Our Polarizing Primaries: A Look Back at the Ohio & Indiana Primaries

From the Editors | Issue 14 | May 17, 2022

Will these not so united states still be The United States when…

  • There are 50 trifecta states, 25 purely red, 25 purely blue, producing no national level politicians with any experience or interest in negotiation and compromise? There are currently 37 trifectas.
  • When all 435 US House Seats are non-competitive, meaning they’re decided in our polarizing primaries and not in general elections? Today only about 30 competitive seats remain out of 435, a result of wave after wave of gerrymandering as well as polarizing social dynamics across largely red or blue districts.
  • When among roughly 50 Republican and roughly 50 Democrats, with a filibuster-proof voting threshold of 60 votes, there is no overlap on policy, thus no negotiation, compromise, bipartisan bill sponsorship, or voting across the aisle on major imperatives like infrastructure, COVID relief, the annual budget and debt ceiling, foreign policy, and defense?The Purple Principle Report will examine our 2022 primaries with these worrisome trends and this overarching question in mind:

    Will the 2022 primary results further increase the polarization trend, making agreement in Washington even more unlikely and thus making alternatives to liberal democracy, such as de facto succession or authoritarian leadership, dangerously more likely?

    Speaking of that concern: Are populist right and Trump-loyal candidates, without any tangible interest in effective governance, winning primaries over those with legislative track records?
    And looking across the aisle, are progressive left candidates, such as those who frequently refuse to sign onto compromise legislation, winning primaries over more moderate Democrats better positioned to forge compromise on the very basics of governance – public health, infrastructure, national security, etc?

“And really the contours of all the races are the same to me, which is: can Democrats put up broadly appealing candidates that can pick up swing voters who don’t like these super Trumpy candidates who are well outside the mainstream and who are likely to say really crazy things during the course of the election?”

— Sarah Longwell

“Republican candidates around the country [are] thinking: how close do I need to be to Donald Trump? If Trump fares poorly overall, then the result will be the Republican Party or the leadership of the Republican Party moving away from the former president. If his candidates win, and he has a very high batting average, that just solidifies his position as leader to the party and probably also solidifies him as the Republican nominee for 2024.”

— Charles Bullock, upcoming guest

Charles (Chuck) Bullock

Ohio: All Eyes on Buckeyes

Vivien McClain Photography

Governor’s Race: Aging Gracefully Like Fine DeWine?

Incumbent Governor Mike DeWine, who has held public office in Ohio for four decades, held off populist challenges from the right, the far right, and whatever you call the area beyond that. Assuming an expected victory in the November general election, that could be good news for citizens of Ohio should the COVID pandemic continue to pose major health challenges, such as anticipated winter surges with variants. DeWine was one of a handful of GOP governors who recognized the severity of COVID early on in 2020, while the majority of GOP governors nationwide echoed the erratic and scientifically invalid messaging from the Trump White House.

Dewine will face the pragmatic Democrat Nan Whaley, former Mayor of Dayton, but is expected to win another term.

Ohio GOP Senate Primary: Vance Advances; Sanity Retreats

For those who believe the nation’s capital should be a seat of government, not an arena for political theater, it’s disappointing to see Trump-endorsed rhetorical gymnast JD Vance advance over a ballot of more qualified candidates, like State Senator Matt Dolan and Jane Timken, Chair of the Ohio GOP from 2017-2021.

Retiring Senator Rob Portman, something like a pragmatist in our populist era, endorsed Timken. Yet he received only 6.6% of the vote. Dolan, seemingly the only candidate willing to question ‘Stop the Steal,’ had a late surge that fell short at 21.9%.

Timken and Dolan together pulled 28.5% of the vote compared to Vance’s 31.3%. Therefore, if Ohio had runoff elections, there might have been a different result. But yet again, our polarizing, plurality-decided primaries have favored the more extreme candidate in Vance, a Marine veteran and author turned venture capitalist and populist; though, more significantly, an anti-Trumper turned seeming Trump loyalist.

Why do candidates not drop out of races they cannot win and endorse like-minded opponents? This polarizing primary could have been less so had the Timken team dropped out the race and endorsed Dolan, as both Pete Buttigeig and Amy Klobuchar did for the Biden campaign in the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary. Perhaps they have forgotten that strategy and the missed opportunity in 2016 for a Kasich-Cruz-Rubio effort to halt Trump in the GOP primaries.

If you needed yet more information that our politics has changed, note that as recently as 2016, the somewhat moderate Portman won the GOP primary with 82.2% of the vote and in 2010 was uncontested.

Broadly Appealing Democratic Senate Candidate?

As noted above, Sarah Longwell of the Bulwark framed the 2022 primary elections with the question, “can Democrats nominate broady appealing candidates?” The primary winner in Ohio, Congressman Tim Ryan, seems to fit that bill. Despite the recent redness of Ohio statewide, the Vance-Ryan race could be competitive and also indicative of whether the country can begin to turn from culture wars toward something like common ground.

Ohio House Primaries

Redistricting has all but eliminated swing districts in Ohio, as it largely has nationwide. The overall effect of these 15 congressional primaries in Ohio is likely to further polarize the US Congress. Anthony Gonzales, who voted to impeach Trump and to certify the election results, might have faced Trump-endorsed former White House aide Max Miller but instead retired following backlash from Trump & Co.

Interestingly, though, Trump did endorse some GOP candidates in Ohio who voted to certify the Biden election. But he appears to be doing so in races without incumbent challengers that could improve his endorsement batting average.

OH 13: The 13th District used to lean slightly Democrat (as held by Tim Ryan) but now leans slightly Republican. Trump-endorsed candidate Madison Gesiotto Gilbert narrowly defeated primary opponents, including Gregory Wheeler, receiving only 28.3% of the vote. In a statement conceding the election, Wheeler spoke about bipartisanship and tribalism. Gilbert will face a Democrat powerhouse who was the minority leader in the OH House, Emilia Sykes.

