Two new states saw their filing deadlines pass this week: Ohio and Indiana. This means retirement/recruitment season is already done in 8 states. This allows us to take a detailed look at the state of play in all 27 of these state’s House races, as well as their two Senate contests. (Note: Next up is North Carolina, with a February 26th deadline.)
Ohio: No retirement, 7 races to watch
All 18 of Ohio’s congressmen (10 Democrats and 8 Republicans) will seek re-election. Of them, a third look like they will have to fight off a competitive challenge come November, 5 of them Democrats in OH-01, OH-13, OH-15, OH-16 and OH-18. OH-12 is probably the only GOP-held seat to watch, though OH-02 could still be worth monitoring as the district has produced many fireworks in recent cycles. However, a lot depends on what happens in the May primaries, as at least two candidates highly touted by the NRCC face very crowded fields in which their victory is far from certain.
Rep. Steve Driehaus of OH-01 is arguably the most endangered of the state’s incumbents as he is sure to face former Rep. Steve Chabot, whom he defeated two years ago, in the general election: No other Republican filed. Next on the list is probably OH-15, in which state Senator Steve Stivers should have little trouble securing the Republican nomination for a rematch over now-Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy. The trouble for Stivers could come in the general election: former Hilliard Mayor David Ryon has filed to run as the Constitution Party candidate and he could draw a substantial share of the vote because of conservative mistrust towards Stivers. (In 2008, two conservative candidates totaled more than 10% of the vote, helping Kilroy defeat Stivers.)
OH-16 is home to yet another Democratic freshman, and while Rep. John Boccieri looks in a better shape than his colleagues 5 Republicans are going after him. The front-runner is financial consultant Jim Renacci, whom the NRCC is hoping will self-fund; Renacci also used to serve as Mayor of Wadsworth, a small town of about 18,000 people. Yet, Renacci should face a tough primary against a crowed field of 4 other candidates. In particular, two of his opponents (Matt Miller and Paul Schiffer) ran in 2008 and received 42% and 10% of the vote - showings that are all the more impressive given that they came against a state Senator who secured the nomination with just 47%. In short: Renacci is in no way certain of winning the GOP nod. I’d guess the NRCC will turn away from the district f Renacci loses.
In OH-18, Rep. Zach Space long hoped he would not have to face a top-tier GOP opponent, but those hopes faded back in September when state Senator Bob Gibbs agreed to jump in. In a district George W. Bush twice won by double-digits, this could be a tough challenge to overcome. The twist: there are a total of 9 candidates seeking the Republican nomination, including 2008 nominee Fred Dailey (the former head of the Ohio Department of Agriculture), former state Rep. Ron Hood, and candidates who have never ran for office but who should enjoy support among Tea Party activists (The Chillicothe Gazette has a full rundown). When we are talking about this crowded a primary, as little as 15-20% could get you the nomination and all bets are off as to who could emerge as Space’s opponent.
Last is OH-13, which is the week’s big surprise as the GOP is only able to put Rep. Betty Sutton on its list because of a last-minute decision by auto dealer Tom Ganley, who dropped out of the Senate race to announce he’d run for the House. To be sure, this is a blue district that gave John Kerry and Barack Obama double-digits victories, and if Republicans defeat Sutton they are likely already on their way to a House majority. But Ganley should nonetheless be quite a headache for Democrats: He was willing to spend more than $1 million of his own fortune on the Senate race, money he’ll now use against Sutton, potentially forcing the DCCC to play in this district rather than devote those funds to the state’s many other vulnerable Democrats. A key question: Can Ganley survive the primary? A surprise can’t be ruled out i a 6-way field filled with political novices, but Ganley’s money should carry him through.
Democrats are targeting a seat of their own, OH-12. The filing deadline is all the more newsworthy here that Rep. Tiberi has been the subject of some speculation rumors, but we now know for sure he is seeking re-election. In the general election, he is sure to oppose Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks, who would have had far better chances in the previous two cycles but who we should nonetheless keep track of. Finally, there is OH-02, a staunchly conservative district the GOP has struggled in because of Rep. Jean Schmidt’s persona. But the Democratic state legislator the DCCC was touting dropped out in November, leaving the party in the hands of a trio of candidates: Surya Yalamanchili, a political novice whose claim to fame comes from a bout on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, PaulDavid Krikorian, who got double-digits running as an independent in 2008, and Jim Parker.
That leaves us with 11 districts which will almost certainly not host competitive races.
Democrats Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Dennis Kucinich (OH-10), Marcia Fudge (OH-11) and Tim Ryan (OH-17) should be safe. It should be noted that Kucinich didn’t draw a single Democratic opponent in OH-10 despite the fact that he had to face a few relatively competitive primaries in recent cycles. Furthermore, I have read that the GOP might look to contest Marcy Kaptur’s seat (but it would be a huge upset for former Food Town CEO Rich Iott or former Toledo Police Chief Jack Smith to defeat the longest-serving woman in Congress in a district that gave Obama 62%.
