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Ohio's 13th District May Be The Congressional Race To Watch This Year

Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, in Clear Lake, Iowa.
John Locher
Associated Press
Former presidential candidate Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Ohio’s primary is set for March 17 this year. In addition to the race for the White House, Democrats and Republicans will be choosing their respective party’s candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives.

One district to watch this year is the 13th district in Northeast Ohio, a traditionally Democratic district with a Democratic incumbent, but where President Donald Trump had a very strong showing in 2016.

The seat is currently held by Rep. Tim Ryan, who’s been in the U.S. House since 2002.

Dave Cohen, assistant director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, believes this will be one of Ryan’s biggest challenges. Even though Ryan is only in his 40s, Cohen says he’s considered a veteran.

“Ever since he won in a pretty tough election in 2002, he really hasn’t had much of a challenge in retaining his seat,” Cohen says.

There are seven Republican competing for their party’s nomination to run against Ryan:

  • Christina M. Hagan of Alliance
  • Duane Hennen of Warren
  • Louis G. Lyras of Campbell
  • Richard A. Morckel of Akron
  • Jason Mormando of Youngstown
  • Robert J. Santos of Youngstown
  • Donald Truex of Rittman

One other candidate, Michael Fricke of Kent, has filed to run on the Libertarian Party line.
Hagan’s Race To Lose?

Probably the biggest of the names challenging Ryan is Christina Hagan, a former state representative.

“She is pretty well known,” Cohen said. “And we know that in politics, half of the battle is getting people to know who you are.”

Cohen points to a controversial ad Hagan ran two years ago when she competed for the Republican nomination to run in Ohio’s 16th District. (She lost the primary to Anthony Gonzalez, who is the current representative for the district.) The ad shows Hagan, who was pregnant at the time, firing an AR-15.

Cohen says while Hagan received a lot of criticism for that ad, there are a lot of pro-Second Amendment supporters who loved it. Cohen also points to the fact that she can raise money as a big plus.

However, Hagan does not live in the 13th District, and Cohen says that’s one of the things going against her. From a legal standpoint, Cohen says the only thing required of a candidate is that they are a resident of Ohio. Hagan was not a resident of the 16th District where she ran in 2018 – and now she resides in the 7th District.  

“She could run in any district in Ohio,” Cohen said. “It’s within driving distance of the 13th, but that’s one of the challenges she’s going to have to overcome… that she understands the needs of the 13th.”

Cohen believes the rest of the field is going to have a hard time raising money. He says it’s interesting, though, that the Ohio Republican Party has yet to endorse a candidate among the field.

Normally, that would be the case if there were a couple of heavyweights running, so Cohen says he’s surprised the party chose to sit this one out. Nonetheless, Cohen is sure when and if Hagan wins the nomination, she’ll get the party’s backing.

A Shifting District

Cohen says the 13th District, which primarily covers the Mahoning Valley but also stretches to include Portage County and parts of Akron, has changed over the years.

“It’s not as solidly blue as it once way,” he says. “The other three districts in Ohio held by Democrats are much more solidly Democratic.”

Ryan’s got an advantage in the district, but in Cohen’s words, it’s not a “slam dunk” when compared to the other three “highly gerrymandered” Democratic districts.

Cohen believes Ryan’s relatively short-lived bid for the Democratic nomination for president will probably end up neither hurting nor helping him.

“The folks in his district already know who (he) is, and they either love him or they hate him,” he says. “Fortunately for Tim Ryan, a lot more people love him than hate him.”

Cohen points to Ryan’s messaging on that campaign trail, highlighting the issues that are important to people in his district – manufacturing losses like the GM plant in Lordstown and what the government needs to do to help revitalize places like that.

On the other hand, 2021 is a bigger concern for Ryan, and potentially for the 13th Congressional District. Cohen says Ohio is probably going to lose at least one congressional seat in redistricting following this year’s census.

Even considering the new-but-untested redistricting process, if Republicans maintain control of the state legislature and governor’s office, the 13th District is likely to be in the bullseye.

Andrew joined WKSU News in 2014. He oversees the daily operations of the WKSU news department and its reporters and hosts, coordinates daily coverage, and serves as editor. His commitment is to help foster reporting that marks the best of what public radio has to offer: a mix of first-rate journalism with great storytelling. His responsibilities also include long-term strategic planning for news coverage in Northeast Ohio that serves WKSU’s audience via on-air, online, by social media and through emerging technologies. You can also hear Andrew on-air daily as the local host for Here and Now, Fresh Air, and The World.