The biggest story for Tuesday’s primary election may not be what’s on the ballot - but who shows up to vote.
Political watchers nationwide will be keeping a close eye on Ohio to see if Democrats vote in large numbers, foreshadowing if a blue wave will hit in November.
“Ohio is the first bellwether state to have their primary, so I think people are going to be watching what happens here,” said Jared Kamrass, principal at Rivertown Strategies.
In Hamilton County, early voting data shows a moderate uptick in Democratic voters over Republicans compared to primary elections in 2016 and 2014.
Overall voter turnout is expected to be typically low for the primary election at 20 percent. On Tuesday, Ohioans will pick nominees for statewide offices, and approve changes to how congressional district maps are drawn.
In Hamilton County, voters will also decide on levies to support the library system and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
Here are five things to watch for once polls close on Tuesday night.
Will the way congressional districts look actually make sense?
Voters are expected to approve Issue 1 – a new plan Ohio lawmakers created to draw lines for congressional districts in a new, bipartisan way.
“It’s definitely a step in right direction to deal with gerrymandering,” Kamrass, a Democrat, said. “Anyone who can look at a map can tell that districts are not fairly drawn.”
This change could have an impact on Ohio’s 1st Congressional District, particularly if the state loses a seat following the 2020 census as it is expected to.
“The city of Cincinnati is the largest municipality in the country that is not represented by a Democrat,” Kamrass said.
He predicts once congressional district lines are redrawn, it will make it much easier for a Democratic candidate to get elected in the first district, which encompasses most of Cincinnati.
Longtime incumbent Republican Steve Chabot is seeking his 12th term in Congress for that seat. Democrat Aftab Pureval, the Hamilton County Clerk of Court, is challenging Chabot in a closely watched contest.
Recently Sabato’s Crystal Ball, one of the nation's leading election trackers, changed its rating of the seat from “leans Republican” to “likely Republican,” giving Pureval a better shot at winning.
Will the voters OK Fiona cash?
A renewal levy to support Issue 2 for Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is widely expected to pass with voters.
The levy won’t raise taxes and the zoo is riding a wave of good publicity thanks to the birth of Fiona the Hippo.
The current zoo levy costs the owner of a $100,000 house $10 a year. It generates $6.55 million for the zoo, which funds the care of animals, gardens and maintenance.
“I suspect the zoo levy will pass,” said Chip Gerhardt, president of Government Strategies Group. “The zoo is very popular and their levies have passed by overwhelming numbers in the past.”
More money, new libraries?
A levy for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will be a harder sell to voters because it will increase taxes.
The library is asking voters to pass a second new levy that could generate $19 million per year, and will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $35 every year.
Hamilton County residents are already taxed $28 per year on every $100,000 of property they own for the library’s services.
The new levy will allow the library system to upgrade each of its 40 branches, said Chris Rice, the marketing manager for the libraries. The money would also be used to build new branches, or bring some buildings into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
“With a low turnout, I suspect a decent chunk of people will just vote no on this one,” Gerhardt, a Republican, said.
Other groups, such as suburban school districts that might want to ask for levy increases in November, will watch the results closely.
“I think it’s an interesting barometer of people’s tolerance and the breaking point for levies,” Gerhardt said.
A blue wave?
Early voting data is already showing a moderate uptick among Democratic voters in Hamilton County.
This is something political observers will use to gauge the Democratic enthusiasm that could tip a number of races in November.
Kamrass said early voting numbers already indicate that Democrats could have an edge -- just like Republicans did two years when the country elected Donald Trump for president.
“On this day two years ago, Republicans held an advantage of about 55 percent of all early voting ballots requested,” Kamrass said. “This year, democrats have 52 percent … which I characterize as moderate uptick for Democrats.”
Gerhardt agreed, saying early voting numbers from 2014 also show an uptick in Democrats voting this year.
“At this same point four years ago more Republicans voted than Democrats, and today more Democrats than Republicans have voted,” Gerhardt said.
If Democrats show up to the polls in higher-than-normal numbers, especially in urban counties, it could be good news for blue candidates in November.
But if Democratic turnout remains relatively the same as in previous years, it could signal to Republicans that a blue wave is not coming in November.
“The real contest is in November. I’m not convinced there is a blue wave,” Gerhardt said. “I don’t know that anyone can adequately predict what this year will be like.”
Who competes with Republican Chris Monzel?
Two Democrats – James Wolf and Stephanie Summerow Dumas -- are competing for the chance to unseat Republican incumbent Chris Monzel in the Hamilton County Commissioner race in November.
Political experts will be watching closely whether Wolf or Dumas wins, the margin of the win and where they pulled support from voters. This will indicate the strength of their candidacy against Monzel this fall.
“I would say margin is less important than where votes come from,” Kamrass said. “For example, to see if James Wolf holds his own in a lot of African-American communities … could be a sign he’s in pretty good shape (in November.)”
Another interesting point about this race – all three candidates live in the suburbs, meaning suburban voters, instead of city of Cincinnati voters, could be key.
This governor's primary race will be a ... snoozefest
Six Democrats and two Republicans are running to be Ohio’s next governor – but only two of those names will make it to the November ballot.
Primary voters will pick the gubernatorial Democrat and Republican candidate Tuesday.
Don’t expect a nail biter here. Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine, a Republican, and former Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Richard Cordray, a Democrat, are the heavy favorites.
"With the governors race, there will be no surprises there,” Gerhardt said.
Kamrass said each of the party’s primary voters are looking for something different in the gubernatorial nominee.
Republican candidates Dewine and Lt. Governor Mary Taylor have tried hard to associate themselves closely with Trump.
“And they both play themselves up as outsiders,” Kamrass said. “Polling shows voters are sick of politicians and looking for outsiders to bring some level of change from the status quo.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic race is more personality based because six people are running for the job. Cordray, the frontrunner, is a smart policy wonk while former state representative Dennis Kucinich is a “fire brand that excites the more liberal wing of the party.”