In addition, OH-06 has to be a disappointment for the GOP. This is a district that twice voted for George W. Bush and went for John McCain in 2008, albeit very narrowly; it’s also a district represented by a sophomore Democrat. And yet, the NRCC never made noise about challenging Rep. Charlie Wilson. As a result, the incumbent’s chief challenger is the man he already crushed in 2008 (62% to 33%), former Belmont County Sheriff Ohio Richard Stobbs. While repeat candidates are sometimes successful, it is difficult to go from a 29% defeat to a victory (even Nancy Boyda had not lost by quite that much in 2004), especially considering also made an unsuccessful run for this seat in 2006, this time losing in the GOP primary. This is one potentially tough district that Democrats should be able to hold.
Republican Reps. Michael Turner (OH-3), Jim Jordan (OH-4), Robert Latta (OH-5), Steve Austria (OH-7), John Boehner (OH-8) should be safe. All represent slightly-to-staunchly red districts, though OH-03 is competitive enough that Democrats should have a chance when Turner retires. Another Republican who looks safe despite the fact that John McCain just barely won his district is Rep. Steve LaTourette (OH-14); his main Democratic opponent is former appeals judge William O’Neill, who was already the party’s nominee in 2008. LaTourette lost by more than 20% that year, making it hard to see how he could lose to the same candidate under so much more favorable circumstances.
There were no surprises in Ohio’s statewide contest: Rob Portman and John Kasich are likely to coast to the GOP nominations, Ted Strickland will represent Democrats in the Governor’s race, and there were no major last-minute entrants in the Brunner-Fisher battle for the Democrats’ Senate nomination. That said, the last-minute entrance of two women, one of which has done work for Fisher, has led Brunner’s camp to accuse its rival of foul play.
Indiana: Uncertainty reigns
Indiana’s filling deadline was supposed to be met uneventfully, but Evan Bayh’s last-minute retirement announcement upended the landscape by forcing Democrats to figure out how to replace him. Yesterday’s deadline came and passed with no Democratic qualifying for the Senate ballot, which means a party committee will be able to choose a general election candidate after the May 4th primary results in a vacancy. Meanwhile, there will be 5 Republicans battling for the GOP nomination: former Senator Dan Coats, state Senator Marlin Stutzman, former Rep. John Hostettler, plumbing company owner Richard Behney and Don Bates Jr.
While all 5 of the state’s Democratic congressmen are running for re-election, one district could still open up if Baron Hill, Brad Ellsworth or Joe Donnelly are tapped to run for Senate, an additional headache for the DCCC to think about. All three Democrats filed for re-election, despite speculation that Ellsworth might not do so and put pressure on the party committee to give him the nod. The Republican fields, however, are locked in all three districts.
If Ellsworth does not move to the Senate race, he would be heavily favored to defend IN-8 as the GOP field is rather underwhelming. If Ellsworth withdraws before the primary, the Democratic nominee will be state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, the only other Democrat who filed (in coordination with Ellsworth). If Ellsworth withdraws after winning the primary, there will be a vacancy on the House ballot that the state party committee will be called to fill. While an open seat would be tough for the DCCC to defend, the fact that the GOP did not have time to recruit a top candidate will help Democrats; heart surgeon Larry Bucshon would be a credible Republican nominee with a good shot at winning, but other GOPers would have given the party better odds - not to mention Bucshon can’t be sure to win the 8-way primary!
If Hill does not move to the Senate race, he should face a top-tier race in IN-9 against whoever wins the GOP primary: Attorney Todd Young and former Rep. Mike Sodrel would both be strong general election challengers. If Democratic officials want to tap him for the Senate race, they’ll have him stay on the May 4th House ballot and withdraw after the primary to avoid having the nomination go to one of two little-known candidates. In IN-2, Rep. Joe Donnelly is the only Democrat to have filed, so for him to move to the Senate race would make for a fairly straightforward transition at the House level. Republicans are looking to contest this seat, with state Rep. Jackie Walorski and three other candidates seeking the nomination.
The six other districts are unlikely to change hands. Democratic Reps. Visclosky (IN-1) and Carson (IN-7) are safe, as are GOP Reps. Burton (IN-5) and Pence (IN-6). It is worth keeping an eye on IN-3, where Rep. Mark Souder is facing doctor Tom Hayhurst who has been attracting some buzz, but however unimpressive Souder’s hold on the seat has been Democrats aren’t in a position to win a district that voted for Bush by 37% in 2004 in this environment.
Finally, IN-4 is sure to host a highly competitive race - but only in the GOP primary. Just as we expected when Rep. Steve Buyer announced his retirement on January 29th, Democrats are not in a position to compete in a district that gave Bush a 39% victory in 2004 (McCain only won by 13%). On the other hand, a total of 11 candidates are seeking the Republican nod, a crowded field headlined by Secretary of State Todd Rokita, Greenwood Mayor Charles Henderson, state Senator Brandt Hershman and state Senator Mike Young.