By Rick Palsgrove
A primary election will be held on Aug. 3 to select candidates to run for Ohio’s U.S. 15th Congressional District seat.
The slate of candidates includes 11 Republicans and two Democrats. The seat became vacant when former U.S. Congressman Steve Stivers, a Republican, resigned on May 16 to serve as president and CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. The primary winners in their respective parties will face off against each other in the general election on Nov. 2.
The Republican candidates are: John Adams, Mike Carey, Eric Clark, Thad Cooperrider, Ruth Edmonds, Ron Hood, Thomas Hwang, Stephanie Kunze, Jeff LaRe, Bob Peterson, and Omar Tarazi.
The Democratic candidates are Greg Betts and Allison Russo.
For general information on the candidates, go to ballotpedia.org/Ohio%27s_15th_Congressional_District_special_election,_2021.
The Ohio 15th Congressional District includes Clinton, Fairfield, Hocking, Madison, Morgan, Perry, Pickaway, and Vinton counties as well as parts of Athens, Fayette, Franklin, and Ross counties.
Franklin County Republican Party Executive Committee Chairman Josh Jaffe said Stivers endorsed State Representative Jeff LaRe and the Franklin County Republican Party endorsed State Senator Stephanie Kunze.
Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Carey.
“Stephanie Kunze has spent the past decade building a foundation of trust in central Ohio through her good work in the General Assembly and previously at the city of Hilliard,” said Jaffe. “She has a reputation as an effective legislator who is responsive to constituents and who isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work on tough issues. That’s exactly what we need in Washington.”
Jaffe said keeping the district in Republican hands is critical. He said Stivers was often a voice of reason cutting through the chaos in Washington and helping make sure that the important business of government wasn’t forgotten.
“That’s an ideal role for a central Ohio member of Congress to play, and Senator Kunze is well-equipped to play it,” said Jaffe. “Neither of the Democrats in this race can say the same. When the Republicans take back control of the House of Representatives, the people of the 15th District will be well served by a conservative rising star like Stephanie Kunze representing their interests instead of a Democrat who may very well be handing their proxy vote over to Nancy Pelosi.”
When asked what his party thinks are the keys to winning this district, Jaffe said that any time a long-serving member of Congress like Stivers steps down, the biggest challenge for new candidates is to introduce themselves to the voters in the district, which he said gives Kunze an advantage
“Her Senate district covers almost all of the Franklin County portion of the 15th Congressional District and Franklin has by far the largest piece of the 15th by population,” said Jaffe. “Some candidates will try to make a big deal about endorsements and wedge issue positions over the course of this campaign, but what voters really want is someone with the will to fight for them in Washington and the experience to do so effectively. Stephanie Kunze has the will and the experience and voters know she does.”
The race has attracted a large slate of Republicans seeking the position.
“It’s no secret that the 15th District has been solidly Republican since Steve Stivers flipped it in 2010,” said Jaffe, who noted (former) President Donald Trump carried the district by about 15 points in both 2016 and 2020. “Any Democratic candidate is going to have a hard time in a district like that and it’s clear from the breadth of their field this year that they know it. The last time there was an open Congressional seat in central Ohio a few years ago there were about a dozen Democratic candidates, this time there are two. There are so many Republican candidates running because they believe a Republican is likely to win the seat.”
Jaffe said turnout in an off-year special election is unpredictable and the district will be completely redrawn after this year.
“No one knows what the new district will look like,” said Jaffe. “It’s important for Republicans to take a long-term view and make sure our candidate is someone who can hold the district for our party in the likely event that redistricting makes it more competitive than it is right now.”
According to Alex Baker, executive director of the Franklin County Democratic Party, Russo is the endorsed candidate by the Franklin County Democratic Party.
“The FCDP Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly to endorse State Representative Russo because of her proven track record as a candidate, as a legislator, and as a Democrat,” said Baker. “She is an incredible advocate fighting for Ohioans in the Statehouse and we are looking forward to the experience, dedication, and passion she will bring to Congress. She is an exceptionally qualified candidate with a doctoral degree in health policy, a master’s degree in public health epidemiology, and over 20 years of experience advising leaders and policymakers on how to better provide quality, affordable healthcare to seniors, women, and veterans. As a mother and the wife of a combat veteran, she has been fighting for Ohio’s military families and for all Ohioans’ access to healthcare from our Statehouse for the last three years and she is prepared to continue this fight at the federal level.”
While this district leans Republican, Baker noted Democrat U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown won the district in his 2018 Senate race and Democrat Justice Jennifer Brunner won this district in her 2020 Ohio Supreme Court race.
“With the resignation of long-term incumbent Congressman Stivers and a crowded Republican primary, Representative Russo will have the opportunity to really talk to voters and get her message out, putting her in a very strong position to flip this seat.”
Baker said the key to the Democrats for winning this district is organizing and communicating with as many voters as possible about the issues facing the district and the experience and plans that Russo has to support it.
“The short time frame and pushing for high voter turnout will be added challenges, but Representative Russo has an incredible campaign team behind her with a plan to be on the ground in as much of the district as possible between now and Nov. 2,” said Baker.