The Ohio Senate is divided into 33 districts; the odd numbered districts are up in midterm years while the even districts are up in presidential years. Republicans currently hold a 23-10 advantage in the Ohio Senate. GOP control of redistricting certainly has played a role in the party’s ability to maintain control of the chamber, although gerrymandering is not entirely to blame for the GOP’s wide advantage. Currently, Republicans control five seats won by President Obama in 2012, while only one Democrat (Lou Gentile of the 30th District) holds a seat won by Mitt Romney.
The "good" news for Ohio Democrats (if anything counts as good news when holding less than 1/3 of seats in a chamber) is that four of the five Republican State Senators in seats won by President Obama are up in 2014. While it is basically a sure thing that Republicans will maintain control of the State Senate in 2014, Democrats are likely to make gains. With the Ohio filing deadline having passed, I will offer my analysis of the competitiveness of the races that will take place next year.
Democratic held seats: The only Democrat in the State Senate who holds a seat where President Obama got below 57.5% of the vote in 2012 is the aforementioned Lou Gentile who won a narrow reelection in 2012 in a 51 percent Romney district. As such, all Democratic State Senators up in 2012 are safe.
Republican held seats: In contrast, a number of Republicans up in 2014 sit in competitive seats; four of the five Republican State Senators in seats won by President Obama in 2012 are up for reelection in 2012.
Safely Republican Seats: Republican Senators in the 1st, 7th, 17th, and 31st districts are safe due to the partisan lean of their seats. Republican Senators Frank LaRose (R-27) and Scott Oelslager (R-29) are both safe bets in the general election, but both face Tea-flavored challengers in the primary. While both La Rose and Oeslager are heavily favored in the primary, were either to lose it would change the competitiveness of their seats. Were LaRose to lose, his 54-44.5% Romney 27th district would move from Safe Republican to Likely Republican. Scott Oelsager’s 29th district was won by President Obama by a 49.9 to 48.3% margin in 2012, but the moderate Oelslager has a solid hold on the seat. Were Oelslager to somehow lose the primary, this seat would move to a Toss Up.
Democrats seem to have competent candidates running in both seats who could run competitive races were the Tea Partiers to win either primary. In the 27th, the Democratic candidate is George Rusiska who appears to be the Second Vice Chair of the Wayne County Democratic Party. In the 29th, the Democratic candidate is Connie Rubin, who appears (from a Google Search) to be a Public Relations Coordinator with Stark Parks.
Likely Republican: No seats, unless LaRose loses the primary.
Lean Republican: One of the other Republican State Senators in a seat won by President Obama in 2012 is 3rd District Senator Kevin Bacon. President Obama won the 3rd district in 2012 by a 54.5-44% margin. The likely Democratic candidate is Marco Miller, although another candidate named Star Johnson also filed for the seat. Miller lost a Democratic primary for the 20th district in the State House in 2012 to Heather Bishoff (who went on won the general election) by a 56-44% margin.
According to this article from 2012, Miller served a term on a local school board, is an Air Force veteran, and is a retired firefighter. Miller seems like a credible candidate, but Republicans have held this suburban Columbus district for a while. The one thing that gives me pause as to how strong of a candidate Miller will be is the double digit primary loss to Bishoff in 2012. Eventually, the leftward swing of Columbus and Franklin County as a whole will likely make this district swing to the Democrats eventually. As of now, before seeing how strong of a candidate Miller turns out to be I am leaving this seat at Lean Republican. However, this seat could certainly become a Toss Up later in the cycle.
Toss Up/Tilt Democratic: Districts 5 and 13 both swung to the GOP in the 2010 wave. Both have a good chance of swinging back to Democrats in 2014.
District 5 is held by Republican Bill Beagle. This seat went for President Obama by a 53.1- 45.3% margin in 2012. The district contains much of the city of Dayton (which is strongly Democratic), as well as some suburban and exurban areas of surrounding counting that lean decidedly to the GOP (yay, gerrymandering!). Three Democrats are running for the seat: Dayton School Board Member Joe Lacey, Tipp City Councilmember (and former Mayor) Dee Gillis, and Businessman Tom Matthew.
With their past success in winning elective office, Lacey and Gillis are probably the stronger candidates to take on Beagle in November. Matthew ran for State Senate in a different (heavily Republican) district in 2008 (before redistricting), losing by a wide margin to Sen. Keith Faber (who is now Senate President). Lacey probably starts strongest name ID in Dayton (the Democratic core of the district) and might the best chance of getting a big margin out of Dayton in November. (Although Gillis has the support of some key Dayton Democrats including mayor Nan Whaley) Gillis also comes from a more Republican leaning part of the district (Sen. Beagle is also from Tipp City) and might be able to cut the GOP margin there in November. Either way, this seat seems like a solid pick up opportunity for Democrats in November.
District 13 is held by Republican Gayle Manning. This seat went from President Obama by a 55.1-43.2% margin in 2012. Two Democrats are running in the primary for the right to face Manning: Elyria City Councilman Marcus Madison and Chiropractor Eric Kaple of Willard.
Madison was going to run in the open (Democratic leaning) 55th House district (where, interestingly, Sen. Manning's son Nathan Manning will be the GOP candidate), but recently switched to the Senate race. Madison probably has a slight advantage in the primary and I would speculate that he might be at least a somewhat better general election candidate. Admittedly, however, I know almost nothing about Kaple, so this is speculation on my part. Either way, the strong Democratic lean of this seat makes it another great opportunity for Democrats.
Overall, the presence of credible Democratic candidates as well as the lean of the seats and the fact that Democrats held these seats before the 2010 wave leads me to put both of them in the Toss Up Category (with a slight tilt to Democrats).
In total, Democrats are likely to pick up 2-3 seats in the Ohio Senate in 2013, reducing the GOP majority from a mammoth 23-10 to a somewhat narrower 21-12 or 20-13.