twp. in the U.S. House 8th.
RELATED: Election 2018: Democrat Theresa Gasper will take on Congressman Mike Turner this fallLocal Republicans nominated Carruthers in the House 51st, Jena Powell of Arcanum in the House 80th, and Susan Manchester of Lakeview in the House 84th.
“Women are energized,” Pepper said.
Staff writer Michael D. Pitman contributed to this report.
By the numbers
30: Number of Ohio House incumbent Republicans in contested primaries on Tuesday.
25: Number of Ohio House incumbent Democrats in contested primaries.
4: Number of Ohio Senate incumbent Republicans in contested primaries.
7: Number of Ohio Senate incumbent Democrats in contested primaries.
1: Number of incumbents who lost in Tuesday’s election
Source: Ohio Secretary of State data compiled by Christopher Devine, assistant professor of political University of Dayton
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Staff writer Michael D. Pitman contributed to this report.