OH 9: The district of the longest serving woman in Congress, Democrat Marcy Kaptur, has been redrawn from a Democratic stronghold to one that Trump would have won by three points. She faces a tough re-election battle against Republican candidate J.R. Majewski in a district that has been labeled a toss up or slight Republican lean.

Down Ballot Downers: Trump-endorsed Secretary of State GOP candidate Frank LaRose initially stood by the election results in 2020 but then changed his tune, saying Trump was right to question potential election fraud. LaRose then easily won nomination for a second term. These once-sleepy down ballot races may prove critical in future attempts to discredit election results and thwart the peaceful transfer of power, like we saw following the 2020 election. But all too often, these elections can be decided by just a few thousand votes.

Gerrymandering Update: We the Politicians

Ohio Congressional Districts (2020)
Ohio Congressional Districts (GOP redrawn and now contested)

But the verdict is still out on these maps, meaning federal judges will likely default to GOP maps if redistricting leaders don’t act otherwise by May 28. Note that Ohio citizens voted for an amendment in 2015 to create a redistricting committee, and in 2018, for a constitutional amendment to ban partisan gerrymandering. Yet politicians have taken control of the committee and that process. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against the new maps above, a decision now under appeal at the Federal level.

Minority Rule At The Ballot Box

US Senate Primary: Silent Standoff

(Official U.S. Senate photo by Rebecca Hammel)

Incumbent Senator Todd Young ran unopposed in the GOP primary and is likely to win re-election in November. This is both boring and interesting at the same time. Here’s why:

Young is one of only four Republican incumbent senators who did not get Trump’s endorsement. His cardinal sin? He publicly stated that Trump was at fault for Jan. 6.

Yet Trump & Co. did not produce a GOP primary opponent for this US Senate seat. That is likely due to Young’s popularity within the state and his demonstrated fundraising record. On balance, this could be good news for those in favor of a functional democratic government. Young was ranked the 13th most bipartisan Senator by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy and he cosponsored the 8th most bipartisan legislation according to govtrack. But surprisingly, he did not join nineteen other Republican senators in voting for the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in 2021.

Unlike the Todd Young case, Trump did endorse several Republican incumbents running unopposed in House primaries. This included Congressman Greg Pence, but without any mention of little brother Mike. The former VP refused to do Trump’s electoral college bidding on January 6th 2021 and may be a rival in 2024.

Gerrymandering Update

Indiana is gerrymandered into packed districts, where the 1st and the 7th are Democrat strongholds and the remaining seven districts are solidly Republican. Thus: no swing seats and few candidates on either side with realistic policy proposals of note. Redistricting did solidify the 6th District north of Indianapolis, making it a much stronger Republican district. And the 1st District in northwest Indiana is receiving greater funding from the Republican Party, which hopes to flip this traditional Democrat stronghold.

Indiana Congressional Districts (2020)
Indiana Congressional Districts (2022)

The only significant change is the district north of Indianapolis which was reshaped to be more secure for Republicans. That district had been represented by retired Congresswoman Susan Brooks, long the most moderate Hoosier in the US House delegation. Now the seat is held by Viktoria Spartz, a Trump endorsee who voted to certify the 2020 election results. She had a narrow victory in the 2020 election that was heavily funded and competitive.

State Level Legislation: Lots of Polarization; Some Moderation; Even Some Bipartisanship

  • HB 1296 was passed by Republicans, which allows many Hoosiers over the age of 18 to carry a handgun without a permit.
  • The bill to ban abortion was not passed, but Republicans are calling on Gov. Holcomb to allow for a special session if the Supreme Court rules on Roe v. Wade. Both House and Senate leadership support waiting on abortion bills until they know how the Supreme Court will rule in Mississipi’s abortion case.
  • A school board partisanship bill did not get out of committee when advocacy groups voiced heavy opposition. The GOP proposal sought to add party affiliation to school board seats to create “transparency.”
  • Teaching “divisive concepts” in schools bill was killed in the state Senate after passing the House. Senate leadership couldn’t achieve a majority consensus even among Republicans. Some senators said it didn’t do enough after being “gutted” in amendments; others said it created a burden for teachers. Teachers unions are normally powerful in Indiana and their opposition was likely a factor.
  • A bill to lower state income tax over the next seven years would give Indiana the lowest tax rate in the country, except for those seven states with zero income tax.
  • Other education bills passed with bipartisan support and mixed party voting.

Partners in Purple

Indiana Common Cause: Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission

Common Cause Indiana is a nonpartisan organization that works to promote open, ethical, and accountable government for every Hoosier.

Better Ballot Indiana

Better Ballot Indiana formed to educate and empower Hoosiers to strengthen our democracy in Indiana through Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).

We the People

The primary goal of this program is to promote civic competence and responsibility among Indiana’s elementary, middle and high school students.

The Indiana Citizen

A nonprofit, nonpartisan platform to engage Hoosiers to increase voter turnout and voter education.

League of Women Voters, Indianapolis

Nonpartisan group to help with voter registration and awareness.

Indiana Citizens Action Coalition

A group with many campaigns, one of which is to end gerrymandering and create a citizens redistricting commission.

Rank the Vote Ohio

A group dedicated to bringing a commonsense change that would give voters the choice to rank candidates for office in the order they prefer them.

Students for Bipartisan Policy & Advocacy

A nonpartisan entity committed to finding common ground to help advance meaningful policy change in Ohio.

Ohio Common Cause

A nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that works to strengthen public participation in our democracy and ensure that public officials and public institutions are accountable and responsive to citizens.

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