Election 2024: Candidates, issues and what’s at stake in March 19 Statehouse primaries

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Early voting is underway in a slew of contested Statehouse races in the region and candidates are making their rounds to convince their neighbors that they are the best suited to represent their district’s and party’s interests in Columbus.

This is the first election for Statehouse seats using new House and Senate district boundaries redrawn last year by the Ohio Redistricting Commission. This means many voters may be in a different district and see different names on the ballot than they are used to, and some seats have become more competitive.

The stakes

It’s easy to assume that primaries are less consequential than November general elections (a belief illustrated in lackluster voter turnout year after year), but primary races — particularly those in heavily-lopsided districts — can be the real kingmakers.

In heavily Democratic House District 38, representing most of Dayton, no Republicans are running for the seat. So the primary winner has a clear path to victory in November.

Other races are less of a sure bet, but due to heavy partisan leanings, the primary will decide who goes into the general election with strong odds to win.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission calculated partisan lean when redrawing the maps. Partisan leans displayed below are the difference between the percentage of voters in the minority party versus the majority party in that district. House District 40, for example, has 49.4% more Republicans than Democrats.

A couple area races stand to be more competitive in November. So parties’ chances of victory could hinge on picking the right candidate in March.

Elsewhere, primaries shine a light on divisions within a party’s politics.

In four nearby House races (three of which taking place in Butler County) Republican incumbents are hoping to stave off challengers in deep red districts. The outcome of those races could have real impact on the dynamic between the warring moderate and partisan factions within the Ohio House GOP caucus.

The Issues

Through an informal online survey, readers of all political stripes told this news organization about the state issues that matter most to them.

Republican voters want statehouse candidate to address concerns centered on lowering taxes, controlling government spending, reducing crime, and improving the state’s education system and infrastructure, according to the survey.

Democratic voters, too, place importance on improving the state’s education system, but also want their Statehouse candidates to protect abortion access, promote gun safety regulations, alleviate poverty and protect the state’s LGBT population.

The races

Senate District 6′s Democratic Primary

The district: Senate District 6 (D+8.3) includes much of Dayton and its eastern and southern suburbs.

The context: Democrats will have a newfound advantage in the recently redrawn Senate District 6, which gives the party a chance to elect its first Democratic senator in the Miami Valley for over a decade. A victory in November will be critical for the state Democratic party, which desperately hopes to pare down Republicans’ 24-8 supermajority in the Ohio Senate.

The Democratic victor will face Republican Ohio School Board Member Charlotte McGuire in the general election this November. McGuire was the county GOP’s top pick to defend its seat after current Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, opted to run for Congress and forego reelection.

The candidates: Three candidates with well-known names in Dayton politics are vying for the nomination. They include:

  • Willis Blackshear, Jr., who has represented Dayton in House District 38 since 2021;
  • Jyl Hall, a Kettering city councilwoman since 2021 and the daughter of former Congressman and U.S. Ambassador Tony Hall;
  • Jocelyn Rhynard, a member of the Dayton Board of Education since 2018 and a member of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio board.

House District 38′s Democratic Primary

The District: House District 38 (D+54.9) includes the bulk of Dayton proper and Trotwood.

The context: Whichever Democrat wins the March 19 primary will essentially be guaranteed their spot in the Ohio House, as they’ll run unopposed this November. It is the only seat within the Miami Valley currently held by a Democrat. It will be left open by incumbent Rep. Blackshear, who opted to forego reelection and run for Ohio Senate instead.

The candidates: The candidates vying to replace Blackshear both have developed significant name recognition in the Dayton area over the years. They include:

  • Derrick Foward, the former president of the Dayton Unit NAACP and the former vice president of the Ohio Conference NAACP;
  • Desiree Tims, the director of progressive think tank Innovation Ohio and a former aide to then-President Barack Obama and Ohio’s U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

House District 36′s Democratic Primary

The district: House District 36 (R+5.6) consists of stretches of downtown Dayton, along with suburbs like Oakwood and Kettering.

The context: The House seat is one of the few within reach of Democrats. It’s currently held by two-term Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering, a moderate Republican who survived a close general election in 2022.

The candidates: Two Democrats are hoping to unseat White this November. They include:

  • Rose Lounsbury, a small business owner and a former public school teacher;
  • Chuck Horn, a retired attorney who served as a public defender.

Senate District 10′s Republican Primary

The district: Senate District 10 (R+26.4) covers the entirety of Clark, Greene and Clinton counties.

The context: Incumbent and longtime legislator Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, is term-limited after eight years representing the district. The winner of the GOP primary will hope to defeat Democrat Daniel McGregor in the general election in the right-leaning district.

The candidates: Two Republicans are battling for the seat. They include:

  • Kyle Koehler, a Springfield-based software engineer who formerly represented the area in the Ohio House for eight years;
  • Carolyn Destefani, an Air Force veteran who serves as a trustee for Greene County’s Sugarcreek Twp.

House District 71′s Republican Primary

The district: House District 71 (R+36) covers the entirety of Clinton County, the eastern half of Greene, and the southeast quadrant of Clark.

