Last week, candidates for state office were required to file a pre-primary fundraising report indicating how much they had raised since January 1, and who from. In races for the Ohio senate, an analysis of fundraising data demonstrates the advantages of incumbency and being in the majority.

Realistically, of the 17 races, few if any represent real pickup opportunities for Democrats, thanks to gerrymandering. But the numbers also provide insight into how well candidates are doing at building grassroots support and hustling for the funds needed to run a viable campaign. And among Democrats, there are some encouraging signs.


Before we explore the pickup opportunities, let’s review the contested primaries that feature Democrats facing off on May 8. All of these are in districts Democrats are expected to safely win in the fall, so May 8 is for all the marbles.

First, in Senate District 11, Toledo Representative Teresa Fedor raised more ($40,155) in the period than did her rival, State Representative Michael Ashford ($21,670), who has the endorsement of the Lucas County Democratic Party.  Fedor, who has represented the Senate district before, attracted an impressive 234 individual contributions to her campaign (vs just 35 for Ashford), but Ashford has a larger cash balance heading into the primary. This will definitely be one to watch.

In Cleveland’s SD21, incumbent Sandra Williams raised an impressive $82,000 and attracted 86 individual contributions, and holds a massive cash advantage over her challenger, State Representative Bill Patmon, whose bank balance sits at $2,432. 

In Cleveland’s SD23, Representative Nickie Antonio is facing Representative Martin Sweeney for the open Senate seat, and it could be a nail-biter. Antonio outraised Sweeney $109,000 to $62,000 and attracted an unbelievable 425 individual contributions, but Sweeney has a large cash advantage with $232,000 in the bank, twice Antonio’s balance and the endorsement of the county Democratic party. Antonio boasts her own impressive list of endorsements, but it’s hard to make up for not appearing on party sample ballots.

Finally, in suburban Cleveland’s SD25, Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko is showing his leadership advantage over his challenger, State Representative John Barnes. Yuko raised $111,000 in the period compared to $12,000 by Barnes, and as a result, was able to spend nearly 10 times as much on his primary. In addition to attracting more PAC support, Yuko was able to pull in 196 individual contributions compared to just two for Barnes.

Other highly-anticipated Democratic primary contests may be over before the votes are counted. In a rematch of 2014, former State Representative Dale Mallory filed paperwork to challenge incumbent Senator Cecil Thomas for the 9th Senate District, but so far Mallory has not filed a fundraising report. In Central Ohio’s 3rd Senate District, Democrat Tina Maharath also failed to file. Concerned about Maharath’s viability, the Franklin County Democrats endorsed Katherine Chipps as a write-in for the seat.

Pickup Opportunities

In all, 7 of the 17 districts with elections this fall are drawn to favor Democrats. In the other 10, our chances are limited, but fundraising data shows a few encouraging signs.

Democrat for SD5, Paul Bradley

Democrat for SD5, Paul Bradley

In the western Dayton suburbs of SD5, Paul Bradley absolutely outworked and outraised his Republican counterpart, State Representative Steve Huffman. Bradley collected $38,000, more than any other Democratic candidate for Senate not currently elected to the Statehouse. Bradley’s take is $10,000 more for the period than Huffman brought in, and his fundraising was thanks to 173 individual donations, compared to just six for Huffman. (Of Huffman’s six, none are from the 5th Senate District). Huffman appears to be a walking case study in lazy incumbent syndrome. While the Senate Republicans will have a huge warchest to draw upon to help him in November, caucus leaders cannot be pleased with Huffman, who relied entirely on Columbus lobbyists and special interests for all of his fundraising in the period.

Democrat for SD19, Louise Valentine

Democrat for SD19, Louise Valentine

In Central Ohio’s SD19, Louise Valentine nearly matched the haul of her likely opponent, State Representative Andrew Brenner ($10,000 vs Brenner’s $12,000), and, in the process, managed to attract five times as many individual contributions. Brenner, chair of the House Education committee, relied heavily on PACs and party committees. Facing an ugly primary, Brenner managed to spend twice as much in the period as he raised, leaving him with just $1200 on hand. It’s worth noting that Brenner’s spending included sizable payments to his wife for maintaining his website as well as approxiately $2500 in mileage reimbursements, which is a lot of district travel for someone who was only able to attract 35 contributions from individuals. Brenner, too, cannot be popular in the Senate Caucus right now given his performance.

Other promising signs of strength from Democratic candidates for Senate:

In SD7, newcomer Sarah Bitter has garnered significant grassroots support, racking up 137 individual contributions, double that of her likely Republican opponent, Steve Wilson. But Wilson’s voluminous PAC contributions mean he has a $130,000 cash advantage over Bitter if he wins his primary against Brad Lamoreaux.

In SD15, newcomer Sharon Sweda faces Nathan Manning, a State Representative running to replace his mom in the Senate who may also be under FBI investigation. Sweda brought in more individual contributions than Manning (39 vs 14), but Manning has the overall cash edge.

In SD29, newcomer Lauren Friedman showed some fundraising chops by attracting 129 individual contributions to her campaign, compared to just 64 for her GOP opponent, House President Pro Tempore, Kirk Schuring. Schuring, however, is well-known in Columbus and has a big cash advantage thanks to hefty PAC contributions.

And, in SD31, newcomer Melinda Miller brought in $6,500 from 80 small donors, far more than the 14 individual contributions raised by her opponent, Jay Hottinger. But Hottinger has $96,000 in the bank thanks to PAC contributions and carryover from prior periods.

Bottom Line

All that happy news aside, let’s get real.

The Senate Republican campaign committee has over $3 million in the bank it can deploy to prop up even the most ill-equipped candidate. That will buy a lot of fancy mailers, yard signs and TV time. Senate Democrats warchest is almost laughably small by comparison: they reported having less than $64,000 in the bank.

If Democrats are going to win, they’ll have to do it against a crush of negative advertising. That will take a massive mobilization of committed volunteers. The good news is, judging from the fundraising, some candidates are building grassroots support and may have what it takes to pull off an upset in the fall.

Which races are you excited about? See anything interesting in the fundraising numbers? Let us know.