Ohio Redistricting: Process Serves GOP

by Jacob Rubashkin December 16, 2021 · 2:29 PM EST

A new process led to the same old result as Republicans maximized their control of redistricting in Ohio. 

In 2018, Ohio voters approved a ballot initiative that overhauled the state’s redistricting process with the ostensible goal of producing fairer congressional and state legislative maps. The new scheme incentivized cooperation between the parties by requiring bipartisan majorities to pass a map through the state legislature. And if the state legislature failed to come up with a compromise, responsibility would fall to a backup commission of officeholders that also had to marshall a bipartisan majority to approve a map.

The new law also provided a backup to the backup. If the commission deadlocked, then the state legislature could step in again and pass a map with a simple majority, with a catch: such a map would only be good for four years, rather than the usual decade.

And that’s exactly what happened. After making superficial at best efforts to pass a map with bipartisan support in the legislature and the backup commission, Republicans passed a congressional map with no Democratic votes. Under the new lines, the GOP could win up to 13 of the state’s 15 districts (they currently hold 12 of 16, but Ohio lost one district due to reapportionment) despite Democrats regularly winning 45 percent or more of the vote in statewide races.

After 2024, the whole redistricting process will start again. If Republicans continue to control the state legislature and all of Ohio’s constitutional offices, they will once again be able to draw maps with no Democratic support, likely adjusting for any political shifts that take place over the next four years.

The map is facing several legal challenges. In federal court, several Black Ohioans have argued that the map violates the Voting Rights Act. But it’s the state court challenges — which focus on a state constitutional provision that precludes a map that “unduly favors or disfavors a political party” — that may be more potent, given the GOP’s narrow 4-3 edge on the state Supreme Court, and Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s history of opposing gerrymandering.

The filing deadline for partisan candidates is scheduled for Feb. 2. 

1st District
The new 1st District retains all of Warren County, but now includes slightly different pieces of Hamilton County, ceding some territory to the neighboring 2nd and 8th districts but now encompassing all of the city of Cincinnati.

As a result, the new district is more Democratic than its predecessor, which President Donald President Donald Trump carried by 3 points, 51-48 percent. Joe Biden would have won the new district by 1.7 points in 2020 while losing statewide by 8 points, and Hillary Clinton would have lost it by 2 points in 2016 while losing statewide by 8 points, a sign the area is moving in Democrats’ direction.

Rep. Steve Chabot is the only Republican in Ohio seeking re-election in a district Biden carried, but while the partisan lean of the district is worse for him than in the last two elections, the national environment will likely be far better. Chabot won highly contested elections in 2018 (51-47 percent) and 2020 (52-45 percent), but neither of the opponents he faced in those races are running again. In a midterm with an unpopular president of the opposite party, that means Chabot starts out with an edge, especially because Democrats will have to locate credible candidates and sort through a primary. Chabot may have to get through a primary first: Franklin Mayor Brent Centers says he’s running but also that he believes Chabot will retire. Initial rating: Lean Republican.

2nd District
The 2nd District now spans the entire bottom of the state from the eastern Cincinnati suburbs to the West Virginia border, and up to Chillicothe. The new district would have voted for Trump by 36 points, 67-31 percent, in 2020. Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup should have no issues winning re-election. Solid Republican.

3rd District
Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty’s 3rd District becomes more compactly centered on Columbus, the state capital. The new district will contain slightly fewer Black residents — down to 28 percent from 34 percent — but becomes slightly more Democratic. Biden would have carried it by 46 points, 72-26 percent, compared to 70-28 percent under the old lines. 

Beatty faces a primary challenge from progressive restaurant worker Matthew Meade, who is running on his support for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and Defund the Police but has raised hardly any money. In 2020, Beatty defeated well-funded primary challenger Morgan Harper, who was backed by Justice Democrats, 68-32 percent. This cycle, Harper is running for the Senate. Solid Democratic. 

4th District
Republican Jim Jordan’s district loses its distinctive hook shape, and is much more compact in its new iteration. It also sheds its share of Greater Cleveland (Elyria and Oberlin) to the new 5th District, and picks up Mansfield. In terms of partisanship, the 4th remains deeply Republican; under the new lines it would have voted for Trump, 66-32 percent. Jordan is a top GOP fundraiser and is in line to be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — that is, if he doesn’t make a run for Speaker of the House. Democrat Jeff Sites will raise a lot of money running against one of Republicans’ highest-profile agitators but won’t come close to winning. Solid Republican.

