Things are relatively simple this election season in U.S. House District 5, which kind of wraps around Toledo and then blankets a huge corner of northwest Ohio.
Republican incumbent Robert Latta, who’s held the seat since 2007, is being challenged by Democrat James Neu Jr.
End of story.
But there’s nothing even remotely simple about Tuesday’s primary in Ohio’s 8th District, which butts up against the southern tail of the 5th District in Mercer County near the border between Ohio and Indiana.
The 8th District, which has a population of about 725,000, is one of the most secure Republican bastions in the state. It encompasses West Chester, Fairfield and Hamilton in Butler County as well as all of Preble, Darke, Miami and Clark counties and the southern end of Mercer.
Right now, as the national spotlight shines on Ohio for what could be another pivotal role in a presidential race, the 8th District is deeply immersed in a 17-way — yes, 17-way — race to fill the seat that had been held from 1991 to 2015 by Republican John Boehner, the saloon keeper’s son from Reading who became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
When Boehner announced last September he was stepping down from the seat he had held for a quarter century, candidates lined up as if the BMW Store had offered free convertibles to the first 25 people who stopped by on a Saturday morning. There are 15 Republicans, one Democrat and one Green Party candidate.
A couple of the 15 GOP candidates have described it as a “scrum” or a “free-for-all,” and there’s been a fair share of drama, a bruising family fight among Republicans and some over-the-top rhetoric.
A few examples:
- Republican Teri King, an attorney who lives just outside of Middletown, has trumped Donald Trump on border security, calling not only for a Trump-inspired wall on the Mexico-U.S. border, but also a wall, fence or barrier on the U.S.-Canada boundary and an end to most immigration to this country for the next 50 years.
- Republican Jim Spurlino, who owns Spurlino Materials, a construction materials supplier in Middletown, has volunteered to help Trump build the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. He said he would dispatch his company’s “mobile concrete plants” to construct a barricade that would stop immigrants from entering the country illegally.
- Three Republicans who want to beat one another at the polls — J.D. Winteregg, Kevin White and Scott George — banded together earlier this month to raise questions about an influx of “outside money” to three other Republicans they want to beat at the polls: Warren Davidson, Tim Derickson and Bill Beagle.
- Winteregg, White and George contend “outsider groups” have invested more than $1.5 million “… to push their interests here and in Washington, D.C. The race to claim the seat John Boehner occupied is a trophy for these outside organizations, and their candidate’s victory serves to drive fundraising into their organizations,” said a joint statement distributed on March 7.
They say the Club for Growth has donated $1 million in support of Warren Davidson, while two other organizations have pledged to spend $650,000 to help Derickson win the seat. They also claim that the Defending Main Street Super PAC has spent about $120,000 to indirectly benefit Beagle by opposing at least one other candidate in the race.
The Club for Growth, based in Washington, describes itself as a “pro-growth, limited-government” network.
Davidson said he shares the organization’s “free market principles” and welcomes its support in the race.
- Winteregg, who lives in Troy in Miami County, was critical of an email the Butler County GOP chairman sent out last fall that urged support for candidates who, like Boehner, live in Butler County. "If we do not have a Butler County resident as our Congressman, we will not have the same clout, the same pull, or the same political muscle that we know today," that email said.
- Spurlino said on his campaign website that one of the “professional politicians” in the race has threatened — anonymously — to expose information about a past divorce to ruin his reputation. He also claims that someone who is working for another candidate is stalking his 16-year-old daughter on social media.
- Republican Edward Meer of West Chester said he had to live in his van for a couple of weeks after he was evicted for falling behind in his rent.
- At least three of the candidates — Spurlino, Jim Condit Jr. of the Green Party and Republican Michael Smith — acknowledge they don’t live in the district.
- Condit said on his campaign website that the World Trade Center terrorist attack in 2001 was actually engineered by Israel to draw the United States into a 50-year war in the Middle East against Israel’s enemies.
- Condit also said he used the Green Party designation to get his name on the ballot. The party has not and will not endorse him in the 8th District race, said Phil Mohorich, Ohio press secretary for the party. “His views are pretty much in direct opposition to what the Green Party of Ohio stands for,” Mohorich said.
Keeping 17 candidates straight is one challenge for voters.
An even greater, or perhaps more confusing, challenge for Republican voters is seeing the names of the 15 GOP candidates on the ballot twice, for two different votes.
One vote will determine which Republican will be on the ballot June 7 for a special election to fill Boehner’s unexpired term, which runs through the end of the year, according to Diane Noonan, director of the Butler County Board of Elections.
The other vote will determine which candidate’s name will be on the ballot Nov. 8 in the election to determine who will represent the district for a full two-year term.
Because the candidates are on the ballot twice, for two different votes, there is a chance that one Republican could win the chance to run for the unexpired term and another could be on the ballot for a two-year term that begins in January, Noonan said.
She predicted voter turnout would be about 40 percent on Tuesday.
Only one Democrat, Corey Foister, 25, of Fairfield, filed for the race, so his name will be on the ballots in June and in November. Condit also will be on those ballots.
Joshua Eck, press secretary for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, said there is no prohibition in the U.S. Constitution that would bar Spurlino, Condit and Smith from living outside of a Congressional district they hope to represent. Husted’s office oversees elections in Ohio.
So whom does Boehner favor to replace him?
At this point, said David Schnittger, who was acting as Boehner's spokesman, "he does not plan to make an endorsement. He feels the people of the district should make the decision."