Skip to content

VALLEY POLITICS | Expect party favorites to prevail in low-turnout primary

The change in the day of the election, the change in the way the election is conducted and the lack of statewide contests all points to a very low turnout. That will benefit the incumbents and party favorites in the primary. 
Bill Doc Binning

This is an election-eve take on the former March 17, — now April 28 through May 8 — primary in the Mahoning Valley. 

Fear of COVID-19 led Gov. DeWine to move the March 17 Ohio primary to April 28, and it was made a total vote by mail election. Ballots must be postmarked by April 27 or dropped off at the Board of Elections by 7:30 p.m. April 28, to be counted. 

All ballots received in the mail by May 8 will be counted. This is not the all-mail process like the elections held in Oregon, where everyone is sent a ballot — with no need to ask. In Ohio’s so-called all-mail election, a prospective voter needs to fill out a form to apply for a ballot by a certain date, then vote after receiving the ballot and return it. 

Nationally,  Democrats, as well as our own State Rep. Michelle Lepore-Hagan, are pushing for an all-mail election like Oregon’s. 

There are no Ohio statewide nomination contests drawing voters to the polls. The Ohio presidential primary lost all its interest when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders ended his campaign and later endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. There was never any serious challenge to President Donald Trump on the Republican ticket.

There is some local interest in congressional races. In the winding Ohio 6th district — that runs from southern Mahoning County, down to the Ohio River then to Portsmouth — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson is secure with only token opposition, Kenneth Morgan of Chesapeake. A few elections ago, this district was viewed as competitive. That district has been very supportive of Trump.

The 13th district held by U.S. Tim Ryan has drawn considerable interest by eight Republicans:

• Christina M. Hagan of Alliance 
• Duane Hennen of Warren 
• Louis G. Lyras of Campbell 
• Richard A. Morckel of Akron 
• Jason Mormando of Youngstown 
• Robert J. Santos of Youngstown 
• Donald Truex of Rittman 

Did Trump’s showing in the Valley in 2016 stir that, or perhaps the surprise victories of the late state Rep. Don Manning and state Sen. Mike Rulli draw out so many Republican hopefuls? This is a district where the Republicans are usually hard-pressed to find a willing victim to be sacrificed. The 13th congressional district was gerrymandered by the Republicans to pack every Democrat they could find in one district so the Republicans would have a chance in the neighboring districts, and it worked.

Handicapping the Republican primary for the 13th district is a bit challenging.  Party insiders favor Hagan.  She served eight years in the Ohio House and established herself as an outspoken conservative. She represented the 50th  House District in Stark County, part of that district is in 13th — however she does not live there. 

She has raised and spent some money on mail. A Washington, D.C.-based P.A.C., the Ohio Freedom Fund, has spent money on TV promoting her and criticizing Lyras, the candidate who is likely her strongest challenger. Lyras is a local businessman from Campbell. His finance report shows he loaned his campaign more $100,000, some of that was spent on mail to absentee voters in March. The Lyras name is well known in parts of Mahoning County, however, there are not many registered Republicans in the Mahoning part of the 13th congressional district. 

Despite Hagan’s apparent edge as a past successful office seeker, none of her public service was in the greater Youngstown-Warren media market. If I could bet this race, I would box Hagan and Lyras. I cannot come up with a trifecta, from the remaining six candidates. Take Ryan to win by a 2:1 margin in the fall. Do not bet that district will be intact in 2022.

A tour of the Valley shows that some of the counties have competitive races. Outspoken Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka has drawn two primary opponents as he seeks re-election: David M. Guarino of Warren and Carl F. Clemens III of Warren.

Two opponents, and a low voter turnout, should result in the re-nomination of that long-serving county commissioner and Democratic Party chair. The Trumbull GOP is lining up a challenge to Polivka in the fall: Rex Fee faces off against Nikki Frenchko, both of Warren. Frenchko is very active on social media. We’ll see how that works out.  

In Trumbull County, there is a grudge match between incumbent Randy Smith and David DeChristofaro for Trumbull County engineer, Smith is endorsed by the party. 

Finally, in Trumbull, Gil Blair who was tapped to fill the unexpired term of Glenn Holmes for the 63rd House District, and a former Wethersfield Township Trustee has opposition — Werner Lange of Newton Falls and Barry Profato of Niles. He also has the party endorsement and is the likely winner. State Rep. Michael O Brien is seeking his fourth term in the 64th district and will be challenged by either Republican Martha Yoder or former Warren City Council President Robert Marchese.

In Mahoning County, the Democrats, under Chair Joyce Kale-Pesta seem content; none of the county officeholders have opposition. The County Republicans under Tom McCabe have filed a full slate of challengers.  

The Mahoning Republicans are also attempting to nominate David Engler as the Republican candidate for probate judge as a write-in, to face incumbent Robert Rusu, who runs as an independent. Finally, because of the untimely passing of Manning, the Republican House caucus in Columbus and the local GOP will be coordinating efforts to select someone to complete his term and take his place on the ballot. 

The change in the day of the election, the change in the way the election is conducted and the lack of statewide contests all points to a very low turnout. That will benefit the incumbents and party favorites in the primary. 

It certainly was difficult for the challengers to deal with the change in the primary date. They had to stop and restart their campaigns. Their problems were compounded when they tried to make the usual rounds of events to pitch their message under the cloud of COVID-!9. 

The virus has turned the world upside down: employment, markets, social life, religious practices and hairdos have been altered dramatically and to some degree permanently. This virus has impacted the conduct of this election, but we have yet to see its impact on the outcome of elections. 

Its effect will not be revealed in this Ohio primary as incumbents and party favorites will prevail. 

— Bill "Doc" Binning is a longtime Youngstown State University professor and occasional political operative who is now retired.