5th District
The 5th District is transformed from a square nestled in the state’s northwest corner into a rectangle that stretches from the Indiana border to the Cleveland suburb of Elyria, curving around Lima and picking up Bowling Green but losing its share of the Toledo suburbs. It would have voted for Trump, 62-37 percent. Republican Bob Latta is in fine shape. Solid Republican.

6th District
The 6th District is still a stretch of eastern Ohio, but the lines are shifted upward from its previous position, taking in much of what once was Ohio’s 13th. Instead of starting at the southern tip of Ohio, right across the border from Huntington, W.Va., the 6th begins right across the border from Parkersburg, W.Va.. And rather than stopping just short of Youngstown, the new 6th now extends past Youngstown through Trumbull County.

Technically, both Republican Bill Johnson, who currently represents the 6th, and Democrat Tim Ryan, the Youngstown congressman who holds the 13th District, are the incumbents here. But the district resembles Johnson’s old constituency far more than it does Ryan’s, which also included parts of Akron and voted for Biden by 3 points. Likely anticipating that his district would disappear, Ryan made the decision earlier this year to run for Senate instead.

That means Johnson has a clear shot to another term. The new 6th would have voted for Trump by 23 points, 61-38 percent. Solid Republican.

7th District
The new 7th no longer resembles a horseshoe with points in Greater Cleveland, central Ohio, and Canton. Instead, it is a rectangle that stretches from Ashland through Canton, with an arm extending north that takes in the eastern Akron suburbs. The new district is a fair bit more Democratic than its previous iteration and Trump would have carried it by 18 points, 58-40 percent. He won the old district by 32 points, 65-33 percent. But that’s not a big enough shift to endanger GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs. Solid Republican.

8th District
The 8th District still sits along the western border north of Cincinnati, though it no longer extends eastward to Springfield. It also now includes some of the northern Cincinnati suburbs in Hamilton County. Trump would have carried it in 2020 by 23 points, 61-38 percent. Republican Rep. Warren Davidson shouldn’t have any trouble holding this seat. Solid Republican.

9th District
One of the most aggressive moves Ohio Republicans made in redistricting was to turn longtime Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s district — known as “the Snake on the Lake” for its coast-hugging, vanishingly narrow profile that connects Toledo to Cleveland — from a district Biden carried by 19 points, 58-39 percent, to one that Trump would have won by 4 points, 51-47 percent.

The GOP legislature accomplished this by removing the Greater Cleveland portions of Kaptur’s district and tacking on the heavily Republican northwest corner of the state.

The longest-serving woman in U.S. House history, Kaptur is running again in what will be her toughest re-election fight since at least 1984 and possibly ever. Two Republicans are already running against Kaptur: one, J.R. Majewski, is an Army veteran who received a shoutout from then-President Trump on Twitter after painting his lawn as a giant Trump 2020 sign and has expressed support for the Q-Anon conspiracy theory. The other is state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, a state legislator from Bowling Green.

Kaptur has a reputation as a low-key politician and regularly overperforms the top of the ticket. In 2020, she won by 26 points, 63-37 percent, compared to Biden’s 19-point victory, outpacing him everywhere but especially in white working class areas in between Toledo and Cleveland. 

Kaptur is unassuming but has a populist streak that shouldn’t be discounted, even as she faces down a district with an unfavorable partisan lean and a poor national environment for Democrats. Republicans have to sort through a primary first and could end up with a less-than-stellar candidate. This race begins as a Toss-up.

10th District
The Dayton-anchored 10th District sheds its portion of Fayette County but picks up Springfield from the 8th District. The 10th’s partisan lean is barely affected by redistricting: under the old lines Trump won by 4.4 points, 51-47 percent, and under the new lines he would have won by 3.5 points, 51-47 percent. GOP Rep. Mike Turner regularly overperforms the top of the ticket, beating back challengers Desiree Tims 58-42 percent in 2020, and Theresa Gasper 56-42 percent in 2018, even as GOP Senate nominee Jim Renacci lost the district, 53-47 percent, and gubernatorial nominee Mike DeWine won it by just 52-45 percent. In a better cycle for Democrats this race could be interesting. Solid Republican. 

