WEST CHESTER, Ohio (AP) — Republican Warren Davidson jumped out to an early lead Tuesday in the race to move into the congressional seat left vacant by former House Speaker John Boehner after nearly 25 years.
Davidson had about 65 percent of the vote with only 3 percent of precincts reporting from the six western Ohio counties, according to unofficial returns. Davidson won the GOP primary in March by topping a 15-candidate primary field in the heavily Republican district Boehner first won in 1990 after ousting a GOP incumbent in the primary.
Democrat Corey Foister was running second with some 30 percent, and Green Party candidate Jim Condit Jr. had about 3 percent after a day of light voter turnout, the unofficial returns showed.
Tuesday's winner will complete Boehner's term and be in a strong position to win the general election for a full term in the next Congress.
Open seats have been rare in Ohio, which has very incumbent-friendly House districts.
Low turnout was expected for the special election, with no other races on the ballot. But elections director Diane Noonan in Butler County, the district's largest, was surprised it was only at about 2 percent by late morning.
"There are a lot of excuses, but this is for Congress," she said. "It's not like this is a small election."
She said the other counties also were having low turnout.
The secretary of state's office said Monday that about 4,200 absentee ballots were requested and nearly 3,600 ballots had been cast early.
George Taylor, 74, of Hamilton, said he voted early, casting his ballot for Davidson because he likes his conservative views.
"We can't keep spending like this," Taylor said. "Obamacare is a train wreck, and we've got some jobs back (since the recession), but not enough."
Davidson, an Army veteran and businessman in Miami County, has never won elective office. He won the dual March primary for the special and general election nominations with about 32 percent of the vote in each. He ran as a conservative outsider, defeating two incumbent state legislators in the field.
Davidson got key support from some former Boehner antagonists, such as Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and the conservative advocacy groups Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. Davidson has said people in the district considered it "an honor" to have the speaker from their home area, but that they are ready to have "our own representative" in Washington.
Boehner defeated a scandal-marred Republican incumbent in the 1990 primary, and then won re-election, often with wide margins, every two years after his first election.
Davidson and low-key Democrat Corey Foister, 26, a childhood cancer survivor who says he can do something about issues facing the nation's youth such as the high cost of education, offered contrasts during a recent forum at Miami University's Hamilton event center.
Davidson spoke out strongly against abortion and new restrictions on gun ownership. Foister said he supports abortion rights and that more needs to be done to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
Condit is a frequent candidate running this year under the Green Party banner although Green Party members in Ohio have disavowed him. Green Party activists aren't sure whether they will get a candidate onto the November ballot, but Condit would have to run as a write-in because election officials disqualified him from running in the general election for the Green Party after voting in the Republican primary in March.
Condit blames 9/11 on a conspiracy involving Israel to keep the United States involved in the Middle East and to take Americans' freedoms away in the name of national security. He also has voiced suspicions about the 2014 accidental death of James Traficant, an Ohio Democrat expelled from Congress after being convicted of taking bribes and kickbacks.