Ohio's 13th Congressional District May Be the Race to Watch in 2020

Jan 21, 2020
Originally published on January 21, 2020 1:16 pm

The Ohio primary is set for March 17th 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, where President Donald Trump had a very strong showing in 2016.

The seat is currently held by Congressman Tim Ryan, who’s been in the U.S. House or Representatives since 2002. Dave Cohen, Assistant Director of the Bliss Institue of Applied Politics at the University of Akron belives this will be one of Ryan’s biggest challenges. Even though Ryan is only in his 40’s, Cohen says he’s one of the veterans of the House. “Ever since he won in a pretty tough election in 2002, he really hasn’t had much of a challenge in retaining his seat."

The challengers

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

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

There is one other candidate in the 13th Congressional District, Michael Fricke of Kent, who has filed to run on the Libertarian Party line.

Probably the biggest of those names is Christina Hagan. “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 she ran two years ago when she competed for the Republican nomination to run in Ohio’s 16th Congresssional 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 she received a lot of criticism for that ad, there are a lot of pro-Second Amendment supporters who loved it. Also, Cohen points to the fact that she can raise money as a big plus.

Running outside of her own district

Christina Hagan does not live in the 13th Congressional 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. “She could run in any district in Ohio,” Cohen said. Hagan is a resident of the 7th District. “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.”

Hagan’s primary race to lose?

Cohen believes the rest of the field is going to have a hard time raising money, but he adds that it’s interesting that the Ohio Republican Party has yet to endorse a candidate among the field. Normally, he says, that would be the case if there were a couple of heavyweights running, so he’s surprised the party has chosen to sit this one out. Nonetheless, he’s sure, when and if she wins the nomination, she’ll get the party’s backing. 

A shifting district

Cohen says the 13th District, which covers primarily the Mahoning Valley, but also stretches to include Portage County and parts of Akron, is shifting and has been over the years.  “It’s not as solidly blue as it once way.” 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.

The bid for president

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. Fortunately for Tim Ryan, a lot more people love him than hate him.” Cohen points to Ryan’s messaging on the campaign trail, highlighting the issues that are important to people in his district – manufacturing losses like the closure of the GM plant in Lordstown and what the government needs to do to help revitalize places like that.

A bigger risk for the district

Cohen points to 2021 as a bigger concern for Ryan, and potentially for the 13th Congressional District. He says Ohio is probably going to lose at least one congressional seat in redistricting following this year’s census. If Republicans maintain control of the state legislature and with control of the governor’s office, the 13th is likely to be in the bullseye. That’s despite a new but untested redistricting process.

This post has been updated to correct spelling and grammatical errors.

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