11th District
For the past decade, the 11th has consisted of most of Cleveland connected by a strip of land to most of Akron. In the new map, the 11th is all of Cleveland plus the surrounding suburbs from Fairview Park to Euclid and down to Bedford Heights. But Akron has been decoupled. The district remains a Democratic stronghold, and would have voted for Biden, 79-20 percent.

The only danger newly-elected Rep. Shontel Brown may face would be a Democratic primary challenge. Former state Sen. Nina Turner, the progressive firebrand who lost to Brown in the special election primary for this seat last August, 50-45 percent, may run again. She filed paperwork for a 2022 bid with the FEC in September but says she hasn’t made a final decision yet. Either way, this race is rated Solid Democratic. 

12th District
Troy Balderson had to go through two tough elections in 2018 to solidify his hold on this central Ohio district: a special election to replace retiring Rep. Pat Tiberi and a general election just a few months later. He beat Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor both times, by 1 percent and 4 percent respectively, in a district that voted for Trump by just 6 points in 2020, 52-46 percent. 

But Balderson is one of the biggest beneficiaries of redistricting: the new 12th would have voted for Trump by 32 points, 65-33 percent, as it no longer includes Democratic areas around Columbus or Delaware County and instead takes up much more rural territory. O’Connor is running again but doesn’t have much of a shot under the new lines. Solid Republican. 

13th District
The old 13th District, a hardscrapple Youngstown-anchored constituency represented by Democrat Tim Ryan, no longer exists, its territory divided between the new 6th, 7th, and 14th.

The new 13th is the successor district to the old 16th. It is anchored by Akron, and includes all of Medina County and the western side of Cuyahoga County, including Cleveland suburbs such as North Olmstead, Westlake, and Strongsville. The new 13th would have voted narrowly for Biden, 49.7-49 percent, in 2020, while the old 16th voted for Trump, 56-42 percent.

The incumbent is Westlake Republican Anthony Gonzalez, a former Ohio State and NFL football player who was once tagged as a rising star in the GOP but who became persona non grata after voting to impeach then-President Trump following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. 

Though he is just in his second term, Gonzalez is not seeking re-election. Former Trump White House aide Max Miller, the scion of a wealthy Cleveland family, was already running against Gonzalez in the GOP primary and has Trump’s endorsement. Shay Hawkins, a former aide to former Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is also running on the GOP side.

For Democrats, the most exciting option is state House minority leader Emilia Sykes, whose recent announcement that she would step down from her leadership post by year’s end only fueled speculation that she’ll run for Congress. Sykes, 35, comes from a prominent Akron political family and has long been seen as having her eye on higher office — her name was previously in the mix for 2022’s Senate and gubernatorial contests as well.

If Sykes does run, she’s a credible candidate for Democrats in a district Biden carried, albeit narrowly. And if Miller is the nominee for the GOP, he has some serious vulnerabilities due to allegations of domestic violence and other malfeasance. At a time when pickup opportunities are few and far between for Democrats, not just in Ohio but nationwide, this race will get some attention. But the national environment doesn’t look great for Democrats right now and that makes marginal seats such as this one a difficult proposition. Tilt Republican.

14th District
The 14th District remains situated in Ohio’s northeast corner. It is made up of all of Ashtabula, Lake, Geauga, and Portage counties, and the eastern and southern edges of Cuyahoga County, from Mayfield down to Solon, and across to Parma Heights.

The new 14th would have voted for Trump by 11 points, 55-44 percent, nearly equivalent to the old district’s results. Republican David Joyce shouldn’t have much trouble holding this seat, especially in what’s shaping up to be a good year for Republicans. Solid Republican.

15th District
GOP Rep. Mike Carey is the newest member of the U.S. House, having just won a special election in November. As a swearing-in present, Ohio Republicans redrew his central Ohio district to make it much less Republican, shifting its center of gravity west and removing its rural eastern counties while extending the district around Columbus to include its northern as well as southern suburbs.

While the district Carey won over Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo last month voted for Trump by 14 points, 56-42 percent in 2020, his new district would have gone for Trump by just 6 points, 52-46 percent. 

That means the district could be competitive for Democrats in a good year. But given that next year should be a good one for Republicans, Carey will still enjoy enough of a partisan advantage to ease his path to re-election. Russo hinted in her concession speech that she’d run again in 2022, but hasn’t made any commitments. Solid Republican.