The context: Four Republicans are vying to replace incumbent Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, who is term-limited after eight years representing the district in Columbus. They will face Democrat James Duffee in the general election in the heavily Republican-leaning district.

The candidates: The four Republican candidates include:

  • Levi Dean, a Xenia city councilman and the son of the incumbent;
  • Josh Day, an aerospace engineer and Xenia Community Schools board member;
  • Bob Fudge, former mayor of Cedarville and the president and CEO of an IT solutions firm in Xenia;
  • Tyler Scott, an entrepreneur and the former CEO and commissioner of Major League Cornhole.

House District 47′s Republican Primary challenge

The district: House District 47 (R+22.7) covers the city of Hamilton and stretches to the northwest of Butler County to include Oxford, home of Miami University.

The context and incumbent: Three-term incumbent Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, faces a primary challenger after spending much of this term being criticized by a handful of Republican colleagues. Carruthers is seen by some peers as too moderate and received scorn after the House GOP caucus split into factions over a vote for House speaker earlier this term.

The challenger: Diane Mullins, the lead pastor at Calvary Christian Center Church in Hamilton, is running to unseat Carruthers. Mullins was endorsed by the Butler County GOP in the race.

The winner will face Democrat Vanessa Comings this November.

House District 46′s Republican Primary challenge

The district: House District 46 (R+30.7) covers Middletown and much of Monroe in Butler County’s central and northeastern reaches.

The incumbent: Two-term incumbent Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., one of the youngest officials in the Statehouse, has been backed again by the Butler County GOP in the face of a primary challenger.

The challenger: Zachary Stacy, a Middletown farmer, said on his website that he’s running to speak for people “who are often left behind by radical party-endorsed candidates.” Stacy said his platform is neither Republican nor Democrat, but rather anti-corruption.

The winner will face Democrat Benjamin McCall this November.

Senate District 4′s Republican Primary challenge

The district: Senate District 4 (R+26.3) covers almost the entirety of Butler County, save for a rural chunk of the northern reaches.

The incumbent: Freshman incumbent Sen. George Lang, R-West Chester, a former state representative and longtime township trustee with hopes of making Ohio the “most business friendly state in America,” is endorsed by the Butler County GOP against two challengers.

The challengers:

  • Former state representative Candice Keller told this news organization that she decided to run against Lang for a second time after he supported a Democrat bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Keller, best known for her legislative work to advance Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, lost to Lang in their last primary in 2020. In 2022, she fell short in a bid for lieutenant governor.
  • Middletown native Mark Morgan, a gym manager and former staffer for the Maryland Republican Party, told this news organization that he was inspired to run by his community, which he takes active part in. He hopes to stand up for senior citizens and rectify a historically unproductive legislature.

The winner will face Democrat Thomas Cooke this November.

House District 56 Republican Primary challenge

The district: House District 56 (R+27.5) includes Mason, Lebanon, and the central and southwest reaches of Warren County.

The incumbent: Incumbent Rep. Adam Mathews, R-Lebanon, a former vice mayor in the county seat, is facing two primary challengers after his first term. Mathews most recently made a splash with his call to gradually eliminate the income tax in Ohio.

The challengers:

  • Kathy Grossmann, former mayor and city councilwoman of Mason, is running against Mathews for a second time. In 2022, Grossmann lost a close race by about seven points. Currently, Grossmann serves the Warren County GOP as secretary and helps run a family real estate business, according to her website.
  • Also in the race is Heather Salyer, a self-described anti-establishment, pro-Trump political novice who said she opposed mask and vaccine mandates and is concerned that Mathews is not conservative enough to move the party forward.

The winner will face Democrat Cleveland Canova this November.

House District 55′s Republican Primary

The district: House District 55 (R+47.4) contains the mostly-rural reaches of western and northern Warren County.

The context: Incumbent Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, is term-limited and unable to run for election after eight years representing the district.

The candidates: Two Republican candidates are running to replace him. They include;

  • Ben McCullough, a sergeant first class in the United States Army Reserve and defense contractor based in Franklin;
  • Michelle Teska, a Clearcreek Twp. based business owner who runs Golden Heart Senior Care, an in-home care provider.

The winner will face Democrat Laura Marie Davis this November.

House District 40′s Democratic Primary

The district: House District 40 (R+49.4) contains a northern chunk of Butler County, all of Preble County, and a western chunk of Montgomery County.

The context: The district is held by two-term incumbent Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria.

The candidates: Those vying to challenge Creech in November include:

  • Bobbie Arnold, a Preble County contractor and one of only a few transgender candidates in Ohio whose campaign wasn’t cut short by local board of elections for which name they used on petitions;
  • Logan Turner, a writer based in Trenton, who is running as a write-in candidate.

Note: This news organization is committed to covering these critical primary races. To check out our election coverage and stay up to date with our stories as they publish, visit DaytonDailyNews.com/elections.

Follow DDN statehouse reporter Avery Kreemer on X or reach out to him at Avery.Kreemer@coxinc.com or at 614-981-1422.

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