Democrat Danny O’Connor’s narrow special election loss in a district Trump won by 11 points suggests that several GOP-held seats in the Ohio legislature may now be in play. The seven-county 12th Congressional district saw big swings towards Democrats in suburban and exurban areas — places like Worthington, Dublin, Westerville, New Albany and much of Delaware and Licking Counties. The Columbus Dispatch attributes the swing to a big shift away from Trump and, by extension, the Republican party, focused in in “suburban areas, particularly among women.”
Democrats agree. According to to Aaron Fisher, who runs the campaign committee for the Ohio House Democrats: “You have voters who are more educated — and that is going to be our bread and butter — who are turned off by what is happening in the Republican Party.” In its coverage, the Dispatch highlighted three such legislative districts in suburban Franklin County that are prime targets for Democrats in November.
There are more just like them.
Here are some of the most flippable legislative districts in Ohio.
House District 6
House District 6, made up of several of the eastern and southeastern Cuyahoga county suburbs, meets several of our target criteria. Traditionally held by Republicans, it went for Clinton by 2 (49.3% – 47.1%) in 2016 and has no incumbent as the current office-holder (Marlene Anielski) faces term limits. In this race, Democrat Phil Robinson takes on Republican Jim Trakas.
Robinson has an MBA from Case Western, has worked for Senator Dianne Feinstein and currently is a Senior Vice President for City Year, managing the group’s national operations at its 28 sites across the country. Last month, Robinson was endorsed by former President Barack Obama.
Trakas, an Independence Councilman and former Cuyahoga GOP chairman was, until last year, an employee and lobbyist for ECOT, the disgraced and now defunct online charter school. He served in the Ohio House when laws were written to favor the school and was then and is now an ally of deal-maker Larry Householder. November may come down to whether the stench of corruption will overcome Trakas’s name recognition.
House District 19
House District 19 lies in the northeastern suburbs of Franklin County (Westerville, New Albany and Gahanna), and is another open seat where a Republican incumbent (Anne Gonzales of Westerville) is facing term limits. While reelecting Gonzels in 2016, the district went for Clinton over Trump by 9 (51.8% – 42.9%) and Danny O’Connor won 57 percent of the vote in precincts within the 19th district, suggesting voters are open to cross party lines. In this race, Democrat Mary Lightbody is taking on Republican Tim Barhorst.
Lightbody is a 25-year educator, training future teachers at Otterbein and Ohio State University’s Newark campus. As of the post-primary filing, Lightbody had a big cash advantage over her opponent, Republican Tim Barhorst, a local insurance agent. Lightbody was also endorsed by President Obama.
House District 21
House District 21, made up of northwest Columbus and parts of Worthington and Dublin in suburban Franklin County is where Hillary Clinton had her best showing of all Republican-held legislative districts in the state (54.2% – 40.6%). It’s an open seat, with incumbent Republican Mike Duffey facing term limits.
Despite Duffey winning four consecutive terms, the district looks open to considering Democrats with Danny O’Connor winning 62 percent of the vote in the August special election in 21st district precincts. The race features Democrat Beth Liston taking on Republican Stu Harris.
Liston is a pediatric physician and internist, and teaches at the Ohio State University’s Medical School. Endorsed by President Obama, Liston faces Republican Stu Harris, an attorney for Nationwide and member of the Dublin School Board.
House District 24
House District 24, another Franklin County suburban districts contains parts of Upper Arlington, Hilliard and swaths of Columbus. This is another open seat, currently held by Republican Jim Hughes who is seeking a judgeship. The district is surrounded by Democratic districts, but has been hard for the party to flip given Hughes’ name recognition. In 2016, Clinton won the district by 11 (52.8% – 42.0%) and in the special election, Danny O’Connor won 75 percent of the vote in the precincts that overlap the 24th District. The candidates in November are Democrat Allison Russo and Republican Eric Yassenoff.
Russo is a public health policy expert for a research firm, mother of three and founder of Girls Who Lead, an after school program. Yassenoff is a former Kasich staffer who now works in real estate and serves on Upper Arlington City Council. At the time of the last mandatory filing, Yassenoff held a strong cash advantage over Russo, who emerged from an expensive three-way primary in May but was recently endorsed by President Obama.
House District 37
House District 37 is another open seat being vacated by a term-limited Republican in suburban northeastern Summit County. The incumbent, Kristina Roegner, is a far-right anti-union Republican who won her last two terms handily in this district that went for Hillary Clinton by less than one percentage point (48.2% – 47.6%).
The candidates are Democrat Casey Weinstein, an Air Force Veteran, IT firm manager and member of Hudson City Council who ran unsuccessfully for the seat before, and Mike Rasor, a private attorney and Stow councilman. Weinstein, like Liston, Lightbody, Robinson and Russo, was endorsed by former President Obama. The district skews slightly older than those in Central Ohio and has a slightly lower Democratic vote share, but given the Clinton performance and a strong Democratic candidate facing a social conservative might be enough to swing the district in a wave year.
House District 43
House District 43 contains all of Preble and part of Montgomery County, from which it draws the majority of its voters. This diverse district includes urban and rural areas, and nearly 25% of its residents are African-Americans. It is another open seat where the incumbent Republican resigned to take a judicial appointment. Appointed to fill the vacancy, Republican J. Todd Smith is facing Democrat Dan Foley in the November election.
Foley, a preschool intervention specialist has served on the Montgomery County Commission for over a decade. Smith is a local pastor and socially conservative Tea Party Republican who defeated a local councilman in the May primary.
The district voted for Trump by a narrow margin (51.7-44.8%), but given the demographics and voting propensity combined with a strong Democratic candidate is seen as an excellent pickup opportunity for Democrats.
Don’t get hung up on this list. It’s not meant to suggest there aren’t other winnable races. There definitely are. These are just the ones being watched most closely where the district seems primed to swing blue. There are also a lot of amazing candidates we love running in districts that could swing our way in a good year. We’ll do another round of profiles closer to the election. There are also, unfortunately, a few Democratic-held seats that went for Trump in 2016 that we’ll have to defend. But these six seats give you a good sense of where to start if you’re looking to get involved in a race that has promise.
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