As always, the Ohio ballot features the presidential and Congressional races at the top, and next up are those for the state legislature. The entire Ohio House and half the Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans, are up this year, as the presidential race is close.
And 2020 is proving to be a challenging and difficult time to run in those downballot contests.
Dave Greenspan has been in elective office for decades – in his home state of Georgia and in Ohio. For the last four years he’s been a Republican state representative from Westlake west of Cleveland.
“This is probably the most divisive political environment that I’ve ever seen," said Greenspan.
Greenspan is in a competitive race with Democrat Monique Smith.
Mailers have tied him to the $60 million federal corruption scandal around House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law. He voted against that and has co-sponsored two efforts to repeal it.
Some other Republicans are getting the same treatment. But Democrats are being hit too.
Republicans lost six House seats to Democrats in 2018, and they’re now targeted the Democrats who won them, including Mary Lightbody of Westerville. She beat a candidate who’d been backed by Republican Larry Householder in his fight to become Speaker. She's now running against Republican Meredith Freedhoff.
“There’s other things that we could and should be talking about rather than this rather vicious attack ads that aren’t based in truth," said Lightbody.
And it’s not just incumbents - challengers who haven’t even served in the legislature are also being attacked in ads and mailers.
Both Greenspan and Lightbody are in Ohio’s suburban districts. And that’s where the heart of the battle for the Statehouse is, says David Cohen at the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
“The suburbs in general, I think are really kind of it's really ground zero, I think, for this particular election and elections going forward in the near term, because in the suburbs to be very friendly territory for Republicans," said Cohen. "But that is that is changing. And some suburbs are becoming very blue and others are very much a purple area that’s a swing area.”
While Republicans won the offices of governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer in 2018, Democrats gained a total of five House seats – there was one Republican flip from blue to red. The GOP also took a Senate seat in the Youngstown area that had been blue.
Former Ohio Democratic Party chair Chris Redfern is now working on some state House races, but he’s feeling confident.
“We're going to pick up five to seven seats in the state House, probably two seats in the state Senate, and then one to two seats in the Congress," Redfern predicted.
But the majority in either statehouse chamber is likely not in question.
Republicans hold 61 of 99 House seats, so Democrats would have to add 12 new seats to control the House.
The Senate is dominated more than 2-1 by the GOP, which has controlled that chamber since 1985. The two Democratic Senators on the ballot would have to win, and Democrats would have to win eight more seats to take over the Senate.
Nick Everhart is a longtime Republican consultant working with former and current candidates. But he says the Democrats have a reason for optimism this year.
“This is just a much more perilous political environment nationally and in Ohio for Republicans. And you know that while most of the attention is kind of focused on the presidential, the truth is the impact that presidential dynamics having down ballot is pretty significant right now," Everhart said.
The nuclear bailout law scandal involving Republican former House Speaker Larry Householder is getting some play, but not a lot. The payday lending scandal that led to the resignation of Republican former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger in 2018 wasn’t a big campaign talking point either.
While some may wonder if this is a missed opportunity, Everhart says apparently not.
“The question is, is he really defined enough to use sort of a guilt by association villain? And I think I think, frankly, they must have decided that he's not or that they just had better attacks to use," Everhart said.
Chris Redfern says Democrats are taking a simple approach.
“Who's crazier and who's more corrupt, Donald Trump or Larry Householder? Now, if you live in Zanesville or maybe Columbus, you know the name Householder. But if you live in Tiffin or Cleveland or Toledo, you don't know Householder, you know Trump and you know, he's crazy. And we don't have to get 75% percent of the vote. You have to get 51% of the vote," said Redfern.
The maps of House and Senate districts was drawn by the Republican dominated apportionment board. So though Householder was ousted as speaker, he will likely win re-election to his seat in his very Republican district, though there are six write ins in that race.
Some districts are so secure for the parties that 19 of 99 House races have only one major party candidate, though some are facing write-in opponents.
In the Senate, all 16 races have both Republican and Democratic candidates. But four of the five candidates for open seats in the Senate are current Republican state representatives hoping to move to the